FORT HAMILTON, N.Y. -- A World War II veteran received The Bronze Star July 25 after almost 70 years since leaving the service.
"I'm overwhelmed. I can't believe this is taking place," said Eugene Gagliardi, 87, who was a private first class when he was medically discharged from the U.S. Army in 1945. He was 19 years old. "It's with me every day. I can still remember it as if it were yesterday."
Initially, he enlisted in the N.Y. National Guard at the age of 15 in 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When the National Guard was federalized into the U.S. Army, his age was discovered, and he was discharged much to the joy of his family. When he turned 17, he joined the regular Army and received his basic training at Fort Knox, Kent and advance individual training at Camp Polk, La. "I was stationed at my first assignment in England when we received orders to go on our first combat mission in Alsace-Lorraine, France, which was a piece of cake compared to our next mission, the Battle of the Bulge," he said.
While in the battle, Gagliardi said his company was pinned down for 15 days during the worst blizzard of the century. They were completely surrounded, outmanned by a 3 to 1 margin and outgunned with German firepower and Panzer tanks. There was very little food, water and warm clothing.
"The weather wasn't on our side, and we lost so many men then," he said. "The Germans throw everything they had at us. We were a battalion of about 500 men. By the time it was over, we were down to about 130 men."
While pinned down, he and another Soldier were sent to find fresh fuel and ammunition. They crawled to and from a village for hours but were unsuccessful due to the massive shelling by the Germans.
"It was snowing like mad and we crawled in deep snow to the village square," he said. "When we arrived, all the ammunition trucks were destroyed, so we couldn't get any ammo or food. We had to crawl back in the same conditions." He said that on the brink of defeat and starvation, the blizzard ended, allowing the U.S. Air Force to attack and defeat the German offensive, sparing the remaining forces.
Meanwhile, Gagliardi was diagnosed with a severe case of frostbite and nerve damage to both his legs and feet. He was later sent to a hospital in England to recover. He returned to the states to Camp Edwards where he was hospitalized until his discharge on July 19, 1945. He later went on to become a successful writer for the N.Y. Times, Daily News and Post newspapers and founded the annual Post Golf Classic. "I don't think I deserve all this attention," he said, "because I left a lot good friends behind. I was just one of the few who was very fortunate to come back."
The Bronze Star Medal is awarded to a Soldier for acts of heroism and meritorious service in a combat zone. In cases of heroism, the medal is awarded with the "V" devise for acts of valor.