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Nicholas enlisted in the Army at New York City, NY on 17 July 1941.

He volunteered for parachutist duty and was assigned to the 509th Parachute Infantry.

The 509th suffered devastating losses and the remaining 48 men were assignee to other 82nd Airborne units.  Nicholas was one of six men who were transferred to the 508th.

In his own words, he was "transferred to the 508th for seven months" before he wa discharged.

Although not mentioned in his obituary,  Nicholas R. DeGaeta received the New York State Conspicuous Service Medal on 29 May 1947.


Nicholas DeGaeta STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Nicholas DeGaeta, 95, of New Dorp, a highly decorated World War II Army paratrooper who saw duty throughout North Africa and Europe, and an FDNY firefighter whose commitment to his city and colleagues was unstinting, died Monday at home.

Born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, he later lived in Manhattan. He settled in New Dorp in 1955.

Mr. DeGaeta was 22 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941, choosing to join the fledgling 509th Parachute Battalion, the outfit that later became the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion and a precursor to special operations troops. He would see combat in the invasion of North Africa, Anzio, Avalino, the Italian mountains and the French Alps, Kasserine Pass and the Rhine, and was one of 48 enlisted men and seven officers still standing when the unit was disbanded in a snowy and bloody field after the Battle of the Bulge.

He was awarded the Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Clusters. He was wandering alone in a mismatched uniform when he was captured by friendlies who suspected he was a German who had learned English, but they eventually let him go. Mr. DeGaeta discharged as a sergeant in July 1945.

He could have taken disability, but followed his older brother, Paul, into the ranks of the FDNY, where he spent 35 years. He retired in 1994 from Engine Co. 10, "Ten House," across the street from the World Trade Center. Highlights of his career were being named New York State Firefighter Union Man of the Year in 1979, and making former President Jimmy Carter an honorary FDNY firefighter. Mr. DeGaeta retired but his connection with the FDNY persisted. He visited burn victims, assisted the families of injured firefighters, and attended more than 50 funerals of brother firefighters after 9/11, several of them from Engine 10.

He continued his work with Community Mayors, a group working with disabled children, and each year the FDNY presents the Community Mayors Nicholas DeGaeta Award to someone who demonstrates "commitment to excellence and persistence of duty."

He again was honored in November 2010, when he was appointed a Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honor by French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a ceremony in Manhattan. It is France's highest award, akin to the Medal of Honor. Modest to a fault, he said, simply, "It's an honor."

Mr. DeGaeta never considered himself a hero, but rather a survivor, his family said. He always claimed that by surviving the war in an outfit whose casualties were unthinkable, he was living on borrowed time. His commitment was to use that time well, to build a life honoring the 509th heroes he could not forget, who were left behind in small plots of ground.

He and Antoinette Nerino wed in the late 1940s. The couple had been married for about 60 years when she died in 2007. Mr. DeGaeta was a social person, family said, and devoted his time to the FDNY, his union and his community. He also enjoyed fixing up his house. He was a parishioner of St. Charles R.C. Church, Oakwood.

Surviving are his son, James; his daughter, Linda Iafe; two sisters, Adrian Bianco and Vivian DiSanto; four grandchildren; three great-grandchildren, and his companion, Frieda Szaf.

The funeral will be Friday from the Colonial Funeral Home, New Dorp, with a mass at 10:15 a.m. in St. Charles Church. Burial will follow in Moravian Cemetery, also [in]New Dorp.

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