Larry Balboni, the man makes the uniform

 

 

THE JUMPSUIT, which included pants and a jacket, had big pockets that expanded, allowing paratroopers to carry everything that was needed to be self-contained once they landed. (De Busk Photo) Vet touched by LRMS thank you cards NAPLES — Bill O’Neil, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War era, said he was impressed and touched by the packet of papers he received at the Veterans Day Assembly held Nov. 10 at Lake Region High School.  Inside a manila envelope given to each of the 20 or so veterans who attended, were at least a half-dozen handwritten and hand-colored thank you cards from students at Lake Region Middle School.  “They put a lot of effort into it,” he said.  One of his cards, from a sixth grader, featured a big bold “thank you” on front and this message inside: “Thank you for serving our country. Your family must be so proud. You are a brave and amazing person!! You put your life on the line for our freedom.” The girl drew a smiling soldier with the words “My Super Hero” pointing to the figure, and a quote: “Heroes don’t wear capes or tights, they wear dog tags and combat boots.”  Another girl wrote a letter, saying, “I have a grandfather that served a long time ago and I know how much it meant to him and all of the people who have served. When you go and do something like that it means a lot to me and lots of people.

THE JUMPSUIT, which included pants and a jacket, had big pockets that expanded, allowing paratroopers to carry everything that was needed to be self-contained once they landed. (De Busk Photo)
Vet touched by LRMS thank you cards
NAPLES — Bill O’Neil, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War era, said he was impressed and touched by the packet of papers he received at the Veterans Day Assembly held Nov. 10 at Lake Region High School.
Inside a manila envelope given to each of the 20 or so veterans who attended, were at least a half-dozen handwritten and hand-colored thank you cards from students at Lake Region Middle School.
“They put a lot of effort into it,” he said.
One of his cards, from a sixth grader, featured a big bold “thank you” on front and this message inside: “Thank you for serving our country. Your family must be so proud. You are a brave and amazing person!! You put your life on the line for our freedom.” The girl drew a smiling soldier with the words “My Super Hero” pointing to the figure, and a quote: “Heroes don’t wear capes or tights, they wear dog tags and combat boots.”
Another girl wrote a letter, saying, “I have a grandfather that served a long time ago and I know how much it meant to him and all of the people who have served. When you go and do something like that it means a lot to me and lots of people.

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — Lawrence “Larry” Balboni does not mind the snow.

The Naples resident does not mind the snow because he enjoys downhill skiing, especially at Sunday River Resort, and sometimes at Shawnee Peak on Pleasant Mountain.

At 91 years old, Balboni tries to avoid the taking jumps on the moguls. It is not going airborne that concerns him as much as landing.

“It is hard on the knees,” he said.

Balboni is no stranger to knee-jarring activities or adventure. As a matter of fact, Balboni jumped out of airplanes during World War II as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division more than 70 years ago.

“It did sound exciting to me — to be a paratrooper,” he said.

He was a latecomer to the war, he said.

He arrived in Europe in August 1944. His first combat experience happened in September 1944 when the United States 82nd Airborne Division jumped, landing in the city of Nijmegen, Holland. Along with the 101st Airborne Division and allied help from the British First Airborne Division, the mandate was to destroy bridges and roads and key communication centers in Nijmegen.

“Those other fellows had been in the war since Normandy. I was still wet behind the ears,” he said.

“When Normandy took place, I was in parachute training in Fort Benning, Georgia,” he said.

The training included five jumps before being shipped out to the battle zones in Europe.

Balboni was a student in a Massachusetts high school when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

“In ‘41, I was only 17. I waited until the following September, and by then they were drafting,” he said.

“A bunch of us went in to enlist at the same time. But, I didn’t do service time with anyone in my hometown. The fellows I served with were from the Eastern part of the United States,” he said.

To this day, Balboni has his paratrooper uniform. It hangs neatly in his closet.

The insignia has been removed; and he has numerous medals, including the Purple Heart, displayed in a shadow box on the living room wall.

The uniform still fits, he said.

“The jumpsuit had big bulky pockets built into the chest and the waist area. The pockets are expandable,” he said.

Those pockets were loaded with everything they needed to survive during battle on the ground.

“When we jumped from the plane, we had to be self-contained. We had K-rations, hand grenades, putty balms, and so forth. And, we carried a lot of ammunition,” Balboni said.

“We were self-contained. We were cut off from any assistance. We were behind the enemy lines,” he said.

Also in 1944, the 82nd Airborne jumped into German-controlled territory. The objective was to destroy the bridge over the River Rhine.

Then, Balboni was assigned to what would be referred to as The Battle of the Bulge.

When the Germans gained ground, pushed back American troops in the forested area of Belgium, the Allied forces “sent all the reserves,” he said.

“They pulled us off the line. We had accomplished our mission to take out the bridge over the Rhine,” Balboni said.

“They took us on trucks to Belgium. Soldiers came by the truckload,” he said.

On the day he was injured, he had just reported the details of a scouting mission to his commanding officer.

“Shrapnel went through my arm. I was with another soldier. He helped me bandage my arm,” he said.

“We all carried a compression bandage on our belt, on our ammunition belt. That was what the individual would carry. There were always medics with us who had additional supplies,” he said.

“After I got wounded, I don’t think it was 15 minutes before I found a medic,” he said.

“It was my right arm and I couldn’t do much more. I had nerve damage. The doctor had to repair the nerve damage,” he said.

Balboni said when he thinks of his military experiences, he recalls a quote by Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr., a military man from the 1800s.

“In our youth, our hearts were touched with fire,” he said, quoting Holmes’ famous Memorial Day speech about war.

“When you are 18 or 19 years old, you have this passion and this belief you are invincible,” he said.

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