Leo St. Onge holds the desk set given him by Winchester Arms, manufacturer of the .30 caliber water -cooled machine gun he carried in Italy. Leo St. Onge fought in Italy in World War II where he carried a special 93-lb. machine gun and where his small squadron took and held a hill in Priverno. Born in Westport in 1921, he moved to Fall River when his mother relocated their family. For his valor in combat, he was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and the Silver Star, the highest recognition that can be awarded to an infantryman in the field. The flagpole in Gifford Road's Bicentennial Park was built and named in his honor.
Photo: Leo St. Onge holds the desk set given him by Winchester Arms, manufacturer of the .30 caliber water -cooled machine gun he carried in Italy.
EARLY YEARS: "My mother brought up 12 kids in Westport and then Fall River. We lived in a shack with a dirt floor on Conserve Avenue and moved to Fall River for better opportunities."
EDUCATION: "I went to school in Westport up to the fourth grade. My education after that came from the streets and the school of hard knocks."
DRAFTED: "I wanted to join when I was 18 but my mother said I need you here. Then I was drafted when I was 20. I was in the Army 85th Division, nicknamed the Custer Division, after the general. I was in the army from 1942-1945 and I ended up fighting in Italy."
SPECIAL GUN: "I was trained how to use the Browning .30 caliber water cooled machine gun. It weighed 93 pounds. It was fully automatic, could fire 400 to 600 rounds a minute and had a range of 1,000 yards. Because I was one of the people to use this machine gun, Winchester Arms recently gave me a desk set from a limited edition of 5,000 ."
HILL: "Our squad was ordered to take this hill in Priverno, Italy. Nine guys to a squad, down by seven because of casualties, we had to work harder. Everybody carried two 250 rounds boxes of ammunition. I carried the water cooled .30 caliber machine gun and two bandoliers of 250 more rounds. I also carried shovels, picks, rations and the rest of my gear. We left at 2 a.m., arrived at 4 a.m. and stayed until 11 p.m. when reinforcements arrived. On a stream crossing, I had to get this big guy who was my ammunition bearer untangled from wire, otherwise he would have drowned and we would have been short of ammunition. During the fight on the hill, my gun got blown up. I picked up another soldier's rifle and used that, with a wounded buddy handing me full clips of bullets every time I ran out. Our squad held the hill. I must have used 3,000 rounds of ammunition that day."
WOUNDED IN BATTLE: "Two weeks later, I was blown up by a shell that landed about four feet from me. I spent 15 months in military hospitals in Europe and the states. I can't even remember what happened during some of it."
COINCIDENCES: "When I was 32, we were living in Michigan. I went to a doctor for colon cancer. He looked me over and asked if I was a WWII veteran and if I'd been wounded in Italy. When I said yes, he said, 'By God, I'm so glad you're alive. I operated on you there. I thought you were never going to make it . Those field nurses are the ones who pulled you through!"
MARRIAGE: "My wife was Mary Cestodios from Swansea. We were married on December 15, 1945. She passed away in 1998. We were married 52 years."
LIFE: "I've been a trucker and a building contractor. About 30 years ago, I built the house on Davis Road that I'm living in right now."