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Soldier survived Battle of the Bulge

Posted: May 25, 2009 6:41 p.m.
Updated: May 26, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Ninety-two-year-old Tony Marincola salutes the American flag that flies outside his Canyon Country home all year. Marincola served in the 17th Airborne Division during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.

 
It was Jan. 7, 1945, near the village of Bastogne, Belgium.

The Battle of the Bulge, the largest American land battle of World War II, had been raging for nearly a month.

Eight inches of snow covered the ground, and the temperature was in the mid-20s.

Private First Class Tony Marincola was one of 200 American soldiers in the 17th Airborne Division guarding a place called "Dead Man's Ridge" when German tanks came lumbering over the hill.

"They just barraged us," the 92-year-old Canyon Country resident said.

It was his first day in combat.

To his left and right, he saw his brothers in arms die.

When the smoke cleared, Tony - or "Butch," as friends and family called him - was one of 32 soldiers from his 200-strong platoon who remained alive.

Two days later, the battle was over for Marincola, as allied troops began an attack on the Germans in the early-morning hours.

By 10 a.m., their forward movement had been halted by German tanks.

At one point, the radios stopped working. Tony volunteered to dash some 600 yards over a hill for help.

He would run about 10 yards, then drop to the ground as German bullets peppered the ground around him.

At the crest of the hill he found the lieutenant in charge and took cover behind a pile of beets.

Moments later, a German mortar shell exploded nearby, killing the lieutenant and wounding Tony.

"I heard the shell coming down and I started to hit the ground," he recalled. "It felt like something hit my leg."

Indeed, a chunk of shrapnel from the blast was lodged in Tony's leg. Army medics rushed to his aid.

Within days, he found himself in an Army hospital as the Battle of the Bulge raged on.

Tony received the Purple Heart for his injury and the Bronze Star for meritorious service.

By the end of the fight, he said, the 17th Airborne suffered 1,830 killed and more than 3,000 wounded soldiers.

Lasting from Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945, the Battle of the Bulge was one of the bloodiest battles of World War Two, with an estimated 80,000 American casualties, including roughly 15,000 killed.

Beginnings
Tony Marincola was born April 21, 1917 in Watertown, N.Y.

Thirty-some miles south of the Canadian border, one of the small town's greatest claims to fame is being the birthplace of the ubiquitous "Little Tree" air fresheners that have hung in millions of vehicles since 1952.

Tony worked at Watertown-based New York Air Brake after graduating high school.

In 1935, he met his future wife. Next month, he and Genevieve will celebrate 69 years of marriage.

Tony enlisted in 1942. He served in the 101st Airborne Division and then the 17th Airborne Division, spending time at camps in North Carolina and Tennessee before shipping out to England in 1943.

After Tony left America, Genevieve returned to Niagara Falls, New York, to live with her family.

Reading news of the war kept her on edge, she remembers.

"I was a nervous wreck," she said. "I was always with a prayer in my heart."

After recovering from his shrapnel injury, Tony wound up in the 82nd Airborne Division, eventually being sent to Berlin after the war was over.

"It was beautiful," he said. "The people treated us really good."

Back on American soil
In January 1946, Marincola returned home, leaving the Army as a private first class.

He was met by his wife at the Buffalo, N.Y. train station.

"I didn't think I'd ever see him again when he left," Genevieve said.

The couple settled down to a life in Niagara Falls, where Marincola would spend 13 years working for the W.T. Grant Co.

In 1959, they decided to move to California to be close to Genevieve's two brothers. They moved to Van Nuys, and Marincola got a job with Lockheed.

The job was short-lived. Six months in, the company made cutbacks and Marincola was laid off. He took a job with the TG&Y five-and-dime-store chain.

In 1965, the company opened a new store in the Saugus area, and the Marincolas made the move to the fledgling Santa Clarita Valley.

They paid $20,000 for the house on Ermine Street where they still live, and where Tony raises an American flag in the front yard every morning.

He would eventually take a maintenance job at Six Flags Magic Mountain - the job from which he retired.

Tony and Genevieve have two daughters, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The couple has remained active through the years, attending 50 out of 54 reunions of the 17th Airborne Division Association, for which Tony served as president in 1961 and 1962.

In 1971 he was named honorary mayor of Canyon Country, and he is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans.

In 1984, Tony traveled to France for the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

Last Thursday, his Memorial Day plans were the same as every year - put on his woolen Army dress uniform, which fits about the same as it did in 1946, and stand at attention for the morning tribute ceremony at Eternal Valley Memorial Park in Newhall.

"It's very important to bring people together to honor, and not forget, the veterans," he said.

And with a smile and a firm handshake, as the American flag snapped in the front-yard breeze, this man who saw history happen did an about face and went inside.

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