He was just out of high school when his country called him to duty during World War II.
And, by all accounts, former U.S. Army Pfc. Ubaldo J. Ciniero, 95, served valiantly. So valiantly, in fact, that the Rhode Island native received the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievement in ground combat.
Ciniero had the medal for 75 years. But for just as long, he has gone without two forms of recognition that go along with being honored as an American military hero: The formal certificate that authenticates the medal — and the ceremony that typically happens when you receive the Bronze Star.
His wait is now over.
Ciniero — who fought in the European Theater and came home aboard the legendary Queen Mary — received his Bronze Star Medal certificate during a small ceremony at his Rancho Palos Verdes home on Tuesday, July 27. He also received a new Bronze Star, the fourth-highest honor in the military, with his name on it. His original — which was mailed to him — lacked that crucial detail.
It isn’t entirely clear why Ciniero never received his certificate or a ceremony, though he did serve overseas during the end of the war, which was chaotic and complex: Concentration camps were liberated, the military’s focus pivoted to the Pacific, alliances shifted amid the nascent Cold War and service members were discharged — and sent home to a euphoric nation.
But Brigadier Gen. Michael Leeney of the California National Guard, who presented Ciniero with his certificate, said the oversight — no matter the reason — still needed correcting.
“This was a long time coming,” Leeney said. “I am here today to help right a wrong.”
About two dozen family members gathered in the backyard of Ubaldo and Joy Ciniero, married 65 years, for the belated recognition that was brief but brought smiles and tears to both.
Ubaldo Ciniero, who now has Parkinson’s disease and has difficulty speaking, was assigned to the 7th Armored Infantry Battalion, 8th Armored Division, which landed in France in January 1945. Under Gen. George Patton, his division provided replacement troops for the heavy losses taken in the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive on the Western Front. The division was recognized as a liberating unit in freeing those imprisoned at Halberstadt- Zwieberge, a subcamp of the Buchenwald concentration camp, in April 1945.
“He was just a kid when he was there,” said Joy Ciniero, 88. “He rarely ever talked about the war.”
He was sure he wouldn’t live through it, he later told his wife.
“We all knew we were going to die,” she recalled him saying.
To this day, she said, he declines the label of “hero,” saying those who didn’t come home — including a fellow soldier and buddy who died just five days before the war ended — were the real heroes.
“He was raised in a family of eight children, a very loving family,” his wife said. “All of a sudden, he was over there, doing things he’d never imagined.”
About 12 years ago, she and her husband visited Batstogne, the town that Ubaldo Ciniero remembered as ravaged from that battle.
“It must have been beautiful,” Joy Ciniero said about how her husband recalled his thoughts during the war.
And so it was again when he returned so many years after the war.
Spotting an old church, he told his wife the last time he saw the structure, during the war, it had no roof.
“He got to see the town as he thought it should be,” she said of the trip.
They were warmly greeted, she said, by residents who have always remembered with gratitude what the Americans did for France.
The war was life-changing for a generation of young people who defeated what was one of the most serious world threats in the modern era.
When he returned home from war, Ubaldo Ciniero was only 21 years old.
But like the others in his generation, he got on with life, going back to school, finding a career, marrying and having children. And his medal was mailed to him.
After Ubaldo and Joy Ciniero married, the couple packed up their station wagon and headed for California on March 1, 1957, where they raised two children in the South Bay, settling in Gardena. Ubaldo Ciniero worked in customer service for Delta Airlines and Joy Ciniero, a former Miss Rhode Island, worked part time in aerospace plants while raising their son and daughter.
But it wasn’t until last month that the couple realized Ubaldo Ciniero was not properly recognized for his service during World War II. During an Army ball, Joy Ciniero mentioned to one of the military branch’s public relations people that her husband got his medal in the mail. That person, Joy Ciniero said, told her that wasn’t right — and needed to be rectified.
And the Army acted quickly.