WWII soldier visits graves in Europe
He especially wanted to pay his respects to a friend he made in basic training.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
NILES -- Louis Nicastro knew the time had come, after more than 55 years, to pay his respects to Army buddies killed in World War II and buried in Europe.
Nicastro, of Mason Street, has been to Europe many times as a tour director, but he never felt he could leave his group. Last July, however, he extended his time in Europe after touring as a singer with Pilgrimage Choir of St. Vitus Church in New Castle, Pa.
He visited grave sites in Maargraten Cemetery in the Netherlands and Henri-Chapelle Cemetery in Belgium.
"I just felt I had to go. I was so close to him," he said of one of his best wartime friends, Staff Sgt. Philip Abrahamson.
When he reached Abrahamson's grave at Maargraten, where more than 8,300 others killed in the war are buried including 40 sets of brothers, he "just knelt there and stared."
"It brought a tear. I'll never get over it," Nicastro said.
He placed a bouquet of flowers on Abrahamson's grave and also a wreath from Abrahamson's cousins from Omaha, Neb.
"I know you want some quiet time," said his host in the Netherlands, Arno Lasoe, who stepped back to give Nicastro privacy.
Friendship blossomed: Nicastro and Abrahamson, of Omaha, became friends during basic training at Camp Hood, Texas.
Nicastro, 79, grew up on Emerson and Idaho streets in Farrell, Pa. where he graduated from high school in 1940. He worked at Westinghouse Electric's transformer division in Sharon before being drafted into the Army on Dec. 22, 1942.
After basic training, he and Abrahamson received further training at Camp Polk, La., and Camp Miles Standish, Mass., and then were sent in 1944 to Camp Jacks Bush in England, about 40 miles south of London.
They were part of a forward reconnaissance outfit, the 113th-125th Cavalry Group out of Iowa, that fought from St. Lo, France to Paris, and also liberated towns in Belgium and the Netherlands. Nicastro was a sergeant and a radio operator.
"We were out front all the time. We lost a lot of guys for a small outfit," he said.
"We went to dances and the PX, we did everything together," he said of himself and Abrahamson.
Abrahamson's death: Nicastro was not present when Abrahamson was killed, but he learned soon after how it happened.
"Our unit had come to a little village called Isenbruch, Germany. Phil was ordered to go down the road in his armored car toward the town to see if any Germans were there. Phil said he was not going to go because he had heard the road was mined. But, he followed orders. As he left, he said he knew he wasn't going to be going home. A short time later, his armored car hit a mine that blew up under him," Nicastro said.
"In combat, you're damned afraid all the time ... all the time," Nicastro said.
Back home: After the war, Nicastro came back to the Shenango and Mahoning valleys. He received bachelor's and master's degrees in business and accounting from Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., after which he taught school for 30 years in Youngstown, 18 years at South High School and 12 years at Chaney High School. He also taught night school at Youngstown College and Youngstown State University.
He also guided tours for Plaza Travel all over Europe, Japan and China, traveling to Europe at least 20 times.
It was his great love for music and travel that finally led Nicastro back to Europe to fulfill his need to visit the graves of Abrahamson and others he had known during the war.
He has been a member of several musical groups, including the Vincent Greco Mandolin Orchestra of Farrell where he played the mandola. He now sings in the Youngstown Symphony Chorus and the Youngstown Seraphim Chorus.
But it was his involvement in the Pilgrimage Choir tour that brought him again to Europe. After performing in Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Munich and Lucerne between June 25 and July 7, Nicastro extended his stay until July 10 to visit the graves.
His main mission was to visit Abrahamson's grave, but there were several "side stories" he hadn't expected.
One was about his host, Arno Lasoe, who is an unofficial historian for the 113th-125th Cavalry and takes care of the graves of the men buried at Maargraten and Henri-Chapelle, as a way of saying thanks for liberating his hometown, Heerlen, from four years of German control.
Contacted families: Nicastro's brother, Pat of Brookfield, an Army Air Corps veteran, searched the Internet for the names and phone numbers of the family members of the men whose graves Nicastro planned to find: Abrahamson, Cpl. Francis McNeish, Pvt. Anthony Shumski and Staff Sgt. Walter Littleton.
He contacted the families to tell them he was going and has since shared information and pictures with them. He said Abrahamson's immediate family was deceased, but he did speak to his cousins in Omaha. "They didn't know where Phil was buried until I told them," he said.
Nicastro, a member of American Legion Post 160 and VFW Post 5286, both in Farrell, is married to the former Josephine Infante. They have two children, Lawrence J. and Marnie Nicastro, both in Arizona, and two grandchildren, Kira and Kristin.