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The Intelligencer - Wheeling News Register

Mastroianni Won’t Forget June 6, 1944


Editor’s Note— This is Part 5 of a series about the 1946 Ohio-West Virginia All-Star Football Game and the decision by the OVAC to honor those who played in it at Sunday’s 62nd Rudy Mumley OVAC All-Star Charity Football Classic. The 1946 game was the first one played after a three-year break for World War II and included many players who had just returned home after fighting in the war. The series will run each day through Saturday leading up to Sunday’s game.

Football was the last thing on Guido Mastroianni’s mind during the early morning hours of June 6, 1944.

A paratrooper in the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, Mastroianni was about to be thrust into the largest airborne assault in military history — Operation Overlord — or as it commonly known, D-Day.

‘‘I was scared to death, we all were,’’ the Wintersville resident remembered. ‘‘We didn’t know what was coming, but we learned quick.’’

With a pitch-black sky overhead, Mastroianni and his comrades boarded hundreds of transport planes and gliders and headed toward the coast of France, specifically Normandy, with the mission of gaining a foothold on the continent from the Axis powers.

At at about 1 a.m., Mastroianni’s plane reached its intended destination.

‘‘We jumped like 18 miles inland,’’ the sharp-minded Mastroianni recalled.

But when he jumped from the plane, he didn’t know what or who would greet him when he landed.

For many of his fellow jumpers, it was a watery demise.

‘‘The Germans knew we were going to come,’’ the 1943 Steubenville High School graduate said. ‘‘They flooded the area, and I landed about three feet from the water.

‘‘A lot of paratroopers drowned.’’

After he landed, Mastroianni found a knife he had in his uniform and he cut himself out of his parachute. He cut his finger in the process.

‘‘I got up and they told us to fix our bayonets,’’ he said. ‘‘I fixed it like they said and I’m running and this tree branch caught me, and I thought somebody had jumped me.

‘‘It knocked me backwards and I grabbed my gun and here comes my sergeant and he’s like ‘Don’t shoot, it’s me.’

‘‘It was quite an experience for anybody.’’

By the time Allied forces liberated Paris, thousands of lives had been lost. Fortunately, Mastroianni lived to fight another day.

‘‘Most of us were pretty lucky,’’ he said.

In October 1944, Mastroianni participated in Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands. And later that winter, the 508th lent a hand in the frigid Battle of the Bulge.

The battlefields of Europe were a far cry from the football fields of the Ohio Valley.

As a youngster, Mastroianni was one of the key pieces of Steubenville’s talented units of the late 1930s and early 1940s. And he was a part of one of the finest eras in Ohio high school football lore.

‘‘We played Bellaire, Martins Ferry, Massillon and Alliance,’’ the former Big Red end and halfback recalled.

‘‘Football in this valley is a tough sport. It’s good, all up and down the river.’’

Mastroianni particularly remembers Big Red’s battles against Massillon and Canton McKinley, traditionally a pair of Buckeye State powers.

‘‘In 1942, we lost one game and it was to Massillon,’’ he said. ‘‘But we were winning 7-6 at the half. The final score was 33-19, but we gave them everything they could handle in the first half.’’

‘‘They were awesome. They would intimidate you a little bit. They were all really polished ball players.’’

The Tigers program had been built by legendary coach Paul Brown. After facing Brown’s teams during his first two years of high school, the coach left Northeast Ohio and headed to Ohio State to guide the Buckeyes before moving on to Cleveland to orchestrate the Browns’ dynasty of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

‘‘They were smart and they picked us off one at a time,’’ Mastroianni continued. ‘‘(Johnny) Stojack dislocated his shoulder and didn’t play in the second half.’’

Stojack was a seasoned veteran who was well-known for his prowess in the pocket.

‘‘His type of ball player would only come along once in a great while,’’ Mastroianni said. ‘‘When he was a freshman, he was playing varsity football. That’s how good he was.

‘‘He had a super arm and he could run, he could kick ... he wasn’t a fast runner, but he was a weaving runner.’’

Stojack and Mastroianni were quite the combination. Both boys wanted to play collegiately, and it looked like they would get an opportunity when a coach from Penn State visited Jefferson County.

But Uncle Sam soon came calling.

‘‘At the time, school or no school, you went into the service,’’ Mastroianni said.

‘‘I got my diploma June 3, 1943, and two weeks later I was gone.’’

After the war ended, Mastroianni was dispatched to Frankfurt, Germany. While there, he strapped on the pads again for the 508th squad.

‘‘We had a good football team,’’ he said. ‘‘We had guys from Yale and Harvard. We only lost one game.’’

Upon his return to the states in 1946, he married his wife, Dorothy, and started working.

Still wanting to play collegiately, he decided to attend Steubenville College and play for its fledgling grid outfit in 1947.

The season didn’t open too well for Steubenville, as it dropped a 60-6 decision to Cam Henderson’s Marshall squad.

But prior to his collegiate stint, Mastroianni got word of the Ohio-West Virginia contest.

‘‘They advertised it pretty good,’’ Mastroianni remembered.

Mastroianni was joined on the Ohio roster by Richard Lashley, Richard Lawrence and Stojack.

‘‘We had a ball,’’ he said. ‘‘Stojack was terrific that night.’’

Newspaper accounts of Ohio’s 26-7 triumph before a large Wheeling Island Stadium throng show that Stojack scored three touchdowns, with Mastroianni booting a pair of extra-point kicks.

‘‘It was nice,’’ Mastroianni said of the game. ‘‘We had a good time. And we whipped them.’’

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