PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The subject of this "Veterans Spotlight" feature is an unequivocal example of the Greatest Generation.
We met at a local coffee shop when his World War II veteran's hat caught my attention.
At 96 years of age, he is kind, considerate, gracious and humble. Ralph Zanna served his country bravely in the Army from 1942 to 1946 in the European Theater. Born in Pittsfield, he enlisted right after high school and was sent to basic training at Fort Sampson in New York.
Pvt. Zanna was initially sent to North Africa and was there for about four months. He then was sent to Normandy about two weeks after the initial invasion of France as a member of the 14th Armored Division, which served as a back up to General Patton's Third Army.
"I was in ordnance ... repaired the tanks ... I knew everything there was to know about a tank," he recalled. "How to repair, refuel, drive, maintenance, the whole nine yards."
Zanna and his division pushed through France but with caution as you always had to be aware. "Goddamn German snipers were everywhere," he said. "We had a few of our guys picked off ... guys let their guard down for just a second ... you could never let your guard down in combat."
Aside from the battle memories, Zanna has one that still haunts him. He was reluctant to share at first but I gave him his space.
"We were coming into a small town in France called Lyon. The French Resistance had captured eight German soldiers and were holding them in the basement of a store," he said. One of the men, they were told, had raped a 12-year-old French girl. "Our captain found out and went right down to the basement and shot the SOB — shot him dead. Nobody said nothing because we all wanted to do it."
The German soldiers were merciless, Zanna said, hands trembling at the memory.
Zanna and his division were involved in extremely serious combat in the Ardennes Forest. The German Panzer tanks would shoot over their heads in the forest so the trees would topple on them.
"Giant trees coming down on you ... lost a lot of men," he remembered. I asked him about the difficulty of being away for the holidays and he responded with a bit of colorful language then offered this: "Holidays? We never thought about it ... too goddamn busy fighting."
Thoughts on his service? "I'd do it again in a heartbeat," he said.
He has several medals from his service including a Purple Heart. With typical humility, he didn't want to talk about it, only saying, "lots of guys that didn't come home should have gotten one."
He still enjoys getting out and about around Pittsfield, which he returned to recently, and enjoys afternoon coffee time with his buddies. Pvt. Ralph Zanna, thank you for your service to your great country.
Veteran Spotlight is a special column by Wayne Soares that will run twice a month. Soares is a motivational speaker and comedian who has frequently entertained the troops overseas with the USO. To recommend a veteran for Soares' column, write to email@example.com.
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Berkshire Theatre Group to Present 'Godspell' Outdoors
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire Theatre Group will produce "Godspell" this summer – the first musical in the United States to be approved by Actors' Equity Association in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The show will be presented outdoors in an open-air tent adjacent to The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, and is scheduled to run Aug. 6 through Sept. 4. Tickets will be available for purchase Tuesday, July 7, at noon.
"We could not bear the thought of a Berkshire summer without live theater to support our community, so we jumped through every hoop to create a safe way to make this happen," said BTG Board of Trustees Co-President Lee Perlman. "I hope our production gives hope to the tens of thousands of theater professionals who are on the sidelines this summer. Theater is unstoppable and will be back”
Artistic director and CEO Kate Maguire said "Godspell" got the green light after BTG established a strict protocol to protect the health and safety of the audience, the performers and others involved in the show.
"We have been working daily and in the true spirit of care and collaboration with Actors’ Equity Association for the past several weeks," she said. "Guided by Executive Director of Actors’ Equity Association Mary McColl and her extraordinary team, I have learned much about how to lead a theater in the new world. Our industry, which has been devastated by this global pandemic, will be served by their seriousness, data driven wisdom, and profound understanding of the need for artists to rebuild.
"I am so proud that Berkshire Theatre Group, in its 92nd season will be authorized and granted the responsibility to produce the musical 'Godspell.'”
After careful consideration with the local and state government, Mayor Linda Tyer of Pittsfield and Actors’ Equity Association, BTG relocated "Godspell" from its original site at The Fitzpatrick Main Stage in Stockbridge to outside under a tent at The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield.
Their job is twofold focusing on concierge service and safety. The ambassadors are walking concierges. They are a welcoming, information sharing resource helping visitors and residents find parking, offering directions and wayfinding, and providing information on dining and shopping.
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