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Tony the Tailor's son a war hero

  • BILL O'GUREK/TIMES NEWS Mario Iezzoni and his medals.
    BILL O'GUREK/TIMES NEWS Mario Iezzoni and his medals.
Published May 29. 2010 09:00AM

When Mario Iezzoni came to the United States from Italy in 1947 he simply wanted to be an "average American."

As a teenager, he enlisted in the Army after the outset of the Korean War. A little more than a year later, he was exposed to the horrors of war and found himself in a less-than-average situation, one which resulted in him being awarded a Bronze Star.

A son of "Tony the Tailor," an Italian immigrant who settled in Lansford with his wife, Mario and some friends joined the military not long after the first American was killed in action on July 4, 1950.

Sixty years later and now a resident of Summit Hill, the highly-decorated soldier has quite a story to tell about how he came home from the war with a Bronze Star Medal.

"My whole idea was to come to America, join the Army, get educated and someday go back to Europe to give my friends and family a ride on an Army jeep," he recalled.

His father died about 15 months after Mario arrived here, but his resolve to become educated had been set, and he attended the former St. Ann School.

At age 17, he joined the Army "to get an education," eventually undergoing 14 weeks of basic training and eight weeks both for advanced infantry and armored infantry training.

"I was only 129 pounds, but by the time I was done with basic training, I wasn't afraid of anybody," he recalled.

With the war in Korea escalating, Mario, an ammo bearer for a 60-mm mortar team, was assigned to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment. As the need to have fresh troops was paramount, he was sent to the front line near the 38th Parallel in April, 1951.

"It was April 10 when we went to the front line," he recalled. "That night, we moved into enemy territory and got down to the bottom of the hill. There was freezing rain and snow, and fog all over the mountain. I don't know why, but I wasn't afraid. I even wondered if the Army gave you something to not be afraid."

"George" Company eventually advanced down the other side of the ridge before Iezzoni found himself retreating to take cover in a crack between two rocks after a sniper opened fire to his right. "For an hour-and-and a-half to two hours, I was pinned. Bullets were zinging. It was wet and cold, but I stayed there a long time," he recalled.

Just a few hours later, 120-mm mortar rounds exploded against the Americans who had been guarding the ridge against a counter-attack, injuring four soldiers.

As they began retreating downhill, Mario and five others volunteered to stay behind and carry the injured down the mountain.

With the enemy in pursuit, they used ponchos to create makeshift stretchers, but continued to their retreat amid showers of gunfire.

"The Chinese were shooting wildly," Mario said. "We got to the bottom of the hill, crossed an open area and bullets were whistling. They were automatic weapons. It was a miracle none of us weren't hit."

During the retreat, Mario came across a wounded soldier who had apparently been left for dead.

"I looked at him," he said. "His eyes were closed and he had a wounded chin. When he opened his eyes, I thought, 'Oh my God, he's alive.'"

The soldier begged Mario, "Please don't leave me."

Mario carried the man, thought to be a soldier named Kelly who he had met when they went to Korea together.

"He was between 220-240 pounds. He was a burden, but I carried him for 5-6 hours, maybe for 2-1/2 to 3 miles," Mario said.

Eventually, Mario was able to get the injured soldier to an aid station, after which time he collapsed.

Six weeks later, he learned "Kelly" died three hours after making it to the aid tent, apparently succumbing to a loss of blood.

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