FAIRPORT — Dozens of people gathered at Church of the Assumption on Dec. 7 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. They were there not only to remember those who lost their lives that day, but also those for whom the attacks served as a call to action, as a great many Americans — including a number of Fairport residents — enlisted in the armed forces in the days, weeks and years following the attack, according to Bill Poray, Perinton Town Historian.
"For the veterans that are here today and the veterans that can’t be, I am very grateful for your service. We need not wait until a holiday or a day of remembrance to thank you for your service," Poray told those gathered in the church.
Fairport Remembers Pearl Harbor was planned by Assumption parishioner Ron Buttarazzi, who emceed the event. At the beginning of the event, he introduced Father Alexander Bradshaw, who led a prayer for those who lost their lives during World War II.
"As we cherish their memory and entrust them to you, we give thanks to all those who have sacrificed their lives to preserve the democracy that we value so greatly," Father Bradshaw said.
Buttarazzi and Poray talked about a number of Fairport and Perinton residents who served during World War II, including Buttarazzi’s longtime neighbor, the late Wilbur Buholtz, whose daughter was present and spoke at the event. The Fairport community rallied together in support of the war in the years following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Poray noted. Children and teens were well aware of what was happening in the world, and a regular page in the local weekly newspaper was reserved for high-school students, who frequently wrote about the war taking place overseas.
"The school yearbooks were filled with information about the previous year’s class and what happened to those kids who went off to war," Poray said. "Our community was so connected to the war effort. It really was a communitywide effort of support."
As the teens who grew up during the war years came of age, many of them went off to serve their country in the military, including an Italian immigrant named Mario Pomponio, Poray added. Pomponio and his family emigrated from Italy when he was just a young boy. They first settled in Westchester County but after just five years moved to Fairport, where Pomponio excelled in sports and athletics and was a leader among his peers, Poray said. Pomponio graduated from Fairport High School as valedictorian in June 1944, and later that month he enlisted in the armed forces.
"After a short Christmas furlough at home, Mario the raw recruit was sent overseas," Poray said.
In Wihr-En-Plaine, France, Pomponio joined Company E of the 7th Infantry, which had suffered many casualties. On his second day with the company — and his first day of wartime combat — 60 German soldiers cornered Pomponio and his five fellow squadmates in a house that was behind a six-foot wall, Poray said.
"The Germans rained down shells and gunfire on the handful of American soldiers, but the six had difficulty retaliating because they were behind that wall, and the height of the wall kept them from taking direct aim at their enemy," Poray said.
Despite his lack of combat experience, Pomponio took decisive action that day, according to eyewitness accounts. According to a written statement from Tech. Sgt. Alfonso P. Darchi, Pomponio leapt up on top of the wall and began firing his rifle at the German soldiers operating the machine gun nearest him. At least 16 German soldiers fired at him, yet none hit him, according to Darchi’s statement.
"As he ran back and forth with characteristic energy, balancing himself on the wall and firing away like a maniac, artillery and mortar shells burst within ten yards of him. Snipers and pistol men came so close to hitting him that only a miracle saved him. Silhouetted by the bright glare of two houses burning nearby, standing there completely exposed to the fire of the enemy, Private Pomponio finished knocking out the machine gun nearest him and then jumped down into the street, headed straight for the … second machine gun," Darchi wrote.
Although the soldiers manning this gun fired upon him, Pomponio "dispatched the two-man crew" of the second machine gun and headed into a nearby barn, where 10 German soldiers were entrenched, Darchi wrote. Pomponio reportedly told them to surrender, and although one of the German soldiers tried to shoot Pomponio, the American was quicker on the draw and shot the German soldier.
"The others, bewildered by the lightning speed of this one-man assault, then surrendered to him," Darchi wrote.
With the tide of the battle turned, Pomponio and the other five American soldiers were able to capture the remaining 45 German soldiers, according to Darchi’s statement.
"Private Pomponio was killed three days later. But in the four days he was with us, he became a legend. I have never known a braver man," Darchi wrote.
Pomponio was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and many believe he should have received a Congressional Medal of Honor as well, Poray said. The selfless actions of Pomponio and so many other veterans grew out of the tragedy that occurred at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, he said.
"While remembering Pearl Harbor, it is also important to remember the bravery and heroism of those at Pearl Harbor and how it had a lasting impact on the country, … on people such as Mario Pomponio," Poray said.