Tantillo, at 100, recalls war years and more
NORTH AUGUSTA — Anthony Tantillo’s family fled Italy in 1932, heading to the United States to escape the dictatorship being established under Benito Mussolini, and the future centenarian wound up returning to Europe 11 years later, to help break the Axis powers’ grip on the continent.
The Sicily native, now 100, lives with his wife, Augusta native Clara, 97, in NHC North Augusta, with mementos from 75 years of married life on the wall in their room.
He was introduced to the CSRA in 1941, when Camp Gordon beckoned the January draftee for his basic Army training – a long, long way from his hometown of Palermo, Sicily, which was taken by the Allies in the summer of 1943. Camp Gordon – the future Fort Gordon – was also the locale for his wedding, in July 1943.
About a month after the wedding, he was shipped to England to prepare for the Allied invasion of Europe. He was a member of the 22nd Infantry, Fourth Division and Company A, serving as a private.
The next couple of years included his participation in two of World War II’s most pivotal moments: D-Day, when Allied forces pounded through ferocious German resistance in invading northern France; and the Battle of the Bulge, when American and German troops clashed in nightmarish conditions in a frozen forest at the intersection of Belgium, France and Luxembourg.
Tantillo and thousands of his compatriots, on June 6, 1944, hit the bloody beach that would become known in history as “Omaha.” The Battle of the Bulge, which raged from mid-December 1944 through mid-January 1945, would become known as one of the bloodiest battles in American history.
That wintry nightmare put an end to Tantillo’s military days, as a mortar fragment wounded his right hand. He was sent to England, was hospitalized for “two or three months,” and eventually regained full use of the wounded hand, enough to allow him to continue guitar-playing as a serious hobby, continuing a family tradition of musicianship. He ended his Army days on June 17, 1945.
Tantillo’s family – the mom, dad and four sons – lived in New York City prior to the war, in a two-family house (“six rooms upstairs, and six rooms downstairs”) in the Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights. Years later, the future North Augusta resident found the area surrounding Camp Gordon to his liking, and cast his lot a few blocks from the Savannah River.
He owned and operated Tantillo’s Market, a grocery store in Augusta, on Laney-Walker Boulevard, for about 50 years, while he and his wife brought up a family of nine kids, living on East Pine Grove Avenue, in North Augusta.