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A Stunning Personal Account of WW II, General Patton and Battle of the Bulge

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World War II veteran Sgt. Dan Santagata, who spoke on Sunday about his war experience at a New Castle Historical Society event at the Chappaqua Library. His talk recounted his experiences fighting under Gen. George Patton in the Battle of the Bulge.

A captivated crowd of more than 150 people heard a rare, first-hand account of fighting in World War II by veteran Sgt. Dan Santagata on Sunday at the Chappaqua Library.

The event was hosted by the New Castle Historical Society, which received an overwhelming number of reservations causing the event to be relocated from the Horace Greeley House to the larger theater at the library.

Santagata, who turns 100 in August, spoke in detail of his army experience. On a large overhead screen, several personal photographs and historical maps served as prompts. His stepson, Keith Hopkins, joined Santagata, adding further details to Santagata’s timeline.

The eldest of eight children, Santagata had three brothers and four sisters who grew up on Long Island but moved to Stamford, Conn.

Speaking in an unwavering, clear voice, the army veteran took the audience back 80 years, reliving the war’s many heroic victories as well as heartbreaking losses.

“I volunteered for the Army when I was 17 and a senior in high school,” he recalled. “My mother didn’t even know I joined, and when she did, she had to get my high school diploma at graduation.”

A series of army camps trained Santagata to be a combat engineer.

“After my training I was ordered to leave,” he said. “I boarded the Queen Elizabeth and waved goodbye to the Statue of Liberty, and then we crossed the ocean.”

Santagata served in the Army’s 5th Infantry Division as a combat engineer who handled a variety of explosives, from dynamite to TNT. He knew how to dismantle land mines and was trained in bridge building, constructing barbed-wire fences and laying minefields.

“Finding German mines meant you had to poke the ground with your bayonet until you found one,” Santagata explained. “Then you had to unscrew the cap. If I wasn’t careful, I wouldn’t be here today.”

He recalled the contents of their K Rations.

“It was the size of a Cracker Jack box with a can of eggs and ham, a chocolate bar, three cigarettes, coffee and bathroom tissue,” Santagata said.

For three years Santagata’s division fought in five major campaigns in Normandy, northern France, the Rhineland, the Ardennes in the Battle of the Bulge and Central Europe under Gen. George Patton. During that time his division crossed 26 rivers.

Of particular interest was Santagata’s quips by the famed Patton, whose troops fought through five major campaigns in France, Germany and central Europe.

“There wasn’t a better general, and although some people thought different, he kept on going,” he said. “If you didn’t do your job, he’d replace you the next day. A lot of officers didn’t like him.”

Santagata shared one conversation between Patton and a soldier.

“I remember he went up to a soldier and said ‘this rifle is the best SOB you will ever get.’ Then he touched the tip of the bayonet and said ‘this isn’t sharp enough.’”

World War II veteran Sgt. Dan Santagata, right, and his stepson, Keith Hopkins on Sunday at a New Castle Historical Society’s event at the Chappaqua Library. Santagata spoke about his war experiences and fighting under Gen. George Patton in the Battle of the Bulge.

Santagata also recalled the famous meeting between Patton and generals Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower days after the Battle of the Bulge began.

“Patton told them he had three divisions ready to go. They laughed at him at first, but then went ahead with the attack plans.”

A somber memory was when Santagata’s division found a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.

“I just couldn’t look at the ovens,” he said. “I just couldn’t.”

When a prisoner walked out of the camp, Santagata said he was crying.

“He hugged me and I gave him my coat. He was skinny as a rail.”

For about 90 minutes, Santagata never tired or lost energy as he shared both funny and sad stories.

“There were times when things didn’t go our way, some minefields were places where we lost some good men,” he said.

Although his infantry division didn’t make it to the Paris liberation, they did end up in Reims.

“We never got to liberate Paris, but Reims is the greatest Champagne city of the world,” he said. “We emptied our canteens of cider and filled them with champagne.”

When Santagata got out of the army, he trained in construction and worked on commercial buildings in New York and Connecticut.

He said he hadn’t spoken about his war experience for almost 50 years, a silence that was broken when he attended a 7th Engineer, 5th Infantry reunion where he reunited with his military buddies. He joined the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Organization, and was awarded the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government. Santagata was presented with the insignia of the Legion at a ceremony on May 8, 2012, at West Point.

Several veteran reunions would follow.

Santagata, who still lives in Stamford, was married and raised two children. He now has seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

He said he would never forget his military service.

“I think about all the guys who didn’t make it; some of them I got into foxholes with,” Santagata said. “But if I had to do it all over again, I would.”


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