New Castle News

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May 27, 2013

Memorial Day Reflections: New Castle veteran drove injured to important deliveries

NEW CASTLE — Chester Flamino drove “a couple million miles,” hauling coal, steel and cement for local trucking companies before retiring in 1988.

But he had many more vital deliveries during World War II.

The New Castle veteran transported dozens, perhaps hundreds, of injured fellow Marines to first aid stations during and following battles.

But these days, anything more than a trip to the barber shop or corner store is out of the question for Flamino, 88.

“I don’t like to drive,” said Flamino, who lives with his wife of 65 years, the former Connie Campoli. “It’s too dangerous out there,” he said. “People are always in a hurry or on their cell phones.”

Some of Flamino’s miles were logged on Okinawa Island during what has been called the largest sea-land-air battle in history.

Bodies lying all around created a scene that will forever play in his mind.

Flamino also remembers getting a look at the battle-scarred U.S.S. Franklin with its gaping holes from kamikaze attacks as the ship passed nearby while departing the area.

Flamino was 17 when he enlisted in 1944 after dropping out of New Castle High School following his junior year. He convinced his mother to sign him up.

It was a life-changing experience for Flamino, who readily admits that he wasn’t prepared for what was to come.

“Kids today at age 12 probably know more about life than we did at 17,” Flamino said. “We weren’t exposed to much.”

That soon changed.

After boot camp, Flamino was aboard a ship for the first time and heading for the Pacific.

“I was so sick that I wanted to die,” he said. “But after a few days, things settled down.”

It was on the ship that Flamino learned another valuable lesson, albeit the hard way. “It’s always better to get the top bunk because there is less danger of being spewed on by sick Marines.”

In the medical battallion of the 6th Marine Division, Flamino and his mates arrived at Okinawa on April 1, of all days.

Under fire from Japanese snipers, Flamino and friends sought shelter by toppling urns in an Okinawa cemetery and lying still in the vacated spots for hours.

“We didn’t have time to dig foxholes and we thought it would be safer,” he explained.

As time passed, they decided foxholes were a better idea. Later, he discovered they had been afflicted with lice while lying in the remains.

Flamino, who also served in Guadalcanal, Guam and China, handled just about everything thrown at him, except for the night he was asked to hold a light so a doctor could amputate a leg. “I couldn’t take it,” he said. “I had to get out of there.”

Chester and Connie will celebrate their 65-year anniversary in July. Connie was born in Lawrence County, but was raised in Cleveland. However, she returned regularly to visit family and friends. It was on one of those visits she met Chester. It was a Thursday night in August 1947 during a dance at Cascade Park.

A year later they were married. They moved into their North Beaver Street home in 1952 and have been there ever since. That’s 61 years and counting.

They raised five children and have six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Military roots run deep in the Flamino family.

A grandson, Ben Gray, is a dentist for the Navy. One of Chester’s sisters, Corrine, served in the Army as a nurse during the Korean conflict.

Chester and Connie  didn’t find out until much later there was already a family connection between them.

Connie’s grandfather lived in California and rented a room to Chester’s dad, Dominic, a World War I veteran.

And there is their son, Chester, who was in the Navy during the Vietnam War, although he remained stateside. He treasures the souvenirs given him by his father.

“I have his military compass that I use when hunting,” said the son. “And I wear his comflauge clothing.”

Flamino had maintained a friendship with fellow Marine Frank Monteforde of Brooklyn though the years, but they haven’t connected since 2008.

“I’m not sure if he’s still alive,” Flamino said.

These days Flamino goes more miles with his lawn mower than with any car. “I like to keep the grass cut,” he said.

(Email: d_burcham@ncnewsonline.com)

 

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