People around town knew Carl “Jimmy” Gimmelli as the quiet custodian and cemetery caretaker at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, and maybe they knew he served his country during World War II.
But they probably didn’t know about the amount of fighting he saw in the Pacific Theater. He participated in the island invasions of Guadalcanal and New Britain as a combat member of the 1st Marine Division, fighting to capture those islands from the Japanese.
“He kept that part of his life to himself as he went about quietly serving his community, serving his parish,” said town Supervisor John E. Lawler.
Gimmelli, who died in 2008 at age 88, was honored March 20 in Ballston Spa as Saratoga County’s Deceased Veteran of the Month.
Gimmelli volunteered for the Marines in August 1941 — war talk was in the air, but it was nearly four months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that forced the United States into World War II.
Gimmelli was assigned to the 1st Marine Division, which participated in the Guadalcanal invasion in the summer of 1942 — the war’s first major offensive operation against the Japanese empire.
“Our nation’s morale at the time was low — we needed an offensive victory,” recalled Eugene Corsale, co-chairman of the county’s Honor Our Deceased Veterans Committee.
Gimmelli participated in the initial beach landings in early August 1942 and served through the bitterly fought, six-month campaign.
“He said for a while there, they didn’t know what was going to happen,” recalled his son, Carl Gimmelli Jr., who said his father did remember being on the beach. “You’d have the shells coming in from the battleships. He said it was like having a Volkswagen going overhead.”
After Guadalcanal, the 1st Marine Division led the invasion at Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain in December 1943, another series of battles that went on for months.
“He said ‘I never missed Waterford so much in my life,’ ” his son recalled.
Gimmelli, who earned a unit Presidential Citation and four campaign medals, was discharged from the Marines in 1945 and went to work at St. Mary of the Assumption on Broad Street, where he worked the rest of his life. He joined American Legion and VFW posts and was an active member for decades.
In his final years, Gimmelli was once grand marshal of the Waterford Memorial Day Parade. His son gave him a red Marine Corps cap he would wear around town, and it drew attention to his service years.
“He’d go to the market and come back and say, ‘I couldn’t believe all the young people who came up and thanked me,’ ” Carl Gimmelli Jr. recalled. “He was very proud of being in the Marines, that’s for sure.”
A flag that has flown over the U.S. Capitol is currently flying over the county complex on McMaster Street in Ballston Spa in memory of Gimmelli.