May, 1920 - September 1, 1944
Pelham Resident c. 1936 - c. 1942
Two letters arrived in Pelham In early September, 1944 at 618 Fifth Avenue, the home of John and Rosa Colautti. Both were from their only son, Americo, written a couple of weeks apart but received almost simultaneously. The return address at the top of one letter was “Somewhere in France” with a date of August 18th. “Believe it or not, as I write to you now I am sitting in a living room of a French home. It doesn’t seem real to me to be sitting in a chair and have the commodity of a table to write on,” he wrote. “It reminds me of home, sweet home. How I wish I could be there.”
Americo Colautti, like many Pelham men, was assigned a draft registration number in 1941. He was given number S-13, received on July 11, 1941, just a few weeks after he had graduated from Pelham Memorial High School and just six years after he had arrived in the United States. He had travelled here with his mother from Naples, Italy aboard the S.S. Saturnia, following his father who had immigrated earlier and was working as a mason in road construction. Raised in Castelnuovo del Friuli, Americo was named for the country to which his family aspired. He arrived in New York at age 14, able to read, write and speak only Italian.
Below: S.S. Saturnia in 1932 (photo Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)
After a brief stint living in the Bronx and attending P.S. 87, the Colauttis moved to Pelham. By the time Americo was a junior at PMHS, he was on the football and basketball teams and participating in Sock ‘n Buskin productions, first as a member of the stage crew working alongside fellow student (and eventual life-long Pelhamite) Vic Henningsen, before auditioning and receiving a part in “What a Life!,” a comedy about 24 hours in the life of a teenage character named Henry Aldrich. Alongside his Pelican yearbook photo, he was described as “Henningsen’s right hand man – character actor – ready, willing and able – one of the best.” His photo depicted a young man with a strong brow and chin, brown hair and blue eyes.
After graduating from PMHS and before the United States had officially entered the war, Americo worked for the Colt Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut. He enlisted in the United States Army on March 9, 1943. A week later, Pelham held a send off party for him and 26 other Pelham boys as they headed off to war. Americo ended up assigned to the Eighth Infantry Division of the 121st Infantry Regiment, which landed on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France on July 4, 1944. According to a history of the Eighth Division, Americo would have headed south to the La Haye-du-Puits sector. Two years from the exact day of receiving his draft number, Americo was advancing against stiff resistance by the German occupying forces before reaching the Ay River. After seizing the Brittany Capital City of Rennes in early August, Americo and his division pushed on to the historic Saint-Malo region with heavy American bombing in attacking the German garrison at Dinard. It was in this time that he found the temporary place of rest with the luxury of a table and chair where he wrote to his parents. He closed that letter by writing: “To me, it’s like a crime to be fighting and destroying all the beautiful French homes around here. They are (or rather were) some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. At this time of the season, every little bit of ground around each home is covered with all kinds of flowers. – Americo”
He reported in a second letter to his parents dated August 28th that he was well but implied being in the thick of the fight. Although the Germans had surrendered Paris on August 25th, this was just three days into his division’s battle for control of Brest, described in a contemporary account as an “iron-bound, seemingly impregnable French port which … was to prove one of the strongest links in the chain that was ultimately to bind the muscles of the arrogant monster, Germany.”
Americo Colautti was killed in action on September 1, 1944 at the age of 24. His second letter did not arrive in Pelham until five days later on September 6. He was awarded, posthumously the Purple Heart, and his remains are buried at the Brittany American Cemetery, St. James (Manche) in France. His name is listed on the bronze WWII memorial plaque in the lobby of Pelham Memorial High School, along with 61 others from Pelham who died in service during that war.
Sources: “Gold Star Will Shine on Flag in Colautti Home,” Pelham Sun, October 5, 1944; "Draft Send Off," Pelham Sun, March 16, 1943; Sock 'n Buskin productions reported in the Daily Argus (Mount Vernon), August 12, 1939 and the Pelham Sun, March 22, 1940 and November, 1940, ; List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States, S.S. Saturnia, January 28, 1935; United States Census Record 1940; The Pelican (Yearbook of Pelham Memorial High School), 1941; Draft registration numbers reported in the Daily Argus, July 11, 1941; United States Army, Eighth Infantry Division: a combat history of regiments and special units (1946), World War Regimental Histories, 121; U.S. Headstone Inscription and Interment Record (St. James 3504, Block L, Row 5, Grave 3).