Congressman Higgins Recognizes Former POW Corporal Frank Louis Garguiolo on National POW/MIA Recognition Day
In honor of National Prisoner of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIA) Day, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) took time to recognize Frank Louis Garguiolo, believed to be one of just twenty former Prisoners of War living in Western New York. National POW/MIA Recognition Day, established by Congress in 1998, is observed the third Friday in September, which in 2017 falls on September 15.
“Corporal Garguiolo’s experience is unthinkable: bravely taking on heavy enemy fire, left the only man standing, captured and fearing for his life, forced into hard labor, starved and neglected, he fought on. Frank’s story is one of incredible leadership and bravery. In his honor and in recognition of the thousands of U.S. POW/MIA servicemembers we express our most sincere gratitude,” said Congressman Higgins, who recently honored Corporal Garguiolo and other POW/MIA veterans on the House Floor.
Frank Garguiolo was born on July 11, 1923 to Italian immigrants Luigi Garguiolo and Anna Pagano. The youngest of seven children, Frank grew up in Cheektowaga, New York for the first eleven years of his life before the family moved to a new home Frank’s father built in the City of Buffalo. He attended Buffalo Public School #43 and was known as a boy for his proficiency on the accordion, playing to audiences at school assemblies and in the Cheektowaga Independence Day Parade for Doyle Hose Company.
Sadly, about a year after moving to Buffalo Frank’s dad passed away and Frank was forced to grow up quickly to help take care of his mother. He attended Boys High School in Buffalo and worked as a laborer for Standard Mirror Company before enlisting in the United States Army on April 8, 1943, at the age of 19 to fight for American during World War II.
Mr. Garguiolo served in the 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, which was one of the most decorated units in World War II. Unfortunately, the success of this division came at a high cost of many killed, wounded, and missing in action. Garguiolo was trained as an anti-aircraft specialist. As an Infantryman, he participated in many fierce battles with very heavy casualties, starting with the North African Campaign, a battle that proved vital in controlling the Axis Powers. While in Africa, Corporal Garguiolo fell ill and was hospitalized for two weeks in a MASH unit.
After fighting back to good health, Garguiolo continued to demonstrate leadership in service, quickly rising to the rank of Corporal. Following his time in Africa, Corporal Garguiolo participated in landings in Italy including Naples, Anzio, and Salerno. He also was involved in the occupation of Rome-Arno. Garguiolo remembers the Anzio landing as the most challenging; his unit was holding only a marginal strip of land while being relentlessly assaulted by bombs, artillery fire, grenades, and gunfire.
Cpl. Garguiolo’s traveled to Southern France to fight in Operation Dragoon, where he participated in beach landings at Cavalaire-sur-Mer aimed at liberating Southern France.
Cpl. Garguiolo recalls his experiences as a Prisoner of War:
“While fighting on the frontlines, I observed, engaged in, and survived countless atrocities of war. Yet the most horrific, traumatic memory I have of World War II is of my final battle on October 30, 1944 in St. Dié, France, near the German border, when I lost my entire squad. I was the sole survivor.
“The Germans were fortified, hidden inside a mountain opening, while bombarding us with artillery fire and heavy arsenal. I was wounded, feeling the sharp pain of shrapnel piercing my shoulder. As the squad leader, I repeatedly ordered my men to fire, but there was silence. Still expecting a response I looked back and saw one of my G.I.’s slumped against a tree, mortally wounded. I looked around for further reinforcement, and saw the battlefield strewn with the motionless bodies of my fellow soldiers and friends. I prayed for reinforcement from the back lines which never came.
“I was determined to hold back the Germans to allow my fellow G.I.’s to be recovered and returned to their families and to allow those I had erroneously thought to be only injured medical attention. I soon learned they all had been killed. Despite the shock and pain of being injured, I continued fighting – shooting until the magazine of my Tommy Gun had emptied and all my ammunition was depleted.
“Since I was now alone in my efforts, significantly outnumbered by an enemy that I couldn’t even see, I realized the situation was hopeless. I had no choice but to throw down my gun. A young German soldier descended the mountain, taking me prisoner of war.
“I prayed that I wasn’t shot in cold blood. A flood of emotions engulfed me: intense fear of my current fate and that which awaited me in captivity; a sense of failure for being incapable of defeating the Germans; and insurmountable guilt and sorrow over losing my squad.
“Although my captor was humane in allowing me to keep my rosary and prayer book, the climb to the enemy camp was terrifying. I was unarmed, without protection, and covered at gunpoint as the Germans resumed firing their arsenal before we reached our destination, further exacerbating the threat of death. At Moosburg Prison I was extremely vulnerable and in constant fear of the German guards. We heard rumors that Hitler was planning to kill all of the POWs once the war had ended. I feared, as I had during combat, being ambushed or killed in my sleep.
“Despite my shoulder wounds for which I received no appropriate medical attention, I was forced into labor excavating bombed out buildings in Munich. During the train commute into Munich, we were strafed by Allied, U.S., planes. While working in town, we were subjected to multiple air raids, repeatedly sweating out our own bombs.
“I was held captive for six months, from approximately November 1, 1944 through early May 1945, in an environment unfit for humans. Conditions at Moosburg prison were deplorable, filthy, and oppressive, creating physical and emotional hardships. Dark, dank, and unheated, it was especially cold in the winter, and some of the prisoners became sick. We were all badly infested with body lice and deloused with chemical sprays. We also had dysentery. Most of us were malnourished, weakened, and frail; we were exhausted from laboring daily, but were sleep deprived from the wretched, foul, and noisy atmosphere. Lacking any proper hygiene or bathroom facilities whatsoever, we were all miserably dirty and a constant stench lingered throughout the compounds; these conditions so sickened me, that despite near starvation, it was difficult to consume the little I was fed. Many of the guards eroded what little morale we may have possessed, continuously espousing Nazi superiority and anticipating Germany’s victory, which increased my anxiety over whether I would ever be freed or live. I always feared punishment for unwittingly angering the German guards.”
Western New York POW Advocate Robert Young said, “Frank Garguiolo embodies the best of the human spirit. He saw intense action, and survived in the extremities of brutal combat. He was the only member of his squad to survive. He was captured only after running out of ammunition. With his faith, he prevailed against the privations of both the notorious Nazi POW camp at Moosburg, as well as slave labor. He faced this level of trauma with bravery, stoicism and never complained. Following these experiences he returned to America to give back to his community, country and to raise a family. He is a quiet, reserved and humble hero. He is very caring and absolutely genuine. He is awesome and doesn’t realize how special he is. It is fitting to honor him and to commemorate all of our Prisoners of War and Missing in Action on this day. The sacrifices of these men and women should be remembered for as long as there is an America.”
On November 24, 1944 Corporal Garguiolo’s family in Buffalo received a letter from the U.S. War Department notifying them that Frank was missing in action in France. Several months later the family received new hope in another letter, this time from Iris Harrison, from the Bureau of Ipswich in the County of Suffolk in England, letting them know that she heard on the radio that Frank Garguiolo was still alive. Iris Harrison obtained his name, address, and service number while listening to interrogations which were broadcasted as part of Nazi propaganda. Knowing that his family would be worried about him she, bravely risked her own safety and sent a letter to his family in Buffalo dated January 23, 1945. He still has this letter. In an effort to return the generosity Cpl. Garguiolo’s mother sent a care package to Iris Harrison and her children in England knowing that food and supplies were scarce there because of the war.
Finally, in early May of 1945, Cpl. Garguiolo and the other POWs were liberated by Frank’s own 3rd Division while they were laboring in Munich. The German guards heard the Allied Forces closing in and ran away allowing Frank and the others to be finally be free.
Being a prisoner of war took a heavy toll on Corporal Garguiolo both mentally and physically. He suffers from PTSD, nightmares and has permanent knee injuries from being forced to jump from moving cargo trains used for transporting prisoners to perform slave labor in Munich as the Allied forces bombed the trains unaware U.S. POWs were aboard.
Even though Cpl. Garguiolo was treated poorly during his time in captivity, there were a few people who helped him along the way. When he was first captured, the German soldier allowed him to keep his rosary which he found in France and his children’s prayer book that he received at his First Communion in his possession. He had both of these items throughout combat and he still has them today. In addition, a French surgeon, also a POW, treated the wounds that he received when he was initially captured, extracting shrapnel from his shoulder with a tweezer without anesthesia or antiseptic, under non-sterile conditions. When he was laboring in Munich with other POWs he traded Red Cross cigarettes with German civilians for homemade brown bread, which was often confiscated by German guards.
Corporal Frank Garguiolo was honorably discharged from the United States military on October 14, 1945. On January 6, 1946 he received orders for his Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster recognizing injuries sustained by the enemy on May 27th 1944 in the Mediterranean area and October 30th 1944 in the European area.
In the summer of 1948 he met Lillian Shivalone at a Lovejoy restaurant where he played accordion with his band “Frankie Garge and His Orchestra.” The two married on April 23, 1949 and they had one daughter Debbie.
Back home Frank found employment at General Motors, Gordon Roberts, Bethlehem Steel and eventually the Buffalo Sewer Authority where he worked for 26 years and served as Sergeant of Arms for the employees union. During his free time, he played his accordion at Kissing Bridge, The Old Red Mill, VFW halls, and many other venues until medical conditions forced him into early retirement in 1981. He continued to stand by his fellow veterans, volunteering for the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans.
For outstanding service and sacrifices while serving in World War II, Corporal Garguiolo received the following honors from the U.S. Government: the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, Prisoner of War Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze service stars, one silver service star & bronze arrowhead, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Honorable Service Lapel Button.
Congressman Brian Higgins’ office learned of Corporal Garguiolo’s story, made him aware of his eligibility for the French Legion of Honor Award, and assisted Garguiolo’s family with the application process. The French Legion of Honor was first established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. It is the highest decoration bestowed in France created to recognize the virtue, honor and heroism. For his participation in the liberation of France, the Legion of Honor Award was personally presented to Corporal Garguiolo by French Honorary Consul Pascal Soares from the French Consulate on June 23rd, 2017 in a hospital emergency room. He received the French Fourragére at an earlier date.
French Honorary Consul Pascal Soares said, "To all American veterans who liberated France and Europe, we French will never forget what those men did, to restore our freedom. We are always very happy to work in coordination with Congressman Higgins to recognize these World War II heroes. It is never too late to do a good action."