The largest amphibious invasion in history was launched on June 6, 1944 when Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe from the grip of Nazi Germany. For this year’s 79th anniversary of D-Day, volunteers with the non-profit Stories Behind the Stars are commemorating the sacrifice of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division. Fifty-six PA members of the 116th Regiment lost their lives on Omaha Beach on D-Day, including one from Berks County.
Joseph Periandri was born on August 4, 1917 in Reading, PA to Raffaele “Ralph” Periandri and Filomina Cacciacarne. His mother and father immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1916 and 1914, respectively. Periandri’s father worked in the Carpenter Steel Mill in Reading, PA. Periandri had three younger brothers and three younger sisters. He left high school early, did odd jobs, and eventually was employed by the Reading Clothing Factory in Reading where he cleaned, dyed, and pressed clothing. On November 5, 1938, Periandri married Reading native Felicia “Fern” Schera in Reading, PA. She was the daughter of Italian immigrants and worked in a stocking factory. The couple settled in their own place in Reading in 1942. On July 7, 1943 Periandri enlisted in the Army in Allentown, PA.
Periandri was assigned to Company F, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. In October 1942, the 116th Infantry Regiment, as part of the 29th Infantry Division, arrived at Tidworth, England. In June 1943, the 116th Infantry Regiment and its division transferred to Devon for coastal defensive duties near Plymouth. They began training for amphibious landing assaults at the U.S. Army Assault Training Center on Woolacombe Beach. In May 1944 the 116th Regiment participated in Exercise Fabius I at Slapton Sands, a final rehearsal before D-Day.
For the invasion of Normandy, the 116th Infantry Regiment was to lead the assault on Omaha Beach and land at the Dog Green sector, west of the 1st Infantry Division’s 16th Infantry Regiment. On June 3, 1944 the 1st Battalion (Companies A, B, C and D) boarded the troop carrier SS Empire Javelin. The 2nd Battalion (Companies E, F, G and H) boarded the USS Thomas Jefferson. The 3rd Battalion (Companies I, J, K, L and M) boarded the USS Charles Carroll. At 0230 on June 6, the invasion fleet had arrived from Weymouth in the English Channel and dropped anchor about twelve miles from the Normandy coast.
By 0430, all first wave landing craft had left their ships and moved towards Omaha Beach. Company F of the 2nd Battalion would lead the assault in the Dog Red sector of Omaha Beach. At 0530, over 13,000 bombs were dropped in a naval and aerial bombardment of the beaches. Unfortunately, heavy cloud cover caused the bombardment to occur too far inland, leaving German defensive positions on the cliffs largely untouched. As Company F’s landing craft approached the beach, German mortars rained down and machine guns raked the beach. At 0631, Company F landed directly in front of the strongly fortified German positions at Les Moulins. There were heavy casualties. It wasn’t until about 0800 that groups of men organized and started to assault the enemy strongholds.
The remains of Pvt. Periandri were repatriated to the United States and were laid to rest at the Gethsemane Cemetery in Laureldale, PA on July 23, 1948. He was survived by his widow who remarried in October 1945. They had no children.
On D-Day, 3,100 men of the 116th Infantry Regiment entered combat. By the end of June 6, 1944 the unit suffered 1,007 killed, wounded, or missing during the Omaha Beach assault. Their courage, bravery and sacrifice helped create a foothold that allowed Allied forces to continue the invasion and to defeat Nazi Germany within a year. The 116th Infantry Regiment earned the Presidential Unit Citation and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm for the D-Day landings in Normandy.
Stories Behind the Stars memorials are accessible for free on the internet and via smart phone app at gravesites and cenotaphs. The non-profit organization is dedicated to honoring all 421,000 fallen Americans from World War II, including 31,000 from Pennsylvania. To volunteer or to get more information, contact Kathy Harmon at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit storiesbehindthestars.org.