Photo by Frank Prager
John Ceppenati of Alton was on the front lines of the Pacific theater during World War II.
World War II was a conflict unique in the annals of human history — a war in which freedom for the world hung in the balance and one fought by soldiers who came from every city and rural area in the nation. John Ceppenati of Alton was one of those soldiers.
The 89-year old Ceppenati was born and raised in Alton. He and his wife, June, have been married for 66 years. He has four children and three grandchildren. His childhood memories of the Alton area include vibrant industries like the Alton Box Board, the Steel Mill and the Glassworks that lined the riverfront in those days. He remembers working for $3 a day in the coal business, which he says was very big in the area.
Ceppenati was drafted into the Army in 1943 at the age of 18. After training, he was assigned to the 40th Infantry Division and recalls sailing out under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco as his ship headed toward the Pacific Theater and the invasion of the Philippines.
As a forward observer for his division, Ceppenati was charged with spotting enemy positions. As such, he was involved in heavy action during most of his tour. The landing craft he was aboard during the invasion was sunk by enemy fire and his company had to make it to shore on their own during heavy fighting.
Ceppenati has many stories of his tour, some more serious than others. He says on the morning they were to land in the gulf, he spotted a huge fireball on the horizon. He was later told that it was the U.S.S. Missouri shelling the shore, “softening up” the beach for their landing.
He talks about serving KP duty and finding it not as bad as many say.
“You had access to more food than at other times,” he said, smiling.
He says he would have been willing to work another week at KP duty because of the access to the food. He also talks about taking some leftover steak sandwiches with him and later sharing them when he was on the Philippine Islands.
“My buddies couldn’t believe it,” he says. “I think they were the only steak sandwiches on the Philippines at that time.”
Ceppenati recalls leaving his foxhole on orders from his commanding officer. While he was gone, a direct hit by an enemy shell destroyed the foxhole.
When asked if he was frightened during the fighting, he replies, “We were too busy to be scared.”
Ceppenati was involved in the liberation of prisoners from Japanese prison camps at Cabanatuan on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. A movie titled “The Great Raid” starring John Wayne was made about that rescue action.
Upon leaving the military, Ceppenati returned to the local area to raise a family and work in the community. He was in the construction industry and worked for 26 years for a local asphalt company.
Those who served our country during World War II preserved a way a life many of us take for granted but for which great sacrifices were made. John Ceppenati is one of those heroes to whom this nation owes its freedom.