By John Lynds
In 1944 East Boston’s Rocco Telese was a 19-year-old soldier fighting for his life as allied forces stormed the coast of Italy. Telese was a soldier and scout for the U.S. Army infantry during the Battle of Anzio. The battle was an pivotal moment of the Italian Campaign during World War II with the Allied amphibious landing against German forces in the area of Anzio and Nettuno.
Telese was wounded not once, but twice during the battle but poor record keeping at the time and a subsequent fire at the National Archives years later erased any evidence of Telese’s battle injuries.
For the next 73 years, Telese lobbied the government for the one thing he felt he deserved for bravely serving his country during the war.
Then on Saturday, September 16 the U.S. Army righted a wrong and corrected history by awarding Telese a Purple Heart.
“I really shouldn’t be here,” said an emotional Telese after being awarded the honor after seven decades of waiting. “I feel every day that I didn’t give enough.”
The ceremonial pinning of Telese’s Purple Heart was part of a memorial dedication of PFC Andrew G. Biggio in Winthrop. Biggio was killed in action during the same campaign in Italy where Telese was wounded.
Biggio’s nephew, Andrew Biggio was not only instrumental in erecting the memorial for his uncle at the corner of Main and Hermon Streets in Winthrop but also advocating for Telese’s Purple Heart.
“It’s long over due, and he’s a victim of bad record keeping during the war and a fire in the National Archives,” said Biggio, who served in the U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan and founded the annual Wounded Vet Ride. “I’ve personally read four personal letters from comrades he served with, who witnessed him injured. Even though it was a day to honor the dead (PFC Andrew G. Biggio), we should also remember those who survived while they are still with us. He really made the event yesterday.”
Former East Boston State Representative Carlo Basile, who once chaired the House’s Committee on Veterans Affairs, also helped Telese over the years receive the honor he deserved.
“I’ve know Rocco for years, and this is something that needed to be done,” said Basile. “With the help of the Governor and Andrew (Biggio) we were able to not only honor PFC Andrew G. Biggio in Winthrop but a living hero that history had forgotten.”