Bernard Dominic Valesano was born three days after Christmas on 28 December 1922, in Lostant, Illinois. His parents were John J. and Ann Cicciarelli Valesano. Bernard’s father John was born in Toluca to Dominic and Anna Valesano—a couple who left their home in Locana in northern Italy to sail to America in the 1890s. Their children, including as noted Bernard’s father John, were born in Illinois. Dominic along with his older sons were miners in the local coal mines.
In 1918 at age 22, Bernard’s father John enlisted in the United States Army to serve 11 months fighting in World War I. During his service, he was assigned to Battery “A” of the 138th Field Artillery of the 38th Division. A few years after John was discharged, in 1922, he married Anna Cicciarelli. Bernard’s mother Anna was born in Italy in Calasia. She had traveled to America with her siblings in 1921 to join their brother in Toluca.
John and Anna Valesano had two more children after Bernard: Anna born in 1924 and Dominic John born in 1933. After the birth of Bernard’s sister, his family moved from Marshall county to LaSalle county and settled in Peru. There Bernard’s father John initially worked as a tinner at the hardware store then later as a sheet metal worker. Eventually John and Anna Valesano bought a house in LaSalle and moved the family once again. All three Valesano children including Bernard attended LaSalle-Peru Township High School.
In 1935, when Bernard was 12, his grandmother Anna Valesano passed away from Bright’s Disease. She was 66 years old. Four years later, in 1939 when Bernard was 16 years old, his grandfather Dominic Valesano passed away at age 72. The next year at age 17, Bernard graduated high school. His senior yearbook listed his favorite sport as hunting and his ambition was to be a machinist.
After high school, Bernard studied engineering at the University of Illinois for two years. As Bernard was transitioning from high school to college, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, and the United States entered into war. In response to the draft, Bernard registered on 30 June 1942. That year, at 19 years old, he stood 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 148 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. About five months later, Bernard enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on 4 December 1942, at the Chanute Field in Illinois.
At some point, Bernard was assigned to the 756th Bombardment Squadron in the 459th Bombardment Group Heavy. Beginning in March of 1944, the 459th Bombardment Group was involved in bombing targets in several European countries including Austria, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. The group was stationed in Giulia Airfield in Italy. It is possible Bernard was familiar with the Italian language as his mother spoke it in their home, and this may have been beneficial in his interactions with the local population.
On 7 October 1944, 2LT Bernard Valesano participated in “Red Force”—a mission to bomb the Vienna Winterhafen Oil Depot. Visibility was clear that early afternoon as he co-piloted the B-24 from Giulia in Italy towards Vienna. There were eight other crew members on the aircraft including the pilot 1LT Rudolf Lunak—a man from Four Oaks, Pennsylvania. A group of P-51s and P-38s escorted the planes through their flight.
After successfully completing the bomb run, SGT George Godas who was flying nearby said, “immediately after leaving the bomb run the plane was hit by anti-aircraft in the waist directly in back of the bomb bay. Aircraft peeled off and went into a spin and after losing altitude of about 5000 feet, both wings fell off. Five chutes were seen to fall out and all opened.”
It seems 2LT Bernard Valesano was not one of those who managed to parachute out. After the crash, he was declared dead along with most of the other crew. Only one crew member survived—SGT David Feheley— who managed to parachute out, but who was severely injured and later evacuated to the United States. According to 2LT Bernard Valesano’s brother Dominic, Bernard’s body was found in a grave in Vienna and returned to the United States after the war. He was buried in St. Ann’s Cemetery in Toluca, Illinois, in the family plot.
For his service, 2LT Bernard Valesano earned the Purple Heart, Air Medal, American Campaign Medal, WW2 Victory Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and the Army Good conduct Medal.
This story is part of the Stories Behind the Stars project (see www.storiesbehindthestars.org). This is a national effort of volunteers to write the stories of all 421,000+ of the US WWII fallen saved on Together We Served and Fold3. Can you help write these stories? These stories will be accessible via smartphone app at any war memorial or cemetery.
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SBTS Historian: Pam Broviak
You can also access this story at the following sites:
1910 U.S. Census, Dominick Valesano, Ancestry.
1930 U.S. Census, John Valasine, Ancestry.
1940 U.S. Census, John Valesano, Ancestry.
New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957, SS La Normandie, Havre to New York, 1898, Dominic Valesano, line 19, Ancestry.
New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957, SS Duca D’Aosta, Napoli to New York, 1898, Anna Cicciarelli, line 27, Ancestry.
U.S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1970, Bernard Valesano, Ancestry.
U.S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1970, John J. Valesano, Ancestry.
U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947, Bernard Dominic Valesano, Ancestry.
U.S., Army Transport Service Arriving and Departing Passenger Lists, 1910-1939, Incoming, Arbroath, 20 October 1918, John Valesano, Ancestry.
U.S., Army Transport Service Arriving and Departing Passenger Lists, 1910-1939, Outgoing, Carmania, 6 October 1918, John Valesano, Ancestry.
“Former Tolucan Succumbs,” The Times, 9 June 1972, p. 4, Newspapers.com.
“Brother of Local Woman Passes Away,” The Times, 10 November 1967, p. 4, Newspapers.com.
U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-2016, LaSalle-Peru Township High School, 1940, p. 58, Ancestry.
Death Certificate, Anna Valesano, No. 7189, Marshall county, FamilySearch.
Coroner’s Certificate of Death, Dominick Valesano, No. 25393, Marshall county, FamilySearch.
WWII Army Enlistment Records, Bernard Valesano, Fold3.
“WWII Bombing Missions,” https://www.459bg.org/WWII_Missions.cfm
“459th Bombardment Group,” Army Air Corps Library and Museum.
“Unit History – 304th Bombardment Wing,” 304th Bomb Wing October 1944 Part 2, Fold3.
“Missing Air Crew Report,” 44-41225, Fold3.
“Bernard Valesano,” Veteran’s Memorial Project, University of Illinois.