John Salvatore Messina was born in Medford, Massachusetts. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Salvatore Messina. John was a 1931 graduate of Medford High School, Medford, Massachusetts and the Clark School of Hanover, New Hampshire where he was an outstanding scholar and athlete.
John entered Rhode Island State College (RISC) in September 1933 with the class of 1937, majoring in Business Administration. He was a member of Beta Psi Alpha Fraternity, Sachems, Scabbard & Blade and RI Club. He was also the Captain of the football, basketball and baseball teams and Senior Class Treasurer. John participated in the Army ROTC program and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry upon graduation in June 1939. Immediately following graduation, he reported to Fort Adams for his two weeks of U.S. Army Reserve (Infantry) field duty with the 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 2LT Messina volunteered for active duty. His initially assignment was at the U.S. Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia where he attended the Infantry Officer Basic Course and was promoted to 1LT on 4 July 1942. He volunteered for parachute training and was assigned as Commander, Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment “Devils in Baggy Pants,” 82nd Airborne Division in 1943.
The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment arrived in Casablanca, French Morocco on 10 May 1943. The 504th began the grueling preparation for the parachute drops into Sicily from their bases in North Africa. Finally, on the night of 10 July 1943, the 504th was ordered to parachute into an area around Gela on the southern shore of Sicily to close off the roads leading to the beaches, destroy 16 concrete German concrete pillboxes and secure the drop zone for the next operation.
By morning, only 400 of the Regiment’s 1600 paratroopers had reached the objective area. The others had been dropped in isolated groups on all parts of the island and carried out demolitions, cut lines of communication, established roadblocks and ambushed German motorized columns. This caused so much confusion over such an extensive area that initial German radio reports estimated the number of paratroopers dropped to be over ten times the actual number. British Prime Minister Churchill termed this parachute operation “not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.”
On 13 July 1943, First Lieutenant John S. Messina was Killed in Action during the battle for Sicily. He was awarded the Purple Heart Medal and Combat Infantryman’s Badge. He was buried with full military honors in the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy.
In June, 1944, the 1LT John Messina Trophy was awarded to an Edward Little High School student selected as the outstanding basketball player on the school’s basketball team. 1LT John Messina was also selected to the University of Rhode Island Sports Hall of Fame in 1978.
First Lieutenant John S. Messina was a son of Rhode Island who answered the call to service during World War II and gave his life in service to Rhode Island and America. He is a heroic member of the “Greatest Generation.”