The sound of crunching snow under your feet is a wonderful sound for most of us, but it created a very different emotion for then-Lieutenant Sam Lombardo in December 1944.
During the first days of the infamous Battle of the Bulge, Lombardo had personally taken on the task to lead his platoon across a minefield—one that had left two previously tasked soldiers bleeding, moaning and wounded in the snow.
“I told my sergeant to go ahead across the field and right in front of me he collapses,” explains Lombardo. “And at this point, I thought, I am the leader here, and it’s my time to lead.” That’s exactly what he did. For nearly 300 yards, step by step, Lt. Lombardo heard the crunch, crunch, crunch of snow as his boot broke through the layers of icy mixture to find solid ground and the relief of no explosion below it.
For hundreds of steps, Lombardo endured the repetitive stress. At the end of the field, he looked back, feeling blessed to still be alive, as others followed safely in his footsteps. Like all heroes, this was not the only instance of saving lives Lombardo exhibited without thoughts of his own safety.
A Silver Star and two Bronze Stars, a thankful wounded lieutenant rescued at night, repairing downed communications lines wherever he saw them, even leading a bayonet charge across an open field… Lombardo accomplished all of these, but it wasn’t just these heroic battlefield acts that set Lombardo apart from others.
After six months of repeatedly being denied his request for an American flag, Lt. Lombardo led his company in creating their own Stars and Stripes from scrap materials and captured German flags. This simple flag led the troops that fought for control of the Remagen Bridge, a battle that ensured an earlier end to the war in Germany. This historic flag was given back to Lombardo by his men at the end of the war and is now on display at Fort Benning.
Fighting in World War II was not the first time Lombardo experienced adversity. He was a preteen Italian immigrant when he first saw New York’s harbor in October 1929. His family had fled the tyranny that had taken over his native Italy, but now they faced the uncertainty and despair of the Great Depression.
“For me, there was no Depression,” says Lombardo. “We just felt privileged to be here in America and living free.” He had learned early in life how to make the best of bad situations and used that to
excel in life. Duty, as well as a loyalty to his newfound homeland, compelled Sam Lombardo to join the Army’s 110th Infantry Regiment, where he soon became an officer dedicated to protecting the American way. Just 10 years after entering this country to escape the fascism of Mussolini, Lombardo was off to free others from that same tyranny.
“I was in Germany at the end of the war and was put in charge of getting the buildings ready for the Nuremberg trials and the interrogation of German war criminals, which was an amazing assignment,” he says. “After this I learned Japanese, which is the best thing I ever did, I continued my diplomatic work in Japan for three tours.”
Lombardo continued to serve for 23 years, through three wars, and ended his military career as a lieutenant colonel. His Army retirement led to a second life, one with a passion for doing for others.
“I have been blessed,” he says. “I survived many battles and have many accomplishments to be proud of, but my favorite of all my awards and medals is the Four Chaplain’s Legion of Honor.” He explains the award’s origin. “These four chaplains gave up their life vest, knowing it would mean certain death for each of them, to four soldiers on a transport ship sinking from the strike of a torpedo. Now that took courage.”
The Legion of Honor Bronze Medallion was awarded to Lombardo in 2006 for “extraordinary contribution to the wellbeing of others at the national or world level, to world peace, or to interfaith and inter-ethnic understanding.”
Everywhere Sam Lombardo has lived, he has been responsible for thousands of dollars being raised for many charities and inspiring others to do the same. A still-spry 98-year-old, he continues to give of his time, speaking and inspiring all of us while finding time to continue to support numerous charity events in our community.
“You just do what you have to do,” he says. “You do what’s right.”
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