His story- a history lesson from a WWII veteran

 

The Anchors and Eagles of Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City, Mich., gather to listen to Richard Rizzio tell his story of World War II, at the station, July 17, 2013. Rizzio talked about how he and many others bore down in the fox holes without food, ammo, and winter clothing while facing one of the most severe winters in Europe. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Caleb Peacock

The Anchors and Eagles of Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City, Mich., gather to listen to Richard Rizzio tell his story of World War II, at the station, July 17, 2013.
Rizzio talked about how he and many others bore down in the fox holes without food, ammo, and winter clothing while facing one of the most severe winters in Europe.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Caleb Peacock

 

The Coast Guardsmen filled their plates with lunch, grabbed their drinks, and sat down. On most days, a gathering of chief petty officers and officers, also called Anchors and Eagles, would be full of conversation and sea stories, but today was different. Today, they had a special guest who would share his stories of the past to help brighten their future.

With a plate filled with his favorite meal, spaghetti and meatballs, the guest settled in and began the history lesson- his story of the times he faced during World War II.

On July 17, 2013, the chiefs and officers of Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City, Mich., had the distinct honor to host a luncheon with Richard Rizzio, a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

 

Specialist Fourth Class Richard Rizzio, a forward observer in the 274th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, poses for a photo in France during World War II. Photo courtesy of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Chapter 23

Specialist Fourth Class Richard Rizzio, a forward observer in the 274th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, poses for a photo in France during World War II.
Photo courtesy of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Chapter 23

Rizzio served in the 3rd Army under Gen. George S. Patton. He served as a specialist fourth class in radio communications with the 274th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. Rizzio entered the theater of war in Europe several weeks after D-Day, landing in Saint-Lo, France with the objective of liberating France.

In France, as part of a forward observer team, Rizzio’s battalion was attacked by German troops manning three 88 mm cannons. Getting out of their jeep quickly, Rizzio and the officer in the car with him, Capt. George Olson, found themselves pinned down by German troops firing cannons from a hilltop. It was during his first fire fight that Rizzio received a Purple Heart Medal.

“My captain yelled at me to duck and when I did, shrapnel from an explosion near us whizzed past my head but hit me in the hand,” said Rizzio.

“Olson saved my life that day.”

Rizzio and Olson were able to return fire and quell the German troops saving not only their own skins but their whole battalion. This earned them each a Silver Star Medal. The Silver Star is the third highest military decoration for valor, awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.

Being a forward observer was a dangerous job. He was responsible for monitoring German locations and communicating them back to American units.

Then came the Battle of the Bulge, a major German offensive launched on the Western Front that caught the Allied forces in France, Belgium and Luxembourg off guard. It would be the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the United States in World War II, with more than 89,000 casualties. The Battle of the Bulge began Dec. 16, 1944, and lasted until Jan. 25, 1945.

During the Battle of the Bulge, Patton’s 3rd Army was part of the force which came in to relieve the 101st Airborne Division.

“Our battalion consisted of 18 105 mm howitzers, and we fired a record 1,691 rounds on Christmas Day 1944,” Rizzio said.

“The 4th Armored Battalion was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, and they in turn recommended us for the award. However, it never came through before the war ended. But, it’s on record that we earned it.”

Rizzio had five lucky moments in the war- moments that affected his life. When he speaks to people about the war, he tells them about his moments.

The first moment was missing the D-Day invasion of Normandy, though after that he was involved in four major campaigns in Europe.

One of the moments he laughs about is when a shell fired by a German 88 mm artillery cannon landed near him and four other men but didn’t explode.

“We didn’t know why it didn’t blow up,” he chuckles.

“Nor did we stay around to find out.”

The Anchors and Eagles of Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City, Mich., gather to listen to Richard Rizzio tell his story of World War II, at the station, July 17, 2013. Rizzio talked about how he and many others bore down in the fox holes without food, ammo, and winter clothing while facing one of the most severe winters in Europe. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Caleb Peacock

The Anchors and Eagles of Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City, Mich., gather to listen to Richard Rizzio tell his story of World War II, at the station, July 17, 2013.
Rizzio talked about how he and many others bore down in the fox holes without food, ammo, and winter clothing while facing one of the most severe winters in Europe.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Caleb Peacock

Another of the moments was during the Siege of Bastogne in December 1944, where he served a mile behind the front lines. This battle took the lives of 341 men, and more than 2,000 were missing or wounded.

One of the moments was when he was burned when a gas heater in his radio communications vehicle exploded. His injuries from the explosion prompted his re-assignment to a service battery away from the front lines.

“Forward observers didn’t live long,” said Rizzio.

The last of the moments is one that lasted the whole of the war. Rizzio never fired his gun the entirety of the war. As a forward observer, he gave directions to fire at them but never had to directly kill a German soldier.

“I am really lucky,” he said.

“My experience was not as intense as some of the other guys, such as the infantry, sometimes they had to experience hand to hand combat with the Germans.”

In preparation for the luncheon, the chiefs and officers gathered to watch sections from the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers to become more informed about the Battle of the Bulge.

“It was truly remarkable to hear Mr. Rizzio’s first-hand account of the war; he recalls each day as if it just happened,” said Chief Petty Officer Bryan Thompson, engineering petty officer of the Traverse City Air Station helicopter shop.

The Coast Guardsmen were able to walk away with little more knowledge, and proud of the sacrifices the men who went before them made. We are here, because they were there.

When asked why he shares his moments Rizzio replied that it is not for glory but to remember those who gave their lives.

“I tell people my story because I can,” said Rizzio, holding back his emotions.

“I came back in one piece, a lot of the other guys didn’t come back in one piece or at all, I tell my story for them.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,