By Mayor Joe Sack
Father Lim, Cmdr. DeBarros, Legionnaires of Rye Post 128, Lt. Col. Bancroft, elected officials, and citizens of Rye:
The names of Rye veterans are fixed in granite and bronze on our monuments and plaques. I have also had the privilege of memorializing many Rye veterans on videotape.
A few years ago, I had the chance to record a conversation with longtime Rye resident Fred Talento. Fred fought in World War II, and saw 151 days of combat, including the Battle of the Bulge. He was wounded twice in action, and was awarded two Purple Hearts, as well as two Bronze Stars with Oak Leaf Clusters.
Despite this heroic service, Fred started out as just a kid from Rye, by way of the Bronx in the 1920s. Fred’s father ran for Congress twice in the Bronx, losing roundly and soundly as a right-wing conservative Republican. Fred told me that his father wouldn’t accept a Roosevelt dime as change.
Although his father didn’t have his own political success, he did work on Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s winning campaigns. In Rye, Fred’s father served as president of the Resurrection Church Dad’s Club. He was tasked by the priests to help pay off the debt issued to build the new cathedral. Amazingly, the debt was paid off in just two years.
How’d he do it? Bingo! High stakes games of Bingo.
They set up picnic tables in the rear of the church, and people came from as far away as Pennsylvania, with prizes donated by Rye Ford.
The Bingo games were so loud, you could hear the numbers called out all the way down to Rye Beach. They said to neighbors, “Please bear with us as we do a good thing for the Lord!”
Later, Fred’s father was appointed Rye City clerk, working in the old City Hall for many years. Fred grew up at 42 Orchard Ave. According to Fred, his pals were a bunch of rowdy guys who raised hell, but they all somehow graduated from Rye High School as the Class of 1940.
Fred attended the University of Notre Dame, and when the war started, he stayed in school. However, in his junior year, he received a red envelope calling him to active duty. Fred was assigned to the 78th U.S. Infantry Division—the Lightening Division for an intelligence and reconnaissance job.
He was told, “We’re going over that hill, and guess who’s going over first to tell us what’s waiting for us?”
Fred said that he was never much of a runner, never set any records in the 100-yard dash; but in that role, you should have seen how fast he could move in knee-deep snow.
After capturing a German pill box in the forest, and taking prisoners, PFC Talento saw a German major with a fancy Luger pistol and holster, which the private demanded. The German refused, saying he would only hand it over to an “über” officer. Fred held his own carbine to the head of the German, cocked it, and said, “My name is Gen. Eisenhower.” Fred got the Luger.
Fred had a unique sense of humor, but he told me simply that the war was a horrific experience.
When Fred returned to the U.S. after the war, he had a job offer in hand from BBDO, the advertising agency in New York City. In 1952, he married his wife, Norma Carino from New Rochelle, whom he had met after a day of skating at Playland’s ice casino. Shortly thereafter, they moved into 8 Hickory Drive. They had three daughters. Fred went on to work for Look magazine, focusing on automobile ads and kept a sailboat at the Rye Marina for many years.
Fred reminisced about his life in Rye as a young man just before going to war, and the places he would hang out with friends: The Jungle Club at the corner of Central and Post Road; The Rye Hotel where the gas station now stands on Purdy Street. And Al’s Diner at Orchard and Post Road, inside an old Pullman car—“a greasy spoon if there ever was one!”
Years later, Fred received his honorary Notre Dame degree.
Fred passed away earlier this year at the age of 92. I was happy to provide a copy of my interview with Fred to two of his daughters who live in Rye, Lori and Buffy. Fred’s story will survive, on tape and in our memories.
Thank you Fred, veterans of Rye, and veterans everywhere. God Bless Rye, and God Bless America.