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published: Friday, October 15, 2010
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
The numbers are dwindling now, as the Greatest Generation disappears into history. Reunions which once drew hundreds of World War II veterans are now attended by as few as five or six.
Many groups have disbanded.
Those men and women remaining have a new sense of urgency, determined to record their individual stories so their collective record will ensure they and their deeds are not forgotten.
This story is one of those.
In April of 1944 Jack Cimino, then in his senior year of high school in Baltimore, went to the Marine Corps recruiting office ready to enlist for service in World War II.
He discovered, however, that the Marines expected him to report for training immediately, which meant he would not be able to finish school and graduate.
Because he would be the first member of his family to do so, and he valued his education, he turned to the Army instead, which was willing to wait.
That is how he wound up serving in the I Company of the 325th Regiment of the 82nd Airborne, attending basic training at Camp Blanding in Starke that summer, where he was turned into a glider trooper.
Gliders were then thought to be a more efficient alternative to paratroopers because men could be delivered in larger numbers and there was less of a risk that they would be separated from each other or their equipment.
The gliders, Cimino said, were flimsy, made out of canvas stretched over wooden frames. Landings were closer to controlled crashes. Even small tree stumps, fences or rocks could upend a glider on landing, causing casualties.
As it happened, he remained on the ground during combat, his glider experience restricted to training.
Cimino shipped out for Europe in December, the journey taking two weeks.
He discovered to his dismay that he was susceptible to disabling sea sickness. At one point, he was sure he was going to die, feeling so poorly he almost hoped he would.
The 82nd had been heavily engaged in the war before Cimino arrived on the scene, taking part in the North African theater and then storming up Italy.
Cimino joined the fight in Belgium as the 82nd poised for the march to Berlin.
The winter of 1944 was an unusually cold one in Europe, the weather made famous for how it complicated the Battle of the Bulge -- an operation in which Cimino took part. Cimino remembers the cold, suffering from the after effects of frost bite to this day.
His first taste of combat came when he and his squad took the right flank in an attack on a an occupied town.
"The snow was waist deep and I was scared to death," he said. "All I'd ever had flying at me before were baseballs.
"A machine gun opened fire right off the bat, the bullets hitting the snow (in front of us) kicking it up so sharp we thought we were hit."
While his captain ordered the men to go forward, his sergeant was yelling for them to keep down because movement was impossible in the deep snow.
Getting coordinated, his unit pressed forward and took the town.
Working their way through France and into Germany, his regiment took the town of Ludwiglust.
Two major events occurred while Cimino and the 82nd were there.
Men stumbled upon the Wobbelin concentration camp, which American forces had not known was there. Cimino was a part of its liberation on May 2, 1945.
"It was just devastating," He said. "The smell remains in my mind today. It was frightening to see the bodies piled up, no meat on their bones. The general brought in the town's people -- who claimed they didn't know what was going on -- to dig the graves."
The other event was the surrender of the German 3rd Army, approximately 200,000 soldiers.
"We had to search every soldier individually, and their families," he said. He grinned and added, "That's where many of us got souvenirs, like Luger pistols and watches"
At one point in the interview Cimino shook his head as another memory occurred to him.
They had broken through the Siegfried line and were clearing out bunkers. Cimino and his squad entered one, searched it and didn't see anybody. He was the last to leave. To his surprise, when one of his buddies looked back, he said, "Good job Jack."
Looking back himself Cinimo was startled to see four German soldiers with their hands up. "I have no idea where they were hiding," he said. "It was embarrassing. I could have been killed."
With Germany defeated and surrender weeks away, the 82nd marched to Berlin where Cimino spent time as part of the occupation force.
He also spent time in Frankfort and was staggered by the destruction.
"It was just devastated," he said, "destroyed right to the ground. I heard they had to move eight to 10 miles away to rebuild the city."
Cimino returned to the U.S. still in the army and spent the rest of his enlistment on his regiment's baseball team, playing other regiments in the North Carolina league.
He was discharged on July 3, 1946.
On July 4th, while walking through a park, he met a pretty young lady named Lorraine, who has been his wife for the past 64 years -- and so his civilian life began.
Touching ... (by: Rodger Jacobs - 8/5/2011)
Jack Cimino is the father of my friend Jerry Cimino here in San Francisco, owner and curator of the Beat Museum. I know he is very proud of his father as evidenced by Jerry's recent article about his folks in The Huffington Post. My hat is off to you, Mr. Cimino, and you and your wife raised a good man in Jerry.
(by: Terry Adams - 10/22/2010)
Nice trip down memory lane with Mr Cimino senior.. My Dad was a 2nd Lt. forward observer in the artillery. He earned a bronze star in the Battle of the Bulge. Saw a lot of action - got himself one of those Lugers - remained a patriot all his life - but stopped talking about the war when his wife died in 1951, when I was 8.
(by: Jeannie - 10/17/2010)
What an amazing story. I know both Jack and Lorraine from Dr Gonzalez's office and they are amazing people.
living history (by: BoB (usnr) ww2 - 10/15/2010)
sorry bout that.
living memory (by: BoB (usnr) ww2 - 10/15/2010)
sorry about that.I ment to say keep talking to Chris.
Living history (by: BoB (usnr) ww2 - 10/15/2010)
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