TICONDEROGA - Tony DiFebbo was watching a war movie recently.
"I saw Saving Private Ryan," he said. "I liked it, it was pretty good. But it's not the way war really is; movies never are."
DiFebbo would know. The Ticonderoga man is a World War II veteran who, like many of his generation - The Greatest Generation - witnessed the horrors of war firsthand.
"I'm no hero," DiFebbo said. "A lot of guys saw more action than I did. I was just a kid and I wanted to do my part."
DiFebbo, age 84, graduated from Ticonderoga High School and was drafted in 1944. After basic training at Fort Bragg, N.C., he was assigned to the 99th Infantry Division.
He shipped out to Europe aboard the Queen Elizabeth in a snow storm. He eventually found his way to Belgium - and the famed Battle of the Bulge.
Out of site of the enemy, artillery units send forward observers to the front line to direct their fire. It's considered one of the most hazardous jobs in war. DiFebbo's job was to string communications wire from forward observers back to the men firing the guns located a few miles away.
"That was the first time I'd ever seen guys all shot up," DiFebbo recalled. "They were missing arms, legs...it was terrible. It was one of the worst things I ever saw in my life.
"And there was snow up to our waist in some places," he added. "It was so cold and everyone had cold feet. Those Army boots were worthless."
The Battle of the Bulge was Germany's last offensive of the war. It began Dec. 16, 1944, and ended Jan. 25, 1945. Fought in bitter cold and snow in the densely-forested Ardennes Mountains region of Belgium, American troops were pummeled by German artillery. With over 800,000 men committed and over 19,000 Americans killed, the Battle of the Bulge was the single largest and bloodiest battle that American forces fought in World War II.
"I wasn't there at the very beginning of the Bulge," DiFebbo said. "I was a replacement. I saw enough, though...
"I never felt scared," he added. "I was 18. I didn't know enough to be scared, but let me tell ya - you sure as hell took cover when you heard that artillery."
DiFebbo's unit advanced and eventually crossed into Germany at the famed Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen.
In March 1945 the U.S. Army launched Operation Lumberjack. Designed to reach the west bank of the Rhine, American troops quickly advanced on the cities of Cologne, Bonn and Remagen. Aware that the Rhine posed the last major geographic obstacle to Allied troops, Hitler ordered the bridges over the river destroyed, but Americans arrived first and took the span.
"That was a big deal," DiFebbo said. "Once we had the Remagen bridge we were able to get into Germany.
"It wasn't easy, though," he added. "I had a couple of friends shot at Linz (near Remagen). That's where I saw the first jet fighter. They really hurt us."
Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker April 30, 1945, and German troops began to surrender. The final units gave up May 8.
"I'll always remember May 8," DiFebbo said. "It was a snowstorm, I think it snowed the whole time I was over there. We were huddled together in a (fox) hole trying to stay warm and we got word Germany had surrendered. Just like that, it was over, but we were really happy."
DiFebbo stayed in Germany until July when he was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division and started training for combat against Japan in the Pacific.
Before being sent to the Pacific, DiFebbo was given a 30-day leave to visit Ticonderoga. While he was at home, the United States dropped the atomic bomb and Japan surrendered Aug. 14.
"That was quite a day," DiFebbo recalled. "There were church bells, whistles blew, people were in the streets. It was a happy time."
DiFebbo remained in the Army through 1947, becoming a sergeant. He then worked a year in the local paper mill before taking a job with the Ticonderoga Power Company. In 1948 he married his late wife, Jean. Ti Power was bought by Niagara Mohawk the next year and DiFebbo stayed with the company until retiring in 1985.
Occasionally DiFebbo thinks back to his Army years and his old friends.
"When I think back I think about the guys, not all the other stuff. I made good friends in the Army," he said. "I used to send Christmas cards to those guys, but then they started coming back. They're aren't many of us left anymore."
One of those friends lives on in infamy. Elmer "Trigger" Burke was a member of DiFebbo's unit. Burke later became well known as a professional hit man and for his role in the famed Brink's robbery in Boston in 1950. Burke was eventually executed for murder.
Memorial Day and talk of war makes DiFebbo a bit uneasy.
"I didn't do anything special," he said. "Everyone just wanted to do their part; we wanted to knock the hell out of the Germans and Japs. We had some tough times, but not like the guys who were on the front lines all the time."