CT Firefighter Finds Late Dad in WWII Footage
New Haven Firefighter Rick Conte, left, a spitting image of his World War II veteran father, holds an iPhone with footage of his father from a History Channel documentary series discovered by New Haven Deputy Fire Chief Tom Holman, right. Holman was watch
New Haven Register via YellowBrix
May 31, 2010
NEW HAVEN — With due deference to rank, city Firefighter Rick Conte believed his deputy chief and longtime friend was crazy.
After all, the odds of actually seeing 65-year-old video footage of Conte’s late father, a U.S. Army MP, during a TV documentary on World War II was about one in 8 million, the number of Army soldiers who served in the war.
As it ends up, Deputy Chief Tom Holman was right.
“It was only a four-second clip, but there he was — and the hair on my neck just stood up. I recognized him right away,” said Conte, who finally relented, borrowed a copy of the History channel’s “World War II in HD” and pored over hours of video Easter Sunday.
His father, Joe Conte, was drafted into the Army before Pearl Harbor. He trained in the Mojave Desert in California with plans to deploy him to North Africa to fight German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Deployment plans changed, and instead he was sent to England to prepare for the Normandy invasion, Conte recalled.
He arrived in France about 14 days after the first troops landed on June 6, 1944. He later fought in the Battle of the Bulge, where he earned a Purple Heart.
On his iPhone, Conte, a firefighter assigned to the Woodward Avenue firehouse, has wartime pictures of his father, including a favorite of him sitting on the ground next to his motorcycle, his riding goggles perched on his forehead.
But it was an emotional moment to see actual video, even four seconds worth, of his father, who died in 1998. Smiling and talking inaudibly, it was an image of his father at about 24 years old, before he met his mother upon returning home and thus before Rick was a proverbial glint in his eye.
“You cried,” Holman reminded him as they recently related the story.
“I sometimes get emotional,” Conte acknowledged.
His sister later contacted the production company that compiled the History Channel documentary and got some additional footage of Conte that didn’t make it into the multipart documentary. That, too, is now on Conte’s phone.
It wasn’t entirely happenstance that Holman came across the video. Holman has always been somewhat of a WWII buff.
His father was a Marine, enlisting the same day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
His uncle Eddie served in the Navy and another uncle Frank was in the Army.
As the story was relayed to Holman, his father was at the Fireside Bar on Woodward Avenue when he heard about the bombing on the radio and, with a few friends, drove to Waterbury to a recruiting station.
“When he got home at 10 o’clock at night, he was in the U.S. Marines.”
While Holman’s brother grew up idolizing Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, Holman said his idols were guys like Audie Murphy and Al Schmidt and other war heroes because of his father and uncles.
He has always marveled at the young citizen soldiers being plucked out of high schools, stores and factories and sent to the hell of combat around the world.
Back home, as Holman was growing up on Townsend Avenue, veterans returned from the war and resumed their lives.
On his block alone, his friend Jack Donovan’s dad was a fighter pilot in the Navy. Anthony DiMartino’s father was an Army medic who was captured — and released — by the Germans along with two seriously wounded GIs. Frank Amore, another neighbor, fought at the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy.
“The neighborhood where I grew up on Townsend Avenue was a history lesson, just walking up and down the street talking to your friends’ parents.”
For him, catching a wartime glimpse of his friend’s father also was a moving moment.
“When I was growing up, I talked to him periodically about the war. The amazing thing about those guys was, for what sacrifices they made, they didn’t make a big deal about it. It was their job.”
He recognized his friend’s father right away, in no small part because of the strong resemblance between father and son.
It’s a reminder, he said, that Memorial Day is about more than family picnics.
“The original clip shows the close-up of his face, shows him pulling up on a motorcycle, taking his goggles off and then they do the four-second clip.
“It’s a nice picture of him.”