By Michael Schaffer
America’s greatest generation lives on in 87-year-old Centerville native Tony (Neno) Montegna.
Tony (Neno) Montegna was born Jan. 21, 1926 at 1717 S. 16th St. in Centerville. He was the youngest of 17 children born to Gaetano and Josephina Montegna (Mantegna) of Sicily, who came to the United States shortly after the turn of the century.
At the age of 17, Montegna enlisted in the United States Marine Corps to fight in WWII. He was assigned to the 22nd regiment, Sixth Marine Division.
Montegna was a machine gunner, landing in Okinawa April 1, 1945. Montegna had a sharpshooter’s medal and had perfected the ability to fire a single shot from the machine gun.
“Our lieutenant positioned me in an area where the attack could be expected and told me to fire off five or six single shots so the Japanese would think it was just a pistol and not a machine gun,” Montegna said. “He told me to remember Pearl Harbor and keep my finger on the trigger when they attacked, and I did.”
A Japanese bomb ultimately changed his life when he was injured by the explosion on May 24, 1945, which had buried him in debris and left metal shrapnel in his head.
“I had a piece of steel in my head on the front lines and they didn’t know how deep it was so they sent me to Maryland and California to take the piece of steel out of my head,” Montegna said during a telephone interview. “And they took it out and then they said you’re not fit to stay in the Marine Corps so we’re going to give you an honorable discharge.”
Montegna said he can still feel the scar from the shrapnel that entered his head just above his left ear.
Montegna served in the Marine Corps from 1943-1945.