Friends enlisted together and served in the U.S. Army 70 years ago, forever uniting two families
At a special presentation on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the day Charles J. Dolan was killed in action by enemy forces during World War II, Congressman Brian Higgins and Village of Williamsville Mayor Brian Kulpa presented the Dolan family with the Purple Heart and Bronze Star in recognition of his sacrifices. In addition, a Bronze Star was presented to the family of Frank A. Grassia, Dolan's brother-in-law, who served with him in the U.S. Army.
"Private First Class Dolan and Private Grassia's story is one of loyalty to their country and to each other with a friendship that lives on through generations of family now forever connected," Higgins said. "It is our honor to recognize their commitment and contributions to this great nation."
"Private First Class Dolan and Private Grassia showed true heroism while fighting some of the toughest battles of World War II," Kulpa said. "We are humbled by their sacrifice and honored to present their families with these medals today."
Before they enlisted, Dolan and Grassia were good friends who grew up a few streets away from each other on the West Side of Buffalo. On May 3, 1944, they both enlisted together to serve this country in World War II. They were assigned to separate U.S. Army infantry divisions.
Before enlisting, Dolan began producing aircraft engines for the U.S. Military as an employee of Curtiss-Wright. The aircrafts helped to ensure Allied air dominance over the course of the war. A few weeks before he left for war, he took his two sisters, Rose and Mary, to a local theater. There, they watched "The Fighting Sullivans," a movie about a family of five siblings killed in action in World War II when their vessel, the USS Juneau, sank Nov. 13, 1942. Today, the USS Sullivans, a naval ship named after these five brothers, is docked at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park.
Unfortunately, not long after Dolan began his service, he, too, lost his life in battle.
Dolan served in the 255th Infantry Regiment, 63rd Infantry Division, known as the "Blood and Fire" division. He was killed in France March 7, 1945, while trying to advance with his division through Alsace-Lorraine. The advance of Allied Forces through France, including Alsace-Lorraine, stands as one of the greatest liberations in military history.
Grassia served in the 309th Infantry Regiment, 78th Infantry Division, which played a vital role during World War II through participation in the Battle of the Bulge. During this battle, Allied Forces stood strong on Germany's border against German aggression, but U.S. forces incurred their highest number of casualties for any operation during the war.
After participating in this historic battle, and despite losing his good friend in action, Grassia forged ahead. His 78th Infantry Division fiercely fought in the Battle of Remagen and eventually captured the Ludendorff Bridge, which was the last remaining bridge over the Rhine River. This defeat allowed the Allied Forces to quickly get many troops into Germany, a move that helped to bring an end to the war in Europe.
After the end of the World War II, Grassia continued his service by helping to liberate the concentration camps until the summer of 1946. Upon his return, the Grassia and Dolan families remained close, which led to Frank's marriage to Charles' sister, Rose, as well as an additional Grassia-Dolan union.
Grassia passed away in 1991, never receiving the service medals he was owed.
Brian Grassia, a resident of the Village of Williamsville, reached out to Higgins in an effort to secure medals earned by his uncle Charles and father Frank during World War II. Brian requested the medals so the family can honor Dolan's service on the eve of the 70th anniversary of his death in service, and the anniversary celebrating Grassia's success in the Battle of Remagen.
Higgins presented Dolan's medals to his sister, Mary Dolan Campana. They include: the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service; the Purple Heart; the Combat Infantry Badge; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal.
The certificate for the Bronze Star Medal reads:
"The Bronze Star Medal is awarded to Private First Class Charles J. Dolan for meritorious achievement in active ground combat against the enemy on 5 February 1945, while serving with Company A, 1st Battalion, 255th Infantry Regiment, 63rd Infantry Division, in support of the Blood and Fire Division's drive through the Rhineland. Private First Class Dolan's exemplary performance of duty in active ground combat was in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 255th Infantry Regiment, 63rd Infantry Division, and the Army of the United States."
Higgins presented Grassia's medals to his 9 year-old great-grandson, Nicholas James Matheny. Grassia's medals include the Bronze Star Medal in for meritorious service; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; the World War II Victory Medal; the Army of Occupation Medal; the Combat Infantryman Badge; and the Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII.
The Bronze Star is awarded to members of the military distinguishing themselves by heroic service while engaged in an action against an armed enemy. The Purple Heart is awarded to soldiers who have been injured or killed due to hostile actions while serving with the U.S. Armed Forces. Gen. George Washington established the original Purple Heart, designated as the Badge of Military Merit, in 1782.