Please read and share this inspiring Bristol Press story about WWII Vet Tony Sileo, our Hometown Hero!

September 3, 2015

Veteran recalls service that makes him Hometown Hero
Posted: Wednesday, September 2, 2015 9:48 pm

08.31.15 Amelia Parlier | Special to the Press Tony Sileo of the 10th Mountain Division in front of his Bristol home. Sileo is a WWII veteran and has been named the Mum Festival 2015 Hometown Hero.

BRISTOL — Tony Sileo, a local veteran who battled Nazis on Italy’s snowcapped Mount Belvedere in World War II, is this year’s Hometown Hero for the Mum Festival and parade Sept. 27.

Sileo, 92, has adorned his home on Judson Avenue with numerous items from his war days. He served in Italy as part of the 10th Mountain Division with the U.S. Army.

His walls are decorated with charcoal paintings by fellow soldiers and several medals, including a bronze star and a Distinguished Service Award.

His bookshelves are filled with albums containing hundreds of photographs and on his windowsill sit pieces of the mountains where he trained and fought. His backpack and snowshoes, still in pristine condition, rest in a corner of his living room.

Sileo was 19 when he enlisted to fight in the war. He was part of an experimental “winter soldier” unit that spent seven months training in subzero temperatures and sleeping in the snow atop the mountain peaks of Colorado.

“Europe has had winter warfare units since the 1800s so it was nothing new to them,” he said. “We were an experiment to see if it were possible for our soldiers to acclimatize. We were taught rock climbing and survival techniques and spent three to four days of the week out in the snow carrying 90 pounds of gear. It snowed constantly and, at its coldest, we were out in 58 degrees below zero. Nobody expected it to get that cold. My nose froze and split open when I was out on guard duty in 38 degrees below zero weather. My sinuses also shriveled up and have never been the same since.”

Sileo was later deployed to Italy where he served alongside 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole in the 10th Mountain Division. He arrived in January of 1945 and, with the help of the British 8th Army, their unit drove the Nazis out in May. There were close to 1,000 casualties.

“The climate was better than during our training, we were only up 4,000 feet,” he said. “I had to memorize passwords and information and run them back daily to headquarters. I had artillery blowing up near me all the time. I could feel it ripple through my whole body. I still ache all over.”

Sileo said that after the victory in Italy, he, along with Winston Churchill, thought that there would have been fewer casualties if allied troops had landed there during D-Day. After the allied victory in Europe, the 10th Mountain Division was preparing to invade Northern Japan when news of Imperial Japan’s surrender came.

“We were ready for the invasion, but the logistics weren’t,” he said. “We had intelligence about the Japanese preparing to use women and children as kamikaze bombers. That’s why they decided to drop the A-bombs.”

Sileo left the service a T-5 Corporal. He would later dedicate 50 years of service to the American Legion. There, he organized several reunions of the 10th Mountain Division.

“When I first returned home, I had post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said. “I couldn’t do anything for the first year, not even work. I wouldn’t talk about my service. My parents died without hearing anything about it. It was through the legion that I was able to open up.”

Sileo also dedicated 50 years to the national Republican Party, where he was an aide to Nancy Reagan, Thomas Joseph Meskill and Bob Dole. He also tutored children at South Side School for seven years and, in, 1994, sold off his collection of artillery guns to establish a scholarship for Siena College in New York in honor of the 50 men from his unit who perished.

Sileo is now a member of the Friends of the Bristol Public Library and volunteers in the history room.

– Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-584-0501, EXT. 1806 or [email protected].