A member of Gen. George S. Patton's U.S. Third Army 3rd Infantry Division that played a role in the liberation of France and the German surrender in World War II still calls the Ohio Valley home.
Sgt. William Tonini, 86, of Hannibal and formerly of Avella, Pa., enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 19 in September 1943. Following training, he found himself a technician 4th class in the Headquarters Company of the 7th Infantry Regiment.
"Gen. Patton was the greatest general in the war," Tonini said. "That's the way he did it. ... The 3rd Infantry Division was the best in the country."
Photo by Zach Macormac
Sgt. William Tonini, a 4th Class Technician of the 7th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry
Division, accompanied by his wife Dorothy, shows off his Knight of the Legion of Honor medal recently awarded by the French government for his hand in the liberation of France during World War II.
In March 1944, Tonini's regiment joined with and served under Patton's Lt. Gen. John "Iron Mike" O'Daniel's 3rd Infantry Division, starting at Anzio beachhead, Italy. He would become one of "Patton's Boys."
Two months later, the division marched north to Rome to train for the invasion of southern France. Tonini recalled a sensitive moment while on the road to France.
A man with whom he trained and became well-acquainted, Lt. Col. John Toffee, investigated a building believed to be occupied by German forces. Toffee found himself on the wrong end of a German rifle at that site. Tonini said he found what he believes to be Toffee's grave while on a 50th anniversary tour in Italy, but he was not entirely sure.
On Aug. 15, 1944, Tonini was involved with a "second D-Day" when he landed at St. Tropez, France, and advanced through the Rhone Valley, Vosges Mountains and ended at the Rhine River at Strasbourg, France, in November 1944.
He said his division entered Germany in March 1945, fighting through a fierce battle at Nuremberg and again at Augsburg and Munich that April.
As the war drew to a close, the division was near Salzburg, Austria, and his division earned the credit of capturing "Berchtesgaden," Germany, a place Tonini referred to as "Hitler's Hideout."
Although the 3rd Division is known for suffering the most deaths of any armed forces division during World War II, Tonini said he does not regret being a part of the war.
"I'm proud of what I did," he said. "I walked the entire road (from France to Germany) and I'm not ashamed to admit it."
Tonini still wears his hat, showing off his involvement with the 3rd Infantry Division, and appears at numerous local, national and international events.
Recently, he earned the Knight of the Legion of Honor medal from the French government, thanking him for his service. Through his years, he also earned the Bronze Star Medal, Good Conduct Medal, the European, African, Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze stars, the Distinguished Unit Citation and a WWII Victory Medal.
After three years of service, Tonini entered a career with Mobay Chemical Corp. of Pittsburgh, where he retired in 1969.
Until recently, he served 52 consecutive years as a baseball umpire for "every high school and college in the area." He said he wants to be an umpire again, but knee complications are holding him back "for now."
In addition to collecting a variety of war memorabilia, he is an avid New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Penguins fan and shows off a "trophy room" to every house guest complete with dozens of figurines, posters, trading cards, jerseys and photographs. He also speaks fluent Italian.
He resides just off Ohio 7 in Hannibal with his wife, Dorothy.