While many stories of fallen heroes involve deaths resulting from combat or disease, there are also those heroes whose deaths occur in the regular performance of their duties. Perhaps no duty is as significant as that of recovering bodies of other fallen heroes and ensuring their proper burial or return to loved ones. This is the story of a young fallen hero who lost his life doing just that.
Antonio Scaffidi (c. 1890-1946) grew up in the hilltop commune of Piraino, located on the northeastern coast of the island of Sicily. Very little is known about his life there, or his family, except for what was recorded on Antonio’s 1913 immigration record and later obituaries. Antonio travelled to the United States on board the SS König Albert bound from Palermo, Sicily to New York in February 1913. Antonio recorded that his destination in America was the town of Dennison, Ohio where he would be meeting cousin of his.
Antonio boarded in the Mill Township home of fellow Italian Ignazio Natoli and worked in a local brickyard by the time the census recorded him in 1920. He worked in a variety of jobs in the clay industries of the Twin Cities his entire life. A little more than a year later he married a local girl, Sarah Smitely (1901-1983), and the couple moved to the community near Uhrichsville then known as Roanoke. The couple welcomed eight children into their home there, though two of their sons died as children.
The Scaffidi family suffered a house fire in the Spring of 1931 that completely destroyed their home. Luckily for the family, Antonio had taken out an insurance policy for the home and they were able to rebuild. Later that same year Antonio found himself in trouble with Prohibition-era local law enforcement due to his ownership and use of a thirty-five gallon still and his possession of five gallons of homemade whiskey. One is left to wonder if the earlier fire may have been caused by the operation of an previous elicit still.
The couple’s fifth child, a son named Antonio (Tony) Scaffidi, Jr. (1932-1951), was born in July 1932. The family had already had a son, Joseph Scaffidi (1929-1929), but he had died as an infant only a few weeks after his birth. The Scaffidi family were active members of Immaculate Conception Church and many of the children, including Tony, attended school at St. Mary’s School. The elder Antonio passed away in 1946, and this is perhaps what motivated his son to join the Army and help provide for his mother and siblings.
Tony was only 16 when he enlisted in the United States Army in July 1948, though his documents give the false birthdate of January 14, 1929. After completing boot camp at Fort Dix, New Jersey he was assigned to the Army of Occupation in Germany. Private Scaffidi was trained as a truck driver and served with the 565th Quartermaster – Graves Registration Company. After the start of the Korean War, the 565th was the first such unit to arrive in Korea in the fall of 1950. Elements of the 565th, including Private Scaffidi, were tasked with locating, disinterring, and shipping their fallen comrades from combat areas to rear echelon cemeteries and, ultimately, home. Duty that naturally subjected them to potential danger, including booby-traps, mines and enemy fire.
Private Scaffidi is evidence of just how dangerous the duty could be when, in early December 1950, the truck he was driving came under fire and he was wounded in the thigh. He was sent to an Army hospital to recover and returned to duty within a few weeks. Private Scaffidi had returned to duty by the time the Chinese launched an offensive in April 1951. The attack was blunted, but unfortunately there was work to be done for the men of the 565th. During the course of locating battlefield burials of American soldiers Private Scaffidi stepped on a land mine, killing him instantly.
The men of Private Scaffidi’s unit undertook the process of sending yet another fallen hero home to his family, only this time it was one of their own. The train bearing Private Tony Scaffidi’s coffin arrived with military escort in Dennison at 7:09 am on Wednesday, October 3, 1951.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2022.