Pennsylvania veteran to return helmet from WWII to soldier's family
By PATRICK CAMPBELL | Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa. | Published: July 11, 2017
STROUDSBURG, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — While helping to sift through mountains of donations for St. Luke Catholic Church's annual flea market last year, Al Compoly, a maintenance worker, found a slightly-worn World War II-era helmet that he decided to place in his office.
That helmet sat there for nearly a year until Compoly took a closer look at it and discovered a name tag. Now it's a matter of months before it is returned to the family of the late Frank Santacroce, the helmet's original owner.
"As a veteran... I have a few military items in my office," said Compoly, an Air Force veteran who served from 1968 to 1975. "It's a military thing, so I just put it aside and I hung it up."
If Compoly's discovery of the helmet was a happening by chance, him discovering the name was a miracle, at least that's how Santacroce's daughter, Cathy, sees it.
"It's amazing ... the fact that it meant enough to him to Google the name and get in touch," said Cathy Santacroce-Worwetz. "I don't know what else to say besides it's unbelievable."
Compoly decided a few weeks ago that the helmet would make an excellent prop for the Mount Pocono American Legion's annual Veterans Day dinner, where it will be used to portray Gen. George Patton.
When he took the helmet down Compoly noticed the liner to the helmet was slightly different from many he had encountered before, this is because Santacroce was an engineer. Upon removing the liner, he discovered a green nametag that read "FRANK SANTACROCE HAT" and from there he knew what he had to do.
"It's almost part of my duty to do that, otherwise it would have fallen into someone else's hands," Compoly said. "Maybe a kid wanted it and runs around with it for a bit and then it ends up in a dumpster."
Compoly started researching into who Frank Santacroce was and where he could find him. He found the information he was seeking, but in the form of an online obituary. Santacroce, a life-long resident of Sag Harbor, NY and Purple Heart recipient, had passed away in 2009.
Also included in the obituary was the name and contact info of his local Chelberg and Battle American Legion Auxiliary Post and Compoly reached out to see whom, if anyone, connected to Santacroce was interested in the helmet.
As luck would have it, Santacroce-Worwetz is still an active member of the post and was taken aback by the discovery when her fellow post members surprised her with the news following a meeting.
"We never even gave a thought to where his helmet might have wound up," Santacroce-Worwetz said. "We're a close family and we're all just so proud of our parents' service."
Compoly informed Santacroce-Worwetz of his plans to use the helmet but added he would send it back promptly after the dinner. Much to his surprise, Santacroce-Worwetz informed Compoly that her, her brother and sister were all arranging to come to the dinner.
As the daughter of two World War II veterans, Santacroce-Worwetz says she understands just how compelling patriotism can be, but was still blown away by the actions of Compoly.
"It just brings me to tears, that he had the sensitivity and the patriotism to track us down," said Santacroce-Worwetz. "It just means the world to us, we are overcome with emotion and gratitude."
Santacroce-Worwetz says that the helmet will spend sometime between her home and the homes of her siblings before making it's way to their father's post in Sag Harbor, where it would seem they already have plans for it.
According to Joanne Lyles, member of the auxiliary post in Sag Harbor, the post is currently renovating an area to serve as a museum for uniforms of current and past members. The Santacroce family had already donated a uniform of their father's and is hoping the addition of the helmet will top it off.
"I think it's great, Sag Harbor is a tiny little town and we're already represented well in all of the wars, so I think it's a very nice thing to have," Lyles said. "I think it will be great, we'll probably do something special as a post. I'm sure it will be a nice ceremony."
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