While his memory of that fateful date of December 7, 1941 remains remarkably strong even at age 94, it isn’t the Japanese zeroes strafing overhead, the widespread chaos or the smoldering ruins of U.S. Navy battleships in Pearl Harbor that Ed Riccio, Jr. remembers best.
The vivid memory that remains foremost in Riccio’s mind is being part of the detail tasked later that day, after the attack had long ended, with tending to the casualties – the torched, lifeless bodies of his barracks comrades.
“These were guys I knew, guys I bunked with, guys I played ball with,” said Bristol native and resident Riccio, one of only three of 60 men in his barracks to survive the infamous attack that catapulted the United States into World War II. “We were picking up body parts, I recognized their tattoos. I remember picking up someone’s arm and on it was the wristwatch of my good friend.
“There were tears streaming down our faces as we worked.”
Riccio was among the first to awaken in his barracks that morning, and recalls hearing what he thought was a water boiler exploding. “It was no water boiler,” he dead panned. He ducked beneath a window and quickly crawled out of the barracks as bombs exploded, killing the vast majority of his comrades. The force of the explosions “blew me right out” onto the tarmac, Riccio said.
Remarkably, Riccio’s Pearl Harbor tale is only one of his two gripping, personal World War II survival stories. He narrowly escaped death later in the war when, as an Army Air Corps mechanic and turret gunner aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress fatefully named the “Calamity Jane,” he was forced to land the plane – with no flight training – after it suffered a monstrous hit to the nose that killed the pilot and co-pilot.
Riccio crash landed on Guadalcanal with escort assistance from two Navy planes, was knocked unconscious and woke up in a hospital bed. Offered a chance to return home, Riccio politely informed his superiors – after all he had been through at Pearl Harbor and in the Guadalcanal air attack – he would instead choose to remain in the service and go to flight school.
Riccio attended flight school in Australia, completed his active service in 1946 and went on to a 25-year career as a reservist, retiring as a major. During the course of his post-service career he also flew for a private air cargo carrier; owned Ed’s Amoco in Bristol, providing auto repair services to many who could not afford to pay; and later worked for many years as an engine mechanic with Pratt and Whitney.
The Riccio family is well known in Bristol and Ed, the son of Italian immigrants Ed and Angela Riccio, is the youngest and lone survivor of a family of 10 brothers and sisters. Ed’s brother Dan was a local sheriff; brother Joe owned a popular shoe store in Bristol for many years; and sister Romilda was also a shoe store owner in the Riccio Block on North Main Street. Sister Claire was a local school teacher.
Ed and his long-time wife Theresa have a daughter and son-in-law, JoAnn and Steve Larson; two sons, Eddie and Mark; and three grandchildren.
Riccio has been feted by many local groups and veterans organizations; has often spoken of his experiences to local veterans groups, community groups and school children; and over the years has been a regular participant in many Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremonies.
Approximately 84,000 service members survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and some estimates place the number of remaining survivors today at less than 1,000.
DATE: Thursday, October 2, 2014
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