Six New Haven brothers honored for their service

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Some long overdue recognition Friday for a New Haven family. Six brothers from the same family fought to keep our country safe and today, the city unveiled a plaque in their honor.

Students at the Fair Haven k-8 School pledge allegiance to the flag every day, but today they got a lesson in what that flag really means. For all of the 1930s, there was always a kid named Salerno at this school. Donato and Maria Salerno had 14 children by the time Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.  

“Five of them were eligible for the service, and they did their part. Big time,” said the youngest of the 14 children, Charlie Salerno.

Charlie was only 11, but five of his big brothers went off to fight in World War II. One stormed the beaches of Normandy. One was in the battle of the bulge.

“In those days, when you had a relative in the service, on your front door, you had a banner with a star on it,” Charlie explained. “So we had five stars.”

Amazingly, all five of his brothers came home safely. A then-teenage Charlie asked for war stories.

“I wanted to hear so much, because we’re following, everybody’s following the war,” Charlie said. “They wouldn’t talk about it.”

But their sister kept some things, found by her daughter years later.

“I discovered several things,” said that daughter, Mary Ellen Collins. “One was the 200 letters that were just random down in the basement.”

Of the 5, George was the most decorated, earning three silver stars, 2 bronze stars, 3 purple hearts and surviving 6 months in a POW camp. Again, though, he did not talk much about it.

“I did grow up spending a lot of time with this family, but war stories were never told or mentioned,” Collins said.

A few years later, Charlie went off to the Korean War.

“I figured it was my duty because of my brothers,” Charlie said. “You know, everybody was patriotic.”

That meant 6 brothers had all served. Meanwhile Mary Ellen spent decades teaching in New Haven schools and came up with a way to honor her family’s sacrifice.

“Sent 5 sons at one time to World War II and their last, their baby, to Korea,” said Collins. “It’s a very impressive thing to do.”

The school board agreed, and Friday morning, Charlie Salerno and Mary Ellen Collins unveiled a plaque honoring the six brothers. It sits right inside the front door of the Fair Haven Haven School.

The brothers, of course, never thought they’d end up on a plaque. They were just doing what it took to defend that flag.

“At that war period of time everybody did their thing, so who’s going to boast about it?” asked Charlie.

The Salerno family has plenty to boast about. In addition to the plaque, subsequent generations have gone on to serve, including grandchildren who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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