|Raritan's 5 Del Rocco Brothers Served in World War II|
|Top - Mike and Frank; Bottom - Joe, Jimmy, & Steve|
|During World War II the patriotic town of Raritan had hundreds of young men in the military defending our country. There was no better example of this patriotism than at 9 Doughty Street where the Del Rocco family had 5 of their sons in the service. The parents Frank and Catherine Del Rocco had both been born in Italy. Frank, who was from the Naples area, came to this country in the early 1900s. He settled in Raritan and met Catherine Pastore who had also been born in Italy. They would marry in 1907. The next year in 1908 they would have their first of 10 children, Ralph. Soon after, the other children were born - Anthony, James, Betty, Frank Jr., Steve, Joe, Michael, Anna, and finally Mary in 1926.|
|Frank and Catherine Del Rocco, proud parents of|
Ten children, five of them served in World War II
|Of the ten children, just Anna and Steve are still alive today.|
They both gladly sat down with "Raritan-online"
to share their family’s story with us.
|The Del Rocco family initially lived in an apartment at 27 Anderson Street in Raritan. By the early 1920s the family had outgrown the apartment and they moved into a home at 9 Doughty Street. This home fit the kids as it had 5 bedrooms, but as homes were designed back then it had only one bathroom.|
|27 Anderson St. & 9 Doughty St.|
|These were simple times, Frank who grew up in an era of little technology, never wanted a car, he walked everywhere. He was employed just a few blocks away at The Raritan Woolen Mills. With 10 kids to care for his wife Catherine did not work. The family’s first car would not come until Frank Jr. and Anthony were old enough to drive and they purchased a car together. The same with a phone, it would be the older kids who initiated the installation of a phone. The conveniences of life were all within walking distance. Frank walked to work. For mom to shop the local grocery stores were plentiful. So were department stores. If one needed to talk to a friend they were usually in town or sometimes even on the same street. Their neighbor, John Pacifico, who lived just two houses away at 13 Doughty Street, recalled life back in Raritan the 1930s and 1940s. “The whole street was like one big family. It was common for one family to spend time in the other’s home or yard. It was an era where we never locked our doors. That’s how it was back then. As for the Del Roccos, they were wonderful people to have as neighbors. ”|
|The whole family sometime in the 1940s|
|The first Del Rocco son to join the military was Frank who joined before the U.S. enlisted in World War II when he entered the Navy in December of 1939. His brother Steve signed up for the army a few months later in March of 1940. The U.S. would enter the war after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Joe Del Rocco entered the army soon after in February of 1942. One month later, his brother James would also join the army. Finally Michael was inducted into the Navy in October of 1943. That made it 5 Del Rocco brothers fighting for the country. This was the most that one family had in Raritan. The town all knew of them and was very proud of them. The local paper sometimes called them “The Wandering Del Roccos”.|
|Frank with his sisters during WW2|
|Sister Anna Del Rocco recalled life on the homefront during the war. With five brothers in harm’s way there was constant worry. Every family with a son overseas feared the telegram delivered by the Western Union delivery boy. The telegrams which notified a family of their son’s death began with a phrase now itched in American History “REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR SON …” Occasionally the delivery boy, usually on a bicycle from the Telegram office in Somerville would come into Raritan. Anna recalled one day while she was out and around in Raritan she saw the Western Union boy making his way into town. She decided that just in case he was headed to their home to delivery tragic news that she should be home. So she headed home immediately. Fortunately, the Western Union delivery boy did not come to their home that day. In fact, he never came to the Del Rocco home as all her brothers returned home safe.|
|Telegrams like the above were feared by every family|
Fortunatly one never arrived at the Del Rocco house
|During the war the family turned to the church for support. Anna Del Rocco recalls how her mother attended church at St. Ann’s every day. For extra spiritual support, inside St. Ann’s church several families’ who had sons in the service had their last names displayed on small oval plaques that were on the beams going into the ceiling. They felt it couldn’t hurt to have your name posted in the house of God - as he just might watch over your son a little bit more. These small plaques (around a dozen of them) remained visible in the church for decades after the war. However, during a renovation in the 1980s, the beams were painted and these names were covered up.
Anna’s mother always made sure that Anna wrote to her brothers. Even if there was not that much new information to put in the next letter, she still wrote to them - all of them. In an age before computers and where copiers were rare and inaccessible to the average family, Anna hand wrote five similar letters to her five brothers.
|St. Ann's Church during World War II|
Note the Star Board on the left
||While serving their country the Del Rocco brothers never got to see each other. (But they did write.) However, on one occasion Navy men Michael and Frank Jr. almost did get to meet. This was at the island of Saipan in the Pacific. Their ships, unknown to them at the time, had been docked just 100 yards apart. Michael was aboard the USS Mount McKinley and Frank Jr. was then on a fleet tanker The USS Manatee. After Michael’s ship departed for another port, Frank then learned that his brother’s ship had been nearby. They would have to wait till the war’s end to meet again.|
|Overseas The USS Mount McKinley & The USS Manatee were|
docked just 100 yards apart but Michael & Frank did not know it.
|The 5 brothers all had different experiences in the war.|
Steve Del Rocco who joined the army in March of 1940 was for his first two years stationed in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Then he was transferred to the states to train soldiers at boot camps in Texas, Alabama, and Georgia.
|Joseph Del Rocco joined the army in early 1942. He was first stationed at Ft. Dix, New Jersey. He was promoted to Staff Sergeant before his unit moved overseas. He and his unit fought in battles in Australia, New Guinea, and the Southern Philippines. Joe supervised 25 men in the operation of range finding equipment such as radar and data predicting instruments. He served in the 166th anti-aircraft artillery Gun Battalion. Having shot down at least 36 Japanese Aircraft, the 166th was awarded the highest award given by the US Army for unit service - The Presidential Unit Citation - for their distinguished service in the Philippines.|
|Michael, in the Navy, served aboard the USS Mount McKinley, an escort and communications ship that operated in the Pacific. The ship was a floating command post with advanced communications equipment to coordinate large scale amphibious landings. The ship helped direct a landing of the 1st Marine Division at Peleliu in September of 1944. Later in October that year the ship was assisting off the coast of Leyte Gulf. Here the ship came under attack from the air by the Japanese, but was not hit. At the end of March of 1945, the USS Mount McKinley went to the southern coast of Okinawa to direct landing of the 77th Infantry Division. Research for this article has brought to light that this division (the 77th) was Michael’s brother James’s division. Details beyond that are not known.|
|Letter written to Tony Orlando by Michael 7-23-45||Click to see Michael's World War II paperwork|
|James, in the army, had first been stationed for a while at Fort Jackson South Carolina where he worked as an auto mechanic. He went overseas with the 77th division in Hollandia, New Guinea. His unit would visit other parts of the South Pacific such as Leyte and Okinawa.|
|Frank Del Rocco, who had joined the service first when he signed up for the Navy in December of 1939, would see extensive combat as his ship the
USS Astoria fought at several now famous major sea battles in the Pacific against the Japanese. This included the Battle of The Coral Sea, The Battle at Midway,
and The Naval Battle at Guadalcanal (Savo Island) where his ship was sunk. |
His vast and exciting story appears as a separate article in this newspaper.
|Click for Frank's World War II story|
|When their job was done the five Del Roccos brother Frank, Steve, Michael, Joe, and James returned to their lives in Raritan. The family soon hired an artist, whose name has been lost to history, to draw a painting of the five Del Rocco brothers together in their military uniforms. This portrait was proudly displayed in the years to come at 9 Doughty Street in the Del Rocco living room over the couch. Today, the portrait hangs in the home of Steve Del Rocco.|
|Steve Del Rocco would go on to have a long list of achievements in community involvement.
He started the Raritan recreation program and was its director for 20 years.
He was commander of the VFW. He was mayor of Raritan for 2 terms, and he started the Basilone Parade.
There is a ball field named after him.
He would marry a girl from Montreal Canada - Teresa Blanchard in 1951. Together they would have 3 sons – Steve Jr., Dennis, and Ronald.
Today, in his nineties, he still usually rides in the annual parade.
He lives in Raritan on the corner of North Thompson Street and Route 202 – next to the Firehouse.
Michael Del Rocco would marry a Raritan girl Lucy Pellechio in 1951. They had two children, Michael Jr. and Robert. Mike worked for Johns Manville, retiring in 1993. Mike and Lucy built a 3 bedroom ranch at 412 Sherman Ave in Raritan in 1954. They lived there until Michael died in 2007.
James Del Rocco worked in the Redfern Lace Factory in Somerville for most of his life. He would marry Helene Daubey who had been born in Germany. They would live in Somerville the rest of their life. He died in 1978 – his wife Helene in 1984. They had one daughter Catherine (Del Rocco) Fortunato.
Joe Del Rocco worked first as a small store/cafe owner/manager in Bayonne, NJ. Then, he worked for the Port of Authority as an electrician till he retired. He married Lena Santoro around 1946. They first lived in Bayonne, NJ where they had their three children: Patricia, Joseph and Judith. They moved to their first home in Carteret, NJ where they lived for years until Joseph retired then they moved to Margate, FL where they lived till Joe died in 1998.
Frank Del Rocco when he first came home from the war was a bartender in New York City. He later moved to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. There he opened the very first frozen food business on the islands. He never married. Frank died in 1978.
|Anthony (Tee), Betty, Mary, Anna, Frank, Mike, Joe, Steve|
Jimmy, Pop, Mom, & Ralph
|Family of Frank and Catherine Del Rocco|
|James||1910||1978||Army - Mar 42|
|Frank||1916||1978||Navy - Dec 39|
|Steve||1918||lives in Raritan||Army - Mar 40|
|Joe||1920||1998||Army - Feb 42|
|Michael||1921||2007||Navy - Oct 43|
|Anna (Moretti)||1924||lives in Bridgewater|