Hero In Our Midst
By: Gary Manion – April, 2010
In August of 1942, Dominic Scarpignato did what most boys his age were doing; he enlisted in the Navy.
Almost a year after Pearl Harbor, boys like Dominic flocked to serve their country without a second thought. At 19 years of age, Dominic left his job at the American Wood Company in Lawrence, MA, along with his mother, his four sisters and his beloved Mary and joined the other young men ready to lay their lives on the line for the love of their country. He left the only place he had ever known to attend the Navy’s boot camp in Newport RI and then to join the crew of the destroyer, the USS Conway, to which he was commissioned in October of 1942. After the boat left the port in Boston, it headed to Norfolk, Virginia to join its task force. On December 5th they received their orders to head to the Pacific Islands to face whatever lay ahead.
They headed toward the Panama Canal, though the sailors all knew that they were not allowed to pass through. They waited till the cover of darkness and then made their way across the canal. A month later, they were in the Pacific. On the way, the ship was instructed to take part in gunnery practice. Dominic was assigned to man a 40mm gun and set to his task. It was a 1150 pound gun that shot 120 – 160 rounds per minute. It was the most efficient close-in air defense weapon on any warship during WWII and manning it was no mean task. Dominic set to his task with determination. While it was a routine task, there really is nothing routine about dealing with such a deadly piece of equipment and, at one point during the practice, a shell from the gun, exploded violently and Dominic was hit. A piece of shrapnel from the exploding shell pierced young Dominic’s chest. Fortunately no one else was injured. Dominic was given medical care aboard the ship and recovered from his wound by the time they reached the Pacific Islands on January 5th, 1943. They stayed in New Caledonia for about a month and then were ordered to sail with their task force to act as a cover group in case the US met any enemy fire during their withdrawal from Guadalcanal.
On January 29th they were given orders to intercept a Japanese fleet By nightfall of that evening they were under attack from Japanese planes. One of the ships that the Conway was sailing with, the USS Chicago, was hit by two torpedoes and was paralyzed. The next day the Conway and the USS Lavallette were in charge of towing the Chicago back to port. They set about following their new orders. At about 4 p.m. that afternoon they received alarming information; the Japanese had sent twin engine bombers after the three ships. Almost instantly, chaos broke out aboard the ship. A few minutes later they were under attack by a second enemy torpedo air attack. The Chicago was hit five more times and, ultimately, sunk. Dominic, along with the other gunners on the Conway, continued to fire at the planes above and, with the help of the Army Air Corp, they were successful in shooting down almost all of the eleven twin engine bombers that had attacked the three ships.
Soon after the battle, the Conway was ordered to make its way through the islands. They had a short stop on an island called Tuilagi.
Scarpignato recalls the event saying “a torpedo boat pulled up aside our ship and a crowd gathered around. I couldn’t really see him, but a tall lanky guy came aboard. He said he was from Boston and, since our ship was commissioned there, he headed up to the captain’s quarters to see if he knew anyone. Later we found out that the guy’s name was Lieutenant Kennedy. We had no idea at that point that we were standing inches from a future president.”
On August 15th 1943, Dominic encountered one of the toughest experiences in the war that he ever had to face. The Conway was ordered to Vella LaVella in the Solomon Islands. Early that morning the crew of the Conway found itself, once again, under air attack. Over and over again throughout the day they were subjected to intervals of relentless fire. Despite these waves of bombardment, the Conway came out unscathed. Despite repeated vicious onslaughts from the enemy, the Conway sailed under a lucky star, always managing to emerge unharmed.
In late August of 1944, Dominic and the USS Conway made their way back to the United States after 21 months of continuous service outside of the U.S. The men of the Conway were given a 30 day leave. Dominic didn’t have to think twice about what to do with his time; he made his way back to Lawrence, Massachusetts. He recalled taking his first walk down Broadway: “I had just gotten here and was walking down Broadway and someone spotted me and called my mother. Before I knew what was happening, she was chasing me down Broadway”. Not only was that reunion with his mother one that remains close to his heart but reuniting with the love of his life, Mary Marchese, also of Lawrence, was one that he has and always will treasure. Not more than a few weeks later he proposed to Mary and married her at Holy Rosary Church in Lawrence on his 30 day leave. They then set off for a honeymoon in New York city. That honeymoon was cut short when the Navy had need of Dominic Scarpignato. He was to report back to his ship in San Francisco; just one more in a long line of sacrifices he made with neither complaint nor reserve.
After Dominic returned from his 30 day leave, the crew set out for the Pacific again. He finished his deployment on the Conway during the next two years serving in Korea and in China. In 1945 he served a short stint in Washington D.C. at a naval school. In1946 Dominic was honorably discharged from the navy and returned to Lawrence, to his wife, Mary, and to his family. In all, the USS Conway was responsible for sinking 2 cruisers, and 1 merchant ship. They were credited with shooting down 9 planes, and participating in 33 island invasions. After 4 years of service Dominic had also been awarded a total of 10 battle stars. Despite over 40 confrontations in the Pacific, the Conway had never been hit. After returning home, Dominic returned to the Lawrence Wood Mill and later worked at the Lawrence Packaging company. He and Mary had one son.
Dominic is a special kind of person, one of that “greatest generation”. In keeping with that fact, Dominic, in 1963, seventeen years after he left the Navy, joined the Navy Reserves. He continued to serve his country as a reservist from 1963 to 1979. He served in Newport RI and on a few different ships including the USS Galveston, the USS Valley Forge, and the USS Ranger. Even today, Dominic still continues to serve his community. As a volunteer in the city of Lawrence, Dominic serves as a greeter and many other different roles at the Mary Immaculate housing center. This past year he was awarded by the city with a certificate for his 20 years of voluntary service. Dominic may not see his contribution as heroic, but we do. Dominic gave his life for his country numerous times without a second thought. Because of men like Dominic, we have the freedom to honor his achievements as a patriot today!