Wednesday, February 20, 2013

TFH 2/20: Sergeant Frank F. Aiello, USA

Seventy years ago, the United States Army was suffering through a defeat at the hands of Nazi Germany's Afrika Korps at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass. Kasserine, fought from February 19-25, 1943 - along with the earlier defeat at the Battle of Sidi Bou Zid (2/14-17/1943) - showed that America's army had a lot of learning to do before they'd be able to achieve victory in the Tunisia Campaign and in the war.

Even in defeat, we can find stories of incredible heroism on the part of the American warrior. We know of many instances of our soldiers receiving the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second-highest award for valor, but many of the citations for the awards have been lost to history.

Four such heroes were Private Wallace L. Bunker (posthumous), First Sergeant Arnold G. Klawitter, Captain James E. Miles (posthumous), and Staff Sergeant Charley H. Wise. A fifth Distinguished Service Cross recipient, we do know some more about.

Sergeant Frank F. Aiello, according to my research, was born around 1920 in Queens, New York. He fought in North Africa with the 9th Infantry Division's 39th Infantry Regiment. Thankfully, his citation for the Distinguished Service Cross is available, and it tells the story of a man who remained behind to cover the withdrawal of his comrades so they could survive to fight another day.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Sergeant Frank F. Aiello (ASN: 32002089), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with Company M, 39th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces on 20 February 1943, at Kasserine Pass, Tunisia. While serving as leader of a section of machine guns, Sergeant Aiello was painfully wounded by an enemy grenade. Although ordered to seek first aid, he refused to leave his position, which was under heavy enemy attack, but continued to direct his section in repelling those attacks. Several hours later, when the platoon sector became untenable as a result of enemy penetrations and withdrawal to a new position through heavy machine-gun fire was ordered, Sergeant Aiello elected to remain behind, firing a machine gun at the advancing enemy to protect the withdrawal of his men by drawing to himself the fire and attention of the enemy. In so doing, he was mortally wounded. Sergeant Aiello's intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty at the cost of his life, exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 9th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.

Sergeant Aiello died from his wounds on February 22, 1943. He rests in peace today with 2,840 of his comrades in arms at the North African American Cemetery and Memorial in Tunisia. The names of a further 3,724 American warriors are inscribed upon the site's Wall of the Missing; warriors whose resting places and final stories are known but to God.

I'm honored and humbled here at Their Finest Hour to be able to recount the stories of men such as Sergeant Aiello. I wish the details of every decorated hero were known to us, for as further years and decades pass, it is all too possible for all of their courage and sacrifice to pass from our consciousness.

The 9th Infantry Division is currently inactive. The 2nd Battalion of the 39th Infantry Regiment is currently the only active unit of the regiment. They are tasked with preparing the soldiers of tomorrow through Basic Combat Training as part of the 165th Infantry Brigade at Fort Jackson, Mississippi.

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