Frank Pegnato, sixteen years old, had been arrested for breaking and entering and larceny but found it possible to smile as he sat for his mug shot. New Castle had suffered seven auto thefts in just under two weeks, and Frank had been picked up because he was friends with Joe Fullwood and some other boys who had been stealing cars and driving them around town. Frank hadn’t been with them those nights, though. He knew he was safe.
Frank was released the next day. Joe Fullwood was the only one to be convicted, and only because he pled guilty on the first day in court.
Six years later, in 1942, Frank joined the army. After training, he was sent to the Pacific, where he fought in the six-month-long battle of Guadalcanal, in which thirty-eight thousand men died.
The week after the Japanese abandoned the island, in February 1943, Frank and eighteen other soldiers from New Castle got together and wrote the following letter to the New Castle News, to let the folks back home know they were still alive.
“Editor News—It’s been a year since a bunch of us fellows left from the Pennsylvania station on the West Side to begin our training in the Army. There were some boys that were a little sad because they had so much to leave behind, and the rest, well, they were happy, and all they wished and hoped for was to get a crack at those Japs. Well, we boys from good old New Castle have had our wish, together with all the rest of the boys from all over the country. We have met with those Yellow Slant-Eyes and are knocking hell out of them. I cannot disclose our whereabouts for military reasons, but I can say we are in fine spirits and our morale is good.
“We often get together evenings and talk about our city. There are quite a few boys from all parts of the state, and when we mention New Castle, the first thing they say is that we have a fine football team, which we all know about. We were glad to hear that the Red Hurricanes won the WPIAL this year.
“Here is another incident you folks might like to hear about. This happened while we were at Camp Wheeler, Ga. A couple of us went to town one evening and stopped at a restaurant. While we were there, Dave Greer—‘Bonehead’, as he was called by most of the boys back home—got talking to one of the waitresses and she asked him where he was from. Dave told her, and the waitress said ‘I never heard of the place’, so Dave said, ‘Pick up one of those plates from the counter and look at the back of it’. Well, she did, and there was New Castle staring her right in the face.”
The waitress would have seen a line drawing of an Indian making a pot, above the words, “Shenango China, New Castle, PA, USA”, the mark of the factory that was one of the biggest producers of dinnerware in the country and one of the main employers in the town. It ran into trouble in the fifties and spent the next few decades being traded between larger corporations. Like most of the rest of the manufacturing plants in town, it had closed down by the end of the century.
The letter concluded: “We boys are well, and hope our parents aren’t worrying too much about us, for we are members of the finest fighting army in the world.
“Here’s hoping the American Army will be marching down the streets of Tokyo in the near future.”
All of the men who signed the letter survived the war and made it back to New Castle unharmed, apart from John Yagersky, whose left leg was amputated on the island of New Caledonia following an accident during non-combat manoeuvres.
Frank died in February, 1984.Sources: New Castle News (2 Nov 1934 “Find Stolen Car”; 8 Nov 1934 “Police Search For Stolen LaSalle Car”; 9 Nov 1934 “Find Stolen Car”; 10 Nov 1934 “Chrysler Coupe Reported Stolen”; 19 Nov 1934 “Arrest Two More In Car Vandalism”; 24 Nov 1934 “Hearing Held In Auto Thefts”; 5 March 1943 “Eighteen Local Boys Send Greetings From Undisclosed War Zone”; 18 Nov 1944 “Injured Soldier Back From Pacific”).