Obituary: Angelo Cestoni Jr. / Decorated war vet was at Battle of the Bulge

Sept. 12, 1923 - Sept. 17, 2012

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Angelo Cestoni Jr., who left Italy at 16 to escape serving in Mussolini's army and ended up a decorated U.S. Army veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, died Monday.

He was 89 and lived in Penn Hills.

Raised on a farm in northern Italy, Mr. Cestoni left home in 1939 to join his father in the Western Pennsylvania coal mines.

He was drafted at 18 and served with the 99th Infantry Division in Belgium during Hitler's last major offensive on the western front in 1944.

On Dec. 16, as the battle-hardened Sixth Panzer Army overran American forces in the snow-covered Ardennes, Mr. Cestoni crawled toward an emplacement where two Germans were firing a captured machine gun.

He charged the gun position and killed both soldiers with his pistol. Although wounded by fire from the advancing column of tanks, he fired a rocket from a bazooka into the lead tank, knocking it out of action and forcing the other tanks to withdraw.

He earned the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation's second-highest military decoration for valor, for "intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty," and in 2004 was inducted into the Soldiers & Sailors Hall of Valor in Oakland.

But for most of his life, he rarely talked about what he'd done, the typical pattern of World War II combat veterans.

He came home, went to work at Universal Atlas Cement, a division of U.S. Steel, and raised a family in Penn Hills.

"You'll never know unless you've been through it," Mr. Cestoni said of his reticence in discussing the war. "I've seen people die, get crippled up. I was one of the lucky ones that came back alive."

His daughter, Gina Deible, said that in recent years he did start to open up, but even then left out the details.

"In the last couple of years he started reminiscing a little about it," she said. "Sometimes he'd sit down with the grandchildren and talk about it. He didn't talk about the actual combat. He talked about how hard it was living in the foxholes and how they went into small towns and how deserted they were."

Mr. Cestoni left behind his mother, brother and sister in Italy when he departed as a teenager to join his father in Chicora, Butler County. His family was concerned that he would have to fight for Mussolini's army and thought he would be better off in America.

He briefly went to school in Butler County but soon dropped out to work in the mines until the war came here in 1941.

After being drafted, he trained in Texas but almost didn't join his unit in shipping out for Europe. His daughter said his teeth were so bad that the Army had to pull them, replacing them with dentures that he wore the rest of his life. He was supposed to stay behind and recover, Ms. Deible said, but he insisted that he be allowed to join his fellow soldiers.

After fighting in Belgium, he continued on through Germany with the 99th until the end of the war. He came home relatively healthy, although he had lost his hearing in one ear from wounds suffered in the Ardennes.

He took a job at the cement company, eventually becoming a crane operator, and in 1949 married Catherine, who came from a big Italian family on Larimer Avenue. The couple raised three daughters in the Universal Road area of Penn Hills in a strict, old-fashioned Italian household.

Mr. Cestoni retired young at 58 when Universal Atlas went out of business and enjoyed an active life in his later years. He went fishing every day, and he also liked hunting, golf, bocce and bowling.

Despite his childhood in Italy and his family roots there, he never returned.

"He never wanted to go back," his daughter said. "He was an American."

After Catherine's death in 1998, his spirits declined, his daughter said, and "he never regained his step after that."

In addition to Ms. Deible, who lives in Murrysville, Mr. Cestoni is survived by daughters Roberta of Penn Hills and Theresa of Monroeville. He is also survived by his sister, Lina of Penn Hills.

Visitation will be 6 to 8 p.m. today and 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Maurice L. Knee Funeral Home in Plum.

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Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.


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