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WWII veterans in NC to be honored by French government

A Legion of Honor medal sits on display before being presented to an American World War II veteran aboard the USS Bataan during a Legion of Honor Ceremony in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on May 7, 2016.

MICHELLE REIF/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. (Tribune News Service) | Published: November 16, 2017

Salvatore Maiello spent more than three years in Europe during World War II, fighting to drive back German forces from Africa, Italy and France.

His unit, the 67th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion, was assigned to a French army unit for most of the fighting, providing artillery fires and protecting the troops from German bombers.

On Friday, the French government will thank Maiello for those efforts alongside other North Carolina veterans, who will receive the Legion of Honor, France’s highest military honor.

The Consul General of France to the U.S. Southeast, Louis de Corail, will bestow the medal to four veterans during a ceremony planned for the State Capitol on East Edenton Street in Raleigh.

In addition to Maiello, who lives in Fayetteville, the three other veterans are John P. Irby III, of Raleigh; Morton Jacons, of New Bern; and Robert C. Senter; of Fuquay-Varina.

According to officials with the consulate general, the veterans are being honored “in order to express France’s eternal gratitude to those who liberated it from oppression from 1944-45.”

Maiello, 94, reached the rank of technician fifth grade during World War II and is a retired command sergeant major who also served in the Dominican Republic and Vietnam and who last served as the senior enlisted leader of the 35th Signal Brigade in 1974. Following his retirement, he spent 20 years managing a golf course on Fort Bragg.

The son of Italian immigrants, Maiello grew up in Ambler, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, and was working at an asbestos factory when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in late 1941. The next April, after he turned 19, Maiello enlisted in the Army.

“I don’t think I had any idea what I signed up for; I just signed up and got sent to wherever the Army decided they needed me, to do whatever the Army needed me to do,” he said.

After training in Virginia, Maiello began his military career with the 1st Battalion, 67th Coast Artillery Regiment – which would later become the 67th AAA Gun Battalion.

The unit was initially assigned to defending the United States and was positioned with its 90 mm guns in Paterson, N.J., where the unit defended New York City and nearby airplane engine manufacturers.

By late 1942, Maiello said the unit was preparing to deploy overseas. And in early 1943, he and his fellow soldiers landed in Algeria to join the Allies fighting in North Africa.

Maiello was a lineman assigned to the artillery unit’s communications platoon. He and others like him were tasked with ensuring the batteries, commanders and fire direction center could communicate. It was often dangerous work, with German forces targeting the communications lines and lineman often needed to work near the front lines in support of forward observers.

“You go out before anyone else does and you come back way after,” Maiello said.

At other times, Maiello served as a motorcycle messenger, relaying commands across the battlefield.

In Africa, the soldiers were almost immediately under attack. They were targeted by German bombers the very night they arrived on boat from Staten Island, New York; following a dozen days at sea.

Maiello said the German planes first dropped flares, which lit up the entire area. He said the anti-aircraft unit was not prepared to fight and could do little more than watch as they came under attack.

“I was sure every German up there was looking straight at me,” he said. “I just wanted to hide under my helmet.”

From Africa, Maiello’s unit moved onto Italy in October 1943, landing just north of Naples.
There, the soldiers were assigned to the French Expeditionary Corps, whom they would support through the end of the war.

After the war, the French government awarded the battalion the Croix De Guerre with Palm for supporting French forces and for damaging or destroying 33 German aircraft during battles in Italy.

Despite his heritage, Maiello said Italy was less than welcoming.

“It was the worst time of my life,” he said. I can’t describe how bad the weather was and how miserable life was.”

In addition to constant threats from German aircraft and artillery, Maiello said soldiers had to deal with one of the toughest Italian winters on record, a volcanic eruption that coated soldiers and machines alike in ash and near constant rain.

The 67th AAA Gun Battalion set sail for France in September 1944, part of a push into southern France following the successful D-Day landings at Normandy.

But Maiello almost didn’t make it.

En route, the soldier came down with a bad case of malaria.

“I thought I was going to die,” he recalled. “The ship’s doctor must have thought so, too, because I woke up in a sweat to find the Catholic chaplain praying over me.”

But Maiello survived and joined his fellow soldiers on their push north to where France, Germany and Switzerland met.

There, in the town of Belfort, Maiello found something very unexpected for war – love.

While returning to his unit’s camp outside of a cemetery on the outskirts of Belfort, Maiello and another soldier encountered “a beautiful French girl walking across a bridge in the middle of town.”

That girl, Irene, would later become Maiello’s wife.

Irene Maiello said she had never before seen an American.

“We had a friendly talk,” she said. “Next thing I know, he was at my front door.”

The pair were wed after the war, on Sept. 29, 1945. Maiello returned to the United States early the next year and his wife joined him several months later. He left the Army that same year. But reenlisted in the Army in 1948.

Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at dbrooks@fayobserver.com or 486-3567.

©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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