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59-year-old grandpa, son ended up serving in Iraq at the same time

John L. Ceccato of Sanborn never would have guessed that he and his son would get together – in Iraq.

To be frank, the career Air Force Reserve master sergeant, who had been a cook and maintenance worker in the Air National Guard and training manager in the Air Force Reserve at Niagara Falls Air Base, never thought he would be deployed to the war.

"That was never even the remotest - that was the furthest thing that I thought would occur," Ceccato said.

But, at 59 and a grandfather, he found himself at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, closing out his career in a combat zone.

"When I got there, we were attacked seven days in a row," he said. As he and the man he relieved as test control officer were under shelter, hands over their ears as the base was shelled, he'll never forget what the officer said: "John, welcome to Iraq."

Cecatto's son, David-John, took a different path to Iraq. He enlisted in the Army in March 2010, after high school.

"I always knew I wanted to be in the military. I thought it was cool going to the airbase," he said.

John Ceccato, 67, and son David-John Ceccato, 27, at home in Sanborn. The elder Ceccato found himself  closing out his nearly 30-year  Air Force Reserve career in a combat zone in Iraq. His son served 7 and 1/2 years in the Army, with one tour in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. (Shuran Huang/Buffalo News)

But David-John Cecatto was not sold on the Air Force. He took his father's suggestion, and talked to two recruiters from each of the four military branches. He almost signed up with the Marines, then talked to the Army recruiter, and went with the Army. He's the latest of his family to join the military. In addition to his father, grandfather and uncles, his sister, Kara, is in the Air Force.

He was more nervous going to basic training than he was to Iraq.

"I was nervous to fail," David-John Cecatto said as he recalled what his father told him. "His exact words were, 'If you quit, you can't come home.'"

"I knew he wouldn't quit," said the elder Cecatto, who now is a civilian Department of Defense employee working in base operations at the air base.

But he knew those words might be just the push to carry his son through the tough times when just about everyone thinks they won't make it through basic training.

David-John Cecatto went on to serve two tours in Afghanistan after Iraq. He was in the Army seven and a half years as an infantryman, and now is attending Niagara County Community College.

"I always wanted to be on the front lines," he said. "Everyone has their calling. I guess that was my calling for a bit."

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John L. Ceccato, 67

Hometown: Niagara Falls

Residence: Sanborn

Branch: Air Force Reserve

Rank: Master sergeant

War zone: Iraq

Years of service: 29.8

Specialty: Training manager

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David-John Ceccato, 27

Hometown: Sanborn

Residence: Sanborn

Branch: Army

Rank: Sergeant E5

War zone: One tour in Iraq, two in Afghanistan

Years of service: 7.5

Specialty: Infantryman

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With father and son both half a world away, but in the same country in the spring of 2011, they talked about getting together. The Army was all for it, but John Cecatto's immediate commander was worried about his safety. Cecatto thought that was a bit ironic, since the base was getting shelled regularly.

John Ceccato welcomes David-John home from one of his deployments. (Family photo)

Finally, John Ceccato got the OK near the end of his tour, and was held up by a sandstorm. His son was not expecting his father to come, because it was too close to his father's departure date, which he did not know had been moved back. But John Cecatto made it to Basra the next day, much to his son's surprise. And then he couldn't leave because of a sandstorm, and got another day with his son.

David-John Cecatto returned the favor. When his father retired from the service in 2011, he called him during the ceremony from Iraq, making for an emotional phone call for the whole family.

The Army has given him experience, maturity and leadership skills, David-John Cecatto said.

"I kind of had an attitude when I went in. I thought I knew everything," he said. "I was wrong."

And John Cecatto is proud that he made it to Iraq and back when he was 59, but he is more proud of his son and the other young men and women who serve in harm's way.

"It's a young man's game," he said. And he added, "The real hero is my wife, because she's the one who had to deal with both of us being over there."

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