Bombs were exploding everywhere, and you couldn’t see a thing except blinding flashes of light. We just didn’t know if we were going to live from one minute to the next,” said the veteran as his mind’s eye stared down memories of World War II.
The terrifying scene, described by John P. Livolsi, is one that he would continue to experience during his service in World War II. “Not only did you fear for your own life,” he said, “but also for the lives of the men in your battalion. The boys and I were like family, and I remember those moments in battle as if it were yesterday. You just never forget.”
But yesterday was a lifetime ago for John. At age 92, he has lived a life devoted to serving his country and his local community.
“Everyone calls me Little John. I’m somewhere around 5 foot. I think I used to be taller, but I was never a basketball star,” he said. Height was never a deterrent in his years of military service. Livolsi’s achievements are a testament to his unshakeable determination and faithful work ethic.
Livolsi was born the son of Italian immigrants Oct. 31, 1918, in Baltimore. “My family came from Sicily, and I ended up fighting a battle there,” he said. He and his six siblings were first-generation American. “Although my parents loved Italy, they became very proud U.S. citizens.”
While Livolsi beams with patriotism, his devotion to family, friends and his Catholic faith have also played a pivotal role in his life.
Livolsi’s military career began Oct. 6, 1941, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army 9th Infantry Division. After discharge from the Army in 1945, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve. In October 1949, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve as a first-class builder and was promoted to chief builder in 1952, working in this capacity until his retirement.
Serving in the Army, Navy and Marines for a combined total of 34 years, Livolsi participated in the invasions of North Africa, Sicily and Normandy. He explained that one of his greatest moments was in 2002, when he received a presidential citation for the liberation of France due to his involvement in the invasion of Normandy.
He still proudly shares his memories of war and victory, even after many decades have passed. During the North African campaign, Livolsi fought in the Western Desert Campaign in Morocco. Through his numerous acts of bravery, he was awarded the European/African/Middle Eastern Service Ribbon, the American Defense Service Medal and two medals for good conduct.
He is humble when asked about the many additional medals and commendations that adorn his walls: African Campaign Four-Star Mdal, Armed Forces Medal and the Bronze Star for both the Army and Navy. In addition, Livolsi received a 1944 citation for his efforts as an expert rifleman in combat infantry.
Amidst his accounts of gun battles, air raids and some memories too painful to share, Livolsi has fond memories too. “I was stationed in Safi, Morocco, and befriended a maharajah living in town,” he said. “It was an unexpected place to make a friend.”
Following his military service, Livolsi spent the next 50 years of his life as a member of the International Union of Brick Layers and Allied Craftworkers. After retirement, he enjoyed many years as an American Red Cross volunteer with responsibility for transporting donated blood to regional hospitals. “It felt great to know I was helping people,” he said.
Today, Livolsi resides in Long Neck. “I like staying busy,” he said. “I go to church every week and visit family whenever I can.” He has two daughters, six grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Sixteen million men and women served in the U.S. military during World War II. Fewer than 2 million American World War II veterans are still alive today. “So many of the boys are gone now, and those of us who are still living are getting up there in age,” said Livolsi. He paused briefly to examine a photo of his fellow soldiers before he continued: “I’m just grateful to have lived a long, healthy life, and I plan to enjoy every day while I’m here.”
As he prepares to embark on an afternoon ride through his community, Livolsi takes a moment to unfurl the American flag mounted on the back of his golf cart. “I will always fly my flag,” he said. “It reminds me of the men and women who have sacrificed for this great country. It makes me proud.”