In March 1941, Timely Comics, a predecessor of Marvel Comics, created the iconic Captain America superhero. The comic book followed Steve Rogers’ journey to the military and his efforts during the second great war. After being rejected from the military countless times due to different ailments, Rogers would go on to become one of the most decorated heroes in comic book history.
While cartoonist Joe Simon and Jack Kirby didn’t know it at the time, they could’ve been writing the story of World War II veteran Samuel A. Nalbone Sr. The Moorestown resident entered into the fight against Germany, however prior to actually enlisting, Nalbone was rejected from both the Navy and Army due to a deformity with his right arm.
As a kid, Nalbone was hit by a truck and it left his arm a bit deformed. However, the second time that Nalbone tried to enlist in the Army, he did 18 pushups to show his arm was fine and he could do anything anyone else could. Despite the initial resistance, Nalbone would go on to become a very decorated soldier by earning two Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and an Oak Leaf Cluster
On Sunday, June 23, the Quilt of Valor Foundation, an organization dedicated to thanking veterans for their service and covering them with handmade quilts, honored the 95-year-old Nalbone.
“This truly surprises me,” said Nalbone. “When I was in Anzio, I used to always say who is going to remember us? Who is going to remember this war? Look at the number of wars after it. By the time I got back, there was the Korean War. Then after that there was the Vietnam War. This really surprises me.”
During Nalbone’s time in the Army, he served in the 34th Infantry and mainly fought in Africa, Anzio and Cassino, Italy. It was in the vicinity of Cassino that Nalbone was first hit by a hand grenade, however after recovering, Nalbone went back to Italy and fought in the Battle of Anzio where the allied powers captured Rome.
As they traveled north of Rome, Nalbone was hit again on his belt and as a grenade started to go off, he quickly took off his belt to throw it away. Nalbone was able to get the belt off, but the impact of the grenade was still felt as it injured his back.
“I was first operated on in a field tent,” said Nalbone. “When I woke up after that, they were driving me somewhere and they were putting me in an airplane. I guess I was going to the Roman hospital because I was above Rome. When I woke up after that, I was in a ward with a big cast on me, my head down and a bar across me.
“I was there a few months and then they started talking about sending me over again,” Nalbone continued. “I guess they changed their mind because when I got out of the ward, instead of sending me back, I got a medal, it was a Bronze Star.”
Nalbone received the Bronze Star for his efforts in saving the lives of 12 soldiers while he was in Cassino. On Jan. 15, 1944, when help was needed to evacuate 12 wounded men in a minefield, Nalbone walked through the minefield seeking help from another platoon. With every step Nalbone took potentially being his last, Nalbone continued to walk and eventually found the 36th Infantry. Initially he was met with hostility due to him walking in the wrong direction. The 36th infantry thought he was a German. However, he eventually encouraged members of the platoon to help him go back into the minefield and save his fellow soldiers.
“Dad was a hero way before he was our hero,” said his daughter, Sandy Menaquale. “I am my best self when I am my father’s daughter. I’m so proud of him. He taught us by example and I am so happy that I get to share this experience with him.”