Mr. Downtown salutes veterans

Published 10:14 pm Monday, November 12, 2012

Andy Damiani honors America’s military veterans — he’s one himself — beside North Main Street Monday, near the entrance to Cedar Hill Cemetery.

Well-known Suffolk identity Andy Damiani was an army of one when he saluted the nation’s military veterans beside North Main Street Monday.

Damiani was a solitary, maybe even curious figure near the entrance to Cedar Hill Cemetery, waving an American flag to passing traffic.

Mr. Downtown, as he is known, has been in the American Legion for about 54 years.

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“I decided to come here and make people aware of veterans,” he said. “I get a lot of horn toots and waves, which is nice.”

When America entered World War II, Damiani was a young man studying at the Juilliard School of Music in New York.

He got drafted and was sent to induction at Fort Dix, N.J.

“There was an old sergeant from World War I; I said, ‘Sir, I’m a musician,’” Damiani said. “He said, ‘We don’t need musicians.’”

But he got his wish anyway, and ended up playing string bass in a military band to help sell war bonds.

The band eventually shipped off to Europe. “They pulled guys out of the foxholes, and we would entertain them,” Damiani said.

When the band arrived in Stuttgart, “Everything was bombed out, but the opera house was still standing. We started putting shows on. At the end of the night, I’d climb into the sleeping bag right next to my bass.”

At the end of the war, Damiani was a one of a handful of American servicemen who requested, and were granted, permission to be discharged in Paris, where he remained as a civilian for nine years.

“Veterans Day and Memorial Day are the two days that Americans have to stand by and think about all the wars that we have been through,” the 91-year-old said.

“A girl from Gates County stopped and asked permission to take my picture. She said she’s going to put it on Facebook.”