ELYRIAÂ – Â For John Brattoli, serving in World War II was more than answering his country`s calling – it was a family affair.
Of the six Brattoli brothers, five were old enough to serve in WWII and answered the call in “piecemeal” fashion.
Brattoli, now 81, of Elyria, recalled watching his younger brother`s eighth-grade football game in 1941 when word that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese began spreading through the stands.
After the game, he and his family crowded around the radio and heard the news from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“We knew there was a war, but I don`t think we truly understood what it was about until it got started,” he said. “Somehow, you knew you were going to be involved in it.”
Brattoli`s older brother, Steve, was drafted into the Army in 1942, and brothers Joe and Dan followed into service with the Air Force.
John Brattoli graduated from Elyria High School on June 7, 1944. Two days later, he was on a bus to military training for the Army.
“When I went for my physical, I didn`t want to fail because I knew my brothers were there,” he said. “It was a joint thing. They were serving, so I wanted to serve, too.”
Even Brattoli`s younger brother, Tony, served in the Army Airborne as a paratrooper in Japan.
Brattoli had no contact with his brothers during the war. He was too busy trying to stay alive while serving on campaigns such as the Battle of the Bulge, the Rhine River Crossing and in the Battle for Central Germany.
There was little time to think about home. The memories that surface from that period, he said, are only flashes of dark moments.
There was his first day of combat when a tank rolled over the body of a dead German soldier, snapping his leg off and sending it rolling down an embankment.
And there was the body of another German soldier slumped in a ditch with picture upon picture of loved ones piled up in his pockets.
“You knew that a lot of them were just like you – they just had to do it,” Brattoli said.
There were some close calls, too.
Shots fired from a German halftrack`s 20-mm cannon whizzed by Brattoli and struck a comrade in the stomach, leaving a gaping hole.
Brattoli recounted trying to fight off a strafing German plane with a rifle. The plane`s barrage of bullets missed him, but on another occasion, he wasn`t so fortunate.
In fleeing for cover, he said, a German artillery shell landed behind him, sending him flying through the air and severing the front part of his right foot.
The injury wasn`t life-threatening but severe enough to eventually send him on his way home.
“It was a bloody stump, but I was lucky,” he said. “I had the million-dollar wound. I was fortunate.”
One by one, each of the Brattoli brothers walked through the door of the family`s Elyria home. John Brattoli was the only one wounded, but the fact that they all served and made it back alive from one of history`s bloodiest wars was something none of them took for granted, he said.
While all of the Brattoli brothers are still alive, the others are either incapacitated or no longer live in the area, Brattoli said.
Veterans Day, Brattoli said, serves as a time to remember the war, the people he served with and the memories of his family carrying out their duty.
When asked if he considers himself, or any of his brothers, a hero, a calm answer resonates – a feeling of pride that he said comes with duty.
“A hero is the one who does his job, even if it`s a small one,” he said. “During that time, everyone was involved. The country`s attitude was togetherness. Everyone back then was a hero.”
Contact Stephen Szucs at 336-4016 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Â