LEGACY – Integrity on Ice: Joseph Dallanegra’s Legacy
Born on Feb. 6, 1933, Joseph Dallanegra was raised in New Jersey as the son of two ambitious attorneys; his mother was a researcher and his father was a trial lawyer. Some of Dallanegra’s most vivid recollections of his formative years involve his parents and their passion for the law. That’s because, in the Dallanegra house, dinnertime conversations often involved an impromptu discussion of the hot legal topic of the day.
“Each night, they would talk about how the cases were going; my brother and I wound up hearing Supreme Court arguments every time we ate,” he said.
Dallanegra says this unique upbringing – and access to many zealous discussions of justice and truth – gave him a different perspective on law than most people have. This perspective would be a cornerstone of the way he has lived his 85 years.
Dallanegra‘s blossoming passion for legal justice and Americans’ constitutional rights laid the groundwork for his pursuing a legal career of his own. Upon graduating with his bachelor’s degree from Rollins College in 1956, his plans included heading straight into law school.
But, the wartime draft would delay Dallanegra’s ambitions for at least four years.
Like many young men his age in the early 50s, Dallanegra was drafted into the United States Army. He completed his basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky, and promptly was whisked away to the northernmost military base in the world: Thule Air Command Base – as it was named at the time – in Greenland.
Greenland’s summer was a far cry from the Florida heat, and even the New Jersey winters he grew up with couldn’t compare with its cold. Dallanegra remembers it all vividly.
“In Greenland, there were no trees for 2,000 miles,” he said, “and we had to wear parkas and have animal fur over our faces (when we went outside). Our skin froze in about 30 seconds.”
“We lived inside a refrigerator,” he added, “and we had three minutes for a hot shower. We ran out of hot water all the time.”
He recalls summertime in Greenland when the 40-degree weather would be just enough to encourage his fellow soldiers to brave the chill and wear T-shirts. He remains baffled as he recalls generals being eager to visit the base in the summer; they thought it was the posh place to visit and be driven around. Often, Dallanegra was the one assigned to such a duty.
During Greenland’s winters, it was always dark. And in the summers, it was never dark, recalled Dallanegra. But, this Florida transplant used his time well at Thule anyway. That’s what you do when you have integrity.
Thule is 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Most notably, the base and its men are responsible for supporting and operating a ballistic-missile early-warning system, which is designed to detect and track missiles launched against North America.
In the late 50s, when Dallanegra was stationed at Thule, United States B-52s made frequent flights from the base to the Soviet Union to inspect its defense system. Dallanegra was a member of the 100-man strategic air command (comprised of 95 draftees like Dallanegra) that supported the dispersal of B-36, B-47, and B-52 aircraft. Its radio communication tower, built in 1954, was the tallest structure north of the Arctic Circle in the western hemisphere at that time.
PFC Dallanegra was a fine soldier from the start. Though not at all thrilled to be drafted, he made the most of it, earning commendations from his superiors time and again. He remembers that he was a soldier “who did exactly as he was told.” In many ways, he was a leader via his obedience and dedicated follow-through.
“I was treated very well as a soldier; I became a soldier of the month at Fort Knox as I was undergoing basic training,” said Dallanegra. “The active general gave me the day off pass during basic training, so I could go see a girl, who also was Rollins graduate,” he remembers proudly.
Dallanegra’s dedication to excellence and consistently impressive performance earned him the ranking of the highest noncommissioned officer in the battalion at Thule, he said, and he proved to be worthy of the rank.
At this “top of the world” base in Greenland, Dallanegra served with the transportation corps. Many of the men were responsible for communicating with “icebreakers” – large cargo ships that were charged with breaking an ice path through the Arctic waters to allow other ships to bring supplies to and from Thule.
Dallanegra was the only college graduate in the transportation corps, and within the unit, he was tasked with operating the telephone system at the base, as well as being his Lt. Major’s personal transcriptionist. As Dallanegra recalls, the Lt. Major was judged completely by his supervisors on his writing abilities. “So, he had me write a lot of his letters for him,” he said.
One fateful day, after he had finished with the letters and after the phone calls had paused, Dallanegra – who had been promoted to Sgt. Major of the base by the Lt. Major – walked out of his office and by a soldier who was monitoring the emergency radio. That’s when Dallanegra heard the United States Coast Guard’s icebreaker SOS call.
Startled at the soldier’s lack of concern over the radio message, Dallanegra asked him pointedly, “What are you doing?,” and probed him about why he wasn’t reporting the call.
“It’s some guy messing around,” the soldier replied, shrugging off the SOS as a prank. But, Dallanegra wasn’t taking that for an answer.
“I knew there was something that needed to be done, so I did it,” said Dallanegra. “I called up the officer of the day (OOD) and reported that we received an SOS on the radio.”
It turns out that even the OOD wasn’t responding to Dallanegra’s urgency. Dallanegra sensed his hesitation as he gave Dallanegra no instructions for moving forward. So, Dallanegra asked if he could reach out to the Lt. Major who had promoted him. The Lt. Major was with him, said the OOD, and Dallanegra exclaimed, “Then you tell him that Sgt. Major PFC Joseph Dallanegra is reporting an SOS from the icebreaker on the bay!”
Then the line went dead.
Within minutes, the Lt. Major had arrived at the phone post. He already had deployed a helicopter to take water pumps to the ship.
It turns out that the SOS really was from an icebreaker that had recently left the base. It had hit a pinnacle – a sharp stone that darts upward from the ocean floor. The pinnacle had pierced a thinner part of the ship’s hull, and the vessel was taking on water.
Ultimately, the ship and its crew of 50 souls were saved due to Dallanegra’s insistence. It’s this high level of integrity that forms much of Dallanegra’s legacy.
“If I were to describe my father to someone, I would tell them that he is a person with courage of convictions,” said Hope Clark, his daughter. “He believes in going above and beyond to adhere to the truth.”
Dallanegra honorably completed his years of service in the U.S. Army alongside his drafted and volunteer soldiers. Though it was not the course he had planned as he was pursuing law, he eventually returned to higher education to earn a law degree from the University of Miami.
Dallanegra’s dream of pursuing legal justice like his parents did ultimately came true. He lived as his parents had taught him to live through their stories at the dinner table: pursue truth, seek justice, and be a leader the world needs.
Dallanegra and his wife, Barbara, married in 1963. Together they had four children – Dawn, Mead, Hope and Joseph III, and today have 10 grandchildren. They live in Cleveland, Tennessee, most months, and snowbird in Venice, Florida, in the winters.
Dallanegra made a name for himself in the career he passionately pursued, but also as the lesser-known Sgt. Major PFC Dallanegra in the United States Army. It turns out that Dallanegras are known for leadership; bishops and renowned Venetian painters even share the name.
Future Dallanegra generations can be proud of the strong name, too, and highlight on their family tree the story of the man who followed his instincts through integrity and dedication to excellence, ultimately saving American lives off the shores of Greenland following WWII.
It’s a humbling example of doing your best in any situation, even if you didn’t choose it for yourself.
Have you considered what your legacy will be? Does your family share a famous or meaningful legacy? Please share it with us so we can enrich the lives of others with this gift. We believe that our nation’s seniors are living legacies by calling 1-866-320-8803 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vickie Pleus, APR, CPRC
Vickie Pleus, APR, CPRC, is the president of VP Communications, a public-relations consultancy based in DeLand, Fla. VP Communications provides integrated marketing communications, public relations, social media, corporate writing and more to small businesses and nonprofit organizations.