By JESSICA NICOSIA
For The Recorder
The city of Amsterdam has its fair share of war veterans, now honored by a brand new monument in Veteran's Park. Lifelong resident John A. Pepe, himself a World War II veteran, recently finished a brief biography of Amsterdam's Anthony Sidoti. Sidoti, who was born in the city and later lived in Albany, is a highly decorated Chaplain, but his history is not well known. Pepe hopes his new biography and efforts to have Sidoti recognized in the city will change that.
"It was my intent to put this together so the people of our area here would know what a hero we had, who very seldom said anything about his exploits there during the war," said Pepe. "And he should be given some kind of recognition."
Pepe's history introduces Anthony R. Sidoti as "one of those Amsterdam veterans whose experiences are distinctive and whose memory should not be forgotten. He may, in fact, be one of Amsterdam's most highly decorated WWII war heroes and accomplished soldiers. Most inspiring is that Sidoti was a U.S. Army Chaplain, a non-combatant, spiritual leader."
Anthony Sidoti lived on Forbes Street and Union Street in Amsterdam as a child with his parents, Angelo and Anna. He graduated from Amsterdam's St. Mary's High School in 1930. He joined the U.S. Army in October 1942 and served in several areas of Central Europe during the war. After discharge from active duty in 1946, Father Sidoti worked in the Albany diocese as a pastor at several churches and enlisted in the National Guard.
Chaplain Sidoti was awarded the Silver Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star medal and the American Campaign Medal for his service in World War II and the National Guard.
"It's well beyond, as they say, the call of duty, to do these things, but father did them," said John, 90, a retired engineer who worked for the city of Amsterdam and Montgomery County. He knew Sidoti personally when he was in high school, working at his parents' restaurant in Amsterdam.
"I knew Father Sidoti right after he was ordained down in Albany and was assigned to the Mount Carmel church in Gloversville," said John. "He was involved in some of the youth movements there at the church. And my family used to have the restaurant down on West Main Street, Pepe's Restaurant. Father would bring some of the kids down there and treat them to spaghetti and meatballs."
Pepe worked in the restaurant with his brothers Sam, Joe, and Jim before he went to college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for two years. He left college to join the military during World War II.
John seems to enjoy talking about his experiences in the war, and the service of many of his relatives. This interest in and respect for veterans, according to his brother Sam and son Billy, may be why he was drawn to Sidoti's story.
"My father and uncle were immigrants and they both were in the army for the first world war," said Sam Pepe. "Our family just, they loved the United States, and they wanted to do their part. And that's why they got in the service."
"He was always interested in the veterans and the military, being a war veteran himself," said Billy Pepe, John's son, who lives in Tribes Hill.
After the war, John was able to meet Sidoti again, when he was a pastor in Albany.
"My brother Sam was a member of the National Guard, so every summer he'd see father," said John. "And this is when I first learned that Father was supposed to receive the Silver Star. And the thing is that the Silver Star is the third highest award you can get for valor. And I said, that sounds strange, a priest getting a silver star. So that set the ball in motion because I became curious."
According to Billy, John had become more interested in Father Sidoti after sharing memories of him with his brother Sam. Sam and John both remembered Sidoti coming to the restaurant in Amsterdam when he was a pastor in Gloversville.
John started researching Sidoti's history in earnest last year.
"I got inquisitive, and I mentioned it to my son John [J. Pepe], who became curious, too," said John. "So the next thing you know, we're looking into this thing, and starting digging up information. The more we looked in to it, the more we realized this man was one hell of a hero out of our area."
"I was surprised, but not totally surprised, that he got involved in this," said Billy. "I think he felt compelled. I don't know what it was that drew him to it, all I know is for the last year it's been everything about Father Sidoti."
John's sons both contributed to the biography's final product. John J., who lives in Berlin and is also a veteran, helped with the research, while Billy helped put the book together once his father had written it. The book contains the written account of Sidoti's life and war record as well as all the original documentation used for research.
Although Sidoti passed away in 2004, Pepe talked to his relatives in the area when writing the history.
"Knowing father, he never mentioned anything about his service record," said John.
"The thing is, that we never knew his history because he never discussed it," said Nancy Mattes, Sidoti's second cousin who lives in Amsterdam. "Later on, he said, my mother was always nervous enough. I didn't want to tell her what I went through in the war."
Sidoti spent holidays with Mattas and her family, even though he moved away from Amsterdam during and after the war. Mattas acknowledged there are many stories of Sidoti's war experience that do not appear in Pepe's history, because there was no reliable documentation for them.
Mattas tells one story, in which Sidoti received a German medal after agreeing to hold a Christmas Eve mass for the German soldiers, who did not have a Chaplain.
"Three days later he came back across lines with a sausage and the medal the German officer had given him," said Mattas.
Mattas' brother received all of Sidoti's medals after his death in 2004. Nancy said that they would both be pleased to see their cousin honored.
"We would be extremely proud," she said. "The thing is that we would finally be able to recognize his dedication and his service to his church and to his county. Because the people who knew about it are so elderly now."
The Pepes spent a little over a year working on the book, and once it was finished they submitted copies to city historian Robert von Hasseln and Mayor Ann Thane. Von Hasseln said he had heard about Sidoti before.
"I didn't know too many details about him," he said. "It's a rather heroic story and it's unusual for a Chaplain to receive these battle arms."
The Pepes were given a list of things they could do to get recognition for Sidoti from von Hasseln. The list included giving copies to the county archives and the Amsterdam Free Library for their local history room, and asking the Common Council about naming an intersection, road, or area of town after him.
Von Hasseln put a copy in the city archives and brought another to former Montgomery County judge Bob Going, who is writing a book about Amsterdam during World War II.
"He's getting a whole chapter in the book," said Going.
Going found out about Sidoti and his silver stars while looking through old newspaper articles from the 1940s. The Chaplain apparently made an impression on Going through a letter printed in The Recorder during the war. The letter, from Sidoti to his mother after he received his first silver star, explained why he had to go back to the war.
"He was a man's man, and he was a priest," said Going. "It's just fascinating stuff."
Although the Pepes are unsure of their next step in getting recognition for Sidoti in the city, they have taken the step to get his name out there by giving out copies of the history.
"There's these relations ... who are just hoping and praying that the city ... will do something to honor this man," said John. "When you read his citations for the Silver Star, it's hard to believe. His story would make one hell of a movie."