Monday, May 30, 2016

Seaman First Class Joseph Gustave Little 1923-1941

This is a perfect Memorial Day post because it is about my dad's childhood best friend, Seaman First Class, Joseph Gustave Little who died while on active duty.  Long before Joe enlisted in the Navy in December of 1940, he and my dad were neighbors and playmates. They both attended Erasmus Hall High School but Joe was born on November 18, 1923 so they weren't in the same graduating class. In fact, Joe may not have graduated from high school at all. The article I read just says he attended Erasmus Hall High School. I imagine that he left school and enlisted in the Navy near the start of the war. Dad often spoke about his friend Joe Little whose parents were dad's concept of "rich" because Joe and his sister always had enough food to eat and lots of great toys to play with. Dad and Joe would often play with Joe's younger sister Laura and participate in her pretend little girl "tea parties."

The tragic story of Joe's heroic death starts with a story my Dad told me. The story was that Joe had missed the U.S.S. Reuben James which he was scheduled to serve on. His father, Joseph Patrick Little, did what any good father would do, he gave his son money to take a taxi to the next port of call for the ship so that his son wouldn't be penalized. Joe traveled all the way to meet the U.S.S Reuben James at its next port of call only to have the ship sink off the coast of Iceland on October 31, 1941 after being hit by a Nazi torpedo. Joe Little was an 18 year old boy when he died.  He was only a little bit older than my son is now. I know that 18 year olds are old enough to go to war but I can't even imagine what Joe's parents went through after learning their son was one of the casualties on the U.S.S. Reuben James. Joe's father was interviewed by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle shortly after his son was killed. I am surprised that in that article, Mr. Little is very critical of the Navy and stated that the Reuben James was a "crackerbox" that shouldn't have been used in a battle because it could not withstand a torpedo hit. I am sure that he was right about his observation but at that time, it was fairly unusual for anyone to criticize the government or the military in print. It would be similar to someone bad-mouthing the government on the internet today. Joe's parents had to be heartbroken knowing that he died after he made a valiant effort to reach the ship he had initially missed. I proved this story is true by emailing the National Archives with the question of whether they had any record of Joseph Little missing the U.S.S. Reuben James and they did. The Navy files from WWII are still available. They were not burned in the 1973 fire at NARA. I always knew my dad was telling the truth about this story but now I have confirmed it.

The following is what "Wikipedia" says about the sinking of the U.S.S Reuben James in WWII:

USS Reuben James in World War II
Upon the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939, she joined the Neutrality Patrol, guarding the Atlantic and Caribbean approaches to the American coast. In March 1941, Reuben James joined the convoy escort force established to promote the safe arrival of materiel to Great Britain. This escort force guarded convoys as far as Iceland, after which they became the responsibility of British escorts.
Based at Hvalfjordur, Iceland, under command of LCDR Heywood Lane Edwards, she sailed from Naval Station ArgentiaNewfoundland, on 23 October, with four other destroyers to escort eastbound convoy HX 156. At daybreak on 31 October, she was torpedoed[2] by U-552commanded by Kapit√§nleutnant Erich Topp near IcelandReuben James had positioned herself between an ammunition ship in the convoy and the known position of a "wolfpack", a group of submarines that preyed on Allied shipping. Reuben James was hit forward by a torpedo meant for a merchant ship and her entire bow was blown off when a magazine exploded. The bow sank immediately. The aft section floated for five minutes before going down. Of a crew of about 160, just 44 enlisted men and no officers survived.[1][2]

Service #2239634
RankSeaman First Class, U.S. Navy
Entered Service FromNew York
Date of DeathOctober 31, 1941
StatusMissing in Action
MemorializedTablets of the Missing
Cambridge American Cemetery

Awards: Purple Heart

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Presston Midget League - Press Champions Medallion 1927

I haven't been motivated to write a blog post since my dad died last year. I am definitely still grieving. My mom and my sister both correctly pointed out that I idolized my father. That is quite true. I hope he knew how much I loved him and how much I miss him. With that said, I will also say that I started writing this blog with him in mind. I wanted write down as many stories from him about his family members as I could document and put in one place for my family to have for posterity. I should have started writing sooner.

In the weeks and months after my dad passed, we went through all of his "stuff."  One item jumped out at me because it was something that I remember him having for many many years but I did not know anything about it. I remember playing with this little gold medallion when I was a child. I never asked him about it. I just assumed that it was his and that was that. The funny thing is that no one in my family has any idea where it came from. I asked my mother, my sister and my brother (who are both many years my senior) but they have no clue how my dad came to own this little trinket. It could have come from a friend or family member. I sincerely doubt that my father, who was born in 1920 in Manhattan, New York, had any reason to play midget league baseball in Presston, Pennsylvania in 1927 and win this Press Champions award.  It is a mystery to me why he kept it for his entire life (as far as I know).  Did he find it somewhere? Possibly. I know he was stationed in Sharon, Pennsylvania when he was in the Army during WWII.  Sharon, PA is only 75 miles Northwest of Pittsburgh so that is a definite possibility.

Perhaps there is a museum or an expert out there with knowledge of Midget League baseball of Pennsylvania but I haven't found him or her yet. I even made an effort to search Facebook for pages about the town of Presston. I was told to join a group called McKees Rocks Historical Society Group on Facebook which I did. I posted a photo of this little gem but I got no answers from them.

I have discovered that Presston was a "Company" town near Pittsburgh, PA.  Here is what I found on a website called about Presston (Stowe Township) Pennsylvania:  "Presston is a small residential community in an industrial setting. It was originally the company town of Schoenville, constructed in 1899 as worker housing for employees of the Pressed Steel Car Company. Many of the residents of this community were immigrants, who were kept in constant debt by the company, which resulted in the famous 1909 McKees Rocks Strike. Eleven people died in the strike. Presston has a dramatic and fascinating history. The neighborhood is still mostly intact."

Presston sounds like an interesting place to visit. I may have to put it into our vacation schedule. If it is near Falling Waters (Mill Run, PA), then maybe we can hit both places in a long weekend. If you have any ideas about this medallion or know something about Presston, please leave a comment. Thanks.

Photo from

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Alfonso Frank Famoso - Father Was The Best

World War II Veteran and local artisan, Alfonso "Fonzy" Famoso, of Westminster, MD, lost his first and only battle on January 2, 2015 at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland - just six short weeks shy of his 95th birthday.  

This Erasmus Hall Campus High School of Brooklyn graduate was born on February 21, 1920 in Harlem, and was the sixth of ten children. He met his wife, Gaetana "Ida" Mangione, in Brooklyn's Prospect Park in May of 1946, when she approached him under the pretense of him photographing her and her sister, Connie. The attraction was immediate, and the love enduring; they were engaged October 19, 1946, married January 25, 1947, and will remain united in their love in perpetuity.

Most people who knew Alfonso presumed his nickname was derived from his legal name, but those who were close (and brave) enough to ask knew this was only partially true. Though bald since his twenties, Alfonso was blessed with a thick mop of curls at birth. Upon entering kindergarten, Alfonso eventually began being called "Funny Head" by his classmates. "Fonzy" was actually an Italian slang version of this original and slightly unconventional name.

Even when the hair began disappearing, "Fonzy" lived up to his colorful nickname. He led an equally colorful and thoroughly complete life, having fathered three children after having served our country as a Medical Technician in World War II. Initially housed in Mobile General Hospital in Washington state in 1943, Alfonso ultimately defended our liberties while stationed in Mormelon le Petite in France, and later still from Luxembourg and England. Shortly after his return to the states in 1945, he began working as a Color Timer for the Motion Picture Industry in Manhattan, New York. He worked on such pictures as "War and Peace", “Cleopatra” with Elizabeth Taylor, “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” with Sophia Loren, "The Runaway Train" with Jon Voight and Lucille Ball’s last film, “The Stone Pillow”. His movie career included a long running schedule on the night shift, and family fondly recall him sleeping the day away in between his shifts. When awake, he thoroughly enjoyed regaling close friends and family with behind-the-scenes stories involving well known actors that he'd personally encountered. He always grew animated during these discussions, especially when the topic of Linda Lovelace's alleged coercion to perform was broached. Anyone who was privy to one of these exchanges know how adamant Alfonso was about this topic, and would argue fervently about the actresses willing (and apparently eager) involvement.

After having spent 47 years in the film industry, Alfonso officially retired, although rest he did not. This eternally strong American Hero continued working with his hands, and ultimately chose to become a construction worker - doing the work of men 40 years his junior. He never lost his interest in art following his introduction to painting in the '50's, though, and ultimately perfected his personal style of artistic expression over the years. He carved gorgeous wood furniture, rocking horses, planes, boats, and gavels,  handcrafted glass, and created countless sculptures using a wide variety of materials. Informally known as "Fonzie's", these (sometime quite intricate) pieces were often gifted to unsuspecting recipients, though he gladly accepted specific requests from practically anyone. Though he spent countless hours and dollars on his artwork, Alfonso was adamant in his refusal to accept any form of compensation for it.

Despite the fact that his name became known for quality craftsmanship among family, friends, and a growing number of fortunate "Fonzy" recipients in Arizona, Alfonso was exceptionally talented in many other fields. Another skill that he became well known for was his incredible abilities as an escape artist. Though this likely conjures images of Houdini, Alfonso's special skill focused entirely on one thing in particular: escaping from the steely grip of the grim reaper. In fact, he'd become quite a pro at this after nearly 23 years of practice!

Not including the time he spent on the battlefield, Alfonso first cheated death in 1991 when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and given only six months to live. Alfonso passed the six month mark like a champ, and went on further to not only beat cancer, but to tap dance on its grave! His next date with destiny occurred in 2009, and involved his tired ol' heart. Alfonso passed out while doing his yard work, but was swiftly located by family and raced to the hospital in the dark, early morning hours. After being rushed inside the ER Alfonso's heart was checked, but produced dismal numbers. By all accounts, he should have been dead. The ER specialists initially believed this to be the case - that is, until he tilted his head towards staff from atop his gurney and began directly speaking with them. These physicians were astonished, because this was the lowest blood pressure they'd ever witnessed. When he checked out of the hospital a few short days later, hospital staff had awarded him the title of "Dead Man Walking" for this amazing feat!

Not only did Alfonso brazenly laugh in the face of death during both instances, but he was actually disturbed by the audacity of death to come a-knocking on his door. While he was en route to the ER in 2009, he actually "seen the light" during the dark trip. His reaction? Matter-of-factly pulling his hat over his eyes to dim the overly "bright light", and complaining about it the whole ride in.

Mr. Famoso participated in South Carroll High Schools’ Veterans Day recognition of War Veterans for the last several years, up to and including this past November. He was featured on the cover of The Frederick News Post's "Senior" insert this past April 1st, and has two compilations of his wartime achievements and honors going the rounds on YouTube. These public accolades can be found online at:

He was predeceased by his parents, 7 brothers, and 2 sisters, and is currently expected to be celebrating the reunion over a typically festive (and loud) Italian feast.

A memorial art scholarship is in the process of being created in his name by family members.  If anyone wants to make a donation in honor of my father to the art scholarship, you can send a check as follows: the Alfonso Famoso Scholarship Fund c/o Margaret Lopez Erpenbeck 3961 E Chandler Blvd., #111-139, Phoenix, AZ 85048.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


It took over a year but we finally received the Purple Heart Medal for Private Brasso Famoso thanks to Congressman Chris Van Hollen. It ultimately took 96 years to get recognition for his sacrifice for our country. Thank you!  

I also received the original Red Cross Roll of Honor sent to my great grandfather in 1918 telling him that his son was killed in action. It is a beautiful document. The U.S. President Woodrow Wilson adorns the top of this document along with flags and symbols of all the countries served by the Red Cross. This document came to me from a cousin in Florida. His grandmother was evidently our family historian long before I was born.

I also talked to my brother in Arizona about Pvt. Brasso Famoso. He told me that he had heard that our great uncle was killed in a trench or foxhole that was hit with an explosive device. The explosive caused total devastation. I wouldn't be surprised if nothing was left of any of those men but their dog tags. That seems to explain my memory that there was nothing but dog tags buried in his grave. Perhaps there is nothing in the grave at all, just a monument to his honor.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Zampella ~ Di Costanzo Family Documents

I received the marriage record and documents for Domenico Antonio Zampella and Maria Grazia di Costanzo from Caserta Archives earlier this week. Antonio (as he called himself) and Maria Grazia were married on December 12, 1831. His father was Domenico Zampella who died on September 20, 1802 at the age of 24 when his son was only 2 years old. But that means Domenico was born around 1778! I can now prove that I have gotten back through the barrier of the 1800's. Another interesting thing that came to light after reading a translation of Domenico Zampella's death record was that he was mortally wounded somehow and confessed his sins to a priest. He wasn't in his own town when he died but in a nearby town. Did he die in a battle, was his death a tragic accident, was it a self-inflicted wound? We will never know because the death record doesn't tell us.

For the marriage record itself: Domenico Antonio Zampella, born in Caserta, 30 years old, adult, blacksmith who makes horseshoes, domiciled in Caserta in San't Antonio Street, son of the deceased Domenico Zampella, and the living Maddalena Izzo, spinner. Maria Grazia Di Costanzo, born in Caserta, 21, adult, spinner, domiciled in Caserta in San't Antonio Street, daughter of the deceased Felice Di Costanzo and the living Orsola Ignarra, spinner, domiciled in Caserta.

When the marriage took place, Maria Grazia's father Felice di Costanzo was also deceased. His death certificate says that he had died on March 20, 1823 in the hospital of Caserta, husband to Orsola Ignarra, born in a town called Nola in Naples but living in Caserta and had one daughter named Maria Grazia. Felice di Costanzo was a barber by profession.

I also found out that Maria Grazia's full name was Maria Grazia Carmela Vincenza Sebastiana DiCostanzo Zampella! What a mouthful that name is. She was born on July 21, 1809. Here are the marriage records and death records that I received from Caserta.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Broken Wall Friday

I broke through a brick wall this week. I broke through the barrier of the 1700's.  I had never taken any of my father's lines back past 1800.  I did that with my most recent find. I found the marriage record of my 3x great grandparents Domenico Antonio Zampella and Maria Grazia Di Costanzo.  I can safely assume that if Domenico Antionio was born in 1801 and Maria Grazia was born in 1810 both their parents would have been born in the 1700s!  This is my paternal grandfather's mother's line that seems to remain in Caserta, Caserta, Italy.  I did a tree to show this line.  I am hoping to find more on this line soon but this is what I have so far.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sam and Katie Famoso ~ A Perfect Match


Hi, I am Sam Famoso.  I have been asked by Ann to write a guest blog on my recollections of my grandparents Katie and Sam Famoso.  I am the son of Frances and John Famoso and the oldest of Katie and Sam’s three grandchildren.  My father John was Katie and Sam’s youngest child.  My grandfather came to this country from Cardito, Italy on the Nord America which departed Palermo, Sicily in 1901.  He came with his mother Anna Pirolli, sister Rose (Columba) and brothers Biagio and Alfonso.  They docked in New York City on October 28, 1901.  His father Giovanni and brother Luigi had previously come to the United States.  They settled on 109th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue, a section of upper Manhattan known as Harlem.  My grandmother was born in America and was proud of being an American of Italian descent.

At first, my Grandfather was a tailor.  He then became a barber which ultimately allowed him to purchase the barber shop concession in the Harvard Club in Manhattan.  My Grandparents were married on October 16, 1910.  My wife Palma and I chose October 16th as our wedding day 61 years later.  This made my Grandmother very happy and proud.  My early recollections of Grandpa were our Sunday walks from 109th to 125th Street.  By the time we got to 125th Street, I was too tired (as I was only about 3 years old) to walk back.  Grandpa would always hail a cab but I would only ride in a new cab never an old one.  Thus, started my lifelong fascination with the automobile.  Grandpa would tell my father that at 3 years old I knew every car on the street by name.

When we moved to Astoria in 1948, my Grandfather would pick my sister and me up from school every Friday afternoon.  As soon as we got home, I would have to get a haircut whether I needed one or not.  When I was about 8 years old, I finally pleaded with him to give me one every 2 weeks.  He reluctantly agreed.  After dinner there was always a card game which lasted into early morning.  After the game, my Dad would drive Grandpa home to Harlem as my Grandma was alone.

My Grandma was the best.  She didn't come with Grandpa on Fridays as she really didn't care to go out unless she had to and only with someone else.  I remember my mother telling me about one time after I had come home from the hospital after emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix and colitis.  The doorbell rang and who was at the door but Grandma.  My mother couldn’t believe it and asked who had come with her.  Grandma told her that I was sick and she had come on the subway by herself because she had to see me.  When I was about 12 years old, Grandpa was diagnosed with a form of Leukemia and also suffered some small strokes.  He passed away in March of 1959.

My Grandma had moved to the Bronx to live with her daughter, my aunt Anna Famoso Squitieri.  I have vivid memories of Grandma making her homemade cavatelli and sending my aunt on the subway from the Bronx to Astoria to bring me the most delicious cavatelli ever.   This became a regular thing and boy do I miss them! 

I was lucky to have my Grandma until I was 31.  She was able to see me get married and have our first child Christina (her first great grandchild).  My grandmother was a very special person to me and to all who had the privilege of knowing and loving her.  In February of 1976, Grandma passed away and sadly we also lost my Dad just six weeks later.  I always said that I never really got a chance to mourn her.

Sam and Katie at the Beach
Sam Famoso, Ann and Neal Squitieri and Katie Famoso