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Remembering a hero


By Calvin Zito

It's been a busy weekend - as I briefly mentioned in my SPC-1 benchmark blog post, my daughter graduated from high school and we had a bunch of family in town for the occasion.  I wanted to post this earlier today but things were too busy and once all the family left Boise, I found myself in a rather vegetative state. So while the day is almost done, it's still Memorial Day here in the U.S.

My Dad was a World War II hero and his story of being captured in Germany a few months after D-Day is a pretty amazing story.  I had an opportunity to work in Germany back in 1992 and my Dad came to visit me.  We had one of the most memorable trips ever as we went to Sicily and visited the childhood homes of his parents - my grandparents.  Standing in front of the home where my grandfather was born in Corleone, Sicily was an amazing moment.  I'll mention something else about my Dad's visiting me in Germany at the end of the post.

My Dad died in 2005 - my daughter was only 10 years old.  She doesn't remember much about him because she only got to visit him once every year or two.  But she had a very cool picture of him with her on a poster she did for her graduation.  Let me get on to my Dad's POW story from World War II.  (NOTE: This is something I posted a few years ago and am reposting it with a few edits).

Background on the Story

Growing up, I knew my Dad was in WWII and I knew he had been a POW in Germany, but he really didn't talk about it at all.  I remember being a small child and Dad would fall asleep in his chair after dinner.  If we woke him up, he'd come flying out of his chair ready to protect himself.  Thinking about it now, I'm sure this was a protection mechanism that he never got over from his 6 months as a POW.  Years later, after all my brothers and sisters left home, my Dad got very involved with veterans issues especially through the VA hospital.  In the last 20 years of his life, he spent over 10,000 hours of volunteer time with the VA.  One of the things he did that I'm so glad about was to have his story written about being a POW in Germany.  I've often thought that this would make a compelling movie.  I hope you find it a compelling blog post.  So here is my Dad's Memorial Day story:

Drafted into the Army

Frank Zito was born on January 29, 1925 in New York City.  At the age of nine months he moved with his family to Batavia, NY where he grew up and attended schools and was graduated from Batavia High School.  On April 24, 1944 Frank was drafted  and he was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for induction.  He was then sent to Camp Croft, South Carolina for basic training as an infantryman.  On October 12, 1944 Frank sailed on the Queen Mary to Ireland, arriving on October 17, 1944.  He was then shipped across the English Channel to France where he was assigned to the Fourth Infantry Division as a replacement with the rank of Private, in November about three or four weeks prior to the "Battle of the Bulge".   His outfit fought in the Hurtgen Forest Campaign.

Battle in the Forest

During the Battle in the Hurtgen Forest the lieutenant in command of his platoon ordered the platoon to start advancing, only to find that they were heading in the wrong direction and they had to turn around.  The lieutenant directed them to cross a large clearing in the woods and the platoon sergeant told him that it would be suicide.  They went ahead regardless of the sergeant's warning and "All h*ll broke loose".  There was shooting from all sides.  The clearing had been mined by the Germans and as they walked through it the mines began exploding.  Frank's buddy, Joe Ruttle, was at this right and when the shooting began they both "hit the ground".  Before they knew it they were surrounded on all sides by the enemy who came at them with Burp guns and shouting "Hands up".  They had no chance to fight back and were overpowered by overwhelming force of the enemy.  Frank said that he stood up but his buddy, Joe, never got to his feet.  Joe was a short, heavy fellow and acted as a shield for Frank.  Frank always wondered whether Joe took the bullet, which would have got him.


About twenty men from Frank's platoon were captured and taken to the rear, to a large building that looked like a dormitory, for interrogation.  Frank was separated from the rest of his platoon and the Germans kept insisting that he was a Jew.  Frank continually told them that he was of Italian descent.  They asked him to speak in Italian and Frank spoke in a slang Sicilian accent which he had learned to speak as a child and they finally let him rejoin the others.

They were next loaded in boxcars that they called cattle cars.  They were given a chunk of German black bread and some water.  There was no provision for toilets on the train so the men used a corner of the car for a toilet.  They traveled in the railroad car for seven days.  At times they were bombed and strafed by allied aircraft, because the cars had no markings on them.  Eventually they arrived at Stalag XII-A and then they went to Stalag III-A. 

Surviving in a Nazi Stalag

They were held at Stalag III-A for a couple of weeks and they were put to work repairing bomb-damaged railroads.  Frank didn't fancy doing this work for the enemy and he leaned on his shovel a lot.  On one occasion he was caught loafing and the German guard struck him with his rifle butt.  Frank recalls that the men had been refusing to go to work but on Easter Sunday, 1945 they decided to go on the work detail to the rail yards just to get out of the stinking camp for a time.  While they were away the camp got bombed by allied aircraft.  One prisoner who was feeling sick was left behind and he was killed in the air attack.  Frank was thankful that he decided to go on the work detail that Easter Sunday.

Another close call

Next, they were taken to the city of Stendal.  At this location there was a big cinder block building that looked like it might have been used for horse shows, where they were quartered.  The area was fenced in all around with block walls about six feet high and patrolled by guards, walking back and forth.  One day Frank heard some chickens clucking outside the wall, so he waited until the guard was at the opposite end and he told his buddy, Jim Peebles, to be a lookout for him, and Frank scaled the wall to "Look for eggs".  No sooner had he started for the chickens when a farmer saw him and began shouting.  Frank ran back, and climbed over the wall to the compound, and when he jumped down on the other side the guard was waiting for him with his rifle ready to shoot.  A German officer who had heard the commotion came out and put Frank up against the wall with his pistol pointed at his head.  Frank thought it was the end for him.  In the meantime an American sergeant who had also heard the ruckus came out and began talking to the German officer.  While they talked, Frank quietly walked away and mingled with the other prisoners of war.  Nothing more came of it, but that was the last time Frank tried that stunt.

Americans approaching

While in the camp, Frank became sick and just laid on the ground for about a week and no one paid any attention to him.  At Stendal they were on very short rations and they got no Red Cross food parcels the whole time they were there.  Around April 9, 1945 rumors were rife that the allies were getting close.  On one occasion, without explanation, the camp gate was left open and Frank did it again, he just walked out.  The rumors were that Stendal was declared an "Open city", which meant that there would be no fighting or bombing of the city.  Frank said everybody in town was headed in one direction and he just joined in with them.  They ended up at a large warehouse filled with food.  Frank found a bag and filled it up and then headed back toward the camp to share his good fortune with his fellow POWs. 

On the way back one of the camp guards recognized him while walking down the street.  The guard was an older man and all he did was to tell him he had better get back to the camp.  Frank got back just in time.  They were preparing to move out. 


They began walking toward the Elbe River.  They were being moved away from the advancing Allied forces, but before they crossed the Elbe they came to a bend in the road where it dipped down into a gully.  In this place they were out of sight of the guards and five of the prisoners of war, including Frank, dropped out and ducked into the bushes where they hid until the whole column had passed by.  Then they headed back in the direction from which they had come, not walking on the road but skirting it in the fields. 

While walking they spotted a barn, which they entered in order to hide.  The barn was a two-story structure and they went up to the second story.  Frank's buddy, Jim Peebles from Montana, who had stood watch for him at the wall, was still with him.  They had been observed entering the barn by the people from the farmhouse and two women came out and entered the barn.  One was an older woman, and the other younger, perhaps mother and daughter-in-law. 

Germans help

The women didn't seem frightened and talked very friendly with them.  The younger woman told them that they had no love for the Nazi Germans.  She said that the SS troopers had machine-gunned her husband's car.  He was away in the army, had been wounded and now walked with a limp.  Frank feels that the treatment that the women had received from the SS troopers worked to the advantage of the POWs.  Frank and his friends shared their food with the women and the women permitted them to hide in the barn.


Frank was sure this occurred on April 12, 1945.  The next day, April 13th, a tank from the 5th Armored Division pulled up to the barn.  One of the women had gone and told them that Americans were hiding in the barn.  One can just imagine their joy at seeing an American tank pull up.  Frank clearly recalls this date because one of the first things the tankers told them was that President Roosevelt died yesterday.

Frank didn't know why but the five former POWs all became separated as they walked their individual ways.  On the road, Frank met an Italian soldier, but they had difficulty communicating because Frank could speak only slang Sicilian and the other fellow spoke a more formal educated Italian.  They entered the town and Frank went into some stores to collect some souvenirs and war trophies.  He gathered up some cigarette lighters and cases, an accordion, a .22 cal. target pistol and some .22 cal ammunition.  He picked up a suitcase and put the trophies in it. 

The two of them stopped at a farmhouse where they wanted to get some food.  The people killed a chicken and made chicken soup for them.  Frank told them not to worry that the Americans would take care of them when they arrived.  To this day Frank is sorry he didn't leave a note for them to show the American forces later.  The two soldiers spent the night in the house, having placed their trust in the people.  In the morning they were fed some eggs and then they left.  The accordion became too heavy for Frank to carry and so he gave it to the Italian.

They returned to Stendal and stayed with some G.I.' s in a mansion they had taken over.  The building was owned by a brewery that made beer right across the street from it.  The people of the city brought all of their weapons and turned them in.  They were all piled up on the floor.  Then after the higher officers had their choice, the men were allowed to take their pick.  Frank just got some less valuable gun.

Leaving Germany

At Stendal he was taken to the airport where he was loaded on a plane and flown to LeHarve, France and then to Camp Lucky Strike. He was there about a week and remembers being fed doughnuts and pea soup.  On May 1, 1945 he sailed from LeHarve and arrived at a port in Maryland and was taken to Camp Meade.  He was then given a sixty day delay-in-route.  After the delay-in-route he was sent to Camp Dix, NJ for where he was shipped to Camp Rucker, Alabama and then to Fort Benning, Georgia.  

In November or December he entered the hospital because his feet were giving him trouble from the frostbite he had suffered while fighting and while in the Prisoner of War Camps.  As a result of this he was given a Certificate of Disability for Discharge under Articles of War 615-361 and WDAGO From 40.  He was awarded the World War II Victory Medal, The American Theatre Campaign Medal, The Good Conduct Medal, The European African Middle East Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, The Combat Infantryman's Badge, The Bronze Star Medal, The Prisoner of War Medal, The City of Batavia Medal, and the New York State Meritorious Service Medal.

Frank was given his Honorable Discharge as a Private on December 6, 1945 and he returned to Batavia, NY.    

My Biggest Regret

I mentioned that my Dad came to visit me in Germany.  He wanted to go to Stendal to see if anything looked familiar.  The day he wanted to go, I got sick with some flu and knew an 8 hour car ride wouldn't be fun.  I really wish I would have asked my Dad to put off going to Stendal but I didn't.  He went on his own and I missed an incredible opportunity.   My Dad didn't talk about his experience in WWII and that drive to Stendal and back would have been an amazing time to talk to him about it. 


If you haven't already, honor a veteran today!


In Memory of Frank Zito: 1925-2005, part of the greatest generation.  If you have someone you'd like to honor, please leave a comment.

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About the Author


I have worked at HP and now HPE since 1983, all of it around storage but 100% focused on storage since 1990. I blog, create videos, and podcasts to help you better understand HPE Storage.


I was touch how you remember every piece of memory you had with your Dad. He is indeed a hero.  I truly respect people like him.  I remember my grandfather who is also a war veteran.  Even in his old age, he still manage to look good and always had a time for us.  I could barely remember him because he died when I was still young.  I am very entertained with your article.  Thank you for sharing.

Amazing story and tribute, Calvin!  Awesome to hear a story of a home town hero (I grew up in Alexander, a couple miles south of Batavia).  Thanks for sharing.


Marie - the story was actually written by my Dad.  In his later years as he started to deal with the effects the war had on him, he wrote his story.  Without it, I wouldn't have known any of the details and he never talked about any of it when I was growing up.


Sergey - Thanks for sharing the pictures!  Very cool that you have them.


Josh - I know Alexander well!  Though it seemed so far away when I was young; my Dad would take us to the Alexander Fire Department Carnival every year.  My grandparents had their 50th wedding anniversary celebration there and though I was only 6 or 7 years old, it was a fantastic Sicilian celebration that I'll never forget! 

Amazing story! A great legacy to treasure. 


Hey Jeff! Thanks for reading it; hope you and your family are doing well.


What an interesting story. Such a treasure to have a whole lot of this history written down first hand/preserved in writing from your Dad. Such a brave generation!


Thanks Sean - I've read (and obviously written about) my Dad's story hundreds of times. It still amazes me. 

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