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Higgins presents 100-year-old WWII vet Joseph Lombardo with military service medals, high school diploma


Mon, Apr 23rd 2018 12:10 pm
Rep. Brian Higgins with Joseph Lombardo. (Submitted photo)
Rep. Brian Higgins with Joseph Lombardo. (Submitted photo)
US Army Corp. Joseph Lombardo receives medals earned 72 years ago
World War II veteran Joseph Lombardo recently turned 100 years old. Congressman Brian Higgins joined friends and family to celebrate Lombardo's birthday, and to present him with military service medals 72 years overdue.
"Joe's life journey is one of triumph, rising above poverty to realize the American dream and passing on a legacy of hope and opportunity to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren," Higgins said. "Among friends and family, we celebrate Corp. Joe Lombardo's centennial milestone and his legacy as man who loved his country, community and children."
Born on April 19, 1918, the son of Sicilian immigrants, Joe spent his early years in one of Buffalo's roughest neighborhoods - Canal Street - or as it was commonly called "Dante's Place" in reference to Dante's Inferno.
The Great Depression was hard on Joe's family. He desperately wanted to help, so, in the middle of the 10th grade, Joe left school to seek work. The quest for a job was challenging, but, in 1936, at the age of 18, he found economic opportunity in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a youth environmental work program implemented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration.
Joe spent the next several years serving two tours with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). During his first tour, he worked on road infrastructure projects in Alpine, Wyoming, and Battle Mountain, Nevada. He re-enlisted in the CCC, and spent the better part of his second tour in Moab, Utah, first as a cook and then on road surveying crews. While working with the CCC, Joe spent some of his free time as an amateur photographer, capturing great shots of the areas where he worked. According to National Park Service officials, Joe's photos of Arches National Park in Utah are the only known photos of the area from the 1930s.
In October 1939, Joe began a career in the foundry at the Blaw-Knox Co. After securing the job, he decided to pursue his mandatory military service, and in 1940 joined the Army National Guard. Before he could complete the year of service, the U.S. entered World War II.
Joe's unit was nationalized and merged with the 209th Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft Regiment. He served in the anti-aircraft battery in North Africa, where he was involved in the Tunisia campaign. Later, Joe was sent to Italy, where he participated in two additional campaigns.
After a short military leave and visit home, Joe was deployed overseas again, this time with the 1267th Combat Engineers. He was sent for training in England to prepare to join the Battle of the Bulge, where Americans were under siege and in bad need of reinforcements. The Army handed the men goulashes and put them through rigorous infantry training in freezing cold temperatures.
Meanwhile, the position of the Allies in the Battle of the Bulge improved, so Joe and his unit were re-directed to Germany. His job there was to destroy German goods and equipment. Despite the fierce fighting, horrible losses and personal sacrifices, Joe and his fellow soldiers demonstrated great human compassion. Joe witnessed the destitution of German civilians following Germany's surrender. So, while Joe and his men followed orders to put Army blankets in a barrel for destruction, they turned their backs for a short time to allow the German people to grab a small token of comfort to make it through the approaching cold winter months.
A proven leader, Joe was offered a promotion to sergeant if he would agree to go to the Pacific Theater, but having served sufficient time, he elected to head home. On July 3, 1945, he was honorably discharged from Fort Dix, New Jersey.
Joe went back to work at Blaw-Knox and pursued night school classes, which allowed him to transfer from the foundry to the machine shop. He worked there for 39 years as a toolmaker, until his retirement in 1984.
In 1948, Joe married Rose Guerra, a lovely young lady he met at a church dance. Joe and Rose worked hard to provide for their new family and to give their five sons the educational opportunities he didn't have growing up during the Great Depression. Joe's own pursuit of and ultimate completion of high school equivalency classes - and his strong work ethic - set an example for his boys: Joseph Jr., David, Michael, Steven and Kevin.
After retiring, Joe and Rose traveled widely within the U.S. with senior groups, and set off on adventures overseas, where they visited their parents' home country of Italy, and their children and grandchildren stationed in Panama, Honduras and Guatemala.
Joe lost his beloved wife in 2009, but continues to travel from time to time to visit family across the country.
Dave and Mike Lombardo recently contacted Higgins' office in an effort to properly recognize their father's military service.
During a special birthday celebration, U.S. Army Capt. Zachary McDonald presented the following medals to Joe, which were earned 72 years ago:
•Good Conduct Medal - Awarded to an active-duty enlisted member of the U.S. military who completes three consecutive years of "honorable and faithful service," or for one year of faithful service during times of war.
•American Defense Service Medal - Established by President Roosevelt in 1941 to recognize active duty servicemen who served between Sept. 8, 1939, and Dec. 7, 1941.
•American Campaign Medal - Awarded to honor soldiers who performed military service in the American Theater of Operations during World War II.
•European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze service stars - This medal, which features a landing ship with troops under fire, is presented to members of the U.S. military members who served in the European Theater during WWII. The bronze service stars represent Joe's participation in several military campaigns.
•World War II Victory Medal - established by Congress in 1945 and presented to those who actively served between Dec. 7, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946.
•Army of Occupation Medal with Germany Clasp - This is awarded for 30 or more consecutive days of duty in one of the occupied territories after World War II. To receive the German Clasp, service must have been in Germany between May 9, 1945, and May 5, 1955.
•Honorable Service Lapel Button World War II - This is presented for service and discharge under honorable conditions.
•Sharpshooter Badge with Rifle Bar - This is awarded for completion of a weapons qualification course and skill in the use of a rifle.
When Higgins' office learned Joe had to leave school to help support his family and later serve this country, his office reached out to the Buffalo Public Schools and submitted an application with Joe's history through a program called operation recognition. With the help of Buffalo Public Schools, Higgins was able to present Joe with a high school diploma from East High School.

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