Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Army Specialist Gennaro Pellegrini, Jr.

Remember Our Heroes

Army Specialist Gennaro Pellegrini, Jr., 31, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Spc Pellegrini died in Bayji, Iraq, while investigating a rocket-propelled grenade incident a mine exploded and enemy forces attacked using small arms fire. He was assigned to the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment (Mechanized), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“One Punch Gerry” was the nickname fellow Philadelphia police officers gave Gennaro Pellegrini Jr. after he famously knocked out a violent suspect with just one blow.

“There’s a kid that never gave up,” said Frank Talent, of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, who watched Pellegrini, an amateur welterweight, win his first professional fight last year.

“He had heart to the end.”

Pellegrini, 31, of Philadelphia, died Aug. 9 in Bayji from a mine explosion and small-arms fire. He was the first Philadelphia police officer killed in the Iraq war. The son of a cop, Pellegrini joined the department in 2001 and inherited his father’s badge number, 3722. While in Iraq, he convinced schoolchildren to collect 350 pairs of flip-flops for Iraqi children.

He is survived by his parents, Edith and Gennaro Pellegrini Sr.

If only Pellegrini had been allowed to fight his enemies where he preferred to — in the ring, said cousin Jerry Wahl.

“My uncle said, ‘It’s a shame he couldn’t have gone over there and fought one on one, hand-to-hand combat,” said Wahl. “Then he would have taken care of business, and we wouldn’t be here right now.”

The camouflage boxing trunks emblazoned with American flags, military insignias and the name "GENNARO" still hang in the office of Blue Horizon proprietor Vernoca Michael. But soon they'll be placed in the storied Horizon's museum with the gloves, photos of famed fighters and other Philadelphia boxing memorabilia.

The man who wore the trunks, 31-year-old Philadelphia police officer Gennaro Pellegrini Jr., died alongside three fellow Army National Guardsmen last week in Beyji, Iraq. The soldiers' Humvee ran over a bomb, and was then attacked by insurgents brandishing rocket-propelled grenades.

Pellegrini, an aspiring pugilist who made a smashing professional debut at the Blue Horizon in May 2004, won't get to don those trunks for a return engagement. Horizon owner Michael, who loved Pellegrini like a son, regrets that deeply.

"I promised Gerry we'd let him fight here again after he came home," she says. "And of course he would wear those trunks. They were going to hang right here until that time arrived."

Pellegrini, who became a police officer in 2001 and quickly earned numerous commendations as well as the admiration of his colleagues, had other things to look forward to as well. He wanted to get married, to take SWAT team training, to grow older and be like his father, a retired cop who lives with Gennaro's mother Edie at the Jersey shore.

But war has an ugly way of short-circuiting dreams, and it doesn't play favorites. The story of Gennaro Pellegrini Jr. provides a tragic case in point.

He'd joined the Guard in 1998, and his six-year commitment was scheduled to end on April 24, 2004. But the Army, facing personnel challenges amid the loss of life in Iraq, extended his enlistment by 18 months under a policy that can delay separations and retirements during wartime and national
emergencies.

"I joined the military," Pellegrini said resignedly that evening, "and I didn't think this was going to happen. But I'm gonna go over there and do the best job I can."

First, however, he had to tend to the matter of his pro boxing debut. Owner Michael and Don Elbaum, the Blue Horizon's matchmaker, enabled Pellegrini to realize that ambition after they learned the hard-punching welterweight, who won a Golden Gloves title in 1997, had fantasized about rumbling at the Blue for years.

So on May 21, 2004, Pellegrini squared off against Andre Harris of Wildwood, N.J., in front of a crowd heavy with cops and soldiers. The little four-rounder became an epic battle.

"It was a Rocky fight, an absolute war," the colorful Elbaum remembers. "Gerry started out strong. That kid Harris had a lousy record, but he had balls, he fought back, and in the third round Gerry got tired. He was having trouble breathing, and they just pushed him out of his corner for the last round."

That round-and Pellegrini's boxing career, as it turns out-ended when he dug deep within himself to launch one final haymaker, an overhand right that knocked Harris out amid pandemonium.

The following month Pellegrini left for infantry training in Texas. And in December 2004, he and other members of Alpha Company of the First Battalion of the 111th Infantry shipped out for Iraq.

Pellegrini's wartime activities wouldn't befit the faint of heart.

"He manned checkpoints," says Lt. Jay Ostrich, a Pennsylvania National Guard spokesperson. "He went out on patrol, capturing enemy insurgents and turning them over to MPs. He was doing some of the most dangerous work in Iraq."

Capt. Lou Campione, commander of Fishtown's 26th Police District and Pellegrini's boss for four years, is certain the Army couldn't have put a better soldier on the job.

"Everybody here respected him," Campione says. "He not only had your back, he'd jump over you to protect you."

Army Specialist Gennaro Pellegrini, Jr. was killed in action on 08/09/05.

1 comment:

Erica said...

Thanks angels for putting this tribute together for all of our fallen heroes. I'm sure all loved ones greatly appreciate the fact that we will not let them be forgotten.
Gennaro, "Gerry", no words can express my gratitude, all I can say is thank you soldier.
Your Angel,
Erica.