The first items World War II veteran Samuel Lombardo unpacked from his boxes at his new home in Destin were his medals and patches from his 22 years in the Army.
“I have vacationed all over the world to places such as California, Hawaii, Japan, Europe — well Europe was all during the war which isn’t much of a vacation — but I have never seen a place as beautiful as here,” Lombardo said.
After spending the winter on the Emerald Coast for the first time last year, the 92-year-old was enchanted. He decided to move from his home in Altoona, Penn., to a condo overlooking the Choctawhatchee Bay in Destin. He even wrote a poem, “I’ve Fallen In Love With Destin.”
“Destin has the quietness of a small city, yet with the facilities of a big city,” Lombardo told The Log.
Lombardo also wrote a poem about Memorial Day. Read it here.
While most of his belongings still sat in boxes, the retired lieutenant made sure the American flag, a symbol of patriotism that he holds close to his heart, stood proudly in his living room at Valencia Condominiums.
Lombardo was born in Caraffa, Calabria in southern Italy during the reign of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
During that time, ”any foreign flag had to be reported,” he said. “I remember going up into the attic to hide two little flags… I think I had an innate understanding of their importance and that’s why I hid them.”
Lombardo and his family came to America when he was 10 years old on Oct. 3, 1929.
“The first things my father told us were to be proud of our heritage, be loyal to America, be the best citizens possible and learn English as quickly as possible,” he said. “I’m still working on that.”
As an Italian-American, Lombardo served his new country as rifle platoon leader for the Second Platoon, Company I, 394th Infantry Regiment, 99th Division during WWII.
After a victory at the Battle of the Bulge, Lombardo said “morale was low” and the Americans, although successful, “felt like a bunch of whipped dogs.”
He had spent months in the combat zone and seen no flag, so he decided to called up the commander on the walkie-talkie and request a flag for his platoon.
“About ten minutes later, he said we were not authorized to have one on the front lines,” he said. “It made me mad… If they won’t give us a flag, we’ll make one.”
As his platoon was attacking eastward toward the Cologne Plains, they arrived in the vacated town of Elsdorf, Germany. White flags made of sheets and towels hung from every window.
Since it was their first break, Lombardo decided to start work on the flag. Using one of the white surrender flags, blue curtains and red pillowcases, the soldiers began work cutting the stars and strips.
By pure chance, “The flag was the standard 3 by 5 size and just the perfect colors,” he said. “It took us two and a half months to complete.”
The flag was finished shortly before the end of the war in May of 1945 on the banks of the Danube River. After the end of the WWII, Lombardo’s platoon presented him with the homemade flag that he later donated to the National Infantry Museum in Fort Benning, Ga.
“What an honor it is to send relics to museums for everyone to see,” he said.
After retiring from the Army, Lombardo has done a little of everything from making his own brand of golf putters, to avocado farming in California and even beekeeping.
“So many have done so much more than me. I have compatriots who are wheelchairs,” he said. “I am lucky to be in good health.”
Nowadays, Lombardo plans to enjoy his new home in Destin and relax and work writing poems about the patriotism, love and friendship he has experienced throughout his life.
“I thank God to still have most of my memories, even though I may not remember what I did yesterday.”