An American Hero

Posted on 30 November 2009


Jim & Tom 2

We grew up in a neighborhood in South Philadelphia, bounded by Snyder Avenue to the north and the Philadelphia Navy Yard to the south and from Broad Street east to 7th Street.  It was an ethnically mixed neighborhood.  I lived in the 2400 block of Hutchinson Street, and he lived in the 2300 block.  As boys, we did not have a close friendship, even though we knew of each other.

 

We grew up during the Great Depression, but living in our neighborhood, as we realized many years later, was as close as you can come to Heaven.  As kids, we enjoyed the pleasure of playing in the streets without fear.  There was no television or home air conditioning or automatic gas heat, although we did have some modern conveniences, such as hot water, indoor plumbing, washing machines, and radio.  Life was much simpler then in an era when “spare the rod and spoil the child” was the order of the day.  Our parents worked hard trying to make ends meet.  It was here we learned family values, such as honor, duty, and respect.  The lost art of conversation still prevailed at family gatherings.

 

Pearl HarborThen something happened that would forever change our lives.  World War ll erupted in Europe. Initially, the United States remained neutral, until December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  On that fateful Sunday, President Roosevelt announced to the Congress and the American people that a “state of war” existed between the United States and the Empire of Japan and its ally Germany.

 

With the Declaration of War, America rolled up its sleeves, as every man, woman, and child, pitched in to help the war effort.  The Draft was instituted to call up men needed for the Armed Forces.  Factories all over this great country set aside peacetime products and retooled to manufacture implements of war.

 

I was two years younger than he, and while I worked at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, as an electrician helper, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.  He trained in the Infantry and was later sent to England as a replacement, with the Third Armored Division, for the Invasion of Hitler’s Europe.

 

Normandy D-DayJune 6th, 1944 the greatest Allied Armada ever assembled, crossed the English Channel and stormed the beaches of Normandy.  The German Army well entrenched, threatened to drive the Allies back into the sea, but by the end of a day that came to be known as “D-Day the Longest Day,” the American and Allied Forces managed to gain a beachhead on Fortress Europe.

 

Arriving in Normandy 13 days after D-Day, the Third Armored Division moved up to the line, for their “Baptism of Fire.”  Here at St Lo, the advancing American and Allied forces were stalled in what was to be called the Hedgerow country.  French farmers had planted hedges that surrounded their farms.  These hedges planted centuries ago, became a formidable defense for the German Army, who zeroed in on every opening with mortar, cannon, and machine-gun fire. 

 

A plan, dubbed “Operation Cobra,” was devised to break out of St Lo area. It called for the saturation bombing of the Hedgerow country in order to allow the American and Allied forces to break through.  On that fateful day, the sky was black with Allied bombers as wave after wave systematically dropped their bombs and opened a path for the advance of the stalled Allied and American armies.

 

Third Armored DivisionFollowing the break out at St Lo, the Third Armored Division raced across France, in pursuit of the fleeing German Army.  In a pincer attack they closed the Falaise Gap, trapping thousands of the enemy and causing their surrender.  In their rapid attack, they crossed the Seigfried Line, to become the first to enter Germany.  They penetrated into German soil, reaching the town of Stohlberg.  It was here they were ordered to return to Belgium to help stop the German attack called “the Battle of the Bulge.”

 

On January 3rd, 1945, near the town of Floret, Belgium, the hand of God touched him who was to become my lifelong friend.  It came in form of an enemy shell, ending the war for him.  As he lay on the battlefield with massive wounds of the arm and leg, the Medics who had picked him up informed him that he had “Million Dollar” wounds and would be returned to England for surgery and rehabilitation.  After his recovery, he was returned to his unit.  By this time, however, the war in Europe had ended and, in a short while, he would be going home.  With the defeat of Germany, and the introduction of the “Atomic Bomb,” World War ll ended on September 2nd, 1945 and with it came the return of the veterans of World War ll.

 

As the South Philadelphia neighborhood boys came home, they started to congregate at the corner of 10th and Ritner streets.  It was here that a long and lasting friendship began.

 

Jim & Tom

 

In the spring of 1951, we married two girlfriends, I married Madeline (Midge), and he married her dear friend Thelma.  He was our Best Man and Thelma was our First Bridesmaid.  A few weeks later, Midge and I would be the First Bridesmaid and Best Man at their wedding.

 

In the years to follow, they would become Godfather and Godmother to my first son born in 1954.  And, just a few years later, we would both relocate to the town of Maple Shade, New Jersey.  We continued a close friendship over the years, until Midge suddenly passed away on May 27 1975.

 

With her passing and the need to care for my two sons without the aid of a wife, my life became very hectic.  I altered my work schedule to allow me more time with my boys, and I didn’t have much time to socialize with friends.  In essence, I dropped out of sight.  With my children grown, I remarried eight years later and resumed my life.

 

In the fall of 1986, I got a call from my good friend who asked me if I had interest in attending a reunion of the “Boys of 10th & Ritner,” an offer I enthusiastically accepted.  This first of what would become regular meetings of all the old gang was a huge success – so much so that we held them every six weeks for more than 10 years!

 

We would meet at Sam Cobblestone’s Bar & Grill in South Philly on designated Tuesday evenings.  Here, we reminisced about growing up in the old neighborhood, told jokes, and related tales about our experiences in World War ll.

 

In 1987 I retired and, following a period during which I traveled about the country, took a part-time job with a local liquor store.  On occasion, my friend would stop in and shoot the breeze with me, discussing plans to attend our next meeting and any other news he happened to know.  

 

It was during one of these visits that I introduced him to my manager, Bob Sparks.  As usual the subject of World War ll came up.  Bob indicated that he also had been in the War and mentioned that he had trained together with Tony Lanciano from South Philly.  This coincidence almost blew our minds, for he had mentioned the name of one of the old gang.

 

On the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, he came to visit me at work.  He looked a little distraught as we discussed the Normandy Invasion.  Then suddenly, all the memories came back and welled up inside of him – then came pouring out.  Taking him aside, I calmed him down.  Then, I said to him, “50 years is too long to carry this burden, and it is time that you let it out.”

 

It was then that I came to the realization that, in all the years I had known him and all the times we had been together, I had been standing in the shadow of a real American Hero.  At that moment, I decided to set the record straight and give him the recognition he so richly deserved.  And so, whenever he was in the store, I would introduce him to customers upon whom I waited, saying “I want to introduce you to a real American Hero, from Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge where he was wounded.  This is one of the guys who kept you from doing the goose-step.”

 

As they would look at him in awe, he would laugh and say, “Don’t listen to this guy, I was only doing my job.”  Like all heroes, he did not consider himself one.  Yet, he held five Medals – Good  Conduct, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Purple Heart, World War II Victory, and European Theater of Operations (ETO) with five Campaign Stars for Normandy, N. France, Rhineland, Ardennes, and Central Europe.  And, the memories of his experiences in the War haunted him for the rest of his life.

 

But, it was not merely the memories he carried with him.  Many years after completing his service, he fell down a flight of stairs during a visit to a relative’s home.  Following an emergency room visit and thorough examination, he was released, but not before being approached by the radiologist on call who queried “do you know that you have a piece of steel behind your right knee?”  In response, my friend stated “it’s probably a German shell fragment, I guess they didn’t get all of it out.”

 

Like all heroes, he was matter of fact about his injuries, wounds from which he suffered both physical and psychological pain for the remainder of his life.  Yet, he never spoke of either the memories or the injuries.

 

Jim Tedesco 2

 

They say “old soldiers never die,” and I pray that this is true.  For, the hero of whom I am proud to have spoken was my good friend and Best Man, Vincent {Jimmy} Tedesco.  On June 19, 2003, he took his memories and injuries with him to his earthly grave at Brigadier General William C. Doyle Veterans Cemetery in Arnytown, New Jersey.  Yet, I believe that his spirit lives on.

 

And, so that he does not remain among the nameless who took the risks, paid the price, and returned to build the greatest nation in the history of our planet, I wrote this tribute.  To my good friend Jimmy and to all the Jimmies whom I did not know, I salute you!

 

Jim Tedesco





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7 Responses to “An American Hero”

  1. Karen says:

    This is a terrific story wherein truth is more interesting than fiction.
    I never had the honor of meeting Vincent but I am proud to say I know the author. These men give meaning to the words decency, dignity and modesty. God Bless our hero in heaven Vincent and the author who honored him.

  2. Cherene says:

    My Father and I just had the honor of reading about two great men of many who have served our country so that we can have everything we have here today. Thank you for sharing such a touching story about two true friends who make me proud to be an American! I agree with Karen and say God Bless our hero in Heaven and God Bless the author who has honored him with this touching story! My Father and I sit here impressed and honored that we know both of the men in this story and that we have the honor to be related to one of them! Thank you for sharing Pop! We Love you!!

  3. Sandra says:

    Thank you Tom for writing this ! I miss my Uncle Jim soo much….I think of him every single day, even now as tears are pouring down my face ,I can’t forget what a wonderful Uncle he was…a child’s dream Uncle ! He would play ball,teach me magic trick’s that I still use to occupie kid’s & they can’t figure out how you do them! Game’s ,stories,invention’s boy did us kids love our UNCLE JIM !!! Alway’ with a smile on his face…espeacially when he was teasing my little Aunt Thel LOL !!! He had such a good soul, his spirit made you just want to be around him….you felt HAPPY !….Well sadly my Godfather is gone….I long to hear just one more story ,I long to see just one smile, I long for that feeling of the good old day’s when my PRECIOUS FAMILY was alive & well , thing were so different then…I thank God that I was brought up in those time & I thank God for my UNCLE JIM…..R.I.P ……MY HERO…..

  4. Author says:

    I wrote this tribute in 1994 and presented it to Jim, he read it and cried,responding I’m no Hero. He asked me where did I get the information,I responded “you told me” ,I don’t know if any family was privy to the information he told me, but he confided on me about his war record.He was a constant face in the crowd on special days of the year commemorating veterans. I believe he suffered from what is now called Post Trauamatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and was haunted by his memories. I carry his picture card of his funeral in my Honor Guard Uniform pocket so even if he cannot be physically present at Veteran funerals, and services his presnce is there with me.Jim and Thelma are no strangers to my family and even though we are not related I still think of them as family. When this tribute was published online,it prompted me to write “Put me in your Pocket” to all the Jimmies I did not know.

  5. Joseph says:

    Hi,

    I just “Googled” my name and came up with this article…

    My Great Uncle was Joe Ermilio, my dad was Vince Ermilio

    I was named after Joe and i am SO very proud of him although sadly I never met him…

    I used to hear my Grandmother, dad and mom talk about the day’s of south Philly and a couple names sound fimiliar…

    I am 53 years old now so i don’t know that much but I wanted to reply to this. I am the last remaining member of the Ermilio family as you guys might know. I do have one son named Joseph A Ermilio, so my Uncle Joe’s name will live on!

    Please feel free to contact me at joeknows95@aol.com

    Thanks much guys

    Joe Ermilio

  6. Philadelphia Electrician says:

    Excellent job.

  7. RTS says:

    Thanks for sharing this heartfelt story.


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