Legion members restore WWII vet’s damaged flag memorial

Vandals ripped up the 95-year-old’s garden, tore down his American flag and tossed it into a neighbor’s trash can on Memorial Day weekend.

World War II veteran Dominick DeStefanis was an MP during the Northern Africa Campaign and the Allied invasions of Sicily and the Italian peninsula. TIMES PHOTO: WILLIAM KENNY

As a U.S. Army soldier during World War II, Tacony’s Dominick DeStefanis braved the Northern Africa Campaign and the invasions of Sicily and the Italian peninsula, but something that happened in his front yard recently made him weep.

Vandals ripped up the 95-year-old’s flower garden, tore down his American flag and tossed it into a neighbor’s trash can … on Memorial Day weekend no less.

But a group of local veterans rallied to DeStefanis’ cause with the help of some staff members from state Rep. Mike Driscoll’s office on Wednesday. They paid the former military police officer a surprise visit and helped restore his modest tribute to the nation’s fallen heroes.

Pat O’Brien and Franny Dean from the American Legion’s Tacony Memorial Post 735 planted about a dozen hand-held flags into DeStefanis’ Marsden Street garden. Then they informed him that members of the Operating Engineers Local 542 union have offered to install a flagpole in the front yard to replace the small wall bracket he has been using to hang his three-foot by five-foot Stars and Stripes.

“He was in tears and he also was sharp as a tack,” Dean, the Post 735 commander, said of DeStefanis’ response to the gift.

The symbolism of the relatively small gesture wasn’t lost on Dean either.

“Our veterans and everyone in the service means a lot to me,” he said.

O’Brien, who serves as the Legion’s Eastern Pennsylvania adjutant, concurred: “We could be speaking Japanese or German right now if it weren’t for our World War II veterans. They were the greatest generation.”

DeStefanis discovered last Saturday that not everyone in his neighborhood shares that sentiment. He peered outside his rowhome and discovered the damage. He called his daughter and son-in-law, Annette and Joe Hendrick.

Franny Dean, commander of the American Legion Tacony Memorial Post 735, planted about a dozen new flags in DeStefanis’ garden. TIMES PHOTO: WILLIAM KENNY

“We were having dinner at home and I saw his number come up on the phone. I answered the call and he was crying,” Joe said.

The vandals damaged his plants and several spinning wind catchers. His “Proud to be a Veteran” banner was missing, as was the flag.

“The first affront for him was the desecration of the flag and the next thing was it happened on the anniversary of his wife’s passing,” Joe said.

“How could somebody do something like that?” DeStefanis asked.

Mary DeStefanis passed away on the same date in 2006. The vandals may not have realized the significance of their actions.

“I don’t think so, but they should be reprimanded for what they did,” DeStefanis said. “They should be taught in school what it means. Soldiers die in wars for the flag.”

When the Hendricks arrived at the house on Sunday, they went door to door in the neighborhood searching for answers. Although the exercise yielded no incriminating information, they met a neighbor who had found the main flag in his trash bin. It wasn’t worse for wear, so they reposted it on DeStefanis’ porch.

On Wednesday morning, word of the incident reached Driscoll’s district office. The legislator’s father is also a World War II vet. His aide, Dave Wyszynski, contacted the local American Legion officers to plan a remedy.

Within hours, the Legion officers arrived at DeStefanis’ home, as did Wyszynski and Terry Devlin from Driscoll’s staff and Joe Sannutti, president of the Tacony Civic Association. Their visit lasted less than an hour, but it meant a lot to DeStefanis and his family, just as his service still means everything to the veterans’ community.

“Our World War II guys are dying off. As an American Legion commander, my main purpose is to take care of them,” Dean said. ••

William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.