Jean Rockett never met her uncle, Vincent Ansaloni, but her family always talked about him as she was growing up.
Ansaloni was one of many young men who never came home from World War II. He was killed in action while serving with the U.S. Marine Corps on Guam in July 1944, at the age of 26.
His family never saw him after he enlisted and was sent to the Pacific in 1942. Rockett remembers her grandmother kept a gold star in her window for her fallen son.
This spring the city joined the Ansaloni family in keeping his memory alive by naming a veteran’s square in his honor. A sign bearing his name was recently erected at the corner of Crombie and Norman streets, not far from where Ansaloni grew up on Broad Street.
“We don’t want to ever see any of those who have given their lives forgotten, no matter which war or conflict,” Rockett said. “... Our veterans give so much.”
Salem Veterans Agent Kim Emerling has begun work to rededicate veteran’s squares around the city that have missing signs. As part of the project, new squares are being named for veterans — like Vincent Ansaloni — who have been overlooked, for one reason or another.
Of the city’s 75 veteran’s squares, nearly half have signs that need refurbishing or that are missing altogether, Emerling said.
In addition to Ansaloni’s, signs honoring veterans have gone up in four areas across the city in recent months. The signs are black with gold lettering and gold stars, bearing the veteran’s name, the war in which he served and other details.
“We come from a city that has one of the longest and richest military histories in the country,” said Emerling, who was hired as veterans agent last year. “As a veteran, that’s always important to remember, especially those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. ... People tend to forget.”
Ansaloni, a private in the Marines, served on Guam in the Marianas Islands.
“When WWII broke out, he wanted to serve,” Rockett said. “He went down to enlist with his buddies, but the Army wouldn’t take him because he was too short. So he ended up in the Marines. ... He was only in Guam for a few days before he was killed in action.”
Ansaloni — “Vinnie” to his family — worked at J.B. Blood Co., a downtown grocer, after graduating from Salem High School.
It’s estimated Salem lost 190 young men and women in World War II, including at least a dozen from the largely Italian neighborhood where Ansaloni lived.
Ansaloni was Rockett’s uncle — her mother’s older brother. Her father, Ernest Daly, served as a medic in World War II. Only recently, nearly 70 years after the war, is he beginning to talk more about the things he experienced, Rockett said.
“I’ve grown up hearing about veterans, hearing about what these guys did in World War II,” said Rockett, a member of the local VFW Ladies Auxiliary. “When the possibility of having a square named for my uncle (came together), it was just, ‘Oh, cool. This is really neat.’ To have the square where they grew up, where the family home was, became just really exciting.”
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.