November 11 , 2020
On June 6, 1944, better known as “D Day”, my maternal great uncles, Fred (Manfredo Arturo Beniamino) DeCiccio and Gene (Gennaro) Riccio, both landed on different beaches in Normandy, France and did their part in the largest seaborn invasion in the history of the world. Uncle Freddy, along with his fellow American troops, fought his way through France, Belgium and Germany and was awarded the French Legion of Honour for his part in the liberation of Europe. Yes, he is an actual knight. Uncle Gene was awarded the Silver Star for heroic acts at the Battle of the Bulge. He returned to Jersey City to a hero’s welcome.
Although in different units, Uncle Freddy and Uncle Gene did once run into each other in France, not on the battlefield but rather at a country post office, mailing letters to their families. Back in Jersey City they were close friends, living a block away from each other. Its no coincidence that my grandmother Helen (Elena) DeCiccio married my grandfather, Frank (Francis Anthony) Riccio. I wonder what part Uncle Freddy and Uncle Gene played in their meeting.
Speaking of Frank Riccio, by the time the Normandy Invasion took place, my maternal grandfather had already fought, as a Sergeant Major in the Marines in the first major U.S. offensive against the Japanese at Guadalcanal. He received the purple heart for injuries sustained in battle. In addition, his son, Frank Riccio, Jr., served with distinction in the United States Air Force in the the late 1960’s.
My paternal grandfather, Bernard F. Kenny, served as a shipfitter, underwater welder and diver in the Navy during World War II. On the daily, he put on a primitive, tank-like diving suit that was connected to an oxygen source through a line to the ship. He would then submerge himself into the oceans and seas to inspect and repair naval vessels and complete underwater construction projects. Even more fascinating were the pre-invasion missions that he participated in throughout the Pacific wherein he and his fellow sailors, including bomb disposal experts, collected soil samples and devised methods for removing obstacles that enemy forces were placing on the beaches. His team completed several combats missions that included daylight reconnaissance and demolition projects on the beaches of Japan, at times under heavy fire. I would be remiss if I did not mention that he was the Pacific Fleet Welterweight Boxing Champion of the Navy-Marines in 1944.
My father, Bernie (Bernard Francis) Kenny Jr., following in his father’s footsteps, applied for Officer Candidate School immediately upon graduation from the University of Pennsylvania in the summer of 1968, the same year that Kennedy and King were assassinated. He served on the U.S.S. Laffey, which has been coined “the ship that would not die”. Today, the ship is a National Historic Landmark and is preserved as a museum ship outside of Charleston, South Carolina. My dad and I hope to take a trip together to see the ship when things get back to normal.
Finally, in the photo immediately above, you see Grandma Helen and Uncle Freddy’s father, Angelo DeCiccio. The photo was taken in Nancy, France just days before he was mustard gassed in the trenches by the Germans during the Meuse-Argonne offensive in World War I. He had been drafted by the Army just months after becoming a US citizen. Talk about timing!