Sixty-two years later, WWII vet receives Bronze Star Medal
November 20, 2007
Sixty-two years ago, Army Sgt. Carlo M. Vendetti was fighting on the beaches of Okinawa, the final battle and costliest battle of World War II. It would be his fifth beach landing in seven short months-as many beach landings as there were in the entire European Theater. This Veteran's Day would be a special day in the life of Vendetti and his family. He would receive the Bronze Star Medal for his actions in the South Pacific those many years ago as a member of C. Company, 305th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division, the "Statue of Liberty" Division of WWI fame. Presenting the medal to this quiet, unassuming veteran was Maj. Gen. William M. Lenaers, commanding general of the TACOM Life Cycle Management Command. Lenaers talked at length of the importance of our WWII veterans, reminding those present that unlike WWII, the Nation is not at war. "The Army and Marines are at war, not the Nation." Veteran's day usually brings forth memories of those brave men and women who served in the Armed Forces of our nation. It is a day of reflection, a day of pride for our Nation's veterans. Veteran's Day is a day of remembrance, and for the TACOM LCMC, this Veteran's Day was about something else, it was about veterans helping veterans, and veterans recognizing veterans. For Vendetti's family, Veteran's Day 2007 was a day to see their father receive recognition for his combat service so many years ago. For the TACOM LCMC, it was a day to honor a local veteran for his service during WWII. The story really begins in August of 1944. Allied forces in Europe were rushing across France and pushing to the final German Defenses. In the Pacific, the Island campaign pushed into the Philippine Islands. In Detroit, Vendetti just completed the ninth grade when he received his draft notice. At age 18 he was draft eligible and inducted into the Army. Vendetti ended up in Texas for his training as an infantryman, then off to Hawaii for jungle training. He joined up with his outfit in Leyte in the Philippine Islands. His unit just completed retaking Guam when Carlo arrived. While there was sporadic fighting still in the Philippines, "but nothing too heavy" Vendetti remembered, the 77th Division prepared for the next assault on the Island of Ipil to seize Ormoc in preparation for the next campaign, Okinawa. The next combat for the 305th Regiment and Vendetti was on the little known landing at Zumami Shima, where he recalled facing "a banzai attack." The unit also lost one of its Lieutenants that Vendetti acknowledged "I never learned his name." Vendetti's unit then landed on Ie Shima, a small peanut-shaped island across the straits of Okinawa. The fighting there was brutal. Ie Shima became one of the bloodiest island battles in the bloodiest campaign of WWII. And Vendetti was in the thick of it, calling the action on the island "worse than we saw on Okinawa." This was the island where legendary reporter Ernie Pyle was killed by sniper fire. Vendetti remembered that he heard about Pyle dying two weeks later from a divisional release. But on the day he was killed, "I was hiding behind his jeep with my face buried in the mud. I didn't know he was killed." There would be another landing on Ie Shims before Vendetti, now a sergeant and squad leader, would end up on Okinawa supporting the 1st Marine Division. Vendetti fought on "Bloody Ridge" and Shuri, and took part in the capture of Shuri Castle. However, his saddest memory came on the last day of the fighting on Okinawa when he lost another lieutenant, a local Detroit boy like himself, who died in Vendetti's arms. He remembers his name even today. Vendetti left the Army in 1946, returned home by way of a hospital ship, to the Detroit area, and raised a family. Little did he know that a change in policy adopted in 1947 would bring him back to the Army 62 years later; not to serve but to be recognized for his service. This is where retired TACOM LCMC employee Ed Young, a commander of American Legion Post #243 enters the story. Young met Vendetti many years ago and like many other veterans in Michigan, has a fond kinship to those of the "Greatest Generation." Although Vendetti is not a member of Young's Post, he went to him with a simple question. Is it possible for a veteran to receive a replacement set of medals that he earned while in service' Young not only told him that it was possible, but he would help him with the paperwork. In looking over Vendetti's paperwork, Young noticed something that Vendetti did not know-a policy shift in 1947 that now affected him and his medals. Retired Gen. George C. Marshall, the Chief of Staff during WWII pressed upon Congress that the combat infantryman and combat medics bore the brunt of close combat during WWII. The policy change was that any member that received a Combat Infantryman Badge or a Combat Medic Badge was eligible to receive the Bronze Star Medal. Vendetti received the Combat Infantryman's Badge, and Young pointed out that based on that alone, he should receive the Bronze Star. Therefore, Young pulled together the paperwork and Vendetti wrote a letter that went to the National Personnel Records Center. Because they submitted Vendetti's discharge papers, the Center could verify his records. In 1973, a major fire destroyed over sixteen million personnel files, the majority of them the records from WWII. For many veterans, this requires a partial or total reconstruction of their files to verify their records. Vendetti was lucky, as his records were intact. The Center notified him that he would receive a Bronze Star Medal along with other decorations he earned during his service in WWII. It was at this time that Young had another idea, was there anyway that Vendetti could have the medal presented to him. Young contacted the TACOM LCMC History office and asked the question. Within a couple of days, both men had an answer they did not expect. Not only would the medal be presented, but Lenaers wanted to do the presentation. After some lighthearted banter and story telling, it was time to present the Bronze Star. Lenaers gave Vendetti the option of sitting or standing. Vendetti, a little shaky as he stood, thought he should sit. Lenaers and Vendetti moved a chair in front of an array of flags. It was then that Vendetti saw a "sea of green" uniforms standing behind his family. Sergeants, Majors, and Colonels from the command came to be a part of this special day. They had quietly entered the room, and positioned themselves around the family like a protective shield around Vendetti's family. The uniforms were different from when he had served, but he acknowledged the Soldiers, his former family, and the civilian workforce that all came to support him. As Vendetti sat in front of the American flag, Capt. Dirk Isrow began to read the official posting of orders awarding the Bronze Star to Sgt. Carlo M. Vendetti. When he heard the words "Attention to Orders," emotion overtook the proud and gentle veteran. Lenaers reached over and comforted him. One can only imagine the flood of memories that rushed in, the faces of friends that never made it off the islands, the sights and sounds of grueling combat too painful to remember. Lenaers then pinned the Army Honorable Discharge Pin, more affectionately known as the ruptured duck, on Vendetti, symbolizing his honorable discharge from the Army. Lenaers then asked a favor of him. As he sees his family daily, could his Soldiers congratulate him first' The Soldiers formed a reception line, each wanting to shake his hand, to thank him for his service and his courage. Beverly Vendetti, Carlo's wife of over 50 years, noticed that quite a few of the Soldiers had tears in their eyes as Vendetti thanked each Soldier for their service. He then thanked the command for such a wonderful day, a day that was overwhelming, and one of the best days of his life. Veteran's Day has many meanings to different people. For one very special veteran and his family, this Veteran's Day would carry a very personal meaning. For Sgt. Carlo M. Vendetti, WWII veteran, it was a day that was 62 years in the making, recognition for his service to his country during the greatest war this Nation fought. For a proud family, it was seeing "Papa" honored by fellow veterans and the Army for his sacrifices. For Ed Young, it was the true meaning of Veteran's Day, veterans helping veterans. And for the TACOM LCMC, it was thanking and recognizing part of the Army's historic legacy, a brave citizen-soldier that went to war to fight for our freedom. His actions, like so many of the 16 million that served during WWII, can only be embraced for the gifts of our freedom and our military.