|Veteran Spotlight: Giardina Rolled Across Europe|
|By Wayne Soares, Special to iBerkshires|
04:09PM / Sunday, January 05, 2020
Rico Giardina, left, with his tank and crew in Normandy, France.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — I first met Rico Giardina, the submit of this week's "Veteran Spotlight," through the introduction of his brother Fran, whom I had previously featured in my column.
His special attributes of kindness, warmth and utmost humility, personified The Greatest Generation and I liked the patriarch of his family instantly. I also didn't realize that his family had such a long, distinguished line of service to their country – his father served in World War I, his brother Joe flew an amazing 35 missions in the Army Air Corps during World War II, his uncle Tony also served in WWII and Fran, his youngest brother, served in Korea.
Enrico Giardina served his country in the European Theater in Army from 1944 to 1946. Drafted right out of Pittsfield High School at the age of 18, he was sent to boot camp at Fort McClellan in Alabama for infantry training.
"We traveled in cattle cars to get there and we slept in barracks with two pot-bellied stoves," he remembered. He was then sent overseas, where he would attain the rank of staff sergeant in the 3rd Armored Division, nicknamed the "Spearheads," and pass through many areas of Germany that the Allied Forces had already conquered. Staff Sgt. Giardina would later become a member of the U.S Constabulary Police, helping to keep law and order in Occupied Germany.
"We had real fancy uniforms ... Eisenhower jackets," he said. "We were pretty snazzy."
Before that, Giardina was driving a tank across Europe.
"The war was still going on, but we couldn't catch up to the main division — they were moving fast," he said. "We slept in houses, cafes, bar rooms, even school houses ... we actually stayed one night in a girls' school house.
"I had a good buddy of mine who was in my division who was actually from Pittsfield, John Golin. He had a grease gun ... opened the side by accident ... damn thing went right off and shot across the room" he said chuckling.
I asked him what the holidays were like for him, especially being away from his close-knit family.
"It was OK. That's where I learned to drink Katafels Schnapps ... when times were better, we got the good stuff from Belgium" he said with a smile on his face. He also saw Bob Hope at a USO Show held in a big stadium with "a huge number of soldiers." "I remember he had Frances Langford the singer (a regular with Hope's USO tours) ... really raised our spirits up."
Giardina told me that he never fired a gun on his tank: "We were all green."
"I'll tell you how green we were — we're going to the front lines, up the side of a mountain ... I'm riding on the back of my tank ... everybody started diving in the roadside ditches, he recalled. "It was a German plane. ... If he had been strafing, he could have killed us. ... Must have been an observation plane. ...
"Boy, did we get yelled at for not taking cover."
He shared two other memories that stick out in his mind. One was when they were on road guard watching for infiltration by the Germans in the rear. They were sleeping in a hay barn taking turns with four on, four off.
Giardina in training.
"My pal John Golin was with me ... we were laughing about something, all of a sudden, this soldier snaps, pulls out his gun and starts screaming at us," Giardina said. "He thought we were laughing about his brother who had recently been killed ... this guy was in Normandy and had seen a lot — just snapped."
The other was when they came across a concentration camp. "We knew what it was as people told us. Guys were trying to make a buck and selling photos of the bodies in the ovens and of prisoners piled one on top of the other," he recalled, sadly shaking his head.
His thoughts on the ending of the war? "We were in Germany and got pulled back. Rumor was that we were headed to Japan, but they dropped the bomb. When it [the war] was over, we all felt very happy … very secure."
Giardina came home to serve his community as a Pittsfield police officer for 20 years and, at 94 years of age, he thoroughly enjoys time with his eight children and family that visit him on a frequent basis at Melbourne Assisted Living.
Staff Sgt. Rico Giardina, thank you for your service to our great country.
Veteran Spotlight is a special column by Wayne Soares that will run twice a month. Soares is a motivational speaker and comedian who has frequently entertained the troops overseas with the USO. To recommend a veteran for Soares' column, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.