Staff Sergeant Anthony ‘Tony’ Rocco Monaco
“One Soldier’s Story: Chicago to Europe in WW II”
By: Bud Monaco
In Remembrance Of: Staff Sergeant Anthony ‘Tony’ Rocco Monaco
‘A’ Company, 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment U. S. Army 36th Infantry Division
‘Tony’, as he was called, was born in Chicago in 1924. His mother Anita and father Michael were born in Italy in the small southern mountain town of Oliveto Citra 60 miles southeast of Naples in the Campania region. Tony was the youngest son. Two of his four older brothers, Charles ‘Patsy’, my father, and Edward served overseas in the Aleutian Islands, France, Belgium, Germany and North Africa with the U. S. Army. His oldest brothers, Michael and Joseph were not in the service and Tony also had a younger sister, Rosemary.
Tony and his brothers grew up in the 69th and Ashland neighborhood on the south side of Chicago during the 1920’s and 1930’s. When WWII started, his older brothers Charles ‘Patsy’, and Edward joined up in the Army to serve their country. Tony was too young to join at that time and his mother Anita would not sign for him as was required for underage men to join and Tony was only 18 years old at the time. Through some manipulations, Tony worked his way around ‘such a trivial matter’ and was able to get the signature he needed to join so that he to could serve his country.
Soon after enlisting in the Army, Tony found himself assigned as a soldier in the 36th Infantry Division called the Texas T-Patchers at Camp Bowie, Texas. The Division then took its route to war through numerous training locations at U. S. Bases, shipping out for overseas and eventually landing in North Africa supporting the U. S. Fifth Army in defeating Field Marshall Rommel’s Afrika Corps driving the German’s out of North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea through the Straights of Sicily, the Malta Channel and back to Sicily and Southern Italy. It was from North Africa that Tony would depart for the invasion of Italy as a member of the 36th Infantry Division.
Tony’s unit, the 143rd Infantry Regiment stormed ashore at Paestum, Italy just south of Naples and Salerno in Operation Avalanche on September 9, 1943 becoming the first U.S. combat troops to ‘strike at the soft underbelly’ of German occupied Europe. Tony’s unit moved up the boot of Italy through Salerno and Naples on the bloody road to Rome. Tony, with his fellow soldiers of the Fighting 36th Division, fought bravely in the battles of San Pietro, San Vittore, and San Angelo as well as in many other well known battles throughout the region on the road to Rome.
Entering the battle at the Rapido River Tony was involved in both crossings of the Rapido River. Sometime during the Rapido River battles on January 20th and 21st, Tony was wounded and received his first Purple Heart and was also awarded the Bronze Star for bravery under fire during combat.
During one of the Rapido River crossings, Tony had made it across the river along with other soldiers in his unit only to wind up in a murderous cross fire by Panzer Tanks, small arms and machine guns by well dug in, fortified and concealed German infantry positions. The unit could not make any headway against the continuing murderous torrent of German weapons fire.
Taking overwhelming casualties the T-Patchers were forced to fall back across the river which had very high banks, running swift and deadly, swollen by winter rains, running at five mile per hour and was fifteen feet deep. The Rapido River at the notorious S-Curve crossing was thirty yards wide making it a difficult crossing site even under the best conditions. While falling back, Tony came across a seriously wounded soldier barely clinging to the north bank. Tony located a tree log which he helped the soldier grab hold of and then proceeded, still under constant enemy fire, to push the soldier on the log across the river by swimming to the south bank to relative safety saving the soldier’s life. The following day Tony was promoted in the field to Combat Staff Sergeant for bravery in action under enemy fire.
Surviving the Rapido River battles Tony’s unit with the 36th Infantry Division moved north towards Rome through the Liri Valley, Velletri and the Alban Hills fighting with Honor and Dignity in a running gun battle against the retreating German Army all the way to the outskirts of Rome. Field Marshall Kesselring’s 14th Panzer Tank Corps was the main battle force in Italy. The Nazi Huns were all seasoned, veteran combat soldiers and a formidable enemy force.
The 36th Division drove the Nazis further north and triumphantly succeeded in the liberation of Rome supported immensely by the famous U. S. Armor Unit, The 636th Tank Destroyer Battalion which had fought side by side with the Fighting 36th since the onset of Operation Avalanche. Tony and his brother soldiers of the Fighting 36th were temporarily relieved that their fates had allowed them to still be alive after bearing witness to and seeing so many of their brother soldiers killed or wounded in action fighting the German Army.
After a brief respite from the war after entering Rome, the 36th Infantry Division continued the fight north of Rome to Orbetello and Albegna. After these battles north of Rome the 36th Division was relocated to the rear echelon for regrouping and refitting in preparation for the next American amphibious assault against the German Army on French soil. The 36th Infantry Division would be one of the main battle groups spearheading this amphibious landing.
The T-Patchers of The 36th Infantry Division then proceeded back into combat operations as the spearhead of Operation Anvil and the Allied invasion of Southern France as they stormed the shores and beaches at St. Raphael on August 15, 1944. The 36th Infantry Division and Tony’s unit, the 143rd Infantry Regiment, then fought their way up the Rhone River Valley and were involved in many hard fought battles taking many casualties as they fought their way through the war torn towns of Montelimar, Vesoul, Leon and into Remiremont driving a retreating German Army back across the Moselle River.
It was at the Moselle River crossing in central-eastern France where Tony’s ‘combat luck’ ran out. During the crossings of the Moselle River near the village of St. Nabord just north of Remiremont, Tony was in the river with dozens of other T-Patchers. While crossing the river and holding on to guide ropes that the 111th Combat Engineers had strung across the river aiding the soldiers to wade across chest high river, Tony’s unit took the brunt of a German artillery barrage.
Dug in high up in the Vosges Mountains the German artillery redirected their artillery barrage that was pounding the rest of the unit at Remiremont keeping the unit from crossing the river at the still standing bridgehead there to the river crossing area near St. Nabord. It was at this point of the battle that Tony was critically wounded by German artillery fire on September 22, 1944 along with many other T-Patchers who were in the water and on the eastern shore of the river. Tony, two days later on September 24, 1944, died from the critical wounds he received. Tony was awarded his second Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster for the wounds he sustained prior to his death. Tony was also awarded the Europe-Africa-Middle East Campaign Medal with Four Battle Stars and the U.S. Army’s Good Conduct Medal.
Although Tony’s war and his life were over, the war was far from over for the rest of his fellow soldiers and the 36th Infantry Division. The Fighting 36th battled bravely into the Vosges Mountains, through the Colmar pocket, crossing the bloody Rhine River and continued on into Germany, fighting with Honor and Dignity until the war in Europe came to it’s end in April of 1945 with the unconditional surrender of Germany and the German Army.
During WW II, in nineteen months of combat, in five major campaigns and two combat amphibious assaults, the 36th Infantry Division had expended the maximum in heroism and hardship. The 36th Infantry Division is proud of its fifteen Congressional Medals of Honor, its ten Presidential Unit Citations, numerous other battle awards and the capture of over 175,000 enemy soldiers. At the same time its casualty list, third highest of any American Army Division, numbered 27,343, of whom 3,974 were killed in action, 19,052 wounded and 4,317 were missing in action. The Fighting 36th had a tough time of it, but they had surely given plenty more than they had taken.
These accounts of my Uncle Tony’s and the 36th Infantry Division are not first hand knowledge. Through extensive research I have learned of these heroic efforts of Tony and the 36th Division. I also learned much through Army archives I was able to locate along with information my father had told me. Other research information I collected came from ‘first hand’ accounts from 36th Division soldiers I located that were in Company ‘A’ of the 143rd Infantry Regiment and were in combat with Tony as well as numerous other soldiers from the Fighting 36th. If some times and locations are not exact, it is the best that I could compile to write a true and honorable memorial to Tony and the Soldiers of The Fighting 36th.
Of the two included photos; one is of Tony that was in the Chicago Tribune newspaper published in February, 1944. It was taken by a Combat War Correspondent Photographer at San Vittore, Italy of Tony in street and door to door fighting. The other is of Tony and his friend and soldier brother, Staff Sergeant Joe Gallagher of Dobbs Ferry, NY somewhere in Rome.
Joe was very instrumental in my research. It was Joe who was in ‘A’ Company with Tony who gave me most of these first hand accounts of ‘A’ Company’s combat operations. Thank you so much for your conversations Joe Gallagher. I will always remember you along with my remembrance of Uncle Tony. There are numerous other T-Patchers who contributed to my research and I thank them all for their kind help, conversation and information.
During my research I was totally amazed and emotionally moved by the combat records and heroics of the 36th Infantry Division. Since then I have written and produced, with the help of numerous musicians I work with who donated their time and music expertise, a Military Music Dedication Song dedicated to and titled “The Soldiers Of The Fighting 36th”. This song is packaged with beautifully decorated artwork, lyrics, credits, photos, Division Patches, Regimental Crests and Military Awards Medals.
This song is available to all 36th Infantry Division T-Patchers, all American Veterans and present day Military Personnel free of charge. The CD can be obtained by going to the website located on line at HYPERLINK “http://www.sopromusic.com/” www.SoproMusic.com. Go to the Military Music Dedications located in the left side menu of the website page, click on “The Soldiers Of The Fighting 36th” and you will find the song, artwork and credits as well as seven other Military Music Dedication songs also available free of charge. Print out the order page and send it in the mail and I will send you a CD free of charge. You can also listen to the songs in their entirety or download the songs if you wish free of charge.
These songs are dedicated to, The Soldiers Of The Fighting 36th Infantry Division and all Soldiers of WW II, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, the Mid-east Wars and the 9/11 Attack Against America, who fought, bled, died, survived and those who gave their lives for their country with Honor and Dignity and to those Soldiers who returned home to America after winning freedom for America while serving our country.
THANK YOU FOR OUR FREEDOM. YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN.