World War II Honor Roll

Frank Imbesi

Private First Class, U.S. Army


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Entered the Service from: New Jersey
Died: July 13, 1943
Buried at: Calvary Cemetery
                  State Highway 70 and Hampton Road
                  Cherry Hill NJ 08002
Awards: Purple Heart

PRIVATE FIRST CLASS FRANK IMBESI was born in Italy on April 30, 1910. He emigrated to the United States in 1937. Once in the United States, he worked as a carpenter and as a shoe repairman, and lived with his brother Filippo (Philip) Imbesi, at 1325 Haddon Avenue in Camden NJ. He had married, but was separated at the time he went into the service, his wife having remained in Italy in 1937.

Although he was not a U.S. citizen, Frank Imbesi was drafted into the United States Army, on August 31, 1942 in Camden. He was one of the honorees when a Service Flag was raised at Norris and Atlantic Streets in Camden on December 6, 1942. 

Private First Class Imbesi went overseas as a member of the 209th Enginewr Combat Battalion, which, by V-J Day, spent 24 months overseas, having left the United States on September 9, 1943. At war's end, the battalion was one of the most decorated in the CBI Theatre. Their awards included one Distinguished Service Cross, four Silver Stars, 33 Bronze Stars and 181 Purple Hearts. 

The organization arrived in Ledo, Assam, after a trip across India by rail, truck and boat. Within a week they were set up for operations at Nawng Yang, Mile 43 on the Ledo Road, 15 miles from the point. 

Throughout the next six months an amazing variety of tasks were carried out by various exponents of the outfit. They operated a saw mill at Nawng Yang; laid the first pipe line over Pang-saw Pass, which is the highest point on the Ledo Road; built a tank farm at Hell Gate, Installed the largest culvert system on the Road, at Thursday River; built and maintained a long stretch of roadway; and, finally, constructed bridges at the Tirao, Nam-chick, Nawng Yang, Tarung and Tawang Rivers. 

The Tawang River Bridge, 37 miles south of Shingbwlyang, was the longest bridge on the Ledo Road. It was an American H-20 running 1285 feet across. In most cases, the deadlines set by the Commanding General were beaten by several days. In early March, the men of the 209th gaily waved on columns of Merrill's Marauders as they passed down the road to begin their now famous jungle trek of nearly 1,000 miles. Had the Engineers known what fate had in store for them, their greetings to the Marauders would have been a great deal more solemn. 

Soon afterward, the 10th Air Force began pressing for advance airfields in Burma, from which to support General Stilwell's ground advance toward Myitkyina, So, in April, the battalion took over the task of clearing airfields at Tingkawk, Sakan and Warazup. The first Purple Heart for the battalion was awarded to Pfc. Albert Hudy and Co. "A" on May 15th, when Jap planes bombed and strafed the Warazup airfield in a surprise attack. 
Later on, attempts were made to airdrop supplies directly to the front lines. Many times the 209th was so deep in enemy territory that it was necessary for the retrievers to dash into open country under enemy fire. At one time, T/5 Ben Curtis made seven successive trips one afternoon under such conditions. 
On May 28th, just two days after the Engineers arrived, the Marauders began to pull out, and the 209th took over their position on the Mogaung-Myitkyina Railroad over which the Japs were hoping to bring reinforcements. Meanwhile, General Stllwell's forces north of Myitkyina were preparing for the final push into the town. 
The 209th then took up positions on the main road leading to Mogaung. The story has already been related of how three fully loaded Jap trucks drove right into this ambush and when the shooting was over, 89 Jap dead were counted. 

On June 13th, Companies "A" and "B" were ordered to advance to a new position in the heart of Jap-held territory. The Japs recovered quickly and closed In behind the advance party, completely cutting them off from the rest of the battalion. For five days and nights these men were hopelessly surrounded. Numerous attempts by the remainder of the battalion, reinforced by the 236th, resulted only in heavy casualties and finally all hope of reaching the trapped men was abandoned. 

Many acts of heroism occurred during this action. Sgt. Russell Ritter gave his life trying to bring up sorely needed ammunition. Lt. Col. Coombs, Regimental Commander, led one attempt himself but was mortally wounded. Sgt. George Sohn, Sgt. Dwight Holman, and Capt. John Mat-tina risked their lives to bring him and three other wounded men to safety, but the Colonel died soon afterward. 
However, the men who were trapped did not despair so easily. Following a trail pioneered by S/Sgt. Lester Shockley of Co. "B" and led by Lt. Albert Falk, 85 of the men succeeded in finding their way to the main perimeter in small groups. 

Some of the wounded were carried In by their buddies. Others never made it. Two outstanding cases of heroism were credited to Pfc. John Miller and T/4 Harvey Rodgers, each of whom burdened with a wounded mate became separated from the rest. Unknown to each other, they wandered within enemy lines for three days, but finally managed to bring both themselves and the wounded men to safety. They also brought back much valuable information concerning the enemy positions. 

The 4th of July was celebrated, on orders from Headquarters, to fire a 60-second burst of all available weapons (including artillery) every hour on the hour. It is doubtful if the Japs ever realized what the shooting was all about. 

At one time, two men who were sent forward to scout enemy positions were pinned down by Jap machine guns. S/Sgt. Frank Tynan and Pfc. Erwin Sieh, with several others, moved a machine gun to a spot where they diverted enemy fire, thus giving the trapped men a chance to escape. 

Private First Class Frank Imbesi was killed in Action on July 13, 1944, at the age of 34. His death was reported in the August 2, 1944 edition of the Camden Courier-Post. He was brought back to the United states in October of 1949 and was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Delaware Township (present-day Cherry Hill), New Jersey.

Frank Imbesi
lived in this house
1325 Haddon Avenue, Camden NJ

Photographs taken December 31, 2002


October 28, 1949

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