The telegram arrived on Jan. 8, 1951.
U.S. Army First Lt. Anthony R. Mazzulla went Missing In Action more than a month earlier, on Dec. 2, 1950.
His mother had already lost one son. Losing a second would be enough to break some parents.
But not Jennie Mazzulla.
“She was a strong lady,” said her niece, Lois Marandola. “You have to be.”
Jennie Mazzulla never gave up hope that her son would one day return home.
“I think every parent hopes,” Marandola said in the dining room of her Johnston home. “I’m just glad that on Saturday I can put him to rest with his family, which is very important to me.”
Three years after he was lost in battle, Anthony Mazzulla was declared dead, though he was never found nor forgotten.
Seven decades later, the Johnston soldier is finally no longer missing. His remains have been handed over by the North Korean regime, identified through DNA comparisons and returned to the Ocean State. On Saturday he will be laid to rest in the soil of his family plot.
An American Airlines plane carrying his remains landed at T.F. Green International Airport in Warwick Tuesday afternoon. His flag-covered coffin was welcomed with honors, and transported to Nardolillo Funeral Home in Cranston via motorcade.
In near-silence, a Rhode Island Army National Guard honor guard carried him through the door, past his surviving relatives, all born after he disappeared.
“Oh my … it was just a very emotional day,” Marandola said Wednesday. “It was sad to know that my grandparents never knew that their son would be coming home. But it was great, that after 70 years he finally came back.”
Regret to Inform
His mother never stopped watching for uniformed U.S. Army messengers bearing grim news that Anthony’s body had been found.
Jennie Mazzulla led a crusade to re-number the homes on Johnston’s streets in consecutive order, so the soldiers, should they ever come calling, would easily find her Pezzullo Street home.
And she won that battle, Marandola said. Her grandmother’s home, House No. 45, changed to No. 25.
But the soldiers never came calling with closure.
“She was worried they’d never be able to find her,” Marandola recalled. “I just remember that my grandmother was very sad. But she would talk about him often.”
More than 20 years ago, a series of “Veterans’ Biographies” was prepared and bound in a booklet commemorating Johnston’s War Memorial Park and titled “Let Our Future Remember Our Past.”
Anthony Mazzulla’s profile in the book described him as “a son and a friend who paid the ultimate price for this country.”
“This courageous man was loved by all of his family,” according to the booklet. “He was described as a respectful, modest, quiet, man who valued family. In his youth he was athletic and played baseball. He also played softball for the Army League.”
Anthony Mazzulla, described by his surviving niece as “intelligent” and “reserved,” also served during World War II.
She never met the man. But she listened when loved ones shared stories from his life before he was declared MIA.
Mazzulla had already earned the Good Conduct Medal, a Campaign Ribbon and the Victory Medal for his service in Europe fighting the Nazis.
Born in The Bronx, New York, on Nov. 13, 1924, Anthony Mazzulla moved to Johnston, Rhode Island, with his family in 1938.
He attended the Thornton School and graduated from LaSalle Academy in Providence on June 12, 1942.
Mazzulla studied at Providence College for little more than a year before he was drafted into the Army to fight in World War II.
After an honorable discharge, he went back to school for a short time, but ultimately decided to re-enlist, rejoining the Army as a career soldier. He signed up for the Army Airborne Division, but his mother didn’t approve.
To please her, he entered Officers Candidate School, and trained to become an officer.
“Obviously, he didn’t know there would be another war so soon,” Marandola said as she picked up a sepia-toned snapshot of her uncle. “Oh my God he looks like my father there.”
The brothers were nine years apart.
In 1949, Mazzulla studied radio communications and telecommunications at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, was promoted to Lieutenant and eventually shipped out to Japan.
“Approximately around the time of Thanksgiving in 1950, he went to Korea and saw action at the Chosin Reservoir,” according to the Memorial Park booklet veterans profile. “This battle was the most savage in modern warfare.”
He was but one soul among the approximately 15,000 allied troops sent to cross the 38th Parallel.
Mazzulla was a member of Company B, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, according to the U.S. Army. His Division ultimately fought with a group of infantry, artillery and tank units comprising the 31st RCT, a group that would eventually come to be known as Task Force Faith.
The United States government searched for Anthony Mazzulla after he disappeared during battle near the Chosin Reservoir.
American soldiers and Marines faced overwhelming resistance, fighting near the Korea/China border. Some historians estimate Chinese troops outnumbered Americans 10 to 1. Temperatures dipped far below freezing, ceasing machinery and chilling our foreign fighters to the bone, frostbite claiming their extremities.
Marine planes eventually swarmed the atmosphere, dropping napalm, rockets, fragmentation and 500-lb bombs on the Chinese.
When Mazzulla’s division finally found safe grounds, he was no longer within the ranks.
The U.S. Army interviewed fellow combatants. They investigated thousands of soldiers who were lost or taken prisoner during the Korean War.
“Ultimately, the extreme casualties sustained by the 31st RCT (Regimental Combat Team 31) left few survivors at all,” according to a U.S. Army-compiled “Historical Report: 1st Lt. Anthony R. MAZULLA,” specifically detailing leads in the search for the lost Johnston soldier, then-26. “In the case of 1st Lt. Mazzulla, no statement exists that can account for the circumstances of his death, but given his reported date of loss, it can be reasonably assumed that he died during the withdrawal to Hagaru-ri. Because (Mazzulla) could not be accounted for by his unit at the end of the battle, the U.S. Army reported him MIA as of 2 December 1950 near the Chosin Reservoir, D.P.R.K. (Democratic People's Republic of Korea), and notified his family via telegram on 8 January 1951.”
In September, Marandola received a 4-hour briefing from Michael Mee, Chief of Identifications with U.S. Army Human Resources Command based out of Fort Knox, Kentucky.
For 12 years, Mee has served with the Army’s Casualty & Mortuary Affairs Operations Center (CMAOC) and Past Conflict Repatriations Branch (PCRB). His LinkedIn profile features a telling quote: “Until They All Come Home.”
Mee took the time to go into excruciating details of the battle, and informed Marandola of the lengths the U.S. government traveled in its attempts to identify her uncle.
“Following the battle, his remains could not be recovered,” according to the U.S. Army. “He was 26 years old.”
The remains ultimately identified as Mazzulla’s were turned over to the United States by North Korea in 2018.
“On July 27, 2018, following the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in June 2018, North Korea turned over 55 boxes, purported to contain the remains of American service members killed during the Korean War,” according to the DPAA. “The remains arrived at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii on Aug. 1, 2018, and were subsequently accessioned into the DPAA laboratory for identification.”
Nearly two years later, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Mazzulla’s positive identification after using circumstantial and anthropological evidence, as well as mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome analysis, on May 28, 2020.
Marandola was shocked when she finally learned of the positive identification.
“It’s always on your mind,” she said. “But you say there’s no way this is ever going to happen.”
Albert H. McCarthy, National First Vice President of the Korea War Veterans Association (KWVA), stood aside Paul K. Kim, the group’s National Chaplain, outside Nardolillo Funeral Home, awaiting Mazzulla’s return home.
“He was MIA but now he is found,” McCarthy said, unfurling a black and white POW/MIA banner. “We put this up for all those still to be found — more than 7,400 from the Korea War.”
He had a message for the families of soldiers still included among the names on the conflict’s MIA list.
“If you have a relative who died in the war but has not been found, you can request a DNA kit,” McCarthy said. He urged family members of the missing to reach out to their local Veterans Service Officer for a kit, to aid in identification of the many still unidentified remains.
“Mazzulla’s name is recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, along with the others who are still missing from the Korean War,” according to a U.S. Army press release. “A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.”
McCarthy wants Americans to realize the Korean War “is not over yet.”
“We have U.S. troops still stationed there, ready to fight, if the North attacks again,” McCarthy said to remind his fellow Americans.
Kim, born and raised in South Korea, moved to the United States in 1967, became a citizen, joined the U.S. Army and became a chaplain.
“I want to contribute a little on behalf of my native land,” Kim said. “These men are really heroes, for what they’ve done for our country, and for Korea.”
Many who have fought in the ongoing conflicts on the Korean Peninsula are still eligible for medals, and the South Korean government will pay for some families of veterans to visit the country, and even arranges tours of battle sites in the south, McCarthy explained. He urged surviving relatives to contact veterans services for details, and take both governments up on their offers.
The Rhode Island chapter of the Patriot Guard accompanied the hearse carrying Mazzulla from the airport to the funeral home.
Led by Mike “Gizmo” Dalmazzi, Rhode Island Assistant State Captain and Vets Cemetery Location Leader, this wasn’t the veteran biker club’s first motorcade, and it surely won’t be the last.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” Dalmazzi said, moments before the red and white stripes of the flag covering Mazzulla’s casket were no longer visible to those remaining outside. “He was a family friend of my dad’s. It’s pretty miraculous, though it’s a shame it took so long. I’m glad he was found.”
One Last Goodbye
A memorial service will be held at the funeral home at 8 a.m. Saturday, followed by a service for the former St. Rocco’s altar boy at the church on Atwood Avenue.
He will be buried with his parents, Jennie and Louis G. Mazzulla, and his brother Daniel E. Mazzulla Sr., Lois Marandola’s father, at 10 a.m. in Cranston’s St. Ann Cemetery.
Jennie Mazzulla lived to see her 93rd birthday, but outlived four sons and her husband. Unfortunately, the family matriarch died before the mystery of her son’s disappearance in combat was solved.
She was given a posthumous Purple Heart for her son’s bravery, and a plaque from U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“His death had a tragic impact on his family’s life,” according to the Memorial Park profile. “His mother carried the pain of her eldest son’s death with her throughout her life. His nephew, Michael Mazzulla, (Lois Marandola’s brother) will not stop his search for information about his gallant uncle, Anthony Ralph Mazzulla.”
Michael Mazzulla, now 61, stood on the tarmac Tuesday. He finally had answers, and a bit of ancestral closure.
Jennie Mazzulla wrote a short passage for the Memorial Park booklet. She approached the situation with steadfast realism.
“This is the history of how my son Lt. Anthony Mazzulla lost his life at Chosin,” she wrote. “Some will forget, but a mother will never forget.”
For many friends, family, and fellow Americans, this week has been dedicated to remembering Anthony Mazzulla and his ultimate sacrifice.
To learn more about the Department of Defense’s mission to account for Americans who went missing while serving our country, visit the DPAA website at www.dpaa.mil, www.facebook.com/dodpaa, or call (703) 699-1420/1169.
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