|(Source Unknown, Emailed Article)
GENNARO PELLEGRINI Jr. was a soldier who couldn't wait to fight again - as long as it was inside a Philadelphia boxing ring. But the 31-year-old city police officer and boxer never wanted to wage war in Iraq.
In March, about three months after his Pennsylvania National Guard unit arrived in the Iraqi desert, he wrote to Don Elbaum, owner of the legendary Blue Horizon boxing venue in North Philly. He said he was still working with a coach and punching the heavy bag every day so that he could return to the ring when he came home at year's end.
"Well, things over here are bad + keep getting worse," Pellegrini added. "We go on missions everyday - just want to get this job done + get back home."
The wiry welterweight had already seen the dream of a lifetime come to pass the previous May, when he won his first - and only - professional fight at the Blue Horizon, in front of a throng of cheering friends, with a crushing fourth-round knockout.
But his final wish was one that would not come true.
Pellegrini, whose boxing exploits may have made him the most publicized Philadelphian to fight in Iraq, was one of five Pennsylvania National Guard members killed in an attack Tuesday outside the northern town of Beiji.
The assault cut short the life of a young police officer who could be tough when he had to be - on the force they called him "One-Punch Gerry" after a memorable arrest. But most of the time, friends said, Pellegrini was a gentle man.
"He was an animal inside the ring, but outside the ring he was the nicest freakin' guy I ever met in my life," said Joey Intrieri, a South Philly gym owner who was Pellegrini's "cut man" at the fight at the Blue Horizon.
Pellegrini, who lived on a rowhouse block in Port Richmond and patrolled the streets of the Fishtown area in the 26th Police District, had developed a pen-pal relationship with students at Horatio B. Hackett School on York Street near Sepviva.
Police Capt. Lou Campione told a news conference yesterday that "as a result of that relationship, he told us that the children of Iraq were so poor they didn't have any shoes. The children from Hackett School collected 350 pairs of flip-flops and sent them over to Iraq."
Pellegrini grew up in a police family. When he joined the force in Philadelphia four years ago, he took badge No. 3722, the same number his father - Gennaro Sr. - wore for 27 years before retiring and moving to Wildwood, N.J., with his wife, Edith. He grew up with two younger sisters, Kim and Dana.
He earned his nickname on the force after a robbery on Delaware Avenue led to a car chase that wound up at Chippendale and Frankford avenues in Holmesburg. The suspect pulled a gun on Pellegrini, discarded it, then threw two punches at the officer.
Pellegrini then knocked the suspect out cold with one well-placed blow, earning his nickname of "One-Punch Gerry."
Although Pellegrini won a Golden Gloves amateur boxing title in 1997, many of his more recent matches were charity events. However, the wheels for his dream of fighting at the Blue Horizon began to spin shortly after the April 2004 phone call telling Pellegrini that - just two weeks before his National Guard stint was slated to end - his unit would be shipping out to Iraq for a year.
One month later, he found himself in the center of the legendary fight hall, hailed by a ring announcer as "America's Newest Hero" and cheered on by hundreds of fellow cops and Guardsmen. He pummeled James Andre Harris early, but after the third round he was running out of gas.
"He was saying, 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe,'" recalled Intrieri. "I said, 'You can breathe tomorrow - get back out there.'" Pellegrini stepped out for the fourth round, and knocked out Harris with a thundering right as the crowd went wild.
"Tonight is something I'll never forget," Pellegrini said. He was enjoying his work and was engaged to a 20-year-old nursing student. He was blunt in telling people that going to Iraq was not what he wanted to do.
In November, he told the Daily News he was still "mad" about his call-up, compounded by the fact that his fiancee left him while his unit trained in Louisiana. "I just want to get it done, come home, and continue my life," he said then.
After the March letter, Blue Horizon owner Elbaum said he had a bad feeling and did something he said he almost never does. He prayed.
Yesterday, the man hailed in the ring as "America's Newest Hero" truly was one. Mayor Street said his death was "heart-wrenching," and Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson ordered a full police funeral and a 30-day mourning period.
At Pellegrini's house in Port Richmond last night, a stream of police cars and others came by to console the slain Guardsman's father. Relatives said Pellegrini had done what was asked of him, regardless of how he felt about the war.
"He took his job very serious. He knew what he had to do over there," his cousin Jerry Wahl said. "It's a tragedy, but you feel honored that he went over."