PFC Salvatore C. Speciale

Cortland Standard, December 2, 1942
Cortland Standard, December 2, 1942


Salvatore C. Speciale
67 Central Avenue, Cortland, NY
Mother, Mrs. Julia Speciale
January 5, 1942
October 8, 1942
Guadalcanal I/3/5 Platoon Messenger PFC MIA
Unknown, disappeared in vicinity of Matanikau River
Purple Heart
Private First Class
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

Birth and Early Life:
Salvatore Speciale was born in Connecticut around the year 1923, and raised in Cortland, New York. His Sicilian mother, Julia LaGrua, worked in a grocery store to support her children; Salvatore was her youngest. He was known as “Sammy” from a young age (even appearing on the 1930 census as “Samuel Speciale”) and as a boy his social activities included membership in Boy Scout Troop 89, where he befriended another youth named Lyn Taylor.

Sammy Speciale graduated from Cortland High School, and unlike many of his generation decided to further his education. He was enrolled at Clarkson College of Technology in Potsdam when Pearl Harbor was attacked – an event that would change his plans for the future.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
When the war broke out the Speciale brothers, Salvatore and Benedetto – Sammy and Benny – decided to join the armed forces. Benny thought about the Army, but Sammy decided to throw in his lot with the Marine Corps on January 5, 1942. After training at Parris Island with the 9th Recruit Battalion, Sammy shipped out to join Company I, 3rd Battalion, Fifth Marines at New River, North Carolina.

Wartime Service:
Shortly after his arrival at New River, Speciale was promoted to Private First Class and given the job of runner. He attached himself to one of the company lieutenants; if the platoon leader needed a message delivered or an errand run, PFC Speciale was ready to go. (1) Sammy acted as the officer’s right hand man through training activities in North Carolina, during the voyage to California and then to New Zealand, and finally into combat on Guadalcanal.

On August 7, 1942, Item Company set foot on Guadalcanal’s Red Beach. For the next two months, they performed combat patrols, held defensive lines, and lost Marines nearly every day to bullets and shells, overwhelming heat, poor food, and rampant malaria.

Following a brief hiatus at the end of September, Marine planners set in motion another series of maneuvers against Japanese positions along the feared Matanikau River. The steep banks of the river, and the thick jungle surrounding it, had done as much to stymie American advancements as had the Japanese defenders; the few clear crossings were well defended (as the Marines learned the hard way in September, 1942) and movement anywhere else was exhausting and time-consuming. It was into this unhealthy environment that two battalions of the Fifth Marines – Speciale’s 3rd Battalion among them – began advancing at 0700 on October 7.

By 1000, the attack had been held up once again – not by terrain or by weather, but by a pocket of well-entrenched Japanese of the 4th Infantry Regiment who had, much to the surprise of the Marines, dug in on what was considered the “American” side of the Matanikau. The resulting firefight lasted for nearly twelve hours, and kept 3/5 from reaching its intended objective. That night, the Marines dug in themselves and kept an eye on the Japanese, whom they could hear rustling and talking not far away. Occasional bursts of gunfire cracked through the night; Company I had been chastened for firing on friendly troops early in the campaign, and they had learned that to shoot at noises only wasted ammunition and revealed their position. Sammy Speciale crouched close by his officer and waited for daylight; he might have recalled his most recent letter home, in which he told his family not to worry.

Date Of Loss:
The Japanese made a break for it in the midnight hours of October 7-8, 1942. The melee that followed was pure pandemonium as up to 200 Imperial soldiers ran smack into Item Company with bayonets fixed and fire in their eyes. American and Japanese slashed, stabbed, gouged, clubbed and shot each other in the pitch dark, hitting friend and foe alike. When morning broke, piles of bodies greeted the survivors of both sides. The Marines set about searching for their friends and dispatching Japanese stragglers; almost the entire contingent of the 4th Infantry had been wiped out during the night, and save for a handful that had made it back across the Matanikau, the remainder died at the hands of angry Marine Raiders.

An icy cloudburst broke over Guadalcanal on October 8, soaking the already miserable Marines and holding up the advance of 3/5 still further. For the most part, the battalion maintained its position during the day, hearing stiff fighting in the near distance and dodging the occasional bullet that whined their way.

Sammy Speciale had survived the big banzai attack, but his position required constant movement as orders for the platoon came and went. At around 5:00 PM, he took off into the trees, presumably on some errand – and vanished completely. No American who survived the  Matanikau fighting saw Speciale again, and none reported seeing him dead – he was carried as missing in action for the customary year and a day before being declared killed in action.

To this day, no identifiable trace of Sammy Speciale has been found.

Next Of Kin:
Mother, Mrs. Julia Speciale

Status Of Remains:

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
(1) This information was reported in the Cortland Standard on December 2, 1942; purportedly, it had come from one of Sammy’s letters that said “his duties included carrying dispatches for a lieutenant attached to his unit which took him into the thick of battle.” The lieutenant could have been James Fawley, Charles Kimmel, Jason Baker, Charles Cobb, or Frank Ranney.

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