Santo Squillacioti, a longtime West Islip resident whose survival of one of World War II's grimmest battles produced memories that remained etched in his psyche the rest of his life, died Saturday at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown.
Squillacioti, 96, who moved to a retirement home in Nesconset several years ago, had been hospitalized after being injured in a fall.
"I think about the war every day, but I don't talk about it," Squillacioti once recalled during a 2014 visit to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. “The battles. The casualties. Burying your friends. …Looking for dog tags in the trees.”
In December 1944, Squillacioti, who served as an Army paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division’s 194 Glider Infantry, found himself being trucked into Bastogne, Belgium, for the 40 days of hell now known as the Battle of the Bulge.
With winter closing in, and a noose of Nazi troops tightening around the critical crossroads city, the Allies' challenge was existential: hold Bastogne, or lose the port city of Antwerp, which would starve the Allied armies pressing toward Berlin.
"They were all around us," Squillacioti told Newsday earlier this year, describing days of shooting at German soldiers, whose white camouflage made them barely visible in the snowy landscape.
"I didn't think I was going to survive," he said. "It was so bad you wanted to dig a hole with your hands. You can't, because the ground was so hard."
But he did survive that day, and all the remaining days of the war.
Squillacioti was 100 miles from Berlin on May 8, 1945, when word arrived that Germany had surrendered. He recalled being more exhausted than elated.
"I just wanted to go home," he told Newsday.
He was 21 and a husky hat presser when the 5-foot-5, 190-pound Brooklynite was drafted in September 1942.
After his honorable discharge in 1946, Squillacioti repaired vending machines in Brooklyn and Long Island. He married Rose Mauriello, who grew up in nearby Bensonhurst, in 1947. The couple, who eventually had a son and daughter, moved to West Islip in 1956.
Squillacioti retired in 1984.
His only surviving immediate family member, son Michael Squillacioti, said that despite witnessing history, his father lived a mostly quiet life, enjoying karaoke singing, playing the piano and organ, and tap dancing.
“He will be remembered as a quiet gentle man,” his son said.
Squillacioti’s daughter, Jaime Luise, died in 2003. His wife, Rose, died in 2006.
A graveside ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Calverton National Cemetery.