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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue; please keep comments focused on the issues and not on personalities. Profanity, obscenity, racist language and harassment are not allowed. iBerkshires reserves the right to ban commenters or remove commenting on any article at any time. Concerns may be sent to email@example.com.
iBerkshires.com welcomes critical, respectful dialogue. Name-calling, personal attacks, libel, slander or foul language is not allowed. All comments are reviewed before posting and will be deleted or edited as necessary.
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey made three stops in the Berkshires on Friday to speak on education, technology climate change, health care, racial justice and other issuing affecting the nation. click for more