OSWEGO, NY – John Canale believes Oswego’s veterans deserve more credit for their service to this nation. He is on a personal mission to ensure that happens.
More than 66 years ago, they fought in the greatest land battle that was ever fought. Now, they gather to keep alive the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
About a dozen members of Oswego County’s surviving veterans of the Battle of the Bulge met Saturday afternoon at Bridie Manor. The event was spearheaded by Canale, former Oswego city councilor and World War II veteran.
“Many of the GIs who were in the greatest land battle that was ever fought, came from right here in Oswego,” Canale said. “Everywhere I go, whenever I have an opportunity, I brag about them all of the time. I think sometime these men here are long forgotten.”
Canale latest effort is to compose a book about the battle, specifically, and the war in general. At the meeting, he solicited “reports” from the members of the group to be included in what he calls a “best-seller from Oswego, NY.”
A working title for the manuscript, Canale says, is From Birth To Death – On The Firing Line, at home and abroad (referring to his time as a city councilor and as a soldier in World War II).
“What Tom (Halpin; one of Canale’s contemporaries on the city council) and I went through at home was easy compared to what we had to go through over there in World War II and what the guys faced in Korea or Vietnam,” Canale quipped.
He said he’d like to write the book and “spread it out beyond the borders of Oswego.”
“The main parts of this book are real life stories, I’ve got one right here in my pocket,” he said holding up the envelope from group member William Leighton. “This is going to be in the book. It is going to be real life stories by you people.”
Canale will also include a story about his oldest brother, Michael, who was in the Air Force during World War II.
His plane went down over Bricy, France, and the crew taken prisoner.
“One of the German big shots leaned over to the captain, whose name was Bass, and he leaned over after he’d chewed him out and he put a little Bible in his pocket and on it, it said ‘I will see you after the war,’” Canale told the group. “It’s these kinds of personal stories that are going in this book.”
The captain and his wife did meet the German officer and his wife after the war, Canale added.
Canale said he already has about 140 pages’ worth of material.
“At the turn of the century, I started collecting a lot of this information. That is why I have so much information now about the Battle of the Bulge,” he said. “The more that I think about this book, the more that I tell stories on it, I’ve convinced myself that it should be a best seller.”
Canale jokes that he wasn’t there on Dec. 16, 1944, when the battle began to rage. “I was six days later. But it looks like they did a good job without me,” he said.
Canale formed the small group around 2001 to honor the local men who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Taking nothing away from the larger veterans’ organizations, Canale elucidates that “smaller is better.” He said he wanted a group just for the local Battle of the Bulge veterans – specifically to honor them.
“People always said to me, ‘why aren’t you in the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars?’ I told them I like keep it small like me. I want to keep it small so we can have some kind of closeness.”
The group has about three dozen members, including some veterans who didn’t fight in the battle. Only 8 attended the meeting.
It wasn’t a good showing – but not that bad, either, Canale said, noting the advanced age of the members.
Most of them, himself included, are octogenarians. They range in age from 80 to 89 with some in their 90s, he said.
The meeting began on a somber note as Canale called the roll of the members who’ve passed away recently.
“We must never forget those people. Those guys were very religious about coming to our meetings. We must never forget these guys who were with us roughly 10 years ago when all this started,” he said.
He hopes to increase the club’s membership.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a Battle of the Bulge veteran. It can be someone from World War II, from the Navy, Air Force, Marines or whatever,” he said.