Following the outbreak of World War II, three cousins from New Rochelle went to war, each a son of three brothers who immigrated to America from Italy. They never returned.
Peter F. D’Onofrio, Charles D'Onofrio and James J. D’Onofrio attended New Rochelle High School. They were athletic and involved in all manner of sports including baseball. Thirteen years after the end of the war, the City of New Rochelle, under the leadership of Mayor George A. Vergara, renamed the park in the South End of New Rochelle as D’Onofrio Park. Vergara, a former Notre Dame football player under Knute Rockne and teammate of the famed Four Horseman of Notre Dame, officially dedicated the park as D'Onofrio Memorial Park in 1959. The park is home to D'Onofrio Field, site of two baseball diamonds and the D'Onofrio Picnic Pavilion.
As part of the dedication of the park, a stone memorial with Bronze plaque was installed against the back fence in centerfield. New Rochelle's own "monument park". The plaque was provided by the Bonefro Mutual Aid Society.
The three cousins grew up together but went to war in different parts of the world.
James D’Onofrio was a navigator on a plane in U.S. Army Air Force. He was killed flying in India.
Peter D’Onofrio was captured by the Japanese in the Philippines. He survived the Baatan Death March but later died at sea in a tragic case of friendly fire. Peter was aboard a Japanese transport ship, on his way to Japan as a prisoner of war. Rather than fly the Red Cross flag, the ship's captain flew the Japanese battle flag. American pilots attacked the ship and Peter was among those killed.
Charles D'Onofrio died amidst some of the fiercest fighting of World War II at the Anzio Beachhead in Italy.
Over the years, four generations of the D'Onofrio family have come down to the field to remember the three cousins and pay their respect for their sacrifice. Tessie is the only sister of one of the boys still alive. She was unable to attend the ceremony. Also surviving along with Tessie are Isabel D'Onofrio, sister in law to Charles and Sal Prunesti, brother in law to Peter.
"Over one hundred used to come", said Michael D'Onofrio, nephew to Charles D'Onofrio . "The memorial is not publicized. Mostly it was people from the neighborhood around the park. They were all from this end of town." The family does not actively publicize the event but wants the community to know all are welcome and encourage people to come next year.
The D'Onofrio family has a strong connection to the Little League Field. Carl D'Onofrio was one of the first four Little League coaches in New Rochelle. He was the first umpire and the patriarch of the family. He lived until the age of 92, passing away in January 2009. The D'Onofrio still has not forgotten that the City of New Rochelle took 5 feet in right field and gave it to the developers of the CostCo shopping area.
Among the local officials who attended the annual memorial services in the past was Mayors Len Paduano, Tim Idoni, Noam Bramson and former Assemblyman Ron Tocci and Judge Thomas O'Toole. The Judge was a great friend of all the D'Onofrio boys, especially Charles. At the 12:47 mark of the embedded video (below), Judge O'Toole recalls New Rochelleans killed during World War II including the three D'Onofrio cousins and talks about the Memorial Day service held each year by the D'Onofrio family.
Family members expressed a strong interest to have the V.F.W. and American Legion involved in the ceremony, a connection that was lost over the years.
"I will reach out to them about including their memorial event among the Memorial Day events in New Rochelle to bring greater attention to the sacrifice of these three New Rochelle heroes," said Peter M. Parente, President of the United Veterans Memorial and Patriotic Association.
The area around the stone monument to the D'Onofrio cousins is maintained each year by members of the family. Red, white and blue flowers are planted there each spring. During the memorial service three yellow roses are placed on at the base of the monument.