On June 6, 1944, thousands of men stormed the beaches of Normandy, France to shake Europe from the grip of the Third Reich. The attack, known as D-Day, was one of the bloodiest days in World War II and American history.
Rocco Moretto, a young man from Astoria, was among the slew of men who waded from the amphibious boats to land. He was also among the very few from his company to survive the mission.
Moretto’s unit, Company C, started with 219 men on Landing Craft Infantry (Large) 401. By May 7, 1945 when German forces surrendered, better known as VE-Day, Moretto and Virginia resident Benny Zuskin were the sole survivors of the detachment.
Exactly 69 years after D-Day, Moretto, who received dozens of medals and awards for his service in the Army, was honored by his Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2348 in a renaming ceremony that unveiled the Rocco Moretto Post 2348.
“He told me that the war was easy compared to this,” Director of Communications and Volunteer Manager for United War Veterans Council Molly Levi said at the event, held last Thursday in Astoria. “He was a bit nervous about today and found himself pinching himself three or four times.”
Moretto was joined by 50 or so of his family and friends, including Councilman and borough president candidate Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria).
“You’ve been here with me through the beginning,” Vallone said. “Last night, at the borough president debate, they asked me who inspired me the most. Since I could only use one word, I, of course, said it was my parents but if I were able to name the next person on my list, it would’ve been Rocco Moretto.”
A few unexpected guests also paid their respects.
“Rocco was my Little League coach,” Rich Kashdan said. “I haven’t seen him in years but when I heard they were honoring him, I had to be here. He’s a very quiet, family guy who was never boastful. I didn’t even know he was a war hero until two years ago.”
Several of Kashdan’s old teammates were also in attendance.
In addition to a City Council citation, Moretto was also given a plaque from Timothy Irish, the post quartermaster and active duty captain, who serves as a public affairs officer for the Marine Corps.
“This is an honor that I never really dreamed of receiving and believe me when I say I’m overwhelmed with it all,” Moretto said. “I served with Company C 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, more affectionately known as the Big Red One, and our division motto was ‘No mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great, duty first’; and I have strived to live my life with that motto always in mind.”
Moretto also had a message for the dozen or so young veterans who stood at-ease behind him.
“I have the utmost respect for all of the young vets,” he said. “Just think, this is the first time in history that we have an all-volunteer military. So to the young vets of Post 2348, I want the world to know that I love you all and I salute you.”