Earning the Bronze

The unit was pinned by Japanese fire.  Trapped behind enemy lines, and running low on ammo.  “Johnson, can you toss me a few rounds – I’m all out.”

“Sorry Wilson, I just put my last 4 rounds in.”

The Lieutenant called out, “Someone toss Wilson a few rounds.”  A few moments later Wilson had three rounds in his hand. He loaded the rounds into his rifle.  Three rounds was nothing.  Not a single member of his unit, which had been two squads strong, had a full magazine anymore.    To say morale was low would not even classify as an understatement.  They  were down half a squad and even a brief firefight would quickly leave them unarmed, and stranded behind enemy lines.

Wilson heard a shot fired, followed by several more.   “Here they come!” shouted Johnson.  But something wasn’t right.  Wilson heard the shots but nothing was impacting their position.  Suddenly, Wilson heard a burst of gunfire while simultaneously being slammed to the ground.  Had he been hit?  There was a body on top of him – someone else must have been hit.  The other soldier raised himself off of Wilson who found himself staring at an unfamiliar man in a U.S. uniform.

All thoughts were pushed aside as they realized the soldier was carrying two canisters of ammunition. Quickly the men disbursed the ammunition and loaded their rifles.  The weight of the fully loaded M1 Garand in Wilson’s hands was a comforting feeling.

“Where are the reinforcements?” asked the Lt of the newcomer.

“Engaged over the hill, Sir” replied the newcomer with a strong Italian accent.

“Crap, that means we can expect no help to come anytime soon. Private, we can’t…”

The Lt. was cut off as bullets impacted their position.  The men fired back.

Wilson heard the Lieutenant address the newcomer, “Private, we’re going to need some more ammo if we’re to hold out.  Think you can make it back?”

“Yes, Sir” replied the young Italian man.

“Here have some water.” said the Lt. as he handed the young man his  canteen  “Then, let me know when you’re ready!”

The newcomer took a sip, not too much…just enough to refresh and moisten his throat.  “Ready sir!”

“Good soldier, we’ll provide covering fire. Get that BAR in position Corporal.  Okay, GO KID!”

The firing began, the young soldier ran dashing from cover to cover as a nearly a dozen M1 Garands fired.  Followed by a loud rapid succession as the BAR provided a burst of covering fire then became silent having depleted it’s ammo.  Wilson watched as the newcomer sped off into the distance and disappeared. Now the soldiers just had to wait and hope.

Wilson sat hunkered down in the dirt.  Things had been quiet for a while. They all waited in the dirt for what seemed like an hour but was probably 25 minutes.  When the sound of Japanese fire returned.  Wilson peaked over the berm and looked out.  He could see the young Italian-American soldier hunkered down behind a large rock. The rock was being pummeled by Japanese fire.  Wilson saw a Japanese soldier moving to flank…”Crap”, thought Wilson to himself. “I don’t even know his name.”

Wilson took aim, fired.  “Damn” he exclaimed to himself as the shot went high. The Japanese soldier continued to flank the rock.  The Lieutenant  let loose a spray from his field converted M2 Carbine.  The Japanese soldier was wounded but not immobilized.  The Japanese soldier limped toward the opposite side of the rock. Wilson took aim again, this time relaxing and focusing.  “Just like hunting whitetail back home in the woods of Pennsylvania.”  He pulled the trigger just as the Japanese soldier began to point his rifle at the newcomer. The body of the Japanese soldier fell to the ground as the .30-06 round ripped through the  heart. A few more shots rang out and then there was silence.

The young Italian-American private had returned. He set two canisters on the ground and removed a pack setting it next to the ammo cans.

“Good to see you again!” exclaimed the Lieutenant. “Hope you’ve got some .30 carbine there with you?”

“In the pack Sir.”

The Lieutenant gave the private a thud on his back. “Good job kid!”

Sarge chimed in with his deep chiseled voice “Hey Lieutenant, one more load and we’ll be able to restock the magazines for the bee-ay-ar.  Then we should be able to keep these Japs at bay until the calvary arrives.”

“I can do it!” piped the newcomer.

Johnson replied “You’re crazy kid. You already beat death twice.  Gonna try for a third time.”

Wilson agreed. The odds of the kid pulling it off a third time were slim. But he had done it twice and if not for the fresh supply of ammo Wilson and his squad would already have been over-run.

The Lieutenant looked at the young private. “Johnson is right.  No one is going to think the lesser of you if you don’t come back or if you stay here.  That said,  we still don’t have enough ammo to keep the Browning running.  And we will sure as hell need it if the cavalry keeps taking it’s sweet ol’ time!”

“You watch, I’ll be back Sir!” replied the young private.

“Hey,  can you bring me back a pack of cigs!” interrupted Johnson

“Stuff it Johnson!”, the words were out of Wilson’s mouth before he realized what he was saying.  Corporal Johnson just shrugged ignoring the breech of rank and decor.

“Ready men?” asked the Lieutenant.

“One sec” replied Johnson. Wilson watched as he finished loading the magazine for the BAR and shoved it into the rifle. “Ok, ready Sir”.

The lieutenant gave the Italian kid a thumbs up, he returned it and then made a dash for the large rock. Simultaneously the men began to provide covering fire until he made it over the ridge. Wilson crossed his fingers and prayed.

This time Wilson couldn’t stop looking at his watch.  Forty-seven minutes later Wilson heard Sarge exclaim “Here he comes!”. Wilson could make out a distant figure scurrying along the edge of the ravine that bordered the hill.  Wilson noted that it was a slightly different route than the kid had taken previously. Which made sense, as the Japanese by now had probably determined the path taken by … “Blast it” thought Wilson out loud.

“What Wilson?”

“Sorry, Lieutenant. I just realized I still don’t know our benefactor’s name.”

“I understand PFC.”  The Lieutenant paused briefly and replied to Wilson “We may not know his name, we do know he is a hero.”

Wilson continued to watch the young man’s progress through the ravine. A commotion arose on the hill and from the strange shouting it was clear that the Japanese forces had also spotted their benefactor.  The men of the unit raised their rifles and began providing covering fire.  Several more Japanese soldiers appeared out from under concealment. Wilson knew that their Japanese opponents had figured out how the Americans forces were being resupplied – enabling their continued fighting.  They were determined to stop the private, prevent their unit from being resupplied and force their surrender. “If we’re lucky enough for them to accept it.” thought Wilson privately to some distant part of himself.  The deafening sound of his rifle barely registered with Wilson.  The only thing that mattered to Wilson was ensuring any Japanese soldier between him and the young private went down.  And they did…

The young private had almost reached their fortifications when there was a loud twang, the kind you only hear when metal hits metal.  The young private landed in the dirt at Wilson’s feet. Wilson could see where a Japanese shot had been deflected by one of the ammo cans strapped to the young man’s back.  Wilson reached down and helped the kid back to his feet.  Wilson found himself overjoyed. Not only had the kid returned but he somehow managed to carry back four BAR belts full of loaded magazines.

The kid looked over to Cpl Johnson and threw something towards him. It took a moment for Wilson recognize the pack of cigarettes.

“Hey, it’s only half full!” exclaimed Johnson jokingly.

The young private replied “Sorry, couldn’t help but smoke a few on the way.”  Everyone laughed and Johnson gave the private a crushing hug.  Johnson then proceeded to light a cigarette and hand cigs out to other men who smoked.

Where you from kid?” asked the Lieutenant

“New Haven…that’s in Connecticut, Sir!”

“What’s your name private?” Wilson heard the Lieutenant follow up.

“Private John Ciampini” answered the young man.

Wilson finally knew the kid’s name. “How fitting” he thought, “clearly John was a Champ”.  Wilson knew he’d never forget what John had done for his unit on that 12th day of March in 1945.

===============

The above story is fictional. All of the characters and events are fictional. Except for the fact that there really was a man named John Ciampini and he really did risk his life three times to bring supplies to a unit stranded behind enemy lines.  For his bravery on March 12, 1945 John Ciampini would be awarded the bronze star.  Two days later John Ciampini would also earn the purple heart for sacrificing his life in defense of his country after being killed by machine gun fire in the vicinity of Fort Stotsenburg, Luzon, Philippine Islands.

Private John Ciampini was my Great Uncle. In several ways he is my namesake, as my middle name is taken from his and I was born around the day before the date of my Great Uncle’s death. I never had the opportunity to know him. But perhaps I too have felt the affects of his loss. I heard it said that my Great-Grandmother Maggie was never quite the same after the loss of her son John in the war.   I am honored to have in my possession the Bronze Star & Purple Heart that represent my Great Uncle’s bravery and sacrifice.

On this Veteran’s day. Let us remember the service our soldiers have provided to us, and the sacrifices they have made. On this day, let us also remember how many families have been affected by the loss of loved ones in service to their country.

I apologize if this story is chock full of typos, grammatical errors, etc. However, I just finished writing it before posting and wanted to post it on Veteran’s Day.

John
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Published in: on November 11, 2009 at 4:49 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Nice story, thanks.

  2. One life lost & the lives change for those left behind. So many stories surround our lost loved one; yet so common to all. 24 hr vigil watch as sisters stayed in the room with my grandmother so her grief wouldn’t consume her, her strength as she insistently fought with the government to get his body back home, each Sunday at the cemetery with flowers, prayer, wiping his picture & tears; my popop saying she was never the same-kisses few & never to share his bed again; my mother had no older brother to protect her honor.

    Yet he was alive in our life too – pictures, medals, candles, masses, letters, scrapbooks, coconuts & shells sent from the Philippines, furniture made during high school wood-shop (shelves, lamp, table) & the stories while sitting by their feet. Their love for him never wavered and honor was displayed – how amazing to love our country more than this.

    I turn my head away from the pain and death caused by war. I stay far from movies & documentaries; not able to watch or if I happen to accidentally catch a glimpse of a death; you will see me cringe to the floor. A life is so precious that I am not calloused to think otherwise.

    I had a handful of friends return from Vietnam changed; one killed others so brutally that he said life was now worth nothing; he found redemption in becoming a nurse; another is still sitting in his little room alone.

    Our enemies today are not our enemies in a decade. War continues everywhere.

    So, it’s the moments in our life. A sacrifice, considering another over oneself and willing to lose your life – that deserves honor.

    So thank you for the story


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