As a Depression-era street kid, Anthony Molligo Sr. witnessed one of the most troubling events in the history of America’s veterans — the Bonus Army protests — and later participated in the World War II invasion of Europe.
Molligo, of Port Washington, died Feb. 2 of an apparent heart attack at St. Francis Hospital in Flower Hill. He was 92.
“Without a doubt, his World War II experience and his being among those fortunate enough to return, formed his character for the rest of his life,” said his eldest son, retired Navy Commander Anthony J. Molligo, of Manhasset, who described his father as frugal and self-effacing.
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1925, the elder Molligo was hawking newspapers in the streets in 1932 when impoverished World War I veterans began pouring into the city from as far away as Oregon.
The Bonus Army protesters, many crippled by war injuries, impoverished by the Depression and accompanied by wives and children, camped out by the thousands in sight of the U.S. Capitol. The protesters, who sometimes invited the hungry Molligo to share their meager camp fare, hoped to pressure the federal government into expediting bonuses that had been promised to some 3.7 million World War I veterans and which were worth as much as $8,000 in today’s dollars.
“One of his favorite memories of that time was that the veterans would bake potatoes in the ground and share them with him,” Molligo’s son recalled.
But rather than honoring the veterans’ demands, President Herbert Hoover sent Gen. Douglas MacArthur to evict them. Backed by tanks and troops, MacArthur burned their “Hooverville” shantytowns to the ground.
Molligo, who earlier had been sent by his mother to live on a farm near Rockville, Maryland, to escape the family’s poverty, enlisted in the Navy in 1943. He served as a machinist mate aboard an amphibious landing craft infantry boat: first on the shores of North Africa, and later as part of the post-D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach. Molligo spent weeks shuttling fresh troops to the French coastline, and carrying away the moaning wounded and silent dead.
When Europe was secured, he was reassigned to a minesweeper in the Philippines in anticipation of the invasion of Japan.
After his honorable discharge in 1946, he got a job teaching at Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Manhattan, where he met Eleanor Szys. The two were married in 1951, and had two sons.
He supported his family by working as a machinist at a series of soda plants, including Hoffman Beverage and Continental Can in New York, and later at a Stroh’s Brewery plant in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He retired in the 1990s.
His family said he never lost his love for dance. He regularly attended senior citizen events at Bar Beach, enthusiastically participating as recently as last year.
After attending a concert featuring the music of Glenn Miller’s orchestra last summer, Molligo said he felt he was back in his 1940s youth.
His first wife, Eleanor, died in 1998. In 2009, he married Alla Ryazanova Schwartz.
He also is survived by another son, John J. Molligo, of Eugene, Oregon; a sister, Nancy Schaller, of Flushing; two grandsons; and a great-grandson.
Funeral arrangements at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia are pending.