The Bronze Star Medal is the fourth-highest individual military award that can be given, and yet Cedar Grove’s Alfred Sebastian Dilorio, now deceased, will be the township’s 12th veteran to receive the honor.
Among the 12 local residents to be awarded the star, seven served in the Army, three in the Navy and one was in the Coast Guard. The recipients ranged from corporals to sergeants to petty officers. But Dilorio is the only recorded Navy gunner mate to grace the Cedar Grove lineup.
“The Bronze Star is a wonderful honor that not many people receive,” said Fred Urban, the VFW commander of Cedar Grove Post 6255.
Originally from Newark, Dilorio moved to Cedar Grove in 1958, according to his daughter Elaine Dilorio Balestro, who was 7 at the time. But before the veteran moved into the township, he enlisted with the Navy at age 18 and served on active duty from 1943 to 1945, Balestro said.
In possession of her father’s ship log, Balestro said her dad was a gunner mate during the invasion of Normandy Beach France. It was the service displayed in Normandy – originally brought to light by Balestro’s research – that will allow Dilorio to receive the Bronze Star posthumously.
The Normandy invasion took place June 6, 1944 when western allies landed and served as the “second front” against Adolf Hitler in World War II. Dilorio, aboard the SS James E. Haviland, landed three days later and was immediately fired upon by Germany. According to Dilorio’s ship log, he was shot with shrapnel in the process, leaving a scarred reminder on his leg.
The SS James E. Haviland ship Dilorio served on was named after Captain Haviland, the first man to build an iron steamer in 1843 Texas. Its type was known as a “Liberty Ship,” manned and operated by merchant marines and U.S. Navy gunners to transport equipment, supplies and soldiers.
Close to 3,000 Liberty Ships were built in the course of five years, and helped win the war by serving as transport vessels supplying soldiers overseas. President Franklin D. Roosevelt nicknamed the ships “ugly ducklings” after viewing the blueprints of the vessels’ outer designs, but never doubted their capabilities, mentioning how “this ship will do us very well,” —-according to the National Park Service website (nps.gov).
Dilorio and the SS Haviland were also part of in the Battle of the Scheldt in Antwerp, Belgium, where supplies, brought by Liberty Ships to defeat Germany, were transported by the tons daily, according to Dilorio’s log.
Liberty Ships like the SS James E. Haviland, and servicemen like Dilorio, aided in ending the war and survived to return to their country, according to historical records found on nps.gov and skylighters.org.
After his service, Dilorio resided in Cedar Grove for 18 years and was employed as a supervisor in Nutley for Canteen Corporation, where he serviced vending machines, according to Dilorio’s granddaughter Erika Desimone. “He was a skilled craftsman and could do anything from plumbing to carpentry to automotive repair,” Desimone said.
Dilorio died in 1976 due to heart failure at the age of 50.
Desimone was only 3 at the time, but feels a bond to her grandfather outside of his military service. “He had a creative, artistic side and did attend some art school for a short period of time.
“This connection is special to me because I won several art awards in [school] – and today run my own graphic design firm,” she said.
Dilorio is survived by his daughter, Balestro. Two granddaughters, Desimone of Verona, and Melanie Franco of West Caldwell. Four great-grandchildren. And his wife, Josephine Dilorio, who still resides in the couple’s Cedar Grove home.
According to Tom Pietrykoski, a spokesperson for Bill Pascrell’s office, the Bronze Star will be awarded to Dilorio’s family by Congressman Bill Pascrell.
“We have possession of the medals, which our case workers were able to acquire for us. And we are now scheduling a date as to when we will present the medals to the family,” Pietrykoski said.
The Bronze Star is awarded to any person who distinguishes himself by heroic or meritorious achievement while in any capacity with Armed Forces.
Balestro said Dilorio’s ship log had an article about the Bronze Star pasted to its cover. She believes her father was hoping to one day earn the medal during his service.
“Though he was a quite man, and never spoke of such things,” Balestro said, “I think he would be proud to know that even after all this time, he earned his Bronze Star.”