Frank Zito was born on January 29, 1925 in New York City. At the age of nine months he moved with his family to Batavia, NY, where he grew up and graduated from Batavia High School. He took training as a machinist at Vocational School but began working full time for Doehler-Jarvis before completing the program. At Doehler-Jarvis he worked as an inspector, which entailed reading blueprints of jobs.
On April 24, 1944 Frank was drafted and sent to Fort Dix, NJ for induction. He was then sent to Camp Croft, South Carolina for basic training as an infantryman. After training he was given a furlough and then sent to Fort Dix be processed for overseas shipment. On October 12, 1944 Frank sailed on the Queen Mary to Ireland, arriving on October 17. In November he was shipped across the English Channel to France and assigned to the Fourth Infantry Division as a replacement with the rank of Private, just three or four weeks prior to the "Battle of the Bulge."
During the Battle in the Hurtgen Forest the lieutenant in command of his platoon ordered an advance, only to find that they were heading in the wrong direction. The lieutenant directed them to cross a large clearing in the woods, and the platoon sergeant told him that it would be suicide. They went ahead regardless of the sergeant's warning and "All h*ll broke loose." There was shooting from all sides. The clearing had been mined by the Germans and as they walked through it the mines began exploding.
Frank's buddy, Joe Ruttle, was at this right and when the shooting began they both "hit the ground." Before they knew it they were surrounded on all sides by the enemy who came at them with Burp guns and shouting, "Hands up". They had no chance to fight back, overpowered by overwhelming force. Franks says that he stood up but his buddy, Joe, never did. Joe was a short, heavy fellow and acted as a shield for Frank. Frank has always wondered whether Joe took the bullet that would have got him.
About twenty men from Frank's platoon were captured and taken to the rear, to a large building that looked like a dormitory, for interrogation. Frank was separated from the rest of his platoon, and the Germans kept insisting that he was a Jew. Frank continually told them that he was of Italian descent. They asked him to speak in Italian and Frank spoke in a slang Sicilian accent which he had learned to speak as a child and they finally let him rejoin the others.
They were next loaded in boxcars the Germans called cattle cars. They were given a chunk of German black bread and some water. There was no provision for toilets on the train so the men used a corner of the car for a toilet. They traveled in the railroad car for seven days. At times they were bombed and strafed by allied aircraft, because the cars had no markings on them.
Eventually they arrived at Stalag XII-A and then they went to Stalag III-A. They were held at Stalag III-A for a couple of weeks, and they were put to work repairing bomb-damaged railroads. Frank didn't fancy doing this work for the enemy and leaned on his shovel a lot. On one occasion he was caught loafing, and a German guard struck him with his rifle butt. Frank recalls that the men had been refusing to go to work, but on Easter Sunday, 1945 they decided to go on the work detail to the rail yards just to get out of the stinking camp for a time. While they were away the camp was bombed by allied aircraft. One prisoner who was feeling sick was left behind and died in the air attack.
They were then taken to the city of Stendal. They were quartered in a big cinder block building, which looked like it might have been used for horse shows. The area was fenced in all around with block walls about six feet high and patrolled with guards walking back and forth.
One day Frank heard some chickens clucking outside the wall He waited until the guard was at the opposite end and he told his buddy, Jim Peebles, to be a lookout for him. Frank scaled the wall to "look for eggs." No sooner had he started for the chickens when a farmer saw him and began shouting. Frank ran back and climbed over the wall to the compound, and when he jumped down on the other side the guard was waiting for him with his rifle ready to shoot.
A German officer who had heard the commotion came out and put Frank up against the wall with his pistol pointed at his head. Frank thought it was the end for him. In the meantime an American sergeant who had also heard the ruckus came out and began talking to the German officer. While they talked Frank quietly walked away and mingled with the other prisoners of war. Nothing more came of it, but that was the last time Frank tried that stunt.
While in the camp, Frank became sick and just laid on the ground for about a week. No one paid any attention to him. At Stendal they were on very short rations, and they got no Red Cross food parcels the whole time they were there.
Around April 9, 1945 rumors were rife that the allies were getting close. On one occasion, without explanation, the camp gate was left open and Frank did it again: he just walked out. The rumors were that Stendal was declared an "Open city," which meant that there would be no fighting or bombing of the city. Frank says everybody in town was headed in one direction and he just joined in with them.
They ended up at a large warehouse filled with food. Frank found a bag and filled it up and then headed back toward the camp to share his good fortune with his fellow POWs. On the way back one of the camp guards recognized him walking down the street. The guard was an older man and simply told Frank he had better get back to the camp. Frank got back just in time. They were preparing to move out.
They began walking toward the Elbe River. They were being moved away from the advancing allied forces. Before they crossed the Elbe they came to a bend in the road where it dipped down into a gully where they were out of the guards' sight of the guards. Five of the POWs, including Frank, dropped out and ducked into the bushes where they hid until the whole column had passed by. Then they headed back in the direction from which they had come, not walking on the road but skirting it in the fields.
They spotted a barn, which they entered in order to hide. It was a two-story structure, and they went up to the second story. Frank's buddy, Jim Peebles from Montana, who had stood watch for him at the wall, was still with him. They had been observed entering the barn by the people from the farmhouse, and two women came out and entered the barn. One was an older woman, and the other younger, perhaps mother and daughter-in-law. The women didn't seem frightened and talked very friendly with them. The younger woman told them that they had no love for the Nazi Germans. She said that the SS troopers had machine-gunned her husband's car. He was away in the army, had been wounded and now walked with a limp.
Frank feels that the treatment that the women had received from the SS troopers worked to the advantage of the POWs. Frank and his friends shared their food with the women, and the women let them hide in the barn.
Frank believes this occurred on April 12, 1945. The next day, April 13, a tank from the 5th Armored Division pulled up to the barn. One of the women went and told them that Americans were hiding in the barn. One can just imagine their joy at seeing an American tank pull up. Frank recalls this date because one of the first things the tankers told them was that President Roosevelt had died the day before.
Frank doesn't know why but the five former POWs all became separated as they walked their individual ways. On the road, Frank met an Italian soldier, but they had difficulty communicating because Frank could speak only slang Sicilian and the other fellow spoke a more formal,,, educated Italian. They entered the town and Frank went into some stores to collect some souvenirs and war trophies. He gathered up some cigarette lighters and cases, an accordion, a .22 cal. Target pistol and some .22 cal ammunition. He picked up a suitcase and put the trophies in it.
The two of them stopped at a farmhouse where they wanted to get some food. The people killed a chicken and made chicken soup for them. Frank told them not to worry that the Americans would take care of them when they arrived. To this day Frank is sorry he didn't leave a note for them to show the American forces later. The two soldiers spent the night in the house, having placed their trust in the people. In the morning they were fed some eggs and then they left. The accordion became too heavy for Frank to carry, and so he gave it to the Italian.
They returned to Stendal and stayed with some G.I.s in a mansion they had taken over. The building was owned by a brewery that made beer right across the street. The people of the city brought all of their weapons and turned them in. They were all piled up on the floor. Then after the higher officers had their choice, the men were allowed to take their pick. Frank just got some less valuable gun.
At Stendal he was taken to the airport where he was loaded on a plane and flown to LeHarve, France and then to Camp Lucky Strike. He was there about a week and remembers being fed doughnuts and pea soup.
On May 1, 1945 he sailed from LeHarve and arrived at a port in Maryland and was taken to Camp Meade. He was then given a sixty day delay-in-route. After the delay-in-route he was sent to Camp Dix, NJ and was then shipped to Camp Rucker, Alabama and on to Fort Benning, Georgia.
In November or December he entered the hospital because his feet were giving him trouble from the frostbite he had suffered while fighting and in the Prisoner of War Camps. As a result of this he was given a Certificate of Disability for Discharge under Articles of War 615-361 and WDAGO From 40. He was awarded the World War II Victory Medal, The American Theatre Campaign Medal, The Good Conduct Medal, The European, African, Middle East Campaign Medal with two bronze stars, The Combat Infantryman's Badge, The Bronze Star Medal, The Prisoner of War Medal, The City of Batavia Medal, and the New York State Meritorious Service Medal.
Frank was given his Honorable Discharge as a Private on December 6, 1945 and returned to Batavia, NY. Two weeks he went back to work for the Doehler-Jarvis Company, where he was employed for 39 years. He took early retirement at age 56, because, "I just grew tired of working" and he went on pension.
Frank says he never intended to get married but he met June S. Donnelly and they fell in love and got married. That marriage produced six children, Darlene, Frankie, Gary, Charlene, Kevin and Calvin. June died August 22, 1962.
In 1964 Frank met Marian through their place of work. Marian was a bookkeeper at the Batavia Downs Race Track, and Frank worked there on a part-time basis after finishing a shift at Doehler-Jarvis. Frank was supervisor of the concession stands. Many times he brought the children with him, and that is how Marian met them. Frank and Marian went out picnicking and so forth, and a romance developed.
Frank says they had discussed marriage, and he said he left it up to her. If she wanted to get married she just had to tell him. They attended a school party for one of Frank's boys in 1966, and after the party Marian told him they were going to visit her brother and she said, "And by the way, we are going to get married." Frank said she should have given him more warning because he wasn't dressed for that. But they went to a Justice of the Peace and were married on December 20, 1966. Although Frank says he never intended to get married he has no regrets.
Frank wants to add that he considers himself extremely lucky to have had a wife like Marian who has put up with him and cared for him and his six children, whom she raised like they were her own. The children treated her like a mother, too. "They treat her more like a mother than me like a father," Frank says. Frank says he is glad of that and it makes him feel good that they appreciated the way she helped them.
Frank has a service-connected disability for his feet, which were frost bitten, and for post traumatic stress but he has arthritis from being butted with the rifle but the V.A. has denied his claim on several occasions. He is still trying to get that claim approved.