Enfield couple shares memories of World War II

By Joan Hunt - ReminderNews Managing Editor
Enfield - posted Fri., May. 25, 2012
Charles Abissi, Sr., wearing the insignia of the black panther tank destroyer division. Courtesy photos. - Contributed Photo

As our nation prepared to celebrate Memorial Day and the people whose sacrifices have kept it  free, Charles and Cecilia Licardo Abissi, who have called Enfield their home since 1955, recalled what it was like to serve their country and to fall in love during the turbulence of World War II. Both in their 90s, they have been reticent about those days, but have recently begun to share their memories with their daughter, Charlene Abissi Paluck – probably their biggest fan.

Charles Abissi, Sr., served in the U.S. Army in both the European and Pacific Theaters during WW II, eventually being awarded the American Service Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the European African Middle Eastern Service Medal, the Silver Star and five battles stars and their ribbons for the Central European and the Rhineland campaigns. Behind the medals and honors he recalls the stench of gunpowder stuck by sweat inside his nostrils, while German sharpshooters tried to knock out his 70-pound automatic gun. He recalls stepping over helmets of the dead to get traction in the slippery ground as he carried the burning gun toward the ridge to “open up a hole” in the opposing ranks.

In Saipan, he had to learn about flowers – especially the ones that grew in ponds and had a crust on the outside and quicksand underneath. He remembers pulling four of his buddies out of the swamp quicksand – and being unable to reach the several who didn’t make it out. “You bond; you want to live,” Abissi said.

Having received his training at Camp Hood, Texas, Abissi was trained as a welder, an electrician, a mechanic and a marksman. He also was trained in chemical warfare. The stories are starting to come out, in the privacy of his own home and the confidence of his daughter. He tells her about being attached to Gen. Patton’s black panther tank destroyer division and the time he carried his commanding officer on his back for three days and three nights, and how he lost his hearing, except for 10 percent in one ear.

He tells her how, disliking army rations, he learned to forage, preferring sour grass (which tastes like lettuce), berries, potatoes and onions. Even the dried out grapes in France tasted pretty good, he says. He used to boil potatoes in his helmet and flavor the soup with grapes. Some of his memories, he is reluctant to tell her.

“I got off the ship, touched American soil, fell to my knees and kissed American soil on Jan. 15, 1946, in San Francisco, Calif.,” he said. “To me, the United States of America is the greatest country on this planet. I was proud to serve.”

In Amsterdam, N.Y., Abissi was about to encounter his second great adventure. It was there he met Cecelia Licardo, one of 13 children, 10 of whom served in one way or another during the war. She had trained in civil defense and was a mule tractor operator who drove box car trailers of ammunition to the trains. She prepared cargo of manufactured guns, ammunition and bombs, working all night one time when an entire load of guns was sabotaged and ended up in the sea.

The Licardo family had a large farm and many neighbors who had no food, so they took pots of soup and stews to the people on their street. It was Cecelia’s job to pick the pots up every night and bring them back home to refill.

Cecelia was at the movies with her younger sister, Helen, when Abissi first met her. She resisted his introduction. Charles pluckily pulled off the silk scarf she had around her neck and put it in his jacket. According to their daughter, Cecelia reached in and took it back, saying, “Who do you think you are?” He told her he wanted to know her name because she was going to be his wife.

On Nov. 24, 1949, the couple was married in St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Amsterdam, N.Y., and a few years later they moved to the Thompsonville section of Enfield, behind the old post office on Central Street.

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