by Henry John Steiner
Historian of Sleepy Hollow
Chick was present and in uniform during the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. On the day before Veteran’s Day in 1999—roughly twenty years ago—I interviewed my friend, Armando “Chick” Galella at his home in Sleepy Hollow. The article below was the result of that interview. Chick is one of the few still living who can say he witnessed the attack, the event which launched the United States into World War II.
Chick Galella’s family moved to 26 Barnhart Avenue in 1922 when he was only one. He and his older brothers, Frank and Alfred, were still very young when their father died on December 3, 1923. The Depression hit the United States before Chick reached his adolescence. Money was tight, but North Tarrytown seemed like a place where friends were always invited to dinner. As a youth he was slight of build; that is how he got the nick name, “Chick.”
Among Chick’s best buddies were John, William, and Roger Horan, Jack Maguire, Paul Danko, Bob Sherry—all of them gone now. Betsy Conover lived in the big house at the end of Barnhart and Alice Duquette lived on DeVries Avenue in Philipse Manor. Groups of kids went to the pavilion at Kingsland Point Park, where they had a jukebox. At the park they enjoyed dances and swimming.
Like other local boys, Chick earned money for his senior dance by caddying at Rockwood Hall Golf Course. Chick graduated in 1939, but employment prospects were not good, the GM plant was operating on a single shift. One day in 1940, he was sitting on the stone wall in front of the school building on Beekman Avenue, with friends Charlie Bannon, Lou Caney, Eddie Delfay, and Jack Maguire—they all decided to enlist in the U. S. Army.
Chick started out at Fort Slocum in New Rochelle. He “shipped out” on the USS Hunter Liggett from Brooklyn Army Base, then passed through the Panama Canal, and arrived a Fort McDowell, CA before sailing for Hawaii. His assignment was the 53rd Signal Corps at Hickam Air Base, right next to Pearl Harbor.
Hawaii was beautiful. Chick’s unit worked on establishing telephone communications at Hickam Field, Wheeler Field, and on the Island of Kauai. They were trained well. In the event of trouble, their job was to protect the equipment that would reestablish vital communications.
In those days, friendships and simple pleasures were about all a serviceman could afford on seventeen dollar per month. He could take a trip into town with friends like Jack Horan (NTHS, class of ‘37), or spend a Sunday morning reading the paper after breakfast. It was a quiet Sunday morning after breakfast, December 7th, 1941, when the world changed abruptly for Chick. The change came sharp, loud, and violently. He remembers the concussion of the bombs, the columns of black smoke and the Zeros roaring over head—the ensignias visible on the attacking planes.
Chick and his company did their jobs that day. They managed to get their equipment to safety. It would be needed to reestablish the essential communications between the bases. He soon learned that his close buddy, Jack Horan, had responded to the attack by doing his job too. Jack’s barracks were less than one hundred yards from Chick’s. He was killed by shrapnel in the second wave. John Hersey wrote of Jack Horan, “He was trying, in the face of unpreparedness and unawareness to fight back. That was a good and brave way to die.” Chick says, the heroes are the ones who did not make it back.
In the days and months following the attack, Chick’s company grew to a battalion. Chick had a high school diploma, and promotions came fast. Within a year and a half Chick was serving as a sergeant-major. His unit crossed the Pacific, with assignments in Peleliu and Tinian. In the summer of 1945, they landed at Okinawa on “D+3.”
It was a grim place of heat, death, and hasty burials. The enemy planes from Japan paid regular visits. Chick still has some of the Okinawan “invasion money” issued to the GI’s.
When Chick returned home, one person came down to the Tarrytown Station to greet him—his mother. He had left home at the age of eighteen, he returned a twenty-three year-old man. He went to work as a mechanic at Tom Brown Chevrolet in Pleasantville, soon he joined the car dealership’s sales force.
In 1947, he married Leda DiFelice at the old Immaculate Conception Church in North Tarrytown (present-day Sleepy Hollow). Leda was born in Abruzzi, Italy, and she came to the US in 1936, at the age of twelve. The DiFelice family lived on Chestnut Street, and Chick’s aunt lived in the red house on the corner—that is how the couple met. Chick and Leda moved into their present home on Depeyster Street in 1951, a historic house built in 1851.
In 1954 he began working at Cawood Motors in North Tarrytown. The owners, Allen and Harry, lived on Fremont Road in Sleepy Hollow Manor. Then Frank Mirenda took over, and the business became Frank Chevrolet. Chick worked for Frank and then Frank’s son-in-law, Joseph Carlisto, and then Joseph’s son, Robert. Unlike so many men of his generation, Chick never worked at the GM plant. He says, “chasing the iron horse” was very hard work.
Chick served as a village trustee from 1969 to 1979. He ran for mayor too. In those days the burning issues in the village were the Hudson River Expressway and federally-funded housing—Urban Renewal. Chick feels that the village should be led by those who have their hearts in the community. He thinks Sleepy Hollow would gain by having its own zip code. Chick has high hopes about the village’s future.
I asked him what is important in life. He said, give of yourself with an open heart, and you will get something invaluable back.
[Copyright © 2018 Henry John Steiner]