It took decades, but the Bronx family of a World War II serviceman killed in the Pacific finally received his Purple Heart and campaign ribbons thanks to a Bronx congressman.
Rep. Joe Crowley presented a replacement Purple Heart medal on Monday, May 20, to the family of late World War II hero Carmelo DiGregorio in recognition of his distinguished military service in the U.S. Navy.
DiGregorio originally received the distinction after being seriously wounded during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942 while aboard the U.S.S Atlanta. When DiGregorio died in combat a year later, his family never received the medal.
“As our country celebrates National Military Appreciation Month, I could not think of a more fitting way to honor Carmelo and his family than by securing a replacement of this distinguished award on their behalf,” said Crowley (D-Bronx/Queens). “These decorations serve as a way of demonstrating our deep appreciation for their sacrifices and remembering what they did to protect our nation.”
In addition to the Purple Heart, Crowley posthumously awarded DiGregorio five other military distinctions, including the World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asia Pacific Campaign Medal, Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon and Combat Action Ribbon.
Ben DiGregorio, Carmelo’s sole surviving sibling, accepted the awards on behalf of the family from his City Island home.
“I think it is great that we have representatives like Congressman Crowley who care deeply about the people who served our country,” he said. “I am grateful that he was able to secure the medals because it means a great deal to our family and the members of our community. People like my brother Carmelo were just ordinary people doing extraordinary things and I am glad his great service can now be recognized.”
“Carmelo is the ultimate example of selflessness,” Crowley continued. “Not only did he and the other members of his ship put their lives on the line as the first line of defense, but after suffering major injuries, Carmelo refused any suggestion that he retire from the Navy and instead chose to continue fighting for our country. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Carmelo, his brothers, and all of our service members.”
Carmelo was the first of five DiGregorio children who all went on to serve in the military. He enlisted in November of 1941, at age 17, one month before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He died at sea on October 20, 1943, when a large wave drove him off the freighter he was aboard.
Following outreach from Ben DiGregorio to Crowley’s office to inquire about the medal their family never received, Crowley sent a letter to the National Personnel Records Center and the U.S. Navy requesting Carmelo’s medical records and any potential medals Carmelo was entitled to. Four months later, the National Personnel Records Center and the Navy informed the Congressman that they would replace Carmelo’s Purple Heart, and issue five other honors he had earned.
Crowley also presented DiGregorio with an American flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol last week in Carmelo’s honor.