A Veterans Day Salute

Angelo Ciccotti, standing at left, represents the millions of men and women who served during World War II. His son has written a salute in his honor for Veterans Day.

By Bill Ciccotti

Veterans Day is dedicated to American service men and women who gave their all, and often more, to keep America the land of the free. Apple pie and the 4th of July. The following is dedicated to Sergeant Angelo M. Ciccotti of Dunmore, and the memory of all those silent heroes who stepped up to the plate and took one for the team.

My father was the son of William and Mabel Ciccotti. His father originally came from Anagni, Italy, a small town near Rome. My father was a teenager when he signed up for WWII. Why? Because his country needed him. In fact, the whole world needed all the help it could get at the time. He ended up a Sergeant in the 87th Infantry during World War II. That generation had guts. They didn’t want to go to war. But the country, hell the whole world, needed them. So, they never thought twice. That generation just acted.

He always wanted to be a pilot, so my dad joined the Army Air Corps. He was training and had flown a Piper Cub several times. My father was about to take his solo pilot’s test when we hit the beaches at Normandy. And in a snap of your fingers, he got shifted from the skies above to the infantry below. “Sorry son. But we need boots on the ground, and those boots are in your size young man.”

My dad nodded, saluted, and became a radio operator for the 87th Infantry. The Golden Acorns. But he quickly shifted frontline to become a forward artillery spotter. That translated to “Here’s a field radio, a M1 carbine, and binoculars. Now go find us something to blow up.” And off he went. Alone, into no man’s land. Kind of like the tip of the spear. 

Sometimes he fought counter combat action in groups with the rest of his unit after he had radioed in artillery strikes. The Germans, they always pushed back. And they pushed back hard. Tanks rumbled forward creating havoc. Bullets went flying everywhere. Explosions kept making everyone trip. Chaos and bedlam often ensued. The staccato woodpecker sound of the German machine guns ripped everything apart that they hit. And still, the 87th fought on doggedly.

GIs went running down war torn streets. Side-stepping and head-bobbing around corners trying to get a look while being shot at. Then ducking back from incoming rounds. Yet, always attempting to find the courage to rush right back out into that volcanic death storm of molten lead. In war, hell opens its rusty gates, and the devil rushes out laughing, while the reaper sows his bloody cycle. 

My dad battled across Europe from Le Havre, France to Luxembourg and Germany. He then became part of General Patton’s Third Army. And subsequently was part of the relief of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. He was drained from a bone-numbing 300-mile march, in the coldest December possible. His unit traveled through the snow and blizzard winds in open trucks. The Allied forces journeyed from the Saar Valley by way of Rheims, France. 

And on December 29, 1944, the Third Army was hurled against massive thrusts ordered by Adolph Hitler to capture the key highway center of Bastogne. 

The Nazi Watch on the Rhine Offensive was in full swing. Numerically superior, the elite Nazi SS troops supported by the new monster King Tiger tanks had caught American forces in the Ardennes by surprise. The Axis armies were making good headway for a few days before the Third Army units of Patton arrived. 

The Nazis brazenly delivered an ultimatum to Bastogne, threatening annihilation if the 101st Airborne and attached troops didn’t surrender. And, of course, the rest is history. They fought till relief arrived. But war is a swirling fog of carnage and danger. 

With virtually no patrolling to feel out the enemy, my father’s unit was hurled into this chaotic, raging battle. On orders of Lieutenant General George S. Patton, both the 87th and 11th Armored Divisions charged into the arms of the waiting enemy. And our boys suffered heavy casualties. 

But relieve the besieged 101st they did. My dad said he saw GIs with no ammunition left throwing bricks at the Germans. One guy rushed a machine gun nest with a shovel. Heroes? Damn right they were. 

Once, during a heavy bombardment, my dad dove into a crater with a friend and ducked as low as possible into a tight crevice. Terrified, he rolled as small as he could tuck himself. In a lull of the bombing, he grabbed his carbine and said, “Come on, Joe. Let’s go.” 

But when he turned, Joe’s head was gone. So, my father had to run forward alone towards the enemy, screaming. Screaming at those killers and screaming from the horror of his decapitated friend. How do you survive that? No one does. 

My father told me later in life, “You get through it by covering your mind with a blanket. You have to hold the cover tight every night, Billy. And if you can hold that tattered blanket tight enough, then one day, after the war is over, if you’re still alive, you can attempt to reclaim your humanity.” 

Whenever we watched a WWII movie on TV, my dad would try not to think, but he often mumbled when the combat started. “That’s a Mauser, German rifle.” Or “That’s a German Machine pistol.” I always thought that was a machine gun. But my dad shook his head. “No Billy. The Mg34 and MG42 were the German machine guns.” 

Then he’d listen, quietly remembering, “Luger, German pistol. That’s definitely a 1911, US 45 pistol.” Then “Thompson Tommy gun.” Before I could ask, he’d shrug, “Ok that’s a submachine gun.” And “M1 Carbine, lighter US rifle. M1 Grand big and heavy US rifle.” 

You get the idea. Those sounds were ingrained in his mind, and he didn’t like thinking about their repercussions. My father saw concentration camps. And good friends die. He walked through the hellish nightmare of warfare incarnate. Through despair, terror, and insanity. What did he do? He kept moving forward. One step at a time. Not because he was a hero. He never thought of himself as a hero. Just a flawed man. Another humble man who knew what was wrong. And one who believed every step that they took was another chance to stop that evil wrong. 

And believe me, they all wanted to cut the head off the snake. My father wouldn’t elaborate on any of the fighting that he went through in WWII. He just got a far off look in his eyes and eventually replied, “Son you don’t want to know.”  

If I pushed him, he would only tell me, “Billy when you play army out in our back yard with your friends and you get shot, you get back up. But in real life if you get shot you stay down. And sometimes die.”  

Despite these horrific experiences, Dad did what many other veterans did. He married my mother, the former Mary McGraw, after the war, and the couple had my two brothers Michael and Tom, and two sisters Angela and Michelle, and me. He tried to build his life, and in the late 1940s he and his father and brother-in-law opened a jewelry store. Eventually he became sole proprietor of the business, and in the early 1950s he moved his shop to Wyoming Avenue in Scranton and opened Ciccotti’s Jewel Case.

Mary and Angelo fulfilled the American dream when they built a house in 1953 on Quincy Avenue in Dunmore, where they lived the rest of their lives and raised their children.

This photo is the only service picture I ever saw of him. He never liked talking about the war. That’s understandable.

Those guys fought through hell every day. Then, if they were still alive, they came home, and attempted to live a normal life. They never boasted. They could have bragged, but they never did. God knows that they were heroes. But to themselves, they just figured the world needed them. And that was it. It was indeed a better time. A time of innocence. A time of confidence. A time of quiet heroes. Thank you, Dad.

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