So the Allies have finally landed in Western Europe and are making their way to Germany to put a definitive end to Hitler’s Third Reich. Here in America, a sense of optimism grows as newspaper headlines and newsreels report the progress being made all throughout the summer and fall of 1944. Allied commanders are confident they have the German army on the run, as it turns out, much too confident.
German generals are quietly amassing a counteroffensive consisting of over 400,000 men, 1,200 tanks and 4,000 pieces of field artillery in the heavily forested Ardennes region of Belgium. Aided by a long stretch of overcast skies that prevent allied air reconnaissance missions from being effective, the German counterattack on the morning of December 16 catches the allies by complete surprise. The Battle of the Bulge has begun and in its early stages, all of the optimism of the American people and the confidence of the Allied command is shattered and the life of the July 12 Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, Corporal Mario Checca, changes forever.
As a kid, I lived around the block from where Mario and Josephine Checca lived on the corner of Division and Steadwell. Their boys, Bobby and Charlie were both a few years older than me and their daughters, Carol and Pauline, a bit younger. But we all went to Guy Park Avenue School together and I remember Mr. and Mrs. Checca very well. Solid people and parents, devoted to their kids, hard workers, great neighbors. Mario worked for the Post Office for 40 years.
But back on that bitter cold December morning in 1944, he was a 20-year-old machine gunner with the Army’s 106th Infantry, nicknamed the “Golden Lions.” His unit had been sent as reinforcements into what had been a very calm sector along the French-Belgian border and Corporal Checca had not yet fired his weapon in battle, That was certainly about to change…
(July 12 is also the birthday of this onetime host of WCSS’s Italian Hour.)
My complete birthday post for Mario Checca will appear in the new second edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam, NY Birthdays, which will be available before the 2016 Holiday season. I also distribute an Amsterdam, NY Birthday Blog Monthly Newsletter that includes the full birthday posts for three of the twenty-to-thirty people whose birthdays I recognize each month. Each newsletter also includes an Amsterdam Birthday Quiz that will test your knowledge and memory of people and events in your hometown.
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