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Band of brothers endures

World War II veterans hold reunion

Southbridge area members of the 296th Combat Engineers Btn. included, from left, Pfc. Pasquale Grifoni, Kachadour Avedisian, Tech. 5th-Grade Joseph Civitillo. Behind Civilitillo is Pfc. John Boniface, of Sturbridge. To Boniface’s right is Sgt. John Jeanonotte, Pfc. Joseph Breen and Pfc. Roger Leboeuf, of Southbridge. Ryan Grannan-Doll. (click for larger version)
September 23, 2010
STURBRIDGE — Their bond has withstood mortar fire, nights spent in foxholes and above all else, 67 years.

Nothing has torn the bond the men of the 296th Combat Engineer Battalion of the U.S. Army formed as they fought the Germany's quest to conquer Europe during World War II. Surviving members of the unit, many from Southbridge and surrounding towns, reunited Wednesday, Sept. 22 at the Sturbridge Host Hotel, continuing the friendship born during trying times many years ago.

"You get attached to people," said 86-year-old Pvt. Louis Brodeur, of Southbridge.

Their journey began March 3, 1943 when they were activated as a unit at Camp Shelby, in Hattiesburg, Miss. From there, the men traveled to Liverpool, England, and started their 672-day tour through the European theater of operations traveling 1,800 miles to Berlin, according to Technician Fifth grade, Joseph Civitillo, who grew up in Southbridge and now lives in Sturbridge. Along the way, they cleared minefields, built bridges for Allied forces to cross, and destroyed others to stall Axis forces.

For the men of the battalion, with war came lifelong friendships. Between battles, Brodeur said he would play baseball or dance to pass the time, but fighting for the freedom of the continent helped the men form a tight bond. Brodeur came to know another solider named Alfred Thomas, but lost touch with him after the war ended. He said he would love to see Thomas today and would present him with a special gift.

"I would put my arms around him. Really hug him," Brodeur said.

For more on this story, please see tomorrow's Southbridge Evening News.

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