Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Saturday, May 24, 2008

ISO the family of Joseph Tofinchio

I've spent lots of time lately thinking about Memorial Day and why we celebrate it. Click here to read my original post on this, in case you missed it. That in turn got me thinking about one specific soldier and I want to share what I know about him with you.

I never met Joseph Tofinchio of Gloversville, New York. He died on or about June 8, 1944 on Utah Beach in Normandy, France. What I do know is that Joe was my grandpa's best friend.

My grandpa, Nick Fontana, is 90 years old this year. That's him to the left above, in 1946. He landed on Utah Beach on D-day and fought his way inland over the next several days. After 18 days of combat, he was leading his team into the town of St. Lo when a German grenade exploded nearby. The shrapnel entered his leg in several places; that, in combination with an injured ankle, got him out of combat and sent to a hospital in England to recoup. While there, he met my Gram and fell in love. But all this is a story for another time (I promise, I'll tell it sometime ... until then, check out the note he wrote on the back of that photo of himself!).

What I want to write about is Joe. He was only 28 years old when he died; I know very little about him, but Grandpa remembers him clearly. Several years ago we took Grandpa to the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. [If you haven't been, you NEED to go. It is the most moving memorial I've ever visited in my life.] It was on the way there that Grandpa began talking about his friend, Joe.

If I have the story straight, Nick and Joe met after boot camp when they were both on leave. Lots of soldiers were out on the town, drinking, gambling, and just having a great time. Joe was playing cards and ran out of money. For some reason, Nick offered to give him some, even though the two had never met before. After the card game ended, Nick and Joe kept hanging out. From that day on, whatever money one had, the other had as well. They shared everything. All the guys knew they were friends and they hung out together as much as possible.

Before they shipped out to England (where they would train continually, preparing to invade the mainland) Nick brought Joe home to Brooklyn to meet his family. This was the only time Nick ever introduced any other soldiers to his parents and siblings.

After several months in England the day of the invasion finally arrived. Nick and Joe were in separate units, and both survived the initial charge onto the beach. Once there, they were bogged down for several days (at least, that's what I recall Grandpa saying). On the third day of fighting, Joe was shot. The news passed from man to man, unit to unit, down the beach ... the message was meant to reach Nick, Joe's best friend.

As Grandpa told us this story, you could hear the sadness in his voice. There's a place at the D-Day Memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives on the beaches. That's a picture of it, on the right. Grandpa wanted his picture taken there. He stood as close to the monument as he could and said "This is my friend, Joe." It was enough to break your heart. If I ever find that picture, I'll post it here as well.

After we finished touring the Memorial, we went to the info desk to look up Joe's name. When we found it, Joe was listed as a private. Grandpa was furious. "He wasn't a private! He was a Sergeant." [Ok, I need to go back and confirm that ... I don't know what rank Grandpa said Joe was, but it was definitely NOT Private.] Our best guess is that he was promoted in the field, but that's not how Grandpa remembers it. He says Joe was promoted months before. Regardless, the military doesn't have any records of it as far as we can tell.

I searched the net for any references to Joseph Tofinchio. I found his name listed on a hometown memorial in Gloversville. I also found a basic file in the National Archives. I even found a copy of a Gloversville High School Football Program from November 1946 that lists the names of former GHS football players who lost their lives in the war. But that's it ... that's all I could find. I've never even seen a picture of Joe. Grandpa says he has one somewhere, but he can't find it.

I'd love to find someone who knew Joe or his family. It would mean so much to my Grandpa, and to me.

Here's one more picture ... my Grandpa and Gram dancing at their 60th Wedding Anniversary in 2007.
UPDATE: I found them!!! Click here to read about it!


Midas said...

Heather, you are so lucky to get to know your grandparents. Mine were all dead by the time I was 14. I didn't get to know them well.

BTW, I am having a second winner for my contest. Please check out the details here.

kbookreviews said...

Thank you for sharing his story. My grandfather also served but I don't really know any details as he doesn't like to talk about it. I don't blame him. I hope you succeed in your goal to find out more about Joe.

DC said...

Thank you so much for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment!

Your grandpa sounds like a truly amazing man. I have such a soft spot in my heart for veterans.

I love your writing style and look forward to checking your blog frequently. :)

Heather Johnson said...

Midas - thanks for dropping by. I do feel blessed to know my grandparents as well as I do.

Kbookreviews - luckily for me, my grandpa will talk about just about anything I ask him about. My dad on the other hand, will not (he's a Vietnam vet). But I'll take what I can get! :)

DC - thanks for stopping by. As you can tell, I too have a soft spot for veterans. I'm working on writing down the details of my grandparents lives (Gram lived through the Battle of Britain) so I can pass it on to the next generation of my extended family.

Hecticmom Undone said...

I'm swinging by for NaComLeavMo as well - loved to hear about your grandparents.

I'm also enjoying your other reading group blog. Your books currently under review are some of the ones I've very much enjoyed.

Nit said...

Thanks for the comment!

This was such a wonderful story. My hat goes off to your grandpa & Joe.

I hope you are successful in your quest :)

Alyson & Ford said...

Wonderful story, so glad you shared. Maybe someone will contact you about Joe.

Have a great week!

Alyson LID 01/27/06 (IA China)

The Town Criers said...

I hope someone in the family is googling and ends up finding this story because it's fantastic.

Heather Johnson said...

thank you to everyone for all the wonderful comments ... this story really means a lot to me and it's wonderful to know that it's touched many of you as well

hopeful #1 said...

This picture of your grandparents is so cute! How precious and inspiring! Way to go!!!


Anonymous said...

CONGRATULATIONS! You have found the family. Please write me at as soon as possible!!!


Anonymous said...

hello good evening !

i am just realize that i own the helmet of joseph tofinchio 4 id 12th number 32044941
i have this helmet since 1959 and i had always kept for souvenir
it is always in normandy near cherbourg
greetings from france
jean yves

Heather J. said...

jean yves - Thank you so much for letting me know about Joe's helmet. It is amazing that you still have it! I hope you also saw the picture of Joe that I posted on another page. Keep well, and feel free to contact me any time.

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