Frank W. Celentano

Frank William Celentano
Woodside, Queens, NY
Mother, Mrs. Jennie Celentano
9/28/1942 – 9/19/1944
Roi-Namur C/1/24 745 PFC WIA
Navy Cross, Purple Heart

Frank Celentano was born in Manhattan in May, 1922. His parents, Frank and Jennie, moved their family out to Queens, settling in at 5403 43rd Street. The elder Frank worked as a furniture mover; by 1940, when the younger Frank was 17, he and his two older siblings were holding down jobs of their own.

Celentano joined the Marine Corps in September, 1942, and attended boot camp at Parris Island with the Eleventh Recruit Battalion. After completing his training, Private Celentano was sent to New River, North Carolina, where he joined Company C, First Separate Battalion as a rifleman.

In the spring of 1943, Celentano traveled to San Diego, California. His company took up residence at Camp Pendleton, California, where they were re-designated as Charlie Company, First Battalion, 24th Marines. For the balance of the year the company was involved in increasingly complex training exercises. Celentano did well in these exercises, and was promoted to Private First Class on July 17, 1943.

Six months later, Celentano was aboard the USS DuPage and headed for combat. Most of the men in his company thought they were on another practice mission when they set sail on January 13, 1944; when they were told of their true destination after several days at sea, most cheered at the thought of taking the fight to the Japanese. They were bound for the twin islands of Roi-Namur in the Kwajalein atoll, where they and other regiments of the Fourth Marine Division would capture a strategically important airfield.

The February 1 landing on Roi-Namur was not without its problems, but the majority of Celentano’s battalion landed in their correct positions and began advancing  inland. For their first time in combat, the green Marines performed well; some were even a little too aggressive, advancing far beyond their supporting lines. Such was the case with PFC Celentano, who found himself in a Japanese trench with five of his comrades. It was getting late in the day and the six men were pinned down, unable to get back to their lines.

A Japanese soldier spotted the trench, pulled out a grenade, and hurled it at the Americans. Fuse sputtering, the missile landed squarely in the middle of the Marines. Without stopping to think, Celentano grabbed the grenade and hurled it out of the trench just as it exploded.

The blast took off his left hand.

In agony, Celentano fell back into the trench, clutching at his wrist. One of the men whose life Celentano had saved managed to get a tourniquet on him and slow the bleeding. To call for a corpsman, or to make any sound at all, would have alerted other Japanese to their location – and might have drawn fire from Marines as well. For the rest of a very long night, the tough kid from Queens bit his tongue and took the pain. It was well that he did; a strong Japanese counterattack struck his battalion’s Company B that night, and a machine gunner from Company A killed 40 of the enemy bent on infiltrating Marine positions. Against those odds, Celentano’s group would not have stood a chance.

As dawn broke on February 2, Marine patrols began cautiously moving forward. Finally, a corpsman was called to Celentano’s position. He was treated and carried back to the beach on a stretcher for evacuation to the USS Solace.

Celentano was sent back to the Naval Hospital at Mare Island, California, for treatment. He would spend several months under the doctor’s care. The daily routine was occasionally broken by official visits, and on July 15, 1944, Celentano was summoned to a formal ceremony. As an officer read aloud from a piece of paper, Admiral Chester Nimitz pinned a medal to Celentano’s chest. It was the Navy Cross, awarded for his service on Namur.

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Frank W. Celentano (472472), Private First Class, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty while serving with Company C, First Battalion, Twenty-Fourth Marines, FOURTH Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces during the invasion of Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll, 1 February 1944. Occupying a section of a Japanese fire trench with five other men when an enemy hand grenade was thrown into the trench, Private First Class Celentano unhesitatingly took the initiative and, heroically disregarding all personal danger, seized the weapon and threw it from the trench, saving the lives of his men but losing his own hand when the deadly missile exploded as he released it. Concerned only for the safety of his comrades in their precarious positions, he remained as he was, unattended throughout the night, making no outcry and refusing to yield to his pain least he endanger them. His steadfast courage, unyielding fortitude and valiant spirit of self-sacrifice reflect the highest credit upon Private First Class Celentano and the United States Naval Service.

Celentano was also awarded the Purple Heart for the loss of his hand. With a salute, a handshake, and a photograph for posterity, the officers departed.

Admiral Nimitz has just pinned the Navy Cross to Frank Celentano’s uniform. July, 1944.

Photo source

Celentano was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps on September 19, 1944. He had traveled thousands of miles, seen awful and amazing things, had taken lives and saved the lives of others. It was time to head back to Queens.

After the war, Frank Celentano married Eileen Gilmartin and moved to Rocky Point, Long Island. They raised nine children while he worked at a variety of jobs – never letting the loss of a hand slow him down. Taking the Marine slogan “improvise and adapt” to heart, Celentano laid bricks, painted walls, and even moved furniture like his father. He became a locally renowned  fisherman and a champion handball player, routinely defeating local college kids who stood in lines to challenge him. Celentano was victorious in every game. About the only thing he couldn’t do was lace up his shoes – Eileen helped with that, and the family never batted an eye.

Frank Celentano passed away on June 12, 2012, at the age of ninety. He left behind nine children, 32 grandchildren, and a community that remembers him as not only a veteran and hero, but “a very kind man” as well.

In six short days God made the world
On the seventh day He rested
When someone asked what would He do
should freedom e’re be tested.
A smile came upon His face and a tear
was in His eye.
and HE whispered “SEMPER FI”
– Robert E. Celentano
Information from this biography was sourced from the Rocky Point Patch and Newsday. Many thanks to Robert Celentano, Frank’s son, for the use of his poem.

3 thoughts on “Frank W. Celentano

  1. robert celentano i am sorry to read of your dads passing. i remember you telling stories of him. semper fi tom curtis

  2. Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the pictures
    on this blog loading? I’m trying to find out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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