Lester Lombardi Sr. served in the United States Army, spending over a year deep in the European Theater. His son, Butch Lombardi, shared stories and memories during Warren's Veterans' Day ceremony.
The Warren Honor Roll Committee once more put on an event worthy of the veterans they strive to honor, capping off a crisp autumn Saturday morning with a remembrance ceremony that put a spotlight on two late soldiers with local connections.
It was the start of a new tradition, said master of ceremonies and Honor Roll Committee Chairman Dave McCarthy, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Commander of Warren American Legion Post #104.
“We want to tell the stories of Warren’s unsung heroes who went off to serve their country without complaint. Most returned, some didn’t. Those who returned took their rightful place back in the community and did it quietly,” he said. “So today we will begin speaking for the unsung heroes among us. We hope to go back in time to recognize some people you may not have heard of who made great contributions to the country with their service, but also our neighbors; people we grew up with and people we knew.”
Son of WWII vet delivers stirring speech
The marquee moment of the event came from a presentation delivered by Warren’s own Lester ‘Butch’ Lombardi Jr., the son of U.S. Army WWII veteran Lester Lombardi Sr., who enlisted in late 1940 with the 118th Engineers, 43rd Battalion out of Providence. After finding out he would be deployed during his sister’s birthday celebration (which just happened to be the same day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor) he would go on to serve over a year in the European Theatre.
Throughout his time in the Army, Lombardi rose from the rank of corporal to a captain and, eventually, would become the company commander of a detachment of troops from the 305th MPEG Company, which was responsible for taking, transporting, and housing German prisoners of war.
Lombardi Jr. spoke of how his father experienced his first dose of combat after landing on Omaha Beach in France in late June after the allied success on D-Day, dodging enemy shelling as they made their way further into the European interior as part of General George Patton’s famed 3rd Army.
“They joined General Patton just in time to get caught up in the battle of the Falaise pocket. Here they came under heavy attack by Luftwaffe fighters and bombers,” Lombardi Jr. reported. “The 305th released into the woods 2,000 defenseless German prisoners from the compound to avoid them being slaughtered by their own Air Force. The defenseless German POWs suffered 26 dead and scores wounded. When the attack ended, all the German POWs returned to the stockade.”
After this battle, Lombardi would lead the 305th for the duration of the war. Lombardi Jr. recalled with some bewilderment a story he had heard where his father had completed orders while unknowingly driving through the heart of terrain that would soon become the center of the Battle of the Bulge, without even realizing it.
“My father had driven through the outbreak of the Bulge and through Bastogne without encountering any German enemy in that whole trip, which is pretty amazing,” he said.
When the Germans surrendered in May of 1945, Lombardi Sr. spent another few months in Europe to help enforce martial law in France until they could restore new order. He returned to Warren in September of 1945.
After the war, Lombardi would go on to become the commanding officer the Army Reserve company out of the new Warren Armory when it opened on Market Street in the early 1950s. He retired with the rank of major, but unfortunately passed away at age 63 in 1975.
As Lombardi Jr. told the audience that he had often wondered what kind of company commander his father was, he often had to catch himself from the rising emotion audible in his voice.
He said he remembered getting lots of Christmas cards as a child, because he had 17 aunts and uncles and lots of extended family beyond that. But he recalled a select lot of letters standing out, as they came from people he didn’t know.
“They were coming from California. They were coming from Texas. They were coming from Illinois, Florida, wherever,” he said. “So finally one day I questioned my mother, ‘Who are these people that are sending Christmas cards? I don't recognize any of these names.’ My mother said those are from the men in your father's company from World War II.”
Even after his father passed, the cards kept coming — now addressed to his mother.
“They would continue into the 1980s, the 1990s, and as the old soldiers faded away, the Christmas cards did too,” Lombardi Jr. said. “That one act of respect, admiration, love, whatever you want to call it, carried out over such a long time, speaks so simply yet so eloquently as to who he was both as a man and a company commander.”
Lombardi gathered himself for his conclusion, saying that if you were to visit his father’s grave at Saint Alexander Cemetery in Warren, you would notice that his inscription doesn’t say “Major”, despite that being the rank he ultimately attained.
“It says Captain Lester Lombardi,” he said. “That’s who he was, and that’s who he always will be.”
A Medal of Honor recipient recognized
Dave McCarthy, prior to introducing Lombardi, spoke briefly about a veteran with Warren connections who received the highest commendation possible for a member of the U.S. Army; the Medal of Honor.
William Bradford Turner, a First Lieutenant during World War I, received his Medal of Honor posthumously for actions he took on Sept. 27, 1918 while fighting in France. He had many familial ties to Warren, McCarthy reported, before reading off his Medal of Honor citation.
“He led a small group of men to the attack, under terrific artillery and machine-gun fire, after they had become separated from the rest of the company in the darkness. Singlehandedly he rushed an enemy machine gun which had suddenly opened fire on his group and killed the crew with his pistol. He then pressed forward to another machine-gun post 25 yards away and had killed one gunner himself by the time the remainder of his detachment arrived and put the gun out of action.
With the utmost bravery he continued to lead his men over three lines of hostile trenches, cleaning up each one as they advanced, regardless of the fact that he had been wounded three times, and killed several of the enemy in hand-to-hand encounters. After his pistol ammunition was exhausted, this gallant officer seized the rifle of a dead soldier, bayoneted several members of a machine-gun crew, and shot the other. Upon reaching the fourth-line trench, which was his objective, 1st Lt. Turner captured it with the nine men remaining in his group and resisted a hostile counterattack until he was finally surrounded and killed…He was 25 years old,” concluded McCarthy.