Private 1st Class Mario J. Capano (1924–1944)

Mario Capano (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
ResidencesCivilian Occupation
Italy, DelawareWelder or tinsmith
BranchService Number
U.S. Army32751421
TheaterUnit
EuropeanCompany “K,” 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge (presumed)Normandy

Early Life & Family

Mario James Capano was born on April 12, 1924, in Montalto Uffugo, located in the province of Cosenza in southern Italy. He was the son of Giuseppe Capano (later known as Joseph Capano, 1897–1961) and Michilena Capano (Lena Capano, née Rizzo, 1898–1950). Capano had three older brothers: Francesco (Frank, 1919–1992), Vincenzo (Vincent, 1919–1990), and Luigi (Louis, 1923–1980). He also had a younger sister, Angeline Capano (later Nardo 1930–2019), born after the family moved to the United States.

Capano’s father, a bricklayer, emigrated to the United States in September 1923, a few months before his youngest son was born. Giuseppe Capano settled in Wilmington, Delaware, but briefly returned to Italy to accompany his family to the United States after they obtained visas in 1929. Mario Capano, his parents, and older brothers sailed from Naples aboard the S.S. Conte Grande on November 9, 1929, arriving in New York on November 18, 1929. The family was recorded on the census on April 2, 1930, living on New Castle Avenue in Eden Park Gardens, north of the city of New Castle, Delaware.

Capano’s family had moved to Wilmington by November 21, 1934, when his parents purchased a property at 22 West 38th Street. Nearly two years later, on October 3, 1936, they purchased a home at 521 North DuPont Street in Wilmington. It appears that Capano lived there until he entered the service. Capano was Catholic and a member of his parish’s Catholic Youth Organization.

Capano’s enlistment data card stated that his occupation was “semiskilled welders and flame cutters” with a grammar school education while his mother reported to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission that her son was a tinsmith.

When he registered for the draft on June 30, 1942, Capano was working for Haldas Brothers at 5th and King Streets. The registrar described him as standing about five feet, 5½ inches tall and weighing 132 lbs., with brown hair and eyes. She noted tattoos on both arms and a scar on his right hand.


Military Training

After Capano was drafted, he joined the U.S. Army in Camden, New Jersey, on February 17, 1943. Private Capano attended basic training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, where he was a member of Company “A,” 13th Training Battalion. While stationed at Camp Wheeler, on June 1, 1943, Capano petitioned for American citizenship at the U.S. District Court in Macon, Georgia. That resolved a difficult situation since, he was a citizen of a country at war with the U.S. and conceivably have been tried for treason if captured by the Italians.

Private Capano’s mother wrote that her son was at Camp Wheeler from February to June 1943. She added that he moved to Camp Shenango (a replacement depot near Transfer, Pennsylvania) in June 1943 before shipping out from the New York Port of Embarkation in July 1943. She wrote that upon arrival in England that same month, Private Capano joined Company “K,” 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. (It may have been a little later since he was not mentioned in the company’s morning reports that month.)

The 29th Infantry Division had originally been composed entirely of men from National Guard units (primarily those from Maryland and Virginia). Capano’s company, traditionally known as the Monticello Guard, had been based in Charlottesville, Virginia. However, the 29th Division was federalized on February 3, 1941, and personnel subsequently transferred into the division from other parts of the country. Capano’s regiment been in the United Kingdom since October 1942, arriving as part of the buildup prior to an invasion of France that was still some 18 months away.

Private Capano joined the 29th Infantry Division shortly before it began amphibious training prior to Operation Overlord. The division participated in a series of exercises including simulated landings at Slapton Sands, England. Capano’s mother wrote that her son was promoted to private 1st class in January 1944. On the other side of the English Channel, the Germans rapidly built up fortifications, obstacles, and minefields on the coasts of occupied France during the first half of 1944.

On D-Day in Normandy, the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions were scheduled to land at Omaha Beach, which would prove to be the deadliest of the five invasion beaches. Its terrain was particularly tough due to high bluffs, with a handful of draws providing the only routes to move men and equipment inland. In his book, Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy, Joseph Balkoski wrote:

The success of the Omaha invasion depended on quick seizure of these draws. The Yanks expected to be able to drive their trucks and tanks off the beach through these gaps only three hours after the first wave. The Germans, of course, also recognized the importance of the draws and were prepared to defend them resolutely.

Early on the morning of June 2, 1944, Company “K” left its marshalling area and boarded the attack transport U.S.S. Charles Carroll (APA-28) at Weymouth, England. The ship set sail for Normandy three days later.


Combat in Normandy

At around 0400 hours on D-Day, June 6, 1944, Private 1st Class Capano’s Company “K” boarded L.C.V.P.s (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel). His company, along with the rest of 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, was scheduled to land at 0720 hours (H+50) at the Dog White sector of Omaha Beach near the D-3 (Les Moulins) draw. By the time 3rd Battalion’s landing craft approached the beach, 1st and 2nd Battalions had already suffered heavy casualties. Balkoski wrote in Beyond the Beachhead that Capano’s 3rd Battalion “boats drifted eastward, and some of them went far into the 1st Division zone.” He added that

In contrast to the 2nd Battalion, the 3rd landed relatively intact. The only known casualty in Company K before the men reached the seawall was a lieutenant who was accidentally poked by a bayonet in his crowded LCVP.

A landing craft approaches the beach on D-Day in Normandy (Official U.S. Army Signal Corps photo 111-SC-320901, National Archives)

Across the beach, men gradually pushed forward and neutralized the German strongpoints. The Company “K” morning reports recorded D-Day casualties of approximately seven dead and 12 wounded (three of whom later succumbed to their injuries), adding that upon landing, the unit “Aggressively carried the fight to enemy emplacements, silencing most positions with the exception of snipers.”

Balkoski explained that the men who attacked the area around the top of the Les Moulins draw,

mostly from the 3rd Battalion of the 116th, had advanced up the bluffs in small groups, following the orders of anyone who seemed to know what he was doing. Each group of 29ers fought independently, using few of the textbook “fire and maneuver” tactics they had mastered in years of training. […] Shortly after noon, the 3rd Battalion, along with a party of the 2nd Battalion led by Major [Sidney] Bingham, reached the outskirts of St. Laurent at the head of the Les Moulins draw. The Germans, however, were well entrenched in the town and thwarted all attempts to take it.

After Sainte-Laurent-sur-Mer fell the following morning, 2nd and 3rd Battalions spent the day clearing Les Moulins draw of German holdouts. On D+2, June 8, 1944, both battalions moved west and launched an attack on the coastal town of Grandcamp-les-Bains supported by naval gunfire and tanks. A member of Capano’s company, Technical Sergeant Frank Peregory (1916–1944), earned the Medal of Honor for singlehandedly knocking out several German machine gun nests during the assault, though he was killed in action without ever knowing of the award.

Even with the beachhead secured, the grueling Normandy campaign was only beginning. The Germans fortified the thick hedgerows that surrounded Norman fields. This terrain partially neutralized the Allied advantages in naval, artillery, and aerial firepower as well as the superior mechanization and mobility of their forces. Dislodging them was a painstaking process. The 29th Infantry Division’s overall movements were south toward the strategic crossroads of Saint-Lô.

An American machine gun team dashes across a field in Normandy (Courtesy of the Maryland Museum of Military History)

On the morning of D+6, June 12, 1944, 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 115th Infantry Regiment launched an attack across the river Elle on against well-fortified German positions. After a day of heavy fighting, the 115th Infantry withdrew. That evening, the 29th Infantry Division commanding officer, Major General Charles H. Gerhardt (1895–1976), ordered Private 1st Class Capano’s 116th Infantry Regiment into the fray. Company “K” left Castilly at 1500 hours and marched through the night.

The 116th Infantry’s assault managed to break through the exhausted German defenders. The Company “K” morning report for June 13, 1944, stated:

Reached Couvains salient shortly before sunrise and set up position within 300 yds of strong enemy post. Small Arms, Mortar and Machine Gun duels began immediately and continued through the day. Enemy attack repulsed before it reached 100 yds with heavy losses. Our marksmanship deadly. Patrols sent into enemy territory with the approach of darkness.

Company “K” took part in two unsuccessful attacks the following day, June 14, 1944. On June 16, 1944, the 29th Infantry Division continued to move on Saint-Lô, with 3rd Battalion of the 116th Infantry advancing towards Villers-Fossard. The division’s progress ground to a halt in the face of German counterattacks. General Gerhardt continued to press the attack. The 116th Infantry’s casualties were high with little to show for it.

The Company “K” morning report for June 17, 1944, recorded casualties of three dead, 13 wounded, and one missing, adding:

Made departure at 0630 and were heavily shelled a few minutes later causing several casualties. Continued to advance in face of Artillery, Machine Gun, Mortar and small arms fire which caused us to disperse near enemy strongpoint. After a short but wild engagement we were forced to withdraw into an adjacent field and take cover. Several of our squads had penetrated into enemy position and inflicted many casualties among enemy gun crews. Heavy duel continued all through the day and into the night at close range.

The shooting lasted through the night and into the next day, although Company “K” launched no further attacks. It was stalemate. Company “K” had 215 men on D-Day. Just 12 days later, Private 1st Class Capano was one of just 123 men present for duty. With German strength in the Saint-Lô area steadily increasing, on June 18, 1944, the U.S. First Army commanding officer, Major General Omar Bradley (1893–1981), temporarily called off further attacks.

The following day, June 19, 1944, was rainy. For the 29th Infantry Division, it was among the quietest days since arriving in Normandy almost two weeks earlier. The Company “K” morning report stated that the unit “Spent day slightly to rear of front reorganizing company” and orienting 50 replacement personnel.

Despite the relative calm, Private 1st Class Capano was seriously wounded that day. According to Capano’s mother’s statement, her son was treated at the 5th Evacuation Hospital from June 19, 1944, until his death on June 25, 1944. At that time, the 5th Evac was stationed at Le Molay, France. The digitized hospital admission card under Capano’s service number appears incomplete, lacking the primary diagnosis as well as the cause of injury. The card did record an unspecified leg injury and lombar pneumonia and stated that he was treated with penicillin.

Capano may never have learned about it, but on June 20, 1944, his company commander had put him in for a promotion to sergeant. That suggested that Capano was already been acting in the capacity of assistant squad leader when he was wounded. (If not, he would have been after his promotion, had he recovered and returned to his unit.) There is no evidence that his promotion was ever confirmed by higher headquarters and on all other known official records, Capano died at the grade of private 1st class.

Private 1st Class Capano was buried on June 27, 1944, in American Cemetery No. 3 in La Cambe, France (Plot E, Row 4, Grave 64). After the war, the War Department queried the Capano family about their preference for the disposition of his remains. In a statement notarized on April 12, 1948, Joseph Capano initially requested that Private 1st Class Capano be interred in a permanent cemetery overseas. However, after he was informed that his son would be reburied in a permanent cemetery at Saint-Laurent (now known as the Normandy American Cemetery), Joseph Capano wrote back to the War Department on May 13, 1948, to request his son’s body be repatriated instead. He explained: “I am sorry if this change will cause you any inconvenience but I did not understand that the cemetery at St. Lo was only temporary and that a change would have to be made eventually.”

In early 1949, Private 1st Class Capano’s body was transferred to the S.S. Barney Kirschbaum in Cherbourg and returned to the New York Port of Embarkation. On April 11, 1949, Corporal Francis X. McKenna escorted Capano’s body aboard a B&O train from Jersey City to Wilmington. McKenna reported that he met the undertaker at the station and Capano’s father soon after. He stated that he was invited to attend the funeral the following morning, with military honors furnished by the American Legion. Following services at the Joanna Corleto Funeral Home and St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Wilmington, Capano was buried at nearby Cathedral Cemetery. His parents and brothers were also buried there after their deaths.


Notes

Name

Immigration records listed Mario Capano with no middle name. Presumably, his middle name of James was anglicized after his arrival in the United States or added later if he did not originally have one. Census records of the era frequently altered foreign names, and he was recorded on the 1930 census as Morris Capona.

Mother’s First Name

Capano’s mother’s first name appeared in various documents as Michelana, Michelina, and Michlina. I used Michilena above since it was the name listed by her own hand in her statement to the Delaware Public Archives Commission.

Cause of Wounds

Due to Capano’s hospital admission card being incomplete, the circumstances leading to his injuries are unclear. Since Company “K” was off the line (at least most of the day), the most likely cause was an enemy artillery or mortar bombardment. Indeed, the only other Company “K” casualty that day, Private 1st Class Arthur J. Berger, was wounded by artillery fragments. Since the morning report does not reveal how long the company was off the line, he potentially could have been wounded by some other cause before or after the company was withdrawn.

Date of Death

Curiously, a Company “K,” morning report entry on June 20, 1944, stated that Capano had died of his wounds on June 19, 1944. However, all other known documents—the burial report, Adjutant General’s Office battle casualty and death reports, his mother’s statement, and his headstone application—all list his date of death as June 25, 1944.

Capano’s Brothers

After the war, Private 1st Class Capano’s brothers, Frank and Louis, became prominent in the local homebuilding industry.


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photo of Private 1st Class Capano.


Bibliography

“5th Evacuation Hospital Unit History.” WW2 US Medical Research Centre website. https://www.med-dept.com/unit-histories/5th-evacuation-hospital/

Applications for Headstones, compiled 1/1/1925–6/30/1970, documenting the period c. 1776–1970. Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2375/images/40050_2421401757_0014-02215

Balkoski, Joseph. Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy. Revised ed. Stackpole Books, 2005.

Capano, Lena. Mario James Capano Individual Military Service Record, December 13, 1944. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/17988/rec/1

Delaware Land Records, 1677–1947. Record Group 2555-000-011, Recorder of Deeds, New Castle County. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61025/images/31303_257078-00453

Morning reports for Company “K,” 116th Infantry Regiment. June 1944. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897–1957. Record Group 36, Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7488/images/NYT715_3380-0026,  https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7488/images/NYT715_4629-0145

“Pfc Mario J. Capano.” Wilmington Morning News, April 11, 1949. Pg. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/103203701/mario-capano-obit/

“Six on Casualty List from State.” Wilmington Morning News, July 22, 1944. Pg. 2. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/103204522/mario-capano-dow/

Silverman, Lowell. “Private 1st Class Frank Kwiatkowski (1923–1944).” Delaware’s World War II Fallen website, July 16, 2022. Updated July 21, 2022. https://delawarewwiifallen.com/2022/07/16/private-1st-class-frank-kwiatkowski/

Silverman, Lowell. “Private 1st Class Walter S. Brinton (1917–1944).” Delaware’s World War II Fallen website, May 17, 2021. Updated May 18, 2021. https://delawarewwiifallen.com/2021/05/17/private-1st-class-walter-s-brinton/

Stanton, Shelby L. World War II Order of Battle: An Encyclopedic Reference to U.S. Army Ground Forces from Battalion through Division 1939–1946. Revised ed. Stackpole Books, 2006.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531891_00380, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531891_00381

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00552-00498

U.S. WWII Hospital Admission Card Files, 1942–1954. Record Group 112, Records of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army), 1775–1994. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/record/704875384/capano-mario-j-us-wwii-hospital-admission-card-files-1942-1954, https://www.fold3.com/record/705006980/berger-arthur-j-us-wwii-hospital-admission-card-files-1942-1954

Weiser, Carl. “The elusive Capanos: good guys or villains?” The News Journal, September 30, 1990. Pg. A1, A8, and A9. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/103202164/capano-builders-1/, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/103202214/capano-builders-2/, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/103202239/capano-builders-3/

World War II Army Enlistment Records. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=1&cat=all&tf=F&q=32751421&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=3297348

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_01_00001-01566


Last updated on August 1, 2022

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