Honor Flight Helps WWII Veteran Reflect On Moments Of Faith In War

US soldiers during the D-Day in the Normandy area 6 June 1944.
US soldiers during the D-Day in the Normandy area 6 June 1944.

Anthony Saputo landed on Utah Beach in France late in 1943 as part of an advance team preparing for the D-Day invasion that would occur on June 6, 1944.  He was ordered to start digging foxholes. As he began digging, his shovel hit something in the sand, and he pulled out a rosary.  He had no way of knowing who it had belonged to.  He took it as a sign from God.

He used that rosary for years, even after returning from the war.

While serving as a second-class yeoman during World War II, he experienced many such moments of faith.  Recently, the 92-year-old veteran took part in the Greater St. Louis Honor Flight, a non-profit organization that gives veterans an all-expense paid trip to Washington, DC to visit memorials to veterans.  21 WWII and Korean War veterans joined Saputo on the trip.

Saputo was blown away by how well they were treated on the trip. “They just made you feel like you were somebody important.”

He joined the Navy in 1943, after graduating from South Side Catholic High School in St. Louis. He started as a seaman, went through training at Camp Peary near Williamsburg, Va.  He then went to work at the Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center in Rhode Island.  He learned construction work, how to rebuild airports, bridges, and railroads, whatever was needed.

From there, he was shipped to Europe.  After an eleven-day trip across the ocean, he arrived in Ireland then traveled to London and then Southampton before sailing to Utah Beach.  Since he had learned typing and shorthand skills in high school, he was put to work assigning the work to the men.  He had to keep everyone assigned to their jobs while they were working behind enemy lines.

While in France, they repaired a monastery about 20 miles from Paris.  They used the monastery for housing for the troops.  Some of the monks had fled ahead of the war, but some had remained behind.  This caused some trouble for the men who brought their girlfriends back to the monastery.

Saputo attended mass whenever he could.  He celebrated Christmas in a bombed-out cathedral in Cherbourg. Sometimes, he’d serve as the altar server. One time, he offered to help with mass but said that he couldn’t take communion since he’d just eaten a K-ration.  The priest told him that he might die at any time, so it was fine to take communion whenever he wanted.

In 1946, he was discharged from the Navy, and he returned to St. Louis.  In 1947, he married his childhood sweetheart, Ann.  They raised six children together, St. Louis Review reported.

Saputo said that the Honor Flight experience gave him a chance to reflect on how many people gave their lives serving the US.  The visit to the memorials was really moving to him. “…all the people around us just kept clapping, no matter where we went.  This was just out of this world.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE