Nicholas R. DeGaeta

Distinguished Member of the Regiment

NAME: Nicholas R. DeGaeta

ASN: 12031945

PLACE OF BIRTH: Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY

DATE OF BIRTH: 24 Oct 1919

DATES OF SERVICE: 17 Jul 1941 - 00 Jul 1945

UNIT ASSIGNED: Headquarters, Headquarters Company 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion

CAMPAIGNS: Algeria - French Morocco, Tunisia, Naples - Foggia, Anzio, Rome-Arno, Southern France, Ardennes - Alsace, Rhineland

AWARDS: Combat Infantrymen Badge, Parachutist Badge with one combat jump star, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, European Africa Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with arrowhead and seven bronze campaign star devices, WWII Victory Medal, Croix de Guerre with Silver Star, Distinguished (Presidential) Unit Citation 2nd Award, 3rd Zouaves Regiment Badge, six Overseas Service Bars


17 Jul 1941 - Enlisted at New York City, NY, NARA Enlistment Record

ARMY SERIAL NUMBER 12031945 12031945
RESIDENCE: STATE #3 Undefined Code
RESIDENCE: COUNTY 047 Undefined Code
GRADE: CODE 8 Private
BRANCH: ALPHA DESIGNATION BI# Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA
BRANCH: CODE 00 Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA
EDUCATION 0 Grammar school
MARITAL STATUS 6 Single, without dependents
COMPONENT OF THE ARMY 1 Regular Army (including Officers, Nurses, Warrant Officers, and Enlisted Men)
BOX NUMBER 0080 0080
FILM REEL NUMBER 1.73# 1.73#

25 Dec 1941 - Pvt. Nicholas R. DeGaeta, ASN: 12031945, HHC, 504th PB listed in Christmas Dinner pamplet

14 Sep 1943 - T-4 Nicholas R. DeGaeta ASN: 12031945 2nd Bn, 509th PIR, Participated in Operation GIANT III the combat jump at Avellino, Italy. Combat Jump Star

10 April 1944 - T/4 Nicholas R. DeGaeta ASN: 12031945 HHC 509th PIB, GO 5 Award of Combat Infantryman Badge

? 1944 - T/4 Nicholas R. DeGaeta 12031945 GO 12 HHC 509th PIB Award of Purple Heart

05 January 1945 - T/4 Nicholas DeGaeta GO 1 HQ XVIII Corps Award of Bronze Star Medal

? 1945 - T/4 Nicholas DeGaeta Award of Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster

Ministere de La Defense France Diplome et de la Liberation 1944-1945.

00 Jul 1945 - Honorably discharged.

1946 - The NYS Conspicuous Service Cross.

1955 - Moved to New Dorp.

1979 - Named New York State Firefighter Union Man of the Year

???? - Made former President Jimmy Carter an honorary FDNY firefighter

1994 - Airborne Awards:509 Man of the Year Atlanta Ga.

1994 - Retired as a FDNY Firefighter from Engine Co. 10, "Ten House," across the street from the World Trade Center with 35 years of service.

Worked as a Community Mayor to help children with diabilities.

Annually the FDNY presents the Community Mayors Nicholas DeGaeta Award to someone who demonstrates "commitment to excellence and persistence of duty."

2007 - Antoinette Nerino, wife of 60 years passed away

11 Nov 2010 - Awarded the Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honor by French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a ceremony in Manhattan

02 Feb 2015 - Nicolas DeGaeta passed away.

06 Feb 2015 - Friday, funeral at the Colonial Funeral Home, New Dorp, with a mass at 10:15 a.m. in St. Charles Church. Burial will follow in Moravian Cemetery, also New Dorp. Surviving are his son, James; his daughter, Linda Iafe; two sisters, Adrian Bianco and Vivian DiSanto; four grandchildren; three great-grandchildren, and his companion, Frieda Szaf.

Proud Parachute Infantry Battalion Jumps into History by Paul DeGaeta

This is a story about my uncle, Nick DeGaeta and his WWII outfit . When I was nine years old he gave me the American Flag arm band that he wore on November 8, 1942 while making American Airborne history. He told me I should always respect it and remember that a lot of good men who wore it while fighting for our freedom never came home. Honoring that request led me to a life long historical interest in WWII. It represents the meaning of Veterans Day to me.

November 3rd, 1942. A scene familiar to many young men and women during wartime was being played out in the middle of the night on a railroad platform at Chilton Foliat, England. A beautiful young woman ran alongside a troop train calling out the name of the man she loves. The movement of the American paratroopers on the train was to be top secret. But, somehow, the young women of this town, who had fallen in love with some of the ³Yanks², knew what this evening meant. They came to the rail yard hoping desperately to say their farewells.

A young paratrooper heard his name called over and over ³Nicholas, Nicholas can you hear me?² Nick DeGaeta, 22 at the time, recalls that moment so many years ago. ³We were a couple of kids who had fallen in love. Sueıs parents accepted me, a kid from Brooklyn. In another time it might have been a story book romance. But then it came time for us to leave for the mission we had been trained for. To be honest, very few of us thought we would be coming back. It was easier not to answer than to say goodbye.

The 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion (known as the 504th, 2/503 and 2/509 respectively before its redesignation) was the first American infantry unit to arrive in England. The 509 trained with, and wore the maroon beret of, the British First Airborne Brigade. Their mission changed from the Dieppe raid to preparing for the invasion of North Africa. The train from Chilton Foliat carried the troopers to the R.A.F. airfield at Lands End, England. There they would board the C-47ıs of the 60th Troop Carrier Wing and make history. The 509th Parachute Infantry Bn. would become the first American airborne unit to make a combat parachute jump-the first of many distinctions and honors the unattached Battalion would hold in itıs illustrious WWII combat career.

General Mark Clark was the architect of Operation Torch, the November 8th, 1942 invasion of North Africa. Clark asked Lt. Col. William P. Yarborough, his airborne advisor and the commander of the 509, if it was possible to drop parachutists and take two French held Airdromes near Oran. The Vichy French, allied with the Axis powers, had aircraft at the fields which could attack invading American amphibious troops. Such a long flight (1500 miles from England to Algeria) to drop airborne troops had never been attempted by airborne forces. Yarborough, felt if the troop carrying aircraft could make it his paratroopers could do the job. Given the situation with the French colonial forces,Clark asked Yarborough to develop two airborne plans for the invasion. One called Plan Peace if the French did not resist, and Plan War if they did. Lt. Col. Edson Raft, who would lead the 509 paratroopers on the jump, assured Clark that he would take both airdromes. If the French chose to side with the Germans he would take them by force.

The allied invasion of North Africa was riddled with confusion. Americans did not relish the idea of fighting Frenchmen. Yet there was the chance that the Vichy French would oppose the invasion. Word came down that Plan Peace was in effect as the 556 paratroopers loaded onto the 39 C-47's at Lands End. It was 9:30 in the evening of November 7th, 1942, when the 509 took off. However, during their 11 hour flight the situation changed. Due to a mix up in radio frequencies the paratroopers never got the word that Plan War was now on. Bad weather and other navigational problems scattered the C-47s across the desert. Some landed in Spanish Morroco and were interned by the neutral Spanish Government. Others landed in the desert almost out of fuel. A small group of planes were able to drop their paratroopers near Tafaraoui airdrome at sights picked out by Raft and Yarborough who had to improvise from Plan Peace because of French fire. French fighter planes attacked and killed a number of paratroopers including Private John Tommy Mackall who would have an airborne training camp named after him in North Carolina in 1944.

American tanks from the beachhead, knowing that the French were resisting, raced to Tafaraoui as the paratroopers arrived. Sgt. Nick DeGaeta, remembers his ordeal. ³We made the jump right outside of Tafaraoui airdrome. A dozen of so of us were able to form up on the ground with some officers. We had what looked like a whole division of French Foreign Legion coming at us on horse back just like in the movies. We were told to hold our fire. We had no back up and only enough ammunition for maybe a half hour battle. They stopped and the officers met with them. Neither side knew if we should fire on each other. Thatıs politics, I don't know. They said we were their prisoners and took us to a hanger. They were pretty friendly. These French foreign legion guys had long single shot rifles and looked at us like we were from Mars. They couldnıt believe how we were equipped. We had all automatic weapons, hand grenades, demolition kits, our own morphine shots, escape kits, two gold coins, we had everything. Later they released us and joined us. We secured the airdromes.

A week later, the 509 would jump again to capture another airfield at Youks les Bains near Tunisia. When they arrived at the airfield, the French Third Zouave Regiment joined the paratroopers. They became a combat team called the Tunisian Task Force which brought some of the first American ground actions against the German Afrika Korp and Italians. DeGaeta recalls, At Youks les Bains, the commander of the Third Zouave pinned their unit badge on Colonel Raftıs chest. As a special honor, French General Giraud authorized the men of the 509 to wear the badge. In a switch from the previous week when the French were considered enemies, the official order stated, ³to render homage to the worthy cooperation of American arms in the common struggle which was taking place.

And what about the English girl? Some of the wounded guys got sent back to England to recuperate. One of the guys thought I had been killed and told Sue that when she asked about me. After that, I never had the heart to contact her. We were in the line so often it was all you could do to survive.

The 509 made two more combat jumps in North Africa, another in Avellino, Italy to relieve the Salerno Beach head and a final jump to lead the invasion of Southern France. They went ashore as amphibious troops in the first wave at Anzio operating with Darbys Rangers. The 509 received the first Presidential Unit citation won by a parachute unit for defending against a German Armour attack at Carano, Italy and won another for a night attack against enemy positions two weeks later. Corporal Paul B. Huff of the 509 was the first paratrooper to win the Congressional Medal of Honor (Those who travel up I-75 may see signs for the Paul B. Huff Parkway in Tennessee). During the Battle of the Bulge, the 509 was attached to the 101st Airborne Division and held an important cross roads at Sadzot, Belgium against two Battalions of SS Panzer Grenadier's in hand to hand fighting. This stopped the SS Battalions from bolstering the German attack of the 101st surrounded at Bastogne. Less than 55 men survived and only six, including Nick DeGaeta, were left from those who made the first jump.

In 1945, the proud Battalion was disbanded and absorbed by units of the 82nd Airborne Division. The 509 Parachute Infantry Bn.ıs young commander went on to become General William Yarborough who would develop the Green Berets(Special Forces) under the Kennedy Administration. His 509 had been the first Americans to wear a beret when the British airborne awarded it to them in WWII.The Army selected the 509 to be reactivated in 1963 as one of the Armys Finest regiments whose heritage was to be carried on. Continuing their position at the forefront of the airborne world, four members of the 509 served as path finders to precede the 101st Airborne drop during the Gulf War in 1991. One member made the ultimate sacrifice, another was wounded and captured, but their mission was accomplished.


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