Sam Consolo displays medals he was awarded for serving his country during World War II.
TREASURE ISLAND – Some of the details are beginning to fade but the memories are still strong in the mind of Sam Consolo, a 94-year-old World War II veteran.
Consolo, who lives in Treasure Island with his son and daughter-in-law, Joe and Joan Consolo, was among a group of World War II vets who took part in a local Honor Flight trip May 6 to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“It was a very proud day,” said Consolo. “I was very fortunate to get up there with the rest of the gang.”
The day was among many proud moments for this member of what former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw once called “the Greatest Generation.” Brokaw coined the phrase in reference to those who grew up during the Great Depression and went on to carry the United States through World War II and into post-war prosperity.
Consolo, a Chicago native, made his mark over a five-year span as a sergeant in the U.S. Army 540th Combat Engineers. His tour of duty took him from the shores of Algeria and Morocco, to Sicily, Naples and Anzio; to Rome, France, the Rhineland and Ardennes Alsace where he and so many Americans had to fight their way out of the Battle of the Bulge in early 1945.
Like so many engineers, Consolo’s job was to help clear the way for U.S. ground troops to stage amphibious landings. They also cleared areas of mines, built bridges and cleared tunnels using demolitions. They built roads and they constructed facilities to act as hospitals or prisoner of war camps. Through it all, Consolo and his buddies were subjected to enemy air and artillery attacks.
“We had to clear the field and pick up mines for our troops to get through,” he explained. “Some were on water, some on land.”
Among his duties was diving underwater without SCUBA gear to search for mines. Once he spotted a mine, another unit came in and disarmed or removed it.
Consolo still remembers the day his unit was called upon to help get U.S. troops across the Rhine River from France to Germany. The river current was so strong, conventional boats couldn’t be used without sweeping the troops down the river. So Consolo and his colleagues improvised.
“We slung a line across for the (soldiers in) boats to hold onto to get across the river,” he explained. “It was a great operation. We got the whole battalion across.”
Later on, he got a personal handshake from Gen. George Patton.
Consolo also remembers the day his best buddy Cpl. Arthur Courts fell in a foxhole. Courts was a big man, Sam recalled. He was so big that they needed a crane to pull the corporal out. Sam still gets a chuckle out of it.
Then later, after the war was actually over, Consolo and his unit were assigned to round up German SS troops. It wasn’t easy.
“We had a battle with them and they finally gave up and surrendered themselves,” he said. “We came out with a half a dozen of them. We turned them over (to other military officials) and they put them in jail.”
He also recalls the day a 4-year-old Russian orphan boy came running out of the woods and jumped on his back. Suddenly, Consolo was a surrogate father.
“He just started hugging me and kissing me,” Consolo said. “It was something else.”
Consolo later turned over the young man to U.S. authorities who put him in a U.S. orphanage. After that, he lost touch with the young man. He never saw him again.
Unlike many of his buddies, Consolo had one thing in favor much of the time he was at war. His older brother, Phil Consolo, a professional dancer, teamed with his partner Melba in USO shows throughout Europe, entertaining the troops. Phil managed to stay close to Sam much of the war and two brothers actually were able to see one another from time to time.
Despite his many combat experiences, Sam came home unscathed.
“I was never wounded,” he said. “I was very fortunate getting through. I lost a lot of good friends of mine going through it.”
Although he never picked up a Purple Heart, Consolo did receive two bronze medals and one silver medal. Then, in August 2012, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor Medal by the French government and was knighted. The medal is France’s highest distinction and is awarded to all living U.S. veterans who risked their life during World War II fighting on French territory.
Consolo is just one of many who sacrificed so much during those war years but he says he would do it again if the opportunity presented itself.
“Yes, I would do it all over again for the same cause,” he said. “It was an effort by all the men and women. We all did it together.”
That’s why many believe they are the “Greatest Generation.”