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Corado "Babe" Ciarlo: Nobility Beyond the Battlefield
The bravest battle that ever was fought;
As he fought in the grueling Italian campaign of 1944, Babe maintained a steady flow of upbeat letters to his family. These letters sustained his widowed mother, Martina, as she worried for her son's safety. He understood how terrified his mother would be if he wrote of his actual wartime experiences. To protect her, Babe focused on banal and innocent topics like swimming in the Tyrrhenian Sea, the lovely weather or delightful Army food.
After immigrating to the United States from Italy, Tomaso and Martina Ciarlo settled in Waterbury, Connecticut. Tomaso ran a thriving grocery store and butcher's shop until his untimely death in 1937 left Martina alone to raise the five children: Dominick, Victorina, Corado, Olga, and Tom. By 1941, Babe had graduated from Leavenworth High School. Like many young men of this era, Babe wanted to join the military but was persuaded to forgo enlistment by his mother. Instead, he began working at the Waterbury Steel Ball factory.
As World War II raged on in 1942, Babe was called up for service. His brothers, Dominick and Tom, qualified for exemptions as the youngest and oldest sons. Babe was eligible and although he greatly desired to join the Navy, Martina managed to talk him out of it once more. After his six month deferment expired, however, Babe eschewed a second deferment and was drafted into the Army in the spring of 1943. As with the many thousands of Waterbury residents who served during World War II, Babe received a prayer book and a carton of cigarettes, courtesy of the local Shriners, before boarding the train for Basic Training.
Assigned as a corporal to the 3rd Infantry Division of General Mark Clark's 5th Army, Babe deployed initially to North Africa. An assault landing on Sicily in July 1943 led to the capture of Palermo and Messina, effectively ending the Sicilian campaign. Two months later, the division landed at Salerno, and was followed by hard fighting crossing the Volturno and near the monstery at Cassino.
By early 1944, the Fifth Army swarmed ashore near the prewar Italian resort towns of Anzio and Nettuno. Although initial resistance was light, the German defenders immediately began consolidating troops in order to eliminate what Adolf Hitler called the "Anzio abscess." Some of the most savage fighting of World War II would occur over the next five months as the Allies fought their way inland and began a bloody push for Rome. Losses mounted quickly with Babe's 3rd Division suffering over 3,000 casualties in only 56 days of combat while advancing less than 50 miles.
Babe's letters home, however, paint a different picture. His rosy portrayal belies the devastation and death around him, instead choosing to tell his mother of the beautiful weather, fattening food and sending money home to buy gifts for Easter. Babe succeeded in hiding the horrors. Years later, his brother Thomas would note, "You see probably on the newsreel or you read about it in the paper about different battles, but you don't actually put Babe in that position. At one point...my mother had my aunt write a letter in Italian...to Babe. 'When you get to Rome, we have relatives over there...they'll treat you well.' And at the time, you think, 'Well, he's going to Rome and he's going to see his relatives.' Can you imagine that? You think about it now and it's so unreal."
In late March 1944, as the fighting escalated in and around the Anzio beachhead, Babe's thoughts were of home and family. His March 20th letter focuses on Easter and the need to have a plant placed on his late father's grave. Two days later, another letter home mentions the spring weather, adding that his family's concerns for him are unnecessary: "I heard everybody was worried about me for a while, because you haven't heard from me, but you should know better than that. You know nothing will happen to me."
His April letters continued optimistically noting that with all the eating and sleeping, he would "be like a barrel." Babe's primary concerns were of his family, especially his mother. Even references to the war were casual, light and often vague. He wrote on April 30 that he wasn't in Cisterna "because the Jerries still got it, but we were pretty darn close." He closes the letter with his intent to "go swimming in the Tyrennian Sea - the salt water will do me good," adding, "there is nothing to worry about, because it is safe here and the ocean is very, very safe."
In what may have been Babe's final letter home on May 19, he bravely continues to mask the daily terror of war behind a façade of cheeriness. Rain, often the bane of a mechanized division, was not "bad at all, because it cooled us off." He closes in his typical manner with a special note, "Mom, how are you getting along, fine I hope and keeping happy always. I'm doing good, and always happy, because I know you're okay."
The letters stopped coming in June 1944. His family learned on June 26 that Babe had been killed in action near Artena on May 27, approximately 50 kilometers southeast of Rome, near his mother's relatives. He was eight days shy of his twenty-first birthday and had served in the Army for 1 year, 1 month and 1 week.
Martina Ciarlo refused to accept the devastating news. For many months, she would scan the newspapers for photographs of soldiers hoping to see her son. Babe's sister, Olga, tried to convince Martina that he would not return alive, but it was to no avail until "...they brought his body back, and we went down to the railroad station and when they took his body off the train and we were all there, we all went to the cemetery, when they handed my mother the flag."
General George S. Patton, Jr. once said, "Let me not mourn for the men who have died fighting, but rather let me be glad that such heroes have lived."
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