The mystery behind this war hero’s Bronze Star was hiding in plain sight

Salvatore Muscarello’s goddaughter only learned the reason why the Army veteran had won the award after he died earlier this month.

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Salvatore Muscarello holds his service photo in 2018. His original military box and purple star.

Provided/Dia Weil

No murder. No mayhem. No politics.

This is a Sunday kind of story.

So pull up a chair.

His name was Salvatore Muscarello.

“Sam,” not “Sal,” for short.

Described as a “gentle man” with impeccable manners, Muscarello, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease who died Aug. 2 at the age of 93, “was one of the kindest men in the world,” said his goddaughter, Dia Weil, who lives on the North Shore. Muscarello, a Chicago area native, worked for years as a skilled tailor before becoming a buyer for Marshall Field & Company.

The eulogy at Muscarello’s funeral noted his heroism during World War II, which netted him the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. 

“My godfather won the Purple Heart for being wounded in action during one of the war’s most horrific confrontations: The Battle of the Bulge,” said Weil, who kept the medal at her home and was subsequently asked to bring it to the funeral.

“However, what was missing was my godfather’s Bronze Star and the reason for his uncommon heroism and valor,” said Weil. “A lot of records were lost by the military in a fire in the 1970s.” 

“Little did I know that the answer was actually hidden in plain sight,” she said. 

Weil discovered the story behind the Bronze Star the day after the memorial service for Muscarello when she invited a few friends over for a Sunday afternoon chat.

“I was sitting around the kitchen table with my friend, Diane Melio, and her two daughters, Julia and Pelle — when they asked to see the Purple Heart,” said Weil. (The Bronze Star medal is still missing.)

Julia, 23, then noticed a tiny “sliver of something” protruding from an edge inside the inner box holding the Purple Heart.

Shimmying out a piece of old yellowed paper lying flat against the inside of the box, they found the official reason U.S. Army Private First Class Muscarello had been awarded the Bronze Star: “For heroic achievement in action on 29 December 1944.”

Said Weil: “It turns out I’ve had the answer hiding in my home and a chance encounter at my kitchen table a day after his funeral solved the mystery.”

It turns out Muscarello and a fellow soldier volunteered for a dangerous mission to repair a ruptured communication line between a mortar platoon and an observation post near Hottviller, France, when he was 19 years old. 

They were both wounded by enemy shellfire during the mission. 

The letterhead inside the box from the headquarters of the U.S. Army’s 100th Infantry Division read:

“Although darkness was rapidly settling, and the area was infested with mines, Private Muscarello administered emergency first aid to his companion, and disregarding his own painful wounds, continued on his mission.

“Finally, discovering the break in the line, he made the necessary repairs, called for medical aid and returned to the side of his companion where he remained until a litter team arrived from the rear.

“His courage and determination re-established communications and probably saved a wounded man’s life.”

Ironically, two years ago — and in the same week Weil had saved the life of her husband from drowning in the bottom of their pool — Muscarello’s family had given Weil the Purple Heart her godfather wanted her to have.

Life has strange, wonderful coincidences...don’t you think?

A message to Mary . . .

Sneedless to say, I couldn’t attend the party Friday celebrating the career of Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell.

But even though she is scaling back her role with the paper, she’ll always be on our minds. 

Mary will be that touch of conscience when reporters fear faltering in our mission to be honorable and truthful; an inspiration when callousness or carelessness tempts our computer keys; part of the true blue section of the Sun-Times blood red heart.

I only wish I’d had more time to spend with the real thing; the adult in the room. 

Mary Mitchell.

Sneedlings . . . 

It’s so remarkably today! Attorney Joan M. Hall, who is over the moon with the birth of her new grandson, Emmett Elmer Oak Maghally — tells Sneed her son, Justin Hall, and the baby’s mother, Ilyse Magy chose the name “Emmett” because it has an English and Hebrew link; “Elmer” because it was the name of two of Joan’s uncles who were remarkable Nebraska farmers; “Oak” for the tree; and “Maghally” as a combo of both parents last names ... plus a “y” at the end. There ya go. ... Congrats to Iris and Dan McCaffery on marking their 50th wedding anniversary by renewing their wedding vows over the weekend. ... Saturday’s birthdays: Robert De Niro, 76; Donnie Wahlberg, 50; and Sean Penn, 59. ... Sunday’s birthdays: Robert Redford, 83; Andy Samberg, 41; and Mika, 36. 

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