Street naming honors WW 2 war hero, victim of Nazi atrocity
BY PATRICK ROCCHIO
A co-pilot who was heinously murdered
as a POW in World War II will fi -
nally be recognized in his home town
75 years after he was killed by an angry
A street co-naming will honor U.S.
Army 2nd Lieutenant John Sekul, a
U.S. Army Air Corps bomber crew
member murdered by Nazi sympathizers
after being shot down behind
enemy lines in 1944.
The co-naming, supported by
John Sekul will be remembered for his heroics
as a co-pilot in World War II.
Photo courtesy of Richard Vitacco
Flight crew of the Wham! Bam! Thank You Ma’m: (top row, l-r) 2nd Lt. Norman Rogers, pilot; 2nd Lt. John Sekul, co-pilot; Lt. Bernard Cassidy,
navigator; Lt. Yancey Robinson, bombardier; (Bottom row (l-r) : Sgt. William Adams, nose gunner; Sgt. Elmore Austin, waist gunner; Staff
Sgt. Thomas Williams Jr., radio operator; Sgt. William Dumont, belly gunner; Sgt. Sidney Brown, tail gunner and S. Sgt. Forrest Brininstool,
engineer. Lt. Bernard Cassidy, navigator and Lt. Yancey Robinson, bombardier. Photo by Richard Vitacco
Community Board 9, will take place
on Monday, August 26 at the street
corner where Sekul lived - Newbold
and Havermeyer avenues.
Legion Post #1056 at 2151 Newbold Avenue
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It is scheduled for noon, with a procession
led by Unionport American
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starting at 11:30 a.m.
Richard Vitacco, president of the
East Bronx History Forum, which
meets in Westchester Square at the
Huntington Free Library, compiled
the research that persuaded CB 9,
community members, and Councilman
Ruben Diaz Sr. to support the
Vitacco told the Bronx Times that
Sekul, who was born in 1922, graduated
Evander Childs High School in
1940 before enlisting in the U.S. Air
Force in 1942, was the co-pilot of the
B-24J bomber ‘Wham! Bam! Thank
you, Ma’m’ on August 24, 1944 when
he, along with his crew were shot
down over enemy lines.
After their capture, most of the
crew was then being transported
across Germany to a prison camp
when they had to change trains in
While walking through that city’s
streets to the train, the U.S. soldiers
were accosted by townspeople who
mistook them for British soldiers who
they believed had bombed an Opel car
factory that produced war machinery
the previous evening, said Vitacco,
adding American warplanes had also
participated in bombing the town during
the daylight hours.
The German civilians, joined by a
Nazi air-raid warden for Russelheim,
Josef Hartgen, who was also a foreman
at the plant, attacked the prisoners,
according to Vitacco’s narrative.
After the crew was beaten, Hartgen
executed most of the crew, including
Sekul, shooting each of them in
the head with a 6.35 mm pistol, said
Vitacco, adding that two of the crew
members survived when the Nazi ran
out of bullets.
While permanent places of remembrances
were placed in Russelheim,
as well as in Georgia, to remember
what happened, Sekul was never honored
in his home town, said Vitacco.
Vitacco believes the co-naming
will bring folks to a greater awareness
of what happened so it will never
replicate itself, adding the effort drew
support from residents and businesses
in the area.
“Their story was an atrocity,” said
Vitacco. “The goal is (to raise awareness
so) that something like this
doesn’t happen in the future.”
Vitacco received a great deal of
support from American Legion Unionport
Post #1065 and the Bronx County
Ricardo Garcia, adjutant of Post
#1065 and vice commander of the
American Legion’s Bronx County executive
committee, said the Unionport
American Legion post will march in a
procession the morning of the street
co-naming, along with a military
band and local people.
“This is indicative of what the
American Legion supports and
what we do,” said Garcia. “It is fantastic.”
Some of Sekul’s descendants have
indicated they will be present at the
street-sign unveiling, he said.
“It’s phenomenal that the family
is going to be present,” said Garcia.
“Unfortunately, it is 70-plus years
later but they can walk away with a
sense of what Sekul was able to accomplish.”
Garcia said that it is incredible
that Vitacco was able to get in touch
with Sekul and some of the other crew
“Richard has done some major
work on this and it is something I am
proud to support,” said Garcia, adding
it was great that the Bronx will fi -
nally know the story of the crew and
about the hero they had in their midst
by learning about Sekul.