Battle of the Bulge Ended 75 Years Ago Today

Today marks the end of the Battle of the Bulge, exactly 75 years ago. The battle began on December 16, 1944 during one of the coldest winters in history. I had the pleasure of visiting Belgium and Luxembourg for a week in December to mark the beginning of the anniversary and I will elaborate on the details surrounding my trip in upcoming blog posts. 


The Battle was the last major German offensive on the western front. With this operation, Hitler wanted to advance to Antwerp and gain control of the port (the main entry of Allied supplies). His plan was to launch a surprise attack in bad weather conditions (heavy fog/cold/snow) so that the Allies couldn’t use their air power. Planes couldn’t fly in these conditions and thus couldn’t support the ground troops nor get them proper supplies. Our men were fighting blind in the fog and cold without proper boots and uniforms. My grandfather lit paper on fire and shoved it into his boots to stay warm and avoid trench foot. Other men peed on their feet.

My grandfather’s infantry (1st) held the northern shoulder of the Bulge in Büllingen. Many of the pictures I have of him were taken during this time in December in Bütenbach. Not many people recognize the northern shoulder because Bastogne is the southern part of the Bulge and that’s what is familiar to most. However, it is important to know where the German troops were held all over Belgium. Each section held by the allies aided in stopping the Germans’ advance, ultimately thwarting their efforts to take Antwerp.

Rocco Moretto December 1944 SSG Battle of the Bulge Butgenbach, Belgium

By mid-January a lack of fuel forced the Germans to abandon their vehicles, proving fatal to Hitler’s plan. On January 25, 1945 the Battle was over.

One day before, on January 24, my grandfather’s best friend Bob Wright was KIA by German artillery right outside his foxhole. 

Remembering Tsgt. Bob Wright

March 3, 1918 – January 24, 1945

Seventy-five years ago today Rocco’s best friend was killed in action during the final days of the Battle of the Bulge. On January 24, 1945, just one day before the Battle of the Bulge ended, technical sergeant Robert “Bob” F. Wright was struck by German artillery right outside of Rocco’s foxhole during the attack on the Morscheck crossroads. To read more about Morscheck, please visit Rocco’s oral account here.

Bob Wright was born on March 3, 1918 in Alabama. After that he moved to Michigan, which became his final hometown and remained his last address before entering the service. He would never return. Bob Wright was only 26 years old when he died in Belgium,  just 38 days shy of his 27th birthday. 

Prior to the Bulge, the town of Verviers in Belgium was liberated by Allied forces in September. It was there Bob Wright met a Belgian family and a woman named Lucienne Lemaire. According to Rocco, they became quite friendly, which we can clearly see in the following photographs as evidenced by the size of Bob’s smile. It’s amazing what a few days off from war can do to a man both physically and emotionally.

Lucienne Lemaire (L) and Bob Wright (R) Bob Wright (L) with a family from Verviers, Belgium.

Unfortunately not much else is known about Bob Wright. If Rocky were still with us today I would have asked him to share his favorite memory of him, I’m sure there were many. I regret not having this conversation with him. Rocky’s memory was as sharp as a tack and I can just picture his eyes lighting up when talking about his service. I can only imagine the stories he would have shared about his best friend, all with a huge smile and reflective eyes. Rocky and Bob were self described as “two of a kind”, so we can deduce that they shared the same personality traits: generous, friendly, lighthearted, and a little bit mischievous. While I don’t know a whole lot about Bob’s life, I know he provided a crucial friendship to my grandfather when he needed it the most. I hope that during the hard times they were both able to escape into their friendship, find solace in their close bond, and forget about the horrors of war, if only for a little while. I am forever grateful for Bob Wright’s service to this country and for being by my grandfather’s side during their campaigns. I have no doubt in my mind that they are now reunited somewhere, and probably even causing a bit of good-natured mischief.

Bob Wright is interred at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium – Plot E, Row 2, Grave 51. I visited his grave twice; in March 2017 on my first trip to Belgium and then again this December for the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. I will never forget his name or his honor, and I hope to visit periodically throughout my lifetime. It’s the least I can do for the man that helped my grandfather navigate through the unknown obstacles and horrors of war.

It is important that we remember these men, whether alive or passed on. If you see a WWII veteran, please talk to them. Learn their story. We owe them everything for our freedom, and they may not be around for much longer. Lest we forget. 

Robert F. Wright

Service Number: 36102476

Regiment: 26th Infantry Regiment 

Battalion: 1st Battalion Division – Transport

1st Infantry Division

Company Squadron: C Company

Awards: Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart

Morscheck Crossroads

The following is Rocco Moretto’s oral account of the Morscheck Crossroads, provided by him in 1995.

On January 22, 1945 after being in position for 36 days, the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment was assigned the mission to capture and hold the Morscheck crossroads.  The crossroads was a vital piece of real estate as it was being used as a supply route and for the movement of troops and equipment into the Ardennes salient and the Siegfried Line. 


The area was heavily defended by self propelled guns, tanks, artillery and mortars and an oversized company of German Infantry.  The attack was to take place on January 24 and Company “C” was relieved and taken out of the defensive line at Dom Butgenbach on January 22 and moved back to Butgenbach where we would get a good night’s rest, receive equipment such as shoe packs, camouflage snow suits and a half-pound of dynamite for each man to be used for breaking up the frozen ground so that the men could more easily dig their foxholes in the shortest possible time after securing their objective. 


Company “C”‘s assignment was to take the crossroads.  Captain Donald Lister, Company “C” Commander immediately organized a patrol for the night of January 22 which consisted of 16 men and one officer.  A radio operator carrying a SCR 300 set was also included and he would stay in touch with the main body and transmit all pertinent information as it was gathered.  The patrol was instructed to scout the area and Company “C” was assigned to attack on January 24.  They would carry mostly automatic weapons and two hand grenades each.  The patrol went out at 2200 hours and after several hours returned with the following information. 
The snow in some places was four feet deep.  The enemy had a series of dugouts which were probably used as strong points approximately 100 yards north of the north-south road.  It was believed that these positions were occupied because there were footpaths in the snow leading to the dugouts.  Anti-tank mines were observed approximately 350 yards north of the crossroads on the north south road. 


This road would not be passable for vehicles until it was cleared of the mines.  Armed with the above information, Captain Lister laid out his plan of attack and at 1800 hours on January 23rd assembled his platoon leaders and key personnel to give them their respective assignments and last minute instructions. 
The time of attack was set for 0300 hours January 24th.  The Company was to be awakened at 0100, would receive a hot meal and last minute instructions.  The 1st Platoon was assigned the point and were to attack straight down the north south road moving as quickly as the situation would permit making as little noise as possible.  It was very likely the enemy would fire all their prearranged fire missions immediately as soon as we were observed. 


Upon reaching the crossroads the 1st platoon was then to swing to the east, clear out a patch of woods and take positions on the other side of the wooded area.  There they would eventually tie in with the 2nd and 3rd Platoons.  The 2nd Platoon led by Lieutenant Leon P. Kowalski, was instructed to follow the 1st Platoon and continue down the road after the 1st had swung to the east and clean out a house just east of the crossroads.  At that location they were to tie in with the 1st Platoon on the east and Company “B” on the west. 


The 3rd Platoon would be held in reserve and would not be committed until the situation required it.  If all went according to plan they would tie in with the 1st on the east and bend around to the north thereby protecting “C” Company’s flank and rear.

 
The weapons platoon led by Lieutenant. Marlin Brockette were to quickly set up their mortars in battery 300 yards north east of the crossroads and be available to fire missions in support of the rifle platoons.  Captain Lister also attached one section of heavy machine guns to the 1st Platoon and 1 section of light machine guns to the 2nd Platoon.  Four tanks were assigned to the Company and would be available to give support after the objective was secured and the mines were cleared.

 
In addition one anti-tank gun would be available and could be called on to assist. Additionally, our 33rd Field Artillery had a liaison officer at 1st Battalion headquarters so we could fire missions through him.  At 0200 hours after breakfast and last minute orders the men of Company “C” started out from Butgenbach and marched the approximate three miles to the line of departure at Dom Butgenbach and prior to our arrival at Dom Butgenbach the Company took a ten minute break. 
At 0300 we started out in what was the coldest weather that I’d ever experienced in my whole lifetime.  It was so cold the snowsuits were frozen stiff and crackled as you moved.  The 1st Platoon led by Lieutenant Brooks sent out the point consisting of one squad and a second squad out as flank protection.  The snowsuits blended in perfectly with the snow as they moved down the road and no opposition was met till the 1st Platoon swung to the east.  At that point they were met with fire from two machine guns and about a squad of riflemen. 


We very quickly gained fire superiority killing four of the enemy and six were taken prisoner. They were quickly disarmed and passed back to the rear. The 2nd Platoon in the meantime ran into enemy around the house and after a brief firefight two were killed and five more were captured.  Additional Germans were caught in their dugouts and surrendered without firing a shot.  As a matter of fact they were in dugouts they had heated with cans of sterno and even had taken their boots off for more comfort. 


They probably never expected an attack under such horribly cold conditions. It was a text book attack.  Everything broke right and just as dawn was beginning to break Company “C” was sitting right on its objective.  The men quickly started to dig in using the TNT to help break up the frozen ground. Everything was going beautifully but the TNT threw up heavy black smoke in the explosion areas.  The enemy observing this quickly began to rake our positions with heavy concentrations of fire and we began to sustain heavy casualties. 

Lieutenant Kowalski, platoon leader, 2nd Platoon was painfully injured from the dynamite blast and limped his way back to the Medics.  He was-patched up and later returned to the battle.  At 1600 hours the Germans launched a counter attack in Battalion force after a 20 minute barrage of artillery fire.  The 2nd Platoon was taking the brunt of the counter attack. When Lieutenant Kowakski returned from the medics he discovered that most of the platoon was gone.  Platoon Sergeant Bob Wright had been killed, Clayton Goode, the platoon guide, had taken over and he and Lieutenant Kowalski began directing artillery fire.  One of the two machine guns was still operable but the ammunition boxes had taken a hit by artillery.  Only the gunner from the original two machine guns and their crews remained and he was hand feeding the ammo from a broken machine gun belt and he almost singly handedly held off the Germans.  Our artillery and mortars took care of the rest catching the Germans out in the open. 


In the meantime reinforcements were being sent to the 2nd Platoon and they were able to plug the gap and the day was saved.  A second counter attack was expected but fortunately it never came.  The Germans were also sustaining heavy casualties.  The rest of the first Battalion had also taken their objectives and after a few days we were able to attack our way out of the salient and were on our way to reducing the so called Bulge.  After a few weeks of almost daily attacks our lines were restored to what they were originally.  While things got a little easier we still had that horrible weather to contend with. 


The 26th Infantry Regiment had been previously cited by the government of Belgium with the Belgium Fouragere for the Battle of Mons and we received the 2nd Award of the Belgium Fouragere for the part we played in the Battle of the Bulge.

Street Renaming – Staff Sergeant Rocco Moretto Way

On Friday, October 18, 2019  the corner of 31st Avenue and 41st Street in Astoria was officially renamed “Staff Sergeant Rocco Moretto Way”, in a tribute honoring Rocco’s service to our nation as well as to the community of Astoria.
Moretto, a longtime Astoria resident, died in August 2018 at 94. He was drafted in 1943 to serve in the U.S. Army, where he was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division — a frontline force its members dubbed the “Big Red One.” Staff Sgt. Moretto was just one of two soldiers in a 219-man combat unit not wounded or captured during a grueling 11-month tour through western Europe, beginning on D-Day by storming Omaha Beach and ending in Czechoslovakia. His name is now forever part of the New York City grid line.

The ceremony took place on the corner of 31st Ave and 41st Street and was attended by Rocco’s family, VFW 2138 Post members, members of the Federation of French War Veterans, and local residents. The ceremony was emceed by Council Member Costa Constantinides with speeches from VFW-SVA Legislative Fellow Lobbing Salaka, and son John Moretto. 


“Staff Sergeant Rocco Moretto put his life on the line during World War II in the fight for freedom because he always did what was right,” said Constantinides. “He never stopped hearing that call of duty, and continued to serve his community from the moment he came home until his passing last year. His legacy will live on this corner as a reminder of the sacrifice so many have made in the name of freedom.”

Rocco’s family members were then invited to help unveil the new street sign in unison. A collective pull on the sting revealed the polished new street sign bearing Rocco Moretto’s name, with the afternoon sun shining brightly down upon it. A replica of the sign was then presented to son John Moretto.

A huge thank you to VFW-SVA Legislative Fellow Lobsang Salaka, Post Commander Rigo Villalvir, Council Member Costa Constantinides, and members of Rocco Moretto VFW Post 2348 for the planning and execution of the street renaming and  ceremony. The ceremony was an emotional yet wonderful tribute, and meant a great deal to Rocco’s family. We are forever grateful for your hard work and dedication in making the street renaming happen. As the VFW Post beautifully stated: “we all miss Rocco – now the whole city gets to share a little bit of him.”     

Staff Sergeant Rocco Moretto Way

Delighted to share some incredible news: 41st Street in Astoria, NY will officially be renamed SSgt Rocco Moretto Way.

As many of you know,  Rocco was a  longtime resident of Astoria (69 years!), so this a great honor for the late World War II and D-Day veteran and his family. The street co-naming bill containing Staff Sergeant Rocco Moretto Way, proposed by Council Member Costa Constantinides (District 22) passed in August. The Moretto Family extends their sincere gratitude and appreciation to CM Constantinides for making this great honor a reality.


The unveiling ceremony will take place this Friday, October 18, 2019 at 1 p.m. on the corner of 31st Avenue and 41st Street and is open to all. The program will be hosted by Council Member Costa Constantinides and son John Moretto will speak on behalf of the family. After all speakers, there will be a color guard and then the sign will be revealed. A replica will also be presented to the family. Immediately following the ceremony,  Rocco Moretto VFW Post 2348 will host a reception  until 4 pm. Please join us! 


Unveiling Ceremony 

When: Friday, October 18, 2019

Who: Open to all  

Time: 1:00 pm 

Where: Astoria, NY – at the intersection of 31st Avenue and 41st Street.

Reception 

Where: VFW Rocco Moretto Post 2348  (31-35 41st St, Astoria, NY)

Time: 1:30  – 4 pm

First Anniversary of Rocco’s Death

Today marks the first anniversary of Rocco’s death. He passed away peacefully on Sunday, August 26th, 2018 at 10:20 pm.

There was so much happening with the wake and funeral last year that I never got a proper chance to post a follow up to his passing. I hope to do that now.

Rocco’s life was beautifully celebrated by a large group of friends and family that came to either the wake, mass, or burial service to honor his long life. It’s no wonder Rocco drew such a large crowd – he was a generous, kind soul, and a friend to many. His positive spirit was was absolutely contagious and he loved to talk about his World War II service with anyone that would lend an ear. The wake service was filled with those who lent ears throughout the years.

Rocco’s wake was held at Massapequa Funeral Home on Friday, August 31st. I’d also like to give a proper thanks to Anthony Preziosi, manager of the funeral home. He was incredible; he flawlessly organized and oversaw all the arrangements from top to bottom, effortlessly taking the burden off of Rocco’s family’s shoulders so that they could properly mourn. We were grateful for his professionalism and all of his hard work surrounding Rocco’s passing.

Rocco’s funeral and burial was at St. James Cemetery in Middle Village, NY on Saturday, September 1st. He received a full military funeral which included the playing of “Taps”, a rifle detail, a color guard, and uniformed service members who presented the burial flag to his son John. Rocco’s dear friend, Alain Dupuis of the Federation of French War Veterans, delivered a gorgeous and heartfelt eulogy titled “Adieu Mon Ami“. To this day, his eulogy still gives me goosebumps whenever I think about it. Rocco was lucky to have a friend like him.

Rocco shares a plot with his late wife of 53 years Monica, who passed away in 2002. The plot site is located in section 27, row C, grave number 86.
I visited the site this morning and brought with me some of the sand I transported home from Omaha Beach, which I sprinkled around his grave. I hope it brings him comfort, wherever he is.

We love you Rocco, not a day passes by where you are not missed. Hugs & kisses, always. xoxo

Normandy: A Trip Years in the Making

Normandy American Cemetery

Two months ago I had the pleasure of visiting Normandy for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. It was a trip I’ve been meaning to take for a while now and frequently discussed it with Rocco. I visited France in March of 2016 but I never made it to Normandy, instead I decided to split time between Paris and Belgium so that I could visit Rocco’s friends and owners of the Remember Museum in Thimister-Clermont, a museum dedicated to the Battle of the Bulge. It was an incredible experience, and the best part of the whole trip was being able it discuss it with Rocco when I returned home. Showing him the pictures and seeing his eyes light up when sharing stories about Belgium was a moment I will always hold close to my heart.


After that, I kept assuring Rocco that Normandy would be my next destination, and I knew that whenever I made it there the stories we exchanged about Belgium would pale in comparison to whatever I experienced in Normandy. D-Day was the most special day of Rocco’s life, and he was proud of landing on Omaha Beach, his role in the allied invasion, and his service throughout WWII. If you knew him, you knew him he wore his service like a badge of honor.

Fast forward to early 2018, well before Rocco got sick. On one of my visits, I mentioned that next year was the big one: the 75th Anniversary of D-Day (2019), and if there ever was a time to go then that would be it. At that time it was just an idea, but a hopeful one. Throughout the year I would continue to mention it, but never discussed it in more detail or pulled the trigger as it was too early.

Rocco on the 74th Anniversary of D-Day: June 6, 2018. Just over 2 months before he passed.

When August rolled around, Rocco’s health took a turn for the worse. On Monday, August 20th Rocco’s heart and lungs began to fail – when my father visited Rocco he was sleeping and could not be woken up, even when his hand was gripped. Based on a firm recommendation from the VA St. Albans staff, my father had him immediately transferred to hospice care. The following day, Tuesday August 21st, we all went to visit him. Expecting the worst, we walked into the room and Rocco was alert, sitting up, and smiling – a complete 180 from the day before. During our visit Rocco was talking up a storm, laughing, and eating, and we stayed with him for many hours. It was at this time that  I told him that I was definitely going to Normandy for the 75th Anniversary – and he seemed pretty glad to hear it. I didn’t know it then, but that would be the last time I ever got to talk to him. 


I wish I could have visited Normandy while Rocco was still with us, but I believe everything happens for a reason. I can’t tell you how relieved I was that I was able to tell him when I did, and simply how happy I was that he knew.  Had I gone earlier, Rocco would have around for my trip, but I never would’ve experienced the incredible happenings surrounding the 75th Anniversary. I never got the chance to talk to him about my trip, but I know in my heart Rocco was there in spirit, and watching over me and looking out for me the whole time. And that’s all that truly matters. 

More details regarding the trip to come.

In Honor of Rocky

Rocco, 1949

Almost a year has gone by since Rocco’s passing and I’ve been putting off updating this website, mainly because I didn’t want to change the “About” section and have to make it past tense. I started this website in 2013 as a way to keep track of all the happenings in Rocco’s life – events he was attending or honors he was being awarded. I also wanted to aggregate all the news articles written about him or interviews he gave so that they could all be found in one place and preserved for as long as the links stay live.
Rocco’s passing was hard on me, to say the least. We were very close and some days I find myself so stricken with grief that holding back tears becomes near impossible. Some nights I’ll listen to the messages he left on my phone just to hear his voice again before going to bed. But if you ever met Rocco you would know that it would upset him to hear that kind of talk. He would say something like “I don’t want you making a fuss over me!” because he was the most humble and selfless person I’ve ever met and he just wanted everyone to be happy.
In knowing this, I realized that fixing this website and keeping it going would be the best way to channel my sadness and to turn it into a celebration of Rocco’s life. And there’s no better time to honor him and continue to post about his life than on the surrounding anniversaries of D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge. I was fortunate enough to travel to Normandy for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, and I stood on Omaha Beach exactly 75 years after Rocco first landed ashore during the second wave. It was one of the greatest trips I’ve ever taken – and I will dedicate a few blog posts about the trip shortly. 

Rocco in 2016 on his 92nd Birthday


So moving forward, this website will be part journal and part archive. When Rocco moved into the VA full time I acquired all of his (many) files and photos related to WWII. My goal is to digitize as much as possible, so that they may be shared with everyone and preserved eternally online, keeping Rocco’s joyful spirit alive. 

— Jill, Rocco’s granddaughter

ROCCO MORETTO MEMORIAL INFORMATION

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For those wishing to join us in paying final respects to Rocco, please see the arrangement schedule below:

FRIDAY, AUGUST 31

Wake Visitation:
2 – 4 p.m.
7 – 9 p.m.

Massapequa Funeral Home, South Chapel
4980 Merrick Road
Massapequa Park, NY 11762

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 1

Service
9:00 am

St. Rose of Lima R.C. Church

2 Bayview Ave.
Massapequa, New York 11758

Cemetery and Burial 

For those wishing to attend the funeral, please join us after the service:
St. John’s Cemetery
80-01 Metropolitan Avenue
Middle Village, New York 11379
Tel: 718-894-4888
flowers
In lieu of flowers the  family would appreciate donations to be made in memory of Rocco to:

Disabled American Veterans (DAV)

Or

Wounded Warrior Project

Rocco Has Passed

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It is with a heavy heart I bring to you the news of Rocco’s passing. We lost him late last night.

One week ago Rocco’s health took a turn for the worse and we transferred him to  hospice care. His heart and lungs were not working properly and he was given an oxygen line to keep his levels up. When my father went to visit him on Monday, Rocco did not respond, even when his hand was held.

On Tuesday, Rocky’s health did a complete 180 from the previous day and improved significantly. We were able to visit him and he was alert, talking, eating, and laughing. We stayed with him for many hours and we were grateful for our time with him as he was back to his old self. He had a few more good days and was visited by some more friends. However, by Friday morning he was no longer alert. He was not able to talk and had trouble keeping his eyes open.

Yesterday morning we received a call from the doctor informing us his condition was declining and was having trouble breathing. We stayed with him all afternoon – I held his hand tight but he never opened his eyes. We had plans to to see him again this morning but I believe he decided it was his time to go.

He passed on Sunday, August 26th at 10:20pm. Fortunately, he wasn’t in pain and he was surrounded by family all day. He was 94 years young and survived by son John, daughter-in-law Ann, sister Charlotte, and granddaughters Cara and Jill.  Please check back for wake and funeral arrangements.

-Jill Moretto

IMG_2686
The flag on Rocco’s bed will remain in place for 24 hours.