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Ronald Wanderman

PVT in Signal Co, Special

Military occupational specialty: 97 (installer repairman, telephone and telegraph)


Born 1922 in Canada, Died 1993

County of residence at enlistment: Bronx County, NY
Other residence(s): Buffalo, NY; Pensacola, FL; Bronx, NY; Jamaica, NY; Kendall Park, NJ
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: electricians apprentices
College education after the war: John Jay College of Criminal Law (courses)
Notes: Birth name Romolo Datillo
Source: Unit Shipment 10143-D, 23d HQ, from le Havre 23 June 1945;; photo courtesy Stephen Wanderman

Ronald Wanderman was born Romolo Datillo on September 30, 1922 in Guelph, ON, Canada; his father had been born in Italy and his mother in Canada, of Eastern European extraction. Ronnie, as he became known, had an older sister, but apparently his parents were not able to care for the baby and he was brought across the border as an infant later that year. He was placed in a foster home in Buffalo, NY, where he thrived.

At about age six, he was relocated by his father to the farm of some relatives in Smith Mills, NY, a rural area southwest of Buffalo. He lived there with an uncle and a couple of cousins, and appears to have graduated from Forestville Central High School in Forestville, NY, though he may have obtained his GED while in the service.

The farm years were not happy ones for Ronnie, and he ran away in 1938, at the age of 16. According to his son, Stephen, he hopped a New York Central train to Georgia in the middle of winter, and then migrated to Florida where he eventually settled in Pensacola.

When he registered for the draft, on June 30, 1942, he stated that he was unemployed, but found work sometime after that as an electrician's apprentice, a civilian employee with the US Navy at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Likely that same year Ronnie married a woman named Bettye in Florida; they became the parents of two daughters: Maryann and Joan.

Ronnie's mother had immigrated to the New York City area in the 1930s, and married a man named George Wanderman, a criminal defense attorney. While working in Pensacola, and probably with the help of the Navy or Army, Ronnie had found her living in the Bronx, and he legally changed his name to Ronald Wanderman sometime before he enlisted. (He had two younger half-siblings in this new family.)

He was working as a lineman and electrician for the Navy and could have had his military experience deferred, but he chose to join the Army and enlisted on November 10, 1944. It appears that his marriage had broken up by then, though the couple did not divorce until 1946.

Because of his electronics skills, Ronnie was assigned to the Signal Company Special (a late replacement?) and saw service with the unit in Europe during the war. After returning to New York in 1945, he and many other Ghost Army soldiers waited out their time at Pine Camp, near Watertown, NY, expecting orders for the invasion of Japan. But instead, according to his son, Ronnie and his buddies listened to the surrender ceremony on the Missouri on a crystal set that he built out of scraps and found materials. He was discharged on Christmas Eve, 1945.

Ronnie returned to New York City, moved in with his mother and her new family in the Bronx, and finalized his divorce. He had several different jobs, including a porter at Saks Fifth Avenue and a stationary fireman at a water pumping station on Long Island, before his application to become a NYC police officer was accepted. (He had applied for the position of fireman, which used the same test, but opted for the police.)

Ronnie in police uniform, 1951; courtesy of Stephen Wanderman and Carl Wanderman

Ronnie married Alice Van Alstine on February 28, 1950, and they would go on to have two children: Stephen and Susan. Ronnie worked as a NYC police officer for 20 years. He walked a beat in Manhattan, volunteered for the Emergency Service Squad, and was injured in the line of duty. He was promoted to SGT, ran the School Crossing Guards Bureau Operations, and finished his career in charge of the NYPD attachment at New York's City Hall.

Throughout this period, he also took courses at John Jay College of Criminal Law in New York City. His hobbies included fishing, singing, and playing guitar, piano and harmonica. He was also an antique car enthusiast. He was a member of the American Legion, the Police Benevolent Association of New York, and the New York Veteran Police Association.

After retirement, he headed up security for Chase Manhattan World Headquarters in Lower Manhattan for seven years, and was one of the first Fire Safety Directors for the newly formed NYC high rise safety program.

Ronnie's son reports that his father was very closemouthed about his Army career. "In about 1968 he showed me his footlocker and collection of Nazi uniform regalia and just said: 'we took a lot of prisoners.' Then he took out a stack of unit patches and told me he had worn all of them. Nothing more. In about 1991, I found a magazine article on the 23rd, mailed a copy to him, and asked if that was his unit, and was it accurate. All he would say was that it was his unit. . . . He did say that his most vivid service memory was eating his mashed potato rations in an army divided tray, with rainwater falling in them making a fine soup."

In the early 1970s, Ronnie and his family moved to Kendall Park, NJ, where he would live for the next 20 years. He died on April 2, 1993 and is buried at Franklin Memorial Park, Franklin, NJ.


1942 draft card

1944 enlistment record

1944 article in the Pensacola News Journal (FL) about his entering the Army

1946 divorce record

1950 marriage record

1950 census

1993 VA death record

1993 Social Security applications and claims index (documents birth name and name change)

1993 obituary in The Central New Jersey Home News

2009 wife's obituary

2024 (March 12) GALP Veteran Biography Worksheet from son Stephen Wanderman

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