Anthony P. Damato is far beyond a Shenandoah hero. He’s a World War II American hero.
And on this night Feb. 19-20, 1944, 75 years ago, more than 7,200 miles away from home, his act of heroism saved the lives of two American soldiers. But it cost him his.
In a foxhole on Engebi Island, Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands, USMC Corporal Damato fell on an enemy Japanese grenade. Damato died instantly. But he saved the lives of two soldiers in the foxhole with him.
On April 9, 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to Damato.
In the Medal of Honor citation, President Roosevelt said, “Corporal Damato’s splendid initiative, fearless conduct and valiant sacrifice reflect great upon himself and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his comrades.”
Today, the community of Shenandoah honors Damato with a large mural in his honor. The mural is from the students at Shenandoah Valley Junior/Senior High School. It’s on the side of the A.P. Damato American Legion Post building in the heart of Shenandoah.
And Damato’s legacy lives on in Shenandoah natives.
“As a vet and coming from a family of veterans including a grandfather that was awarded a Silver Star in WWII, Mr. Damato means a lot to me and Italian-Americans,” Shenandoah native Mike Cadau Sr. tells Coal Region Canary.
Anthony P. Damato Enlists
Anthony Damato was born in Shenandoah on March 28, 1922. After attending school in Shenandoah, he found work as a truck driver. Remember, Shenandoah in the 1940s was about 5 times as populated as it is today.
There was certainly plenty to do in town but Damato wanted to serve a higher cause. Patriotically, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines on January 8, 1942. In May, he was initially deployed to Derry, Northern Ireland.
Damato signed up to be part of invading forces in Operation Torch. On November 8, 1942, Allied forces stormed French territory in northern Africa to support our forces in Egypt. Damato’s conduct was noted aboard a ship off the coast of Arzew, Algeria.
According to reports, Damato was pivotal in seizing vessels in the port city. Eventually, Marines aided in taking Arzew for the Allies.
Damato would eventually get back to the U.S. in March 1943. However, his stay here did not last long. Three short months later, Damato returned to service in World War II’s Pacific Theater.
The Battle of Engebi
The Battle of Engebi was part of the larger Operation Catchpole. Engebi is part of an island group that was critical to advancing the Allied mission in the Pacific.
Damato was deployed with an assault company of the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Marines, 5th Amphibious Corps.
The U.S. Navy bombed the island two days prior to ground forces being deployed to Engebi. The ground forces of which Damato was part were deployed to clear the island of enemy Japanese forces.
The Marines found little fight on the beach and Americans grabbed the airfield on Engebi. Our tanks reached the northern shore of the island within a few hours.
However, the success on Engebi did not come without losses. One of those was our Shenandoah hero, Damato. Eighty-five U.S. soldiers died on Engebi. Additionally, 166 more Americans were wounded. A total of 1,276 Japanese soldiers died.
Today, Damato rests at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawai’i.