"My division was out of contact from enemy fire for only 6 days during our eleven months and two days of combat spanned over the five campaigns in europe. My company which consisted of 219 men on D-Day, only 2 men who landed on Omaha Beach, the other being Bennie Zuskin of Hampton Virginia were the only 2 to make it from Omaha Beach to Czechoslovakia and wars end on May 8th without being killed, captured or wounded. My company turned over 4 & a half times from casualties during the eleven months and two days. Unfortunately Bennie Passed away in October of 2005."
After completing my thirteen weeks of Basic Infantry Training in Camp Wheeler, Georgia I underwent additional training in several army camps across the country. In the early part of October 1943 I received my orders to leave for Nova Scotia where I boarded the converted British ocean liner Mauritania. The Mauritania took us to Liverpool, England. The liner carried 12,000 soldiers who were classified as replacements. The trip took six days and was not a comfortable one as we were really jammed in. When we arrived in Liverpool we were taken to Birmingham, England by troop train for processing.
After five or six days at this replacement center I was shipped to Swanage, dingland. In Swanage I was assigned to Company "C", 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. The 1st Division had just returned from Sicily. They had fought in the Sicilian campaign. The 1st Division also made the invasion of Oran and fought through the North African Campaign. For the next seven months the 1st Division underwent intensive training in preperation for the up-coming invasion of Normandy. On the morning of June 2, 1944 dressed in full field gear and carrying our weapons we marched approximately one mile to the waterfront area in Plymouth, England and boarded LCIL 401. (Landing Craft Infantry Large 401). On June 4, 1944 we were briefed on our miss-ion and were shown areal photographs of Omaha Beach. Also displayed was a sand table replica of the beach and today I am still anazed at its detail. We were advised by our Company Commander Allan B. Ferry that the invasion was scheduled for the morning of June 5, 1944. Captain Ferry discussed the details and the tactics we would use. Due to one of the worse storms of the century the invasion was postponed and rescheduled for June 6, 1944.
In the face of heavy German artillary fire I landed on Omaha Beach around noon on D-Day with the 2nd wave. We wore gas impregnited clothing which smelled badly. This clothing retained water and remained wet for weeks and was very uncomfortable. Most of us were seasick because of the severe storms of the past few days. When we jumped into the cold water we quickly recovered from the seasickness. The Navy pilot of the LCIL 401 kept announcing he would try to get us to land with dry feet. This never happened because he kept running into sandbars and prefabricated underwater obsticles placed there to interfere with the landings. He kept manuvering around in his attempt to get us close as possible to the beach. When the German artillery observers finally spotted the craft they began to fire their artillery at us. Several shells landed on both sides of the craft . They were also firing T.O.T. shells, (Time on Target), which were designed to explode overhead.
It was exactly at this time the pilot announced he had to drop the ramp as it looked like the next shell would land right into the craft. We were dropped off in water over our heads. The men were carrying over 60 pounds of equipment, weapons and etc . This resulted in numerous drownings. The water was red from the wounds caused by the continous artillery fire. We were also having a very difficult time caused by the swiftness of the water from the storms of the previous day. When we finally reached land we were met with additional artillery barrages and at watersedge I personally observed about a dozen of our men in one group who were either dead or wounded. Four of us immediately headed for the high ground under murderous enemy artillery fire. At one point we ran right through a mine field . It was either that or be killed by the enemy artillery fire. As we headed up the high ground the soldier on my left rear stepped on a mine. I heard a "pop" sound and then saw him flying throug the air. The three of us couldn't stop to assist him because of the intensity of the artillery fire. The three of us continued and finally got to the ledge and found a group of American soldiers who were disorganized and floundering. There we tried to rally everyone to continue the attack as was originaly planned.
On D-Day after midnight a German soldier snuck upon a squad in my company and killed everyone with a few bursts from his "burpgun". This lone German soldier kille d about ten men. He susequently ran into our perimeter and we killed him when he tried to surrender. On D-Day, June 6, the first town we liberated in Normandy was Colleville-Sur-Mer. The next morning it was Etheram and so it went. On June 11, we had fought to the outskirts of Caumont. The British were on our left. They were having a very difficult time keeping abreast of us. They were attempting to take Caen. The American unit on our right flank was having rough time also. Our regiment was so far in front that we had to stop for fear that we would be out-flanked by the Germans. This created a stalemate. We were there for over a month until everyone were abreast of us. After more than a month of probing and patrolling the German line at that defensive position we were relieved by the U.S. 5th Divisionso that we could go on to St. Lo to make the breakthrough out of Normandy. At St. Lo on July 25, 19414 we teamed up with the U.S. 3rd Armored Division and made the Breakthrough out of Normandy. Prior to the breakthrough on July 25, three thousand American planes bombed an area to our front. Some of the bombs were dropped short which caused hundreds of American casualties. Three Star General Mc Nair was killed as a result of this bombing.
After the breakthrough we liberated the following French cities, Marigny, La Chapelle, Cauntances, Mortain and La Ferte-Mace. We then closed the Falaise Gap. At the Falaise Gap we killed and captured thousands of German troops and also captured lots of German equipment. On or about August 15, 1944 the Normandy Campaign came to a close, We then proceeded across northern France crossing the river Seine and on to Meaux, Saiy unit's mission was to provide flank protection for the French 2nd Armored Division and encircle Paris. The French Campaign drew to a close within the next two weeks.
We then fought into Belgium. During the period of September 3 - 7, 1944, the 1st Division captured about 20,000 German troops who were making their way to defend the Siegfried Line. On September 13, 1944 we breached the famed Ziegfried line and attacked the German fortifications. On September 17, 1944, in four days my company suffered 70% casualties in killed and wounded in the vicinity of SWLberg, Germany. For this action my battalion received the Presidential Citation. After receiving replacements we captured the first large city to fall in Germany - Aachen, in early October, 1944. In November and December 1944, we fought through Belgium and Germany. In November and early December 1944 we fought in the Hurtgen Forest. It was treacherous going and my company completely turned over from casualties during less than a month. The weather by now was getting to be a major factor. The men started to get trench foot from the constant rain, snow and cold. After we came out of the Hurtgen Forest it was rumored that the division would return to England to get re-equipted and reorganized. A few days after coming out of the Hurtgen Forest the Battle-ofthe- Bulge started on December 16, 1944. We were immediately thrusted into the battle.
Rocco J. Moretto
The corner of 31st Avenue and 41st Street in Astoria was officially co-named “Staff Sergeant Rocco Moretto Way” earlier this month in honor of the late World War II veteran who led the neighborhood’s local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post.
The longtime Astoria resident died last August at 94 years old after a life of involvement in several local veterans groups including the VFW Post 2348 in Astoria that was renamed in his honor six years ago. Moretto was drafted to the U.S. Army in 1943 and assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, a frontline force its members dubbed the “Big Red One.” He was one of just two soldiers in a 219-man combat unit not killed, wounded or captured during a grueling 11-month tour through Western Europe.
He landed at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 as part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy France and later lead troops through the Battle of the Bulge along the border in Belgium. By the time the war ended on May 8, 1945, Moretto had made it all the way to Czechoslovakia. In 2004, he was awarded France’s highest honor, the Legion of Honor Award, for his bravery liberating Nazi Germany.
Staff Sgt. Moretto returned home the year after he was discharged and worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, what’s now Amtrack, for 40 years before retiring in 1985. He served on the United War Veterans Council of New York as well as post commander of American Legion Post 6 and the VFW Post 2348, located at 31-35 41st St between Broadway and 31st Avenue.
“Staff Sergeant Rocco Moretto put his life on the line during World War II in the fight for freedom because he always did what was right,” Council Member Costa Constantinides said at the co-naming ceremony. “He never stopped hearing that call of duty, and continued to serve his community from the moment he came home until his passing last year. His legacy will live on this corner as a reminder of the sacrifice so many have made in the name of freedom.”
The council member was joined by members of the Rocco Moretto VFW Post 2348 and local residents who unveiled the new street sign at a ceremony honoring Moretto’s legacy on Oct. 18. “Rocco Moretto lived every single day of his life with integrity. He strived to live up to his division motto: ‘No mission too difficult. No sacrifice too great. Duty first,’” said VFW 2348 Member Katina Tsahalis. “He was our hero, our mentor, and most importantly our friend.”
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