Spry veteran looking for next challenge in life
Claremont resident Jimmy DiMauro has never been one to take it easy. Into his late 80s it wasn’t uncommon to see Mr. DiMauro climbing on top of washing machines and making repairs at College Park Laundromat in Glendora, a former family business. Now 93 with walker in hand, things haven’t changed much for Mr. DiMauro. The sociable army veteran makes the jaunt to the Joslyn Senior Center on a daily basis to enjoy company and a good lunch.
“He’s very social and loves talking about his time in the service, his business and his sons,” said Ortansa Alexiu, a volunteer in the Joslyn Center’s gift shop.
It’s just not in his nature to sit back and take a break, he says.
“You just do the best you can, or better if it’s possible, and keep going,” Mr. DiMauro said, a mantra the Purple Heart recipient has maintained throughout his life, both on and off the battlefield. He continues to do so with gusto.
His level of constant activity and attention to detail is a source of pride for Mr. DiMauro, and one he takes very seriously. An extensive collection of medals and honors depict the extent of his long and decorated career with the United States Army.
Mr. DiMauro was born in 1919 and raised in a predominantly Italian neighborhood of Staten Island, New York. He fostered his characteristic tenacious spirit in physical exercise—particularly boxing—or by going into the city with friends to dance with the girls at the Roseland Ballroom.
The second oldest of 7 children, Mr. DiMauro was a fiercely protective older brother and assumed the role of family guardian.
“My father was a very tough guy. If someone picked on his younger brothers, it was his job to go out there and clean things up,” Mr. DiMauro’s son Vince said. “He represented the family.”
That same tough guy attitude would later transfer to his role in the armed forces. When the men in his neighborhood started to line up to go to war in the early 1940s, Mr. DiMauro eagerly joined the throngs. But stationed in the swamplands of Jacksonville for basic training in 1943, the rough climate and conditions were enough to shake the strong-willed New Yorker.
“It was just awful. There were wild pigs that would come hit your tent and break it down to try and get food out of you,” he recalled of his camp.
As an “all or nothing” kind of guy, Mr. DiMauro committed himself fully to his new occupation despite the unfavorable conditions, and was rewarded for it. He rose quickly in the ranks.
“Every place I went, I was always rated highly,” Mr. DiMauro said, eventually finishing his career 22 years later as a Sergeant First Class.
Even in the most dangerous circumstances, he kept his head held high. Mr. DiMauro was one of thousands of soldiers sent to battle on Omaha Beach, one of the bloodiest battles of WWII. Despite bleak prospects, he maintains that he entered combat with his usual resolve.
“It was part of the job,” he said, matter-of-factly. “What could I do?”
Along with others of the 110th infantry, 28th division, a full pack and rifle in arm, Mr. DiMauro descended a rope ladder onto the landing crafts below, eventually sent into the water and head-on into the gloomy and gruesome battle ahead.
Countless soldiers were killed, and Mr. DiMauro counts himself as one of the lucky ones; he stood among the men on the front line. His bravery in the bloody battle and several other battles that followed earned him 3 Bronze Stars for bravery.
While Mr. DiMauro’s uniform was emblazoned with a red keystone as a symbol of his infantry division, the badge held a different significance for the German soldiers. The keystone’s shape and color earned the 28th division the German nickname “der blutiger eimer” or “the bloody bucket,” because of the American soldiers’ fierceness.
After losing ground in France, the German soldiers took a stronger hold on their own soil, setting up a base in Hürtgen Forest. The Americans followed in pursuit. Mr. DiMauro remembers hiding in a foxhole one night as he scouted out the forest for his infantry. Hidden below, he remembers hearing the German soldiers congregating above him unknowingly.
“I heard them speaking German above me, I was completely surrounded,” he said, counting the night’s heavy fog among his saving graces. “I was lucky to have gotten out of there.”
It would be just one of many close-calls for Mr. DiMauro and others involved in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest—one of WWII’s longest battles—fighting in freezing and brutal conditions. Equipped only with their summer clothes, many soldiers froze to death, Mr. DiMauro recalled.
“They would pick up the frozen bodies and just throw them on trucks and take them out. It was so cold,” he said, and “if you took branches off the trees and tried to get a little heat you would be court-martialed.”
Mr. DiMauro still remembers the distinctive whizz of the German buzz bombs and the shrapnel that rained down upon the soldiers. Mr. DiMauro later received a Purple Heart after being injured by the shrapnel in November 1944.
After WWII Mr. DiMauro continued his years in the service, stationed as a supervisor over the town of Wiesensteig. He was chosen because of his gift for languages—able to speak English, Italian and some German. It was while stationed in Wiesensteig that Mr. DiMauro met and married his wife, one of the townspeople and his appointed German translator.
The soldier with the tough exterior showed a soft spot for the townspeople of Wiesensteig, buying food for the people and the orphanages with money from his own pocket. His father’s effect on the townspeople was profound, said his son Vince, who remembers returning on a trip with his father in the 1960s.
“He was greeted like a prince, it was quite an experience,” his son said. “He was beloved in that town… like a returning hero.”
Mr. DiMauro’s 22-year army career took him back and forth between Germany and the United States and onto the Marshall Islands for a year—as the army tested the atomic bomb—and he met each leg of the journey with the same enthusiasm and determination. With his Purple Heart identification always safely stowed in his pocket and a story at-the-ready with anyone who has a moment, his sense of pride and patriotism continue to be a standout factor, said friend Ortansa Alexiu.
“He is the kind of person that signifies what America is all about,” she said.