As part of the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division (known as the Ivy Division), Sgt. Edward John Zilli had crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary, landed in Scotland, rode a blacked out train to a small village in England, had several months of additional field training, and now found himself crossing the English Channel on a Landing Ship Tank (LST) heading for Utah Beach in Normandy, France.
Ed grew up on Long Island New York, right on the ocean, and was a great swimmer, so he wanted to be as high on that ship as possible. When I asked why, he replies, “I could swim like a fish, and I figured if that ship got hit and was going down, I wanted to be able hit the water and not be trapped inside.” He went on, “You know, a lot of my guys weren’t good swimmers, so I told them if you end up in the water dump your gear, everything including your rifle. It’s no good to you if you’re drowned.” It was that kind of common sense thinking that helped him not only survive the war, but to excel in both his military & law enforcement careers.
The “Ivy Division” was the first unit to land on Utah Beach. Once his feet hit the beach, Ed spent the next twelve months in almost constant motion, involved in some of the most notable events of the war. After fighting his way off the beaches of Normandy and through the hedge rows of France, he helped liberate Paris.
Sgt. Zilli says, “There was no time to enjoy Paris that summer. We were moving and fighting constantly, but I sure had some good times in Paris the following summer!” After liberating Paris and eastern France, it was on in to Germany, fighting in the Hürtgen Forest, and later the Battle of the Bulge in the frigid winter with only light jackets. He also remembers crossing the Rhine and so many other battles both named and unnamed. Then on May 8, 1945, he and his men were only a few miles from Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, home of the world famous Pilsner Urquell Brewery, when word of the German surrender reached them. When I asked what did you think when you heard the war was over? Zilli’s eyes light up and he says, “Hell, we were so close to getting that great beer, you know, just one more day and we would have been there! I mean, of course we were all happy it was over, but we had been thinking about that beer for days, and it was just a few klicks away….”
That is just a glimpse of Ed’s amazing 99 years of life. Sgt. Zilli is my wife, Margie’s, Dad. He is a special person and one of only a few D-Day veterans left. Sgt. Ed Zilli was born Feb 8, 1923, and God willing, we will attempt to get more of his stories in print over the next year.
Now for my special request:
Ask yourself, what in the world would be a great birthday gift for someone who has done it all, seen it all, and so far has made 99 trips around the sun. How about a flood of cards and notes thanking him for his service and wishing him a happy, healthy 99th birthday?
If you agree and would like to help make that happen, cards can be mailed to:
Ed Zilli c/o Margie’s Art Glass Studio, 109 Main St S, Minot, ND 58701. Each and every card will be read and enjoyed by Sgt. Edward Zilli as he celebrates turning 99.