BRISTOL — Local World War II Veteran Tony Sileo, who served in the 10th Mountain Division, battled the Germans in Italy and was inducted into the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame, passed away Thursday.
Sileo, who was 96, was only 19 when he enlisted and was made part of an experimental “winter soldier” unit that spent seven months training in subzero temperatures and sleeping in the snow atop the mountain peaks of Colorado. He later learned that they were preparing for a potential land invasion of Japan that never came to be.
“The 10th Mountain Division was one of the toughest units to be in,” said Sileo, in a previous interview. “Our camp was in a very desolate place in the Colorado Mountains.”
Sileo said his division was taught rock climbing and survival techniques and spent three or four days a week out in the snow carrying 90 pounds of gear.
“It snowed constantly,” Sileo said in a previous interview. “Nobody expected it to get that cold. My nose froze and split open when I was out on guard duty in 38 degrees below zero weather. My sinuses also shriveled up and have never been the same since.”
Sileo was later deployed to Italy where he served alongside 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole.
“The Germans had control of Northern Italy, which is where all of the money was and where they made the cars,” Sileo said in a previous interview. “The Germans had the best equipment possible and they kept looking at the highways. My company joined up with the 86th Infantry regiment to cross the icy mountains – it took us about a week. The 86th Infantry did a great job; it’s what they were trained for, I have to give them credit. We came to a stop beneath Mount Belvedere when the war was stagnant at one point. Then the time came for the invasion. We crossed the Po River on floating bridges and we pushed the Germans into the higher Alps. We lost some guys. Our men kept getting pinned down because the Germans kept firing down on us from cover. There were a lot of mistakes in Italy and at times we had to quickly duck for cover from our own artillery. The war came to an end for me at Riva.”
Sileo was also among nine veterans who were inducted into the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame in December 2018. Sileo was the third Bristol veteran to be inducted. The Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame had previously inducted the late Tony Savino and former mayor Art Ward.
Sileo had also been presented with a medal by Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman.
“After they told my story, everybody got up to applaud and there were 20 people there taking photos,” he said in a previous interview. “I got a little overwhelmed. This is the third time that I tried for it and I’m very pleased that it came out. I had my friend Rusty from New York, my friend Roger from Oxford, two of my sons, my daughter and my daughter-in-law there with me. I want to thank Art Ward for nominating me and Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu for coming along with me.”
After returning home from the war, leaving as a T-5, Sileo said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for a year. During that time, he did not speak about his service. After he joined The American Legion, he was able to open up. Sileo would go on to dedicate 50 years of service to the American Legion and to the Republican Party. He was an aide to Nancy Johnson as well as Thomas Joseph Meskill and Bob Dole.
Sileo also tutored children at South Side School for eight years and was a member of the Friends of the Bristol Library. He sold off a collection of artillery guns to establish a scholarship for Siena College of New York in honor of men from his unit who perished. He has also purchased and donated books to children at Parkville Elementary School in Hartford.
In 2015 he was also named Bristol Hometown Hero, an honor given to individuals during the Mum Festival.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com.