divider
Our Mission

Homer Wise Honored Governor Rell of Connecticut

The Stamford Advocate - May 1st, 2008
'Intrepid acts'
Effort would honor one of Stamford's bravest
By Angela Carella
Assistant City Editor, The Advocate

STAMFORD - In the 1950s, '60s and '70s, Homer Lee Wise was a loving husband to his wife, Madolyn, a devoted father to his son, Jeff, and a caring uncle to his niece, Jean.

He kept a beautiful yard at his home on Tree Lane in Springdale. There was a brook in the back and Homer built a bridge over it. He worked humble jobs, supplementing his income as a waiter. He liked to play penny poker with his in-laws on Saturday nights and grill steaks on a backyard grill when the weather was nice. He was kind and gentle.

In April 1974, when he was 57, Homer collapsed at his job as mail supervisor for a Darien bank. He died in the hospital the next day.

All his life Homer never discussed what happened in 1944, when he was a soldier in World War II. If people asked him about it, he'd make a joke or find a way to side-step a reply.

Two years after he died - an artificial artery that allowed him to survive a war wound collapsed - a tiny parcel at the busy corner of Bedford and Chester streets was dedicated to him. A small granite slab there reads "Homer Lee Wise Memorial Grove, World War II Congressional Medal of Honor hero."

The Medal of Honor is the highest military award the United States bestows. It wasn't his only one.

Wise also was awarded the Silver Star, the nation's second-highest medal, and the Bronze Star, the third-highest, among others. He left World War II with a Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters, meaning he was wounded three times - once in the head and twice by sniper fire.

If people didn't know, they never would have guessed. Homer paid so little attention to his honors that his son, Jeff, learned about them from a classmate when he was about 12.

But Jeff Wise is gone - he died in 1990 when he was just 40 - and Madolyn Wise died in 2002. No one knows what happened to the Medal of Honor.

Homer's niece, Jean Rinaldi of Stamford, whose baby photo he carried with him during the war, would like to find it.

Homer was 27 when he earned it and the other major medals all in one year.

Bravery unbound

On June 14, 1944, German soldiers were pummeling his platoon in Company L, 142nd Regiment of the Army's 36th Infantry Division, near Magliano, Italy, site of some of the most brutal fighting in World War II.

The platoon was pinned down by enemy fire on both flanks, and a soldier lay badly wounded and exposed in the battlefield.

Something in Sgt. Wise rose up.

He left his cover and ran through the gunfire with three other men to rescue the wounded soldier. They carried him 100 yards to safety.

Wise returned to his men and led them forward a short way, where they were stopped by heavy rifle and machine-gun fire. Wise spotted a German officer and two men armed with automatic weapons sneaking up on them and, alone, he rushed forward, firing his submachine gun and killing all three.

But his platoon was far from safe. German gunners were firing on them from fortified positions ahead. Wise saw what had to be done. He took an M-1 rifle and grenade launcher from one of his men, gathered up 15 anti-tank grenades and began to fire.

The Germans who weren't killed fled. Wise followed them, firing his sub-machine gun from the hip, clearing the way for his men to move forward.

But not for long. Heavy machine-gun fire from the front and both flanks pinned them down again. This time the enemy was too far away for the sub-machine gun, so Wise picked up an automatic rifle and walked through the flying bullets, firing. He was a good shot, knocking out the Germans to the front, and his men advanced again.

They approached their objective, Hill 163, followed by American tanks, but German emplacements on the slopes rained bullets on them. An American tank emerged from the trees to fire its 75-mm gun at the Germans, but the deadly fire forced it to button up.

Wise saw a machine gun mount on the abandoned tank turret. One of the men told him it was jammed, but Wise leaped up on the tank, unjammed the gun and began shooting, attracting unrelenting German fire.

He fired 750 rounds from the tank, taking out the flanking German positions. The platoon then was able to take the hill. In the Army's after-action report, now part of the National Archives, Wise's commander wrote, "The unhesitancy with which Sergeant Wise repeatedly put himself into positions where any escape seemed miraculous demonstrated a courage unfathomable. His exceeding gallantry and insuperable devotion to duty was a source of admiration to all who witnessed his intrepid acts, and the memory of it will perpetually inspire fighting men."

But all that is forgotten.

Almost.

Honor delayed James Vlasto of Greenwich has been impressed by Wise ever since he met him in 1957. Vlasto, 73, retired in March and now is forming the Homer L. Wise Memorial Committee to raise about $80,000 for a statue.

"He was one of the first solders to land in Salerno, Italy, where the fighting was vicious in late 1943 to the end of June 1944. It was some of the most bitter battles against some of the best-trained German soldiers," Vlasto said. "The Battle of Magliano was one of the decisive ones that pushed the Germans out of Italy."

. Wise "was awarded a total of 16 decorations. He was one of the most decorated infantrymen of World War II in Europe," Vlasto said. "I researched other Medal of Honor winners - they named schools, bridges, highways after these people. All Stamford did was dedicate this little park that no one knows about. Now that all these World War II veterans are dying, what they did must be remembered."

Vlasto said he wondered if Stamford never feted Wise because he shunned the attention or because he was not a native of Stamford.

Wise was born in Baton Rouge, La., but left home when he was about 14. It was the Great Depression, and Wise went to Texas and worked in gas stations and odd jobs. In 1941 he joined the Army and was stationed at Camp Edwards in Massachusetts, where he met a young Stamford woman, Madolyn DiSesa, while she was vacationing on Cape Cod.

"After they got married, they moved to Stamford and Uncle Homer lived here for more than 30 years. It really was the only hometown he knew," Rinaldi said.

A medal lost

After her son died 18 years ago, Madolyn Wise sold the house in Springdale and moved to a condominium in Stamford. Rinaldi remembers seeing the Medal of Honor hanging on the wall.

Rinaldi thinks her aunt gave it to Evans Kerrigan, Homer's friend and a former Marine who served in Korea and wrote books on military medals. Kerrigan helped run Chapter 1932 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart and lived for many years in Darien.

"She gave the medals to me and I gave them to Eddie Page," a Stamford World War II veteran and member of the Purple Heart chapter, said Kerrigan, now 76 and living in Rocky Hill. "Eddie was going to hold them until we got a permanent meeting place for our chapter."

But Page died a few years ago. His widow, Betty, said her late husband did not keep the medal at their home.

"I would have known that. He would have told me," she said. "I wish I did have it. That is so sad they can't find it."

And the Purple Heart chapter never found a permanent meeting place, said Dave Sanborn, the commander and a Vietnam veteran.

"We have about 400 members but they're all World War II veterans, with a few from the Korean war," Sanborn said. "They can't get to the meetings any more. We are talking about closing the chapter."

Page told Sanborn that Kerrigan gave him the medal, Sanborn said, "but I couldn't find anyone who knew much. It never got to the Darien VFW, either, because I asked the commander there."

All the more reason to raise money for a statue, Vlasto said. He would like to place it in Veterans Park on Atlantic Street, though city officials prefer it to go in the little park at Bedford and Chester streets.

"It's a project of love to honor someone who went to extraordinary heights to defend his country," Vlasto said. "During World War II, 16 million men and women served, and about 2 million saw combat. Only 464 received the Medal of Honor, and about 200 died for it. The magnitude of that statistic is so overwhelming, I said I am going to do something to honor this man."

The core of courage

Kerrigan, who has interviewed many medal winners, said "most people who do something like Homer did are not thinking of themselves. They are thinking of their men. They think, my people are taking a beating, I have to do something. That's the courage - to move when other people can't."

Tony Pavia of Stamford, who wrote "An American Town Goes to War" about Stamford's World War II veterans, said no one, not even the medal winners, can explain why they did what they did.

"The incident in Italy was nothing short of extraordinary. If you take the most outrageously heroic act from any movie, what Homer did was all of that and much more," said Pavia, who interviewed Madolyn Wise for the book. "But it made him uncomfortable for the rest of his life."

Madolyn Wise told him Homer worked for a time as a waiter at Lou Singer's steakhouse, Pavia said, and customers sometimes went up to him and said you're the Medal of Honor winner - you're not going to wait on me.

"They would ask his boss if he could join them for dinner," Pavia said. "He was mortified by that. People would ask him how many men he had killed and he had a hard time with that."

In 1957, at a Greenwich dinner of the Western Connecticut Council of the U.S. Navy League, Wise was working as a waiter to earn extra money to send his son to college, according to his obituary printed in The Advocate in 1974.

Word got out that a Medal of Honor winner was waiting on them, and Navy officers brought Wise to the head table, bumping two vice admirals and a rear admiral from their seats.

"These are wonderful American stories and you don't want them to be lost," Pavia said.

Rinaldi said she is happy Vlasto and others are working to create a statue of her uncle.

"I can still see him with his apron on, grilling steaks in the back yard. When I read now what he did, I'm astonished," she said. "He loved his family so much. Maybe his experience in the war gave him more of an appreciation for that. He was a wonderful man."

divider

Latest News

Homer Wise PortraitThe Homer L. Wise Memorial, Inc at the Mayor's office in Stamford. From left, Tony Pavia, Jean Rinaldi, Homer's niece, Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia and James S. Vlasto Secretary Treasurer and Project Director, with three foot replica of the statue which is now nearing completion at its full length of six feet three inches. (Photo credit: Matthew Vinci, Stamford Times)
Read more

divider

Historical Articles

Homer Wise Portrait

"The Story of an Infantryman"

As the battle tested veterans of Company L, 142 Infantry, and 36th Division probed the outskirts of Magliano, Italy on the morning of June 14, 1944 they knew that the German soldiers facing them were strongly entrenched. The men of the 36th had met this enemy before, in Africa, on the bloody beaches of Salerno and in all the bitter battles in Italy.

Leading one of the platoons was a slim Tech Sergeant known to his men as "Blackie" was Homer L. Wise and he had served with the 36th Division since its inception.
Read more

divider

Homer Wise PortraitConnecticut's only living Medal of Honor recipient announced today he will become a member of the Homer L. Wise Memorial Committee.

Paul W. Bucha of Ridgefield, CT was awarded the Medal of Honor while serving as a captain and commanding officer of Company D, 3rd Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, on March 18, 1968 in Vietnam.
Read more

divider

The Evolution of a Statue

statueRead more

borderbottom
divider
Copyright © 2011 The Homer L. Wise Memorial Committee, Inc.