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Civil War remnant, then World War II

When 20-year-old Jack Ziccarelli entered the Army to fight in World War II and was stationed down South, the Lackawanna native wondered whether the Civil War was still being fought.

"Everything was Yanks versus Rebels. In our barracks, the Yanks were given the second floor, and the Rebels had the first floor," he said.

"Every Saturday, we had to take our beds outside to clean the barracks, but the Rebels could hang their beds from hooks on the ceiling of the first floor, and you better believe it was a job carrying our beds down stairs and outside from the second floor."

The Yanks, he said, figured the Rebels were getting preferential treatment because Camp Wheeler was located in Macon, Ga.

So Ziccarelli said he was glad to put the Civil War behind him and head to the war in Europe, where he was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division.

"We went up through Tunisia to Sicily, then I was transferred to the 3rd Infantry Division. With the 3rd, we made the landing at Salerno, Italy," he said. "We were going north and crossed the Volturno River, and I was hit with shrapnel in my left arm and especially my left knee.

"I was able to keep going, even though I had the shrapnel in me. We were going up St. Nick's hill, just below Cassino, and as we're going up, I spotted my cousin Nick Acanfora coming down the hill with his unit. It was sort of like seeing your mother. I never expected to see him. We hugged each other."

When the fighting settled down and Ziccarelli could be spared, he was shipped to a hospital in Africa to have the shrapnel extracted.

"I was supposed to be sent home, but then I got this letter from my cousin Nick, asking me to come and visit him," he said. "I knew the letter was not written in his hand because the penmanship was really nice, like a nurse had written it for him. It said he was in a hospital in Italy."

Ziccarelli investigated.

"I spotted a guy from Nick's regiment and asked him if he knew Nick," Ziccarelli said. "He asked me why, and I showed him the letter. He said it was impossible that Nick was alive. He told me Nick had been shot with a 20 mm gun and his left arm had been blown off, and he had died from a loss of blood."

Ziccarelli refused to believe the bad news and instead of leaving for home, he volunteered to stay in order to find out whether his cousin had really died.

"I went to the Red Cross, and after three weeks, they told me Nick was 30 miles away at another hospital," Ziccarelli said. "Because I was heading back to Italy, they gave me a ride to see him. His left arm was missing, but he was alive. I was there about an hour with him. It was a good meeting, especially knowing he was alive."

Ziccarelli soon headed back to Italy, but his wheels were turning. Secure in knowing that Nick would live, he figured that maybe he would try to get sent home after all.

Nothing doing.

"In Italy, I reported to a hospital to see if they would send me home," he said, "but they needed troops for the Battle of Anzio."

During a German offensive March 3, 1944, Ziccarelli recalled, he and 84 other members of his unit took a beating.

"Twenty-two of us were killed, and 48 of us were wounded," he said. "Only 15 were left."

Ziccarelli was among the wounded, though his parents, John and Nellie, received the worst possible news.

"They sent my folks two telegrams saying I'd been wounded, and then that I was killed," he said.

"To this day, doctors could never figure out how I survived. Bullets hit my ribs and drove the ribs into my left lung."

In a coma for three days and paralyzed from the waist down for 19 days, Ziccarelli experienced some rough going.

Then, one morning, he woke up and wiggled his toes.

"I hollered out for a nurse. I told her what was happening, and she couldn't believe it," he said. "They put me in therapy, and I regained most of my movement, but my left arm could only move about 6 inches from my body."

This time he was sent home.

"I was engaged to get married, and I broke off the engagement because I didn't want my fiancee marrying me out of sympathy," he said. "That was in November 1944. Then I started drinking, being away from my girl. We made up in Easter 1945 and got married in July 1945."

As for cousin Nick, Ziccarelli said, even with just one arm, he became a top-notch bowler and worked for 30 years with the U.S. Postal Service. Nick died about five years ago, after living a full life, Ziccarelli said.

Ziccarelli said he attributes his longevity -- he turns 90 in August -- to his bride, Rita Perry Ziccarelli, with whom he had three sons.

While there has been great joy in that union, there also has been profound sorrow.

"We lost our oldest son, Larry, to Agent Orange," Ziccarelli said. "He served two hitches in Vietnam with the Marines."

One of the joyous occasions will come this July, Ziccarelli said, when he and Rita "we will be happily married 67 years."

Jack Ziccarelli, 89

Hometown: Lackawanna

Residence: Elma

Branch: Army

Rank: Private first class

War zone: Europe

Years of service: 1943-44

Most prominent honors: Two Bronze Stars, Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge

Specialty: Infantry