”Honor the Past; Deserve the Present“

Peter Molinari

Background

  • Peter Molinari (hereinafter referred to as Peter Molinari I) was the son of Swiss immigrants Davide and Josephine Cavalli Molinari
    • Davide and Josephine Molinari were from the canton of Ticino in southern Switzerland
  • The family lived on and Davide was employed as the foreman of the W. W. Lyman Ranch north of St. Helena, California.
    • The ranch produced olives, grain, and livestock [Peter Molinari II, email to Frank Mazzi, 25 March 2011]
  • In 1899 Davide and Josephine purchased a house and parcel of land on Mills Lane in St. Helena to grow walnuts, prunes, and grapes
  • Their son Peter attended St. Helena Elementary School (a structure that has since been replaced) while helping on the family farm; he never attended high school

Draft and Training

  • In September 1917 Peter was drafted into the U. S. Army, sent to Camp Lewis, Washington, for training in the 91st Division, known as the "Pine Tree" or "Wild West Division" [Peter Molinari, telephone interview by Forrest Minter, 12 February 2011]
  • He was assigned to the 91st Division's 362nd Infantry Regiment
    • The 91st Division was transported by troop train from Camp Lewis, Washington, to New York in June 1918
  • The division arrived in groups at Camp Merritt, New Jersey, between June 24 and June 30 [The Story of the 91st Division (San Mateo, California: 91st Division Publication Committee, 1919), p. 4]
  • The division remained at Camp Merritt until July 5, during which time men were given new uniforms, helmets, trench shoes, and physical examinations [The Story of the 91st Division, p. 5]

Trans-Atlantic Voyage

  • Division departed New York Harbor on July 6, 1918, and arrived in Liverpool, England on July 17, 1918 [A History of the 362nd Infantry (The A. L. Scoville Press, 1920), pp. 7-8]
  • Fourteen troop ships in "razzle dazzle" camouflage were convoyed by escorting U. S. naval vessels [A History of the 362nd Infantry, p. 9]
    • The time required for the convoy's passage across the Atlantic (twelve days) was the result of a zigzagging course, made necessary by the expected presence of prowling German u-boats [The Story of the 91st Division, p. 5]
    • Twelve British destroyers met and then escorted the American troop transports about a day away from their destinations at Liverpool and Southampton, England, Glascow, Scotland, and LeHavre, France [The Story of the 91st Division, pp. 5-6]

From England to France

  • 362nd Infantry Regiment stayed two days at "Knotty Ash Rest Camp," an army camp in Liverpool, before being transported by train to Southampton
  • Following a ten-hour voyage across the English Channel the regiment arrived at LeHavre, France
    • The regiment stayed in LeHavre overnight and the next day, July 25, 1918, boarded troop trains for training camps near the front in the Department of Haute Marne [A History of the 362nd Infantry, pp. 13, 15; The Story of the 91st Division, p. 7]

Meuse-Argonne Offensive

  • 91st Division entered the Meuse-Argonne sector on September 20, 1918 [The Story of the 91st Division, p. 91]
  • On the fourth day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (September 29, 1918) the 91st Division commander, Maj. Gen. William Johnston, ordered the 362nd Infantry, commanded by Col. John Parker, to lead the assault on the German-occupied village of Gesnes, France, about one mile ahead of the American lines [Edward Lengel, To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918 (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009), p. 167]
    • Two hours after beginning the assault the Germans were driven from Gesnes and the 362nd Infantry occupied the two hills overlooking Gesnes [Lengel, To Conquer Hell, p. 170]
    • The 362nd Infantry had advanced ahead of any other 91st Division regiment [Lengel, To Conquer Hell, p. 170]
      • 362nd Infantry flanks were therefore unprotected [The Story of the 91st Division, p. 35]
      • Because they were unprotected on their flanks, the 362nd and 363rd Infantries received orders to withdraw
    • the 362nd Infantry withdrew to the point where the assault had begun [The Story of the 91st Division, p. 36; To Conquer Hell, p. 170]
      • Molinari's notebook indicates they "Fell back to Les Epinettes" [Cpl. Molinari's "American Memorandum" pocket notebook]
    • The assault and withdrawal, both of which took place in a single afternoon, resulted in 50% casualties for the 362nd Infantry Regiment [To Conquer Hell, p. 172]
      • The human cost of the assault on Gesnes is reflected in a 4:30 p.m. message Captain Elijah Worsham gave to three of his men for delivery to Colonel Parker: "My company wiped out and needs assistance. I can see Germans leaving the town ahead." ["Captain Elijah Worsham," The Powder River Gang (March 1922), p. 5]
      • Cpl. Peter Molinari was one of the three messengers ["Captain Elijah Worsham," p. 5]
        • Note—In early March 2011, forty-one years after Cpl. Molinari's death, his son, Peter Molinari (hereinafter Peter Molinari II), discovered among his father's possessions the March 1922 issue of The Powder River Gang, a monthly journal whose subscribers were veterans of the 362nd Infantry. That issue included an article entitled "Captain Elijah Worsham," which notes that during the assault on Gesnes Cpl. Molinari was one of three men whom Captain Worsham assigned to deliver a message to Colonel Parker. Because Cpl. Molinari had never spoken to his son or any family member about the war, other than to say that his job was to "carry ammunition for the machine guns," [Peter Molinari II, email to Frank Mazzi, 25 March 2011] the "Captain Elijah Worsham" article provides Peter Molinari II his only specific information about his father's wartime experiences [Peter Molinari III, interview by Frank Mazzi, 22 March 2011].
        • Peter Molinari II, stated to his own son, Peter Molinari III, "This proves beyond a doubt that your grandfather was on the front lines and in the battle of Gesnes." [Peter Molinari II, letter to Peter Molinari III, 14 March 2011]
        • Peter Molinari II notes that "My father never spoke about the obviously bloody aspects of the war, or death in any way. When questioned infrequently about his experiences he said what he remembered most was the constant rain, the mud, and having to dig trenches by hand in the mud where they slept overnight. [Peter Molinari II, email to Frank Mazzi, 25 March 2011]
      • Capt. Worsham was killed during the assault (between 5:15 and 5:30 p.m.) ["Captain Elijah Worsham," pp. 5-6]

Ypres-Lys Offensive

  • In mid-October General John Pershing ordered the 37th and 91st Divisions away from the Meuse-Argonne to be transported by rail to Belgium to assist the French in the Flanders Ypres-Lys Offensive, which had begun two months earlier on August 19, 1918
  • On October 31 the 37th and 91st divisions were engaged in the Ypres-Lys Offensive

Armistice

  • Both the 37th and 91st divisions were advancing against German positions when the November 11, 1918, Armistice took place
    • Molinari was in the town of Audenarde, Belgium, when the Armistice took place [Cpl. Molinari's "American Memorandum" pocket notebook]

After the Armistice

  • In December the 91st Division was, according to the Division's official history, "billeted in very uncomfortable quarters in Belgium and French villages south of Dunkerque." [The Story of the 91st Division, p. 80]
  • Division was accommodated in other areas subsequently

Return to the U. S.

  • Molinari departed Saint-Nazaire, France, on April 3, 1919, arrived in New York Harbor on April 14, and disembarked on April 15 [Cpl. Molinari's "American Memorandum" pocket notebook; The Story of the 91st Division, p. 86]
  • The various units of the 91st Division were then assigned either to Camp Merritt, New Jersey, or Camp Mills or Camp Upton, New York
  • The 362nd Infantry was demobilized at Fort D. A. Russel ,Wyoming, on April 29, 1919 [The Story of the 91st Division, p. 88]
    • Molinari indicates in his Diary that he "Left Camp Merritt for Frisco" on April 25, 1919 [Cpl. Molinari's "American Memorandum" pocket notebook]
  • Molinari arrived in San Fransisco on May 1, 1919 [Cpl. Molinari's "American Memorandum" pocket notebook]
  • Molinari returned to St. Helena, California, and was employed by Schmidt's Dry Goods, a retail store on Main Street.
  • While working at Schmidt's Dry Goods, Molinari helped his parents run the family ranch, producing grapes, prunes, and walnuts.
    • Molinari took over the ranch himself after the death of his parents.
      • His mother died in 1924; his father died in 1926

St. Helena, California, American Legion Post 199

  • Molinari was one of the fifteen charter members of St. Helena, California, Post 199 of the American Legion
    • The American Legion National Headquarters authorized Post 199 on February 10, 1920
    • Charter members were— Edward Cavollini, Albert Griffith, P. R. Alexander, Arthur Forni, Louis Cavollini, Willard Paulson, Louis Rossi, Joseph Bulotti, Louis Vasconi, Charles Brocco, William Aaright, Martin Signorelli, Peter Molinari, Hayden Rule, Joseph Rossini

Marriage

  • While working at Schmidt's Dry Goods Molinari met Ruby Heitz, a Calistoga, California, girl who shopped at the store with her father, Michael Heitz.
    • Note—Calistoga is about seven miles from St. Helena
    • Peter and Ruby were married on February 20, 1924, in St. Helena.
      • Note—Peter and Ruby Molinari's son, Peter Molinari II, wrote, "It is probably ironic . . . that Michael [Ruby's father] . . . was German-born and in his youth had served mandatory time in the German army. He left for the United States soon after his service was completed because he disliked the militaristic philosophy of his native land." [Peter E. Molinari II, "A Brief Biography of Peter Molinari and His Service in World War One," January 18, 2011]

Death

  • Josephine Molinari (mother of Peter Molinari I) died in 1924, just a few days before the marriage of Peter Molinari I to Ruby Heitz; she is buried at St. Helena Catholic Cemetery
  • Davide Molinari (father of Peter Molinari I) died in 1926; he is also buried at St. Helena Catholic Cemetery
  • WWI veteran Peter Molinari died of pancreatic cancer at age 76 on February 9, 1970; he is buried at the St. Helena Catholic Cemetery

Molinari's Children, Grandchildren, and Great Grandchildren

  • Peter Molinari I and Ruby Molinari had two children, Peter E. Molinari (Peter Molinari II, born in 1925) and Marilyn (born in 1929)
  • Peter Molinari II graduated from St. Helena High School in 1942 and enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, that year
  • At age 18 Peter Molinari II was drafted and served in the 20th Air Force, 485th bomb squadron, on Guam after the U. S. Marines had secured the island.
    • Molinari's job was ground crew maintenance of the B29 radar controlled gunnery and high altitude bombing equipment
    • Molinari was on Guam when the war ended; he was discharged in March 1946 as a staff sergeant
  • Molinari returned to UC, Berkeley, earning a BS degree in engineering in 1949
  • Molinari maried Peggy Petersen of San Rafael in 1951.
    • Peter and Peggy had four children, the oldest being Peter (Peter III, born in 1956)
  • Peter Molinari (III) and Christie Molinari are the parents of St. Helena High School graduates Tessa (2001), Ellie (2002), Peter (Peter Molinari IV; 2004), and Rubie (2010); all are the great grandchildren of WWI doughboy Corporal Peter Molinari.
  • Marilyn Molinari graduated from St. Helena High School in 1946 and, like her brother, enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley.
    • At UC Berkeley Marilyn met her future husband, Charles Froom, a farm boy from Kansas
(rev.5.19.11)