CHAPEL HILL, NC – In his many years of service, U.S. Army Airborne paratrooper and Ranger Jacques Michienzi, 91, witnessed first-hand both the horrors of war as well as moments of incredible bravery and heroism.
Michienzi served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, receiving many awards, including four Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars, six Purple Hearts, six Air Medals, the Legion of Merit Award and the Distinguished Service Cross. His combat service began in December 1944 as a platoon sergeant in Belgium, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
This weekend, while many Americans will be gearing up for backyard barbecues and beach trips to celebrate Memorial Day, Michienzi says he prefers to spend the holiday remembering those with whom he served.
“It’s more about remembering the fallen ones we lost in all of those wars,” he said. “To remember our soldiers and military from all of the services – Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. I think of all the experiences, camaraderie and relationships I had with all of these men and officers.”
On this Memorial Day, Carolina Meadows veterans will attend the special commemoration being held at the Carolina Meadows retirement community. The event, which will include music, readings and a speech, honors all of the veterans who have lost their lives serving in our nation’s wars. It will be held at 11 a.m. on Monday, May 25 in the Carolina Meadows Auditorium, located at 100 Carolina Meadows, Chapel Hill, NC 27517.
Michienzi says it’s still hard for him to speak about the casualties he witnessed during his many decades of service.
“I get very emotional,” Michienzi said. “I served down in the trenches in World War II and we took a lot of casualties.”
During his platoon’s march from Monty to Flamierge in Belgium, for example, there was little cover, he recalls. “We started with 160 or 170 guys, and by the time we were relieved, there were only 25 or 30 of us left that weren’t dead or injured.”
Pictures of Jacques Michienzi from each war he served in
But the casualties could have been far worse were it not for Michienzi’s courageous actions – actions his soldiers still remember to this day.
In a letter, fellow soldier Sam Matthews expressed the high regard he holds for Michienzi. “I had four battalion commanders in combat in the Big Red One (the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division) and two more in a subsequent Vietnam tour with the 1st Cav – and none could hold a candle to you. You were the epitome of courage and led by example. A role model of the ‘Warrior Spirit.’ ”
That “Warrior Spirit” is the reason Army Medic Dave Shannon’s parents get to celebrate Veteran’s Day with their son every year instead of commemorating a lost loved one on Memorial Day.
Jacques Michienzi reunion with Dave Shannon
Michienzi says his team was in Vietnam engaged in a three-day battle when Shannon was hit in his left arm by a fragment from an exploding enemy grenade, severing his arm below the elbow. Shannon had been administering lifesaving aid to a fellow soldier when he became a victim himself. Michienzi says he and his team evacuated Shannon to a hospital – saving his life.
“Never have I witnessed such courage as that displayed by your son after being wounded,” Michienzi wrote in a letter to Shannon’s parents in 1969. “His only concern was for the men he was trying to save.”
Many years later, Shannon was reunited with Michienzi. Shannon’s parents, his wife and a group of other veterans also were on hand for the emotional reunion.
“Even to this day, I am filled with pride as I remember the extraordinary heroism of such great warriors,” Michienzi said in a speech honoring a former company commander.