French ambassador to award Belleville High alumnus for service in war Thursday April 12, 2012,
BY MIKE LAMBERTI; CORRESPONDENT Belleville Times
Like many who are commonly referred to as being a part of "The Greatest Generation," Rocco Milano never wanted accolades for simply being a man. He raised his family in Belleville, worked hard and provided a good home. He lived, and continues to live, the American Dream. Milano, known to his loved ones and friends as "Rocky," also served with distinction in World War II. And for nearly seven decades after completing his service, his accomplishments in the United States Army were barely noticed. And that's the way Rocky Milano, today 92 years young, wanted it. It was the way most of the men and women who fought in that war for this country wanted it, as well. "Honestly, he never talked about it," said Dr. Peggy Chatham, a 1976 Belleville High graduate and later a major in the United States Army, who is also Rocky's daughter-in-law. "That's just the way it was. He did his job and when he finished it, he moved on. But throughout the years, we began to think that maybe he had done a little more than just serve. Even now, he doesn't discuss it much." Having served as a commissioned officer in the Army, Chatham began poking around the Internet to get a better idea of what her father-in-law had accomplished in the war that many have said saved this country. "We began to realize something was up when, in 2006, Rocky was asked to come meet then-President George W. Bush at the White House after the dedication of the Air Force Memorial in Washington, D.C.," Chatham said with a laugh. "He told us he was a member of a ground crew in the Army Air Force. That was it." Milano's service to his country was indeed impressive. So much so that on May 8, he will be awarded the Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor upon the recommendation of French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a ceremony that will be held at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY. The ceremony will be part of a celebration commemorating Victory in Europe Day. He will receive the award from none other than the Ambassador of France to the United States, Pierre Vimont. "I have very mixed emotions," said Milano. "I know it will be a very moving ceremony, over the top in some ways. I will accept the award on behalf of the fellas I served with who are no longer with us. I think of them all the time." For 12 months, Technical Sergeant Milano served as a ground crew chief for three B-25 Mitchell Bombers of the 446th Squadron, 321st Bomb Group, and 57th Bomb Wing of the 12th Air Force in Corsica during World War II. His service represented a tireless effort of the crews who repaired and maintained the bombers for the invasion of Southern France that started on Aug. 14, 1944, two months after the invasion of Normandy on a day known to many as D-Day. - Milano is the recipient of the Distinguished Unit Citation for the highly successful Toulon Harbor mission of Aug. 17, 1944. "His job in the Army as a crew chief wasn't easy," Chatham, who served in the Army for 12 years, said. "He practically lived on the plane when it was in for maintenance. They lived in tents, guarded the bombers, repaired and tested them in open air. It was their job to make sure the planes kept flying." Milano, a 1938 graduate of Belleville High, worked as a tool helper in the Kearny Shipyards when he enlisted in the Army in 1942. Following basic and mechanic training at Keesler Army Air Field in Mississippi, he received specialized training on the Mitchell Bomber in Inglewood, Calif. He joined the newly formed 321st Bomb Group in Columbia, South Carolina in Oct. 1942 and served with that group until the end of World War II in Tunisia, Libya, Italy, Corsica and again in Italy before returning home in Aug. 1945. - Milano's three brothers, Dominick, Ralph and Angelo also enlisted in the military during World War II, with Dominick and Ralph in the Army and Angelo a Navy man. Rocky has survived his brothers while his sister, Josephine, herself a widow of World War II Navy Veteran Theodore Hahula, still lives in Belleville. Rocco Milano and his wife, Norma, currently reside in Toms River. Rocco has two sons, Robert and Ken, a daughter, Sharon, two step children, as well as 10 grandchildren. "Typical Rocky, he's downplaying this entire ceremony at West Point as just doing his job," Chatham said. "But we, as a family, want him to know he did much more than that. And I believe so many others will feel the same when everyone comes to West Point next month to honor the men and women who helped keep this country free in World War II." Milano was invited to attend both the dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington back in 2004, as well as the Air Force Memorial two years later. "It's been incredible to see the outpouring of respect for all who served in World War II," Chatham said. "This is a wonderful honor for a very humble man."
From Rocky's proud daughtr; Dr. Peggy Chatham (M.D.)
Congratulations! Our amazingly heroic and quiet "Greatest Generation" are just that... Rocky Milano is one of those and well deserves this award and more. Thanks to these brave men, we enjoy the Freedom and safety that we take too-much for granted... "Thank you for your service and sacrifice" Rocky and again *Congratulations to a true hero*..... personally, I greatly admire you. God Bless YOU and all of your family.... How proud we all are. Blessings, Barbi Connolly, 321st Bomb Group Historian in the 57th Bomb Wing.
Barbi Ennis Connolly, 321st Bomb Group Historian; PRINCESSBARBI_B25@msn.com