He fought at the Battle of the Bulge under Gen. George “Old Blood and Guts” Patton, a guy who didn’t mince words.
At age 98, Anthony Falduto is not about to start sugar-coating how he feels, either. At least, not when it comes to the latest scandal engulfing the Veterans Administration.
“It’s a slap in the face,” the Army veteran said on Monday, prior to a Memorial Day ceremony on the Morristown Green.
The Veterans Administration is under investigation by Congress and the V.A. Inspector General, amidst reports that dozens of veterans have died waiting for care at V.A. facilities.
Some V.A. officials are suspected of altering records to make waiting times appear shorter.
“I feel awful,” Falduto said. “Something like that should never happen. Not only for those of us who are alive, but for those who died for their country…They can do all they want in Washington. They can never correct that.”
Photos by Scott Schlosser. Please click icon below for photos.
Sitting in the front row, in the shade, on a warm and pleasant morning on the Green, he heard speeches by Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty and Morris Township Mayor Bruce Sisler giving thanks for America’s hard-earned freedom.
Freedom evokes powerful images for Falduto, who lives with his son in Montville and still drives–what else?–a Jeep.
“I think about what we went through. I think about the fellows who didn’t come back to us,” he said.
What he went through included five major battles during the Battle of the Bulge, and the capture of 40,000 German troops.
He remembers nights huddled in abandoned cellars that were so cold, he didn’t dare sleep for fear of freezing to death. He remembers frozen corpses of soldiers–American, British, German–”stacked like cordwood” along German roads. He remembers bombardments so fearsome that it was years before he could attend fireworks shows with his three children after the war.
Falduto had joined the National Guard in Morristown in the late 1930s because, he said, he wanted to ride horses there. When the U.S. went to war in Europe, he served with the 695th Battalion of the 112th Field Artillery; its sister unit was the 696th Battalion from Trenton. Falduto said he is the oldest living member of both units.
Just before the Battle of the Bulge–the Allied counter-offensive that sealed Hitler’s fate–Falduto was wounded in a skirmish. Shrapnel set his jacket ablaze and seared his arm. The scar runs from his wrist to his elbow.
He could have gone to a London hospital for treatment, with a furlough to the States to recuperate.
But he had read in Stars & Stripes that such a course would lead to redeployment to the Pacific war. So he opted for treatment at a field station, and remained with the 695th for the Battle of the Bulge.
“I didn’t want to go to the Pacific. I had been with these boys for 5 1/2 years. They were like family. I wanted to stay with them.”
And with Gen. Patton.
“If I had to go again, I would fight for him again,” Falduto said.
He is convinced that the legendary commander’s death, from a car accident in Germany after the war, was no accident. Had Patton survived, Falduto believes that Patton, and not Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, would have become U.S. president.
Given Patton’s penchant for controversy–slapping wounded soldiers and making inflammatory remarks–such an outcome would seem doubtful. No matter.
“He was forward. He didn’t hold any punches back. He told you just what he wanted. He used a few curse words–’Get that god—- convoy moving, you’re sitting ducks out there!’ He was just an ordinary guy. But when he was commanding, you’ve gotta take a step back.”
Back in civilian life, Falduto owned laundromats in Boonton, Butler and Maplewood. The widower ascribed his longevity to three sunny-side-up eggs every morning — ignoring doctors’ advice — and regular stints on a stationary bike.
Photos by Berit Ollestad; please click icon below for captions.
He fought for the free speech that the mayors extolled on the Green, and he is not shy about using it.
The war in Afghanistan, Falduto contends, wasted the lives of good American soldiers.
And while he remains a fan of the V.A. hospital in Lyons, he gets angry when he hears reports about the rest of the system.
“I’m thankful I’m here. I have a lot of blessings, for real,” Falduto said. Because of sacrifices by our servicemen and women, he said, “we can do the things we want.
“But,” he added on this solemn day of remembrance, “we have to get this straightened out about the V.A. hospitals, for the veterans who need the help.”