Army Depot 'Legend' Lauded Following 65 Years On Job

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Las Vegas Review-Journal
December 16, 2006
By Sean Whaley, Review-Journal Capital Bureau
HAWTHORNE -- Louie Dellamonica faced a choice in December 1941. The Yerington native could take a Navy job at Mare Island in California or accept an equivalent job as an electrician in this Nevada community near Walker Lake.
On Dec. 13, 1941, six days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dellamonica took the job in Hawthorne.
And on Jan. 2, after 65 years of work, most of it as an engineer, he will retire from the Department of Defense at age 94.
More than 100 friends, colleagues and representatives of the U.S. Army gathered Friday to honor Dellamonica for his more than 23,000 days of service with the Defense Department at what is now called the Hawthorne Army Depot.
"When I first came to work here, on my first payday I found out I was earning 92 cents an hour," he said. "After six weeks, I got a big 6-cent raise."
Dellamonica said it will be tough to leave the job he's loved after so many years.
Dellamonica is recovering from a broken leg, and his last day working at the depot was Jan. 12, said one of his daughters, Toni Dellamonica.
"I miss the work out there," he said.
He expects to spend his spare time tinkering around the house.
Dellamonica is the longest-serving Department of Defense employee, going back to before the agency officially was created.
Dellamonica's retirement celebration came the same day Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stepped down. Letters of appreciation were read from President Bush, Rumsfeld, Gov. Kenny Guinn and many others.
Ed Fowler, a Mineral County commissioner who retired from the depot five years ago, said Dellamonica might be frail physically, but his mind is as sharp as ever.
"He's just as sharp as a tack," he said.
Fowler said Dellamonica worked for every base commander but two, and he knew them personally.
As an engineer checking plans, Dellamonica would find every error anyone made, Fowler said. Projects went smoothly at the Hawthorne depot because of his attention to detail, he said.
One of those on hand to honor Dellamonica was Brig. Gen. James Rogers, commander of the U.S. Army Joint Munitions Command of Rock Island, Ill.
Rogers presented Dellamonica with the Superior Civilian Service Award and Medal, one of the many awards given him at the celebration.
"You are truly a legend," Rogers said.
Although Dellamonica will be retired, Rogers said he will be called on constantly by people seeking his help and institutional memory of the depot.
In an oral history recorded in 2002, Dellamonica said he became interested in electrical engineering while attending high school in Yerington. A friend's father had an amateur radio station and Dellamonica said he obtained an amateur station license while still in high school.
Dellamonica went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Nevada in 1934. He went to work in various mining camps and on power lines in Northern Nevada, doing the physical work of installing generators rather than actual engineering.
He then began his job with what was then the Hawthorne Naval Ammunition Depot.
In Guinn's proclamation, the governor noted that Dellamonica was instrumental in selecting qualified men to serve in the Civilian Conservation Corps for training in early radar warning systems. During World War II, he helped develop aircraft rockets, mortars and warheads.
During the Cold War, his contributions included missile guidance and control and the development of an anti-submarine missile.
He also designed the Western Area Demilitarization Facility at the Hawthorne depot.
Dellamonica never was drafted because he lost three fingers as a child in an accident, he said in his oral history.
Dellamonica said he waited until now to retire because the work kept him busy.
"That is our main job now, keeping him busy," daughter Karen Dellamonica said.