A village of 250 inhabitants organized a solemn mass during one of the most beautiful Sunday, to show its dedication in organizing funerals for a hero, to a simple American that has been killed during the liberation of the people of Leugnies, from Nazi tyranny.
Private Dominick G. Gatto, from the 47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, veteran of North Africa Campaign, Tunisia, Sicily and Normandy, was driving a jeep with other members of his reconnaissance platoon toward Leugnies, nearby the frontier, when German artillery spotted them. Gatto, who lived in Boundbrook, was killed instantly and the rest of the crew were forced to withdraw to find cover.
Chaplain Father Anthony De Laura, 38 years old, former assistant of rector of the St. Joseph Church, left to find Gatto on the afternoon. He found him the day after, in Leugnies. The locals, understanding the aim of his investigations, led him to a modest Belgian house where Gatto remained on a bed, with bouquets of fresh cut flowers next to him.
His helmet and raincoat were disposed next to his feet with a Belgian flag that has been used during the First World War and hanging on the wall. Two members of the Belgian Resistance were guarding the body into the room.
Chaplain De Laura met the Mayor and the local priest, who informed him that a young girl found the body that was transferred in the house. The Mayor told Father De Laura that funerals would be organized in dedication of Gatto the afternoon, and asked for the participation of the Chaplain.
Behind two altar boys carrying a cross, the funeral procession walked toward the church, following the main road. Following the procession, Chaplain De Laura, the priest and his assistants, 40 young girls carrying flowers, two members of the Belgian Resistance, a music band and the carriers of the coffin, covered by a American flag. Local people also followed the procession.
From the regiment, in addition of the Chaplain, his assistant, John E. Mc Adams, from Greenbury, PA, Emilio Franciosa, from New York City and George E. Hutton, from Harrisburg, PA.
In this small Catholic Church, the Belgian choir ended the funeral service in singing the Star Spangled Banner. Father De Laura, assited by two Belgian priests, directed a solemn requiem, a great mass, le most important ceremony planned for a catholic church. Choir interpreted Belgian national hymn during the ceremony.
Initially, the burial of the body was planned for the same afternoon, but decision changed when authorities heard that the German had destroyed the material of the gravedigger, when he began to dig the grave, se he took more time because he had to dig it manually.
So the body had to return to the mortuary room. Buglers ran again, and the little girls with their flowers walked silently in front of the coffin to lay their bouquet on this fallen hero. A Belgian honor guard was present, and Private Dominick G. Gatto was buried in the first American Cemetery in Fosse-la-Ville, on the same day.
Corporal Robert H.J. Dunn, ASN 32159266, was born in 1918 in New Jersey. He lived in Gloucester, NJ, before the War. He was journalist before he volunteered the Army on 14 July 1941 at the age of 23. He joined the 47th Infantry Regiment, in which in went thru all the 9th Infantry Division’s campaigns, from North Africa to Germany. After the War, he came back to the USA and met a lady he married : Evelyn T. Dunn. They settled down in Westville, NJ. In 2004, he came back in Europe, and he told the story of Priavte Dominick C. Gatto to the locals in Beaumont and Leugnies, during the ceremonies dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the Liberation of Belgium.
UPDATE (17 Sep 2016)
Thank to Mr. Maxime Noel, who worked hard to gather information about the first American Cemetery in Belgium (U.S. cemetery in Fosse-la-Ville), I can now add a picture of Gatto’s first grave in the temporary cemetery. The young boy next to the grave seems to be a local child that personally honored Dominick G. Gatto’s grave in Fosse-la-Ville, Belgium. Again, thank you to Mr. Noel for his researches and his dedication to these men that were buried on Belgian’s soil.