Homer Wise Honored by Governor Rell of Connecticut

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Brig. Gen. Steven Scorzato, left, Assistant Adjutant General of the Connecticut Army National Guard, holds the certificate presented by Gov. M. Jodi Rell to James Vlasto, Project Director of the Homer L. Wise Memorial Committee, Inc. on behalf of World War II hero and Medal of Honor recipient Homer Wise, as Linda Schwartz, state commissioner of veterans affairs looks on. (Henry Eschricht/contributed photo Stamford Advocate, November 18, 2009)
Stamford World War II hero named to state Veterans Hall of Fame
By Jeff Morganteen
Staff Writer - The Stamford Advocate
STAMFORD -- When speaking about Homer Lee Wise, friends and relatives usually rely on one word to describe the decorated World War II soldier -- humble.

"He was an ordinary person and he was my uncle," Jean Rinaldi, 66, said Tuesday. "I didn't think of him like a hero or anything."

The U.S. government, however, did think of Wise as a hero, and awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions during a battle against German infantry in Magliano, Italy. It also awarded him a myriad of other medals, including a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

By age 27, he was one of the most decorated World War II infantrymen. In Hartford Tuesday, Wise was also among 11 state residents named to the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame.
He was one of two Stamford residents to win the Medal of Honor. John Latham won the honor in World War I.

The city named two parks after both war heroes, and Tony Pavia, author of "An American Town Goes to War," a book about Stamford and its World War II veterans, used to visit Homer Lee Wise Memorial Park at Bedford and Chester streets for history tours with Stamford High School students.

Pavia along with James Vlasto, a Greenwich resident who is trying to raise money to build a statue of Wise, helped nominate Wise for the state's Veterans Hall of Fame. Wise was also named to the Louisiana Military Hall of Fame earlier this month because his hometown was Baton Rouge.

"It's more than just a Medal of Honor," Pavia said of choosing to nominate Wise. "The Medal of Honor alone would have entitled him this. When you look at the total picture, it's more compelling. He became an adoptive son of Stamford."

Vlasto said it's his goal to make sure Stamford residents remember Wise as one of the greatest soldiers in World War II. During his life in Stamford, the war hero remained quiet and tried to deflect questions about his medal with jokes; wise's own son didn't know his father won the Medal of Honor until a classmate told him, Vlasto said.

"The unfortunate part of this story is when he died in 1974, very few people knew who Homer Wise was," Vlasto said. "They named a little park after him on Bedford Street but didn't say anything about him."

That's why Vlasto is trying to raise close to $80,000 to construct a statue of Wise.

Rinaldi said it was only after her uncle's death that she realized the magnitude of his military honors. She never thought of him like an action-hero, but what he did in Magliano, Italy, went beyond what a Hollywood script could offer.

It was June 1944 and Wise's platoon was pinned down by gunfire from German soldiers. Wise left his cover, ran past German bullets, and with three other men carried a wounded soldier to safety.

Then three German soldiers -- an officer and two enlisted men -- appeared to the right of his platoon. Wise, then a staff sergeant, killed the German soldiers with a submachine gun. He then picked up a rifle and began firing at German positions, holding up their advance. He swapped his weapon for an automatic rifle and, leading his men, took out an enemy machine-gunner.

When German gunfire became more intense, he ran up to a nearby tank, unjammed its machine gun, and let loose on enemy soldiers. The German gunfire subsided thanks to Wise and his skill with the machine-gun, and his platoon took the hill that was their objective.

Then Wise came home to Stamford, worked odd jobs and worked as a waiter to help put his son through college.

"If you live through it, it's just amazing that you lived through it," Rinaldi said. "I don't think people brag about that kind of stuff."

Staff Writer Jeff Morganteen can be reached at jeff.morganteen@scni.com or 203-964-2215.

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