Archive for September 2018

Illuminating Benedetto Ansuini

September 7, 2018

Ansuini, Benedetto 1942 photo from Certo 25 anniversaryOn June 13, 2017, Illuminated History held its sixth annual cemetery tour in which volunteer actors portrayed residents of the burying ground.  The tour, which was sponsored by the Perinton Historical Society, took place at the Fairport Historical Museum.  St. Mary’s Cemetery in the town of Perinton, New York, was the focus of the tour.

In this Illuminated History series, each of the scripts are based on in depth historical research, although some creative license may have been taken.  Benedetto Ansuini was portrayed by Doug Whitney.

Hello, friends.  My name is Benedetto Ansuini.  I came to Fairport from Italy when I was a young man.  Although I only had a second grade education, I was fortunate to get a job in the Certo factory here in the village. 

People have called me a hero.  I’m no hero.  I was just doing my job as a soldier.  When the Great War began, I left my new home to fight for the United States.  You see, I was with Company K of the 307th Infantry, 77th American Division.  Our group became known as the “Lost Battalion”, but that was just a phrase coined by a sharp-shooting reporter.  First of all, we knew where we were all the time.  We didn’t get lost. Second, we weren’t one battalion, we were two. 

So here’s what really happened.  After seven days of continuous fighting in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in the Argonne forest, about 600 of us were cut off behind enemy lines.  On October 2, 1918, we’d advanced into the forest under the belief that French forces were supporting our left flank and American units were supporting the right.  We moved beyond the rest of the Allied line not knowing that the French advance had been stalled, and found ourselves cut off from the Allies and surrounded by German forces.  After locating a good defensive position, we started digging in to an area that became known then, and ever after, as “The Pocket”.  On October 3, the Germans attacked us with trench mortars, machine gun fire and grenades. Sniper fire was ringing out all around us.  They even had a flame thrower decimating our ranks like a cookout on the 4th of July.  We suffered many hardships, as our food supply was low, fresh water was difficult to procure and ammunition was in short supply.  At times, we were bombarded with shells from our own artillery.  It was hell on earth.

To make matters worse, every runner dispatched to get help became lost or ran into German patrols and was killed or captured.  The only way we could communicate with headquarters was by carrier pigeons.  Each of the pigeons we sent out was shot down.  Finally, we were down to our final pigeon.  The pigeon’s name was Cher Ami.  He was dispatched with a canister on his right leg with a message from our commanding officer, Major Charles Whittlesey.  The message read: “Our artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us.  For heaven’s sake stop it.”  Right after releasing Cher Ami, a shell exploded directly below the bird, killing five men and stunning the pigeon.  Despite being shot in the breast, blinded in one eye and losing a foot, Cher Ami got through the lines, flew 25 miles to headquarters in just 25 minutes and delivered Major Whittlesey’s message.  It took several more days before we were saved.

From October 2nd through October 8th, the Germans continued a relentless attack against us.  The attack wasn’t only physical, but mental.  A demand to surrender was received.  “The suffering of your wounded men can be heard over here in German lines, and we are appealing to your humane sentiments to stop.”  You see, they wanted Major Whittlesey to give up, but he knew how important it was to the war effort to forge ahead.  Reporters say the Major’s response to the Germans was, “Go to hell!” but that was just to sell newspapers.  Major Whittlesey actually didn’t send a response.  He didn’t feel it was needed.  We had a job to do, and we were damn well going to do it.  All of us knew it.

Well, relief finally arrived at 15:00 hours on October 8, when the Allied reinforcements broke through the line.  They arrived in the nick of time.  We went in as a force of 600 men, but only 194 came out unscathed.  The rest were captured, missing, wounded or dead.  Among the dead were three out of the eight men in the group from Rochester.  Homer Rayson, from Pittsford, survived, only to die a hero 10 days later trying to obtain water for the regiment from a spring that was under heavy machine gun fire.  In fact, the guys from Pittsford named their American Legion Post the Rayson-Miller Post in part after Homer Rayson.

I continued serving with the military until May, 1919, when I was honorably discharged.  Life pretty much went on as if the war had never happened.  I came back to Fairport and married my sweetheart, Concetta Rinaldo, and went back to work at the Certo plant.

Concetta and I had two sons, both of whom were born in Fairport – Louis in 1921 and Salvatore in 1924.  Salvatore, who liked to be called Sam, was an all-star athlete and graduated from Fairport High in 1942.  Both boys served during World War II.  I’m proud of both of my boys.  They married and gave me wonderful grandchildren.

Another highlight in my life came in 1942, when I was brought to New York City and honored for working 25 years in the Certo division of General Foods.  I was awarded a gold lapel emblem, a $100 defense bond and an extra week’s paid vacation.  That was an honor, to be there with the other men who had worked for Certo for so long and to be recognized for it.  But, by far, the best part of the trip was when I was asked to speak about my experiences with the Lost Battalion in a radio broadcast to a nationwide audience.  That was really something. 

Lost battalion survivor Benedetto Ansuini died in 1971. He is buried at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Perinton, New York.

(c) 2017 Vicki Masters Profitt

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