Valor Friday

| December 23, 2022

Captain Reginald Desiderio, lookin’ like a movie star

Sometimes while writing one of my articles, someone in the comments surprises the heck out of me and mentions a personal connection to a subject. In the case of Larry Thorne/Lauri Allen Torni, we have a longtime member whose father was his commanding officer and friend for a while. For last week’s article, another longtime member here just casually mentioned that as a small boy he was at the subject’s Medal of Honor awarding ceremony. Why? His old man was receiving the same medal that day. Here’s how he earned it.

Reginald “Reggie” Desiderio was born in September 1918 in Pennsylvania, but grew up in Gilroy, California. He was born into a large family. He was the eldest and had two younger sisters (one died in infancy), three half-brothers (one of which died in infancy), and three half-sisters (one of which also died in infancy, it was a rougher time back then). His youngest sister was born in 1945, weeks after VE Day.

Reginald’s father James (1898-1960) was the son of Italian immigrants. Reggie’s mother Angeline (1900-1987) had been born in Italy. Among his siblings, his brother Donald “Red” (1938-2013) and Ernest (1940-2004) followed him into the service. Both served with the US Army, Red left the service as a private first class and Ernest as a private.

Experiencing a sense of wanderlust, Desiderio dropped out of high school at age 16 and enlisted in the US Army. His early service was with a field artillery battalion in Hawaii from 1935-1937. After receiving an honorable discharge, he returned to California. There he finished high school and then re-enlisted. This time he signed on to the California National Guard. He served with the Howitzer Company, 184th Infantry Regiment.

By now, the Second World War had started, but America was staying out of the fighting. The country was moving to a wartime footing though. This included the full federalisation of the National Guard and reserve components in early 1941. The activation was ostensibly for 12 months of training and maneuvers (the famed Louisiana Maneuvers were part of this training run up). When 7 December 1941 saw the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, that year of training (which was about to soon end) turned into a “for the duration of the war, plus six months” call to active duty.

Desiderio wasn’t with his fellow Californians when the US entered the war. During their initial activation, he was offered the chance to earn a commission. After graduating Officer Candidate School, now-Second Lieutenant Desiderio was assigned to several company-level positions. First with the 38th Infantry Division, then the 10th Mountain Division, and the Infantry Replacement Training Command. From the latter, he’d be sent to join Company C of the 275th Infantry Regiment.

The 275th Infantry were part of the 70th Infantry Division. The 70th Infantry Division (70th ID), known as “The Trailblazers,” were first organized in June 1943. After training at Fort Leonard Wood, they arrived in Marseilles, France the week of 10-15 December 1944.

The 275th Infantry had been pulled from training a few months early to join the European War. This was done as Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight Eisenhower had requested as many infantry regiments as possible for the final push into Germany.

The Battle of the Bulge had been the last successful offensive of the Nazi war machine, and had just finished days before the arrival of The Trailblazers at the front. Being a new, inexperienced unit, the men of the 275th were to be assigned to a “quiet” part of the line. They were posted well south of the main push of the Germans in the Ardennes.

On 31 December, 1944, just days after the 275th Infantry had been emplaced, the Germans launched Operation Nordwind (Northwind). This offensive was launched in the hopes to capitalize on what momentum they had after the Bulge. To do so, the Wehrmacht attacked the “weak” side of the American lines, a couple hundred miles south of the Bulge. Right where the 275th and other inexperienced units were holding the line in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, near the German border.

Thrust into combat unexpectedly, the men of the 275th Infantry performed admirably. They saw extensive action in the Vosges Mountains of France, just west of Colmar, where the Germans successfully held out for months in the famous Colmar Pocket. The Colmar Pocket you might know as the area in which Audie Murphy received his Medal of Honor.

While holding the line, the men of the 275th Infantry were tasked with patrols and building defensive positions. On the afternoon of 8 January, 1945, now-Captain Desiderio was leading a four-man patrol himself. As they moved forward they came across a group of Germans digging in a new mortar position.

Upon their discovery, the Germans opened fire on the American GIs with machine gun and small arms fire. Desiderio ordered his men back to cover, then he alone crawled forward, under the enemy fire to a position sixty yards away from the machine gun.

From there, Desiderio launched two grenades from his carbine. The blasts destroyed the machine gun and killed one German soldier. He then engaged the remainder of the enemy with his rifle, killing one more and wounding three others before making his own retreat to call in mortar and artillery fire on the position.

Desiderio would receive the Silver Star for his heroism “without regard for his own safety” that day. Desiderio was known as a conscientious leader. He took care of his men and didn’t ask anything of them that he wouldn’t be willing to do himself. Which is probably how he found himself leading a four-man combat patrol in the middle of winter as a captain.

By mid-January 1945 the 275th Infantry were moved to just south of Saarbrücken, Germany. When the rest of the 70th ID arrived in France, it was now February, and the division was tasked with crossing the Siegfried Line and taking Saarbrücken.

Saarbrücken had been bombed heavily by both the British Bomber Command and the American 8th Air Force as well as the various artillery units of the Allied armies. By some estimates, the city, formerly numbering more than 100,000 people, had less than 2,000 residents after the bombardments destroyed more than 75% of the city.

The 70th ID fought across the Siegfried Line, across the Saar River, and on to Saarbrücken. The going wasn’t quick or easy. They started their push on 19 February, and through intense resistance from the enemy, fought back and forth for several days. Withstanding several withering counter attacks, the 70th ID took Saarbrücken a month later. It wasn’t until 20 March that they drove the last vestiges of the enemy out of the city.

The 70th ID was then assigned to Patton’s Third Army. They saw more action in the Saar River Valley before VE Day, after which the division took part in occupational duties.

Excerpt from “First Call”, the official paper of 1/275th Infantry – 28 July 1944

Desiderio received four Bronze Star medals during his service with the 275th in the European Theater. He remained in Germany with the occupation force until 1947.

Desiderio had married in 1942 to Patricia Jean of Los Angeles County. They had their first son, David in 1944. Both Mrs Desiderio and his son joined him post-war in Germany. Their second son, Timothy was born in 1947, after they returned to California.

Remaining in the service, Desiderio was assigned to work with the Army Reserves in Pasadena. It was during this time that the US military had massively reduced in size and capability from their wartime peak. On 25 June 1950, when war broke out on the Korean peninsula, experienced combat officers were needed. Desiderio volunteered to return to a line infantry unit.

Most of the NCOs and junior officers who saw combat in WWII had been mustered out. The North Koreans’ surprise attack on the South nearly toppled the pro-Western government of South Korea. America needed experienced personnel and they needed them fast.

Though Desiderio was to spend much of his time away from his family serving his country, David has fond memories of his father. Dave remembers tagging along with the old man to all manner of places, including on base, where the young boy would get to ride in his dad’s Jeep. When Desiderio brought him to the reserve center, Dave remembers being put to work emptying trash and doing other chores for the duty sergeant.

After volunteering for Korea, Desiderio was assigned to E “Easy” Company, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division (25th ID). The 25th ID, known as “Tropic Lightning” was originally stationed in Hawaii. After seeing extensive combat service in the Pacific War, they were assigned to occupation duty in Japan. As such, they were some of the first large American formations to make it to Korea.

The 25th ID arrived in Korea within weeks of the invasion, landing in-country between 5 July and 18 July. Their first assignment was to secure the port city of Pusan, where the Allied forces were desperately clinging to a toehold on the peninsula. Desiderio joined them as they were preparing to move out of the Pusan perimeter.

The Battle of Pusan Perimeter started on 4 August. For the last six weeks, the South Korean and UN forces (mostly American but also large numbers of British) had been pushed back repeatedly. The North’s offensive was such a surprise that it nearly pushed the Allies off the peninsula entirely.

It was into this that the 25th ID, fresh from Japan, would be part of the defense and the eventual push out of the perimeter around Pusan. UN forces, numbering 140,000 or so, were rallied to make a stand against 98,000 North Koreans. For six weeks the UN troops withstood the communist onslaught. If Pusan had fallen, Korea would have been lost.

On 16 September, they broke out of the Pusan perimeter. The 27th Infantry was to earn a reputation as the first point of enemy contact for the division, since they were always at the front. Over the coming two months, they pushed the North Koreans back. With the help of large numbers of fresh units arriving from overseas, the Allied forces made the North Koreans retreat.

By 1 October they had passed Seoul and were across the 38th Parallel. They were on their way to routing the North Koreans, toppling the communist side of the peninsula entirely. On 19 October, elements of the South Korean and American armies captured the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. By the end of October, the communist Chinese had entered the war on the side of the North, committing several divisions to the fighting.

Battle of Ch’ongch’on River

From 25 November, the division participated in the Battle of the Ch’ongch’on River. This battle would see large numbers of Chinese and North Korean forces push back on the UN line. Ultimately, over the course of a week-long battle, they forced the retreat of UN forces to south of the 38th Parallel.

As commanding officer of Easy Company, 27th Infantry, Captain Desiderio was given the task of defending a task force command post from a North Korean breakthrough on 27 November, 1950. Facing constant enemy fire, Desiderio moved from position to position in the dark to ensure his men had proper fields of fire.

Desiderio was wounded early in the engagement, but remained with his men. Still he moved among his soldiers to make sure they were ready to defend against the next attack. Wounded once more by enemy fire, the valiant young officer refused to evacuate himself. He kept in the fight and directed his men. His steadfastness buoyed his men’s morale, and they refused to break.

Even wounded, Desiderio continued to put his men before himself. The very picture of a combat leader. The kind of man who by his very presence inspires the best from those under his command.

When the fanatical enemy overran their position, the twice injured Desiderio responded with equal measure of fanaticism. He charged forward, alone. With his carbine, rifle, and grenades, he attacked.

The one man army inflicted many casualties on the communists, before he was wounded yet again. This time mortally. His men had seen the gallant actions of their commander. They followed the captain’s example, rallied, and repulsed the enemy offensive, holding their ground. He was only 32 and a veteran of two wars.

Captain Reginald Desiderio’s actual Medal of Honor, now in the care of his grandson

For his bravery in his final moments, Reginald Desiderio was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His widow, Patricia, and his two young sons David and Timothy received the medal on his behalf in 1951 from General of the Army Omar Bradley (who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). It was the same ceremony at which Don Faith’s family received his posthumous Medal of Honor we discussed last week.

Captain Desiderio’s actual medals, CANG MoV center, bottom

Desiderio in 1953 also received the California National Guard Medal of Valor from Governor Goodwin Knight. This is the highest honor bestowed by the State of California on its uniformed servicemen.

Desiderio’s actual MoH citation, signed by Pres. Truman

Desiderio was one of five men to receive the MoH in the 27th Infantry during the Korean War. His position as commanding officer of Easy Company was filled by then-Captain (later colonel) Lewis Millett. Just weeks after taking command, Millett led the men of E Company in an assault up Hill 180 near Anyang in what is known as the last successful bayonet charge of the US Army. He earned the Medal of Honor for the action, and his career is more than worthy of its own article.

Lew Millett became a close family friend of the Desiderios. He would escort Reggie’s widow Patricia to events such as the Korean War Memorial dedication in D.C. in the 90s.

7 y/o David, center, salutes Gen Bradley, Tim is on the right in front of Patricia Desiderio

Reggie’s oldest son David, who had saluted General Bradley on his father’s behalf, went into the service, as did his other son Timothy. Though neither man took Uncle Sam up on the offer of an automatic free military academy education, both men enlisted and became career officers through OCS. They both went from E-1 to O-5 in their careers.

Dave joined the Navy, having been pushed there by his mother’s second husband (who was a USNR chief petty officer). After doing three years active and three in the Navy Reserve, he moved to the Coast Guard, spending 20 years in the latter. Dave served in Vietnam as part of Coast Guard Squadron Three. Tim served in the war as part of the 1st Cavalry Division and then the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.

Tim Desiderio served in the Army, like his dad. He enlisted, was commissioned through OCS in the Armor Branch, and served in the Vietnam War. He was a recipient of the Legion of Merit, Air Medal, Bronze Star Medal w/ “V”, and the Meritorious Service Medal. He was inducted into the Ancient Order of Saint Barbara of the United States Field Artillery Association. He passed away in 2016, being predeceased by his wife Marsha. Tim also literally wrote the book on his father’s 275th Infantry Regiment during World War II. He published Into The Fire: the 275th Infantry Regiment in WWII in 2005.

Retired Army officer Frank Pengitore said that Tim was a lot like his old man. “He was the kind of boss who knew how to bring the very best out of everyone,” He wrote in memoriam of Tim. “He did this not by using his positional authority, but by instilling in us a feeling of such loyalty and admiration that we did not want to ever disappoint him. He knew what it took to be a leader. He set the example, never asking any of us to do anything that he would not be willing to do himself.”

Cheryl Balogh, a childhood friend of the Desiderio brothers, recalled that her mom “was so proud and delighted that Tim & Dave were so like the love of Pat’s life, Reggie. I heard wonderful stories of his heroism.” Though Reggie Desiderio was gone, he was most certainly not forgotten.

Both Tim and Dave have kids that continued the family tradition of uniformed service. TIm’s son Chris was a captain in the Army Reserve, and Dave’s daughter Tracy was a staff sergeant in the Army Reserve. Though neither made a career out of the military, Tracy retired as a sergeant from the police department.

Among many honors in Captain Reginald Desiderio’s name, the Army Reserve Center in Pasadena was dedicated to him in 1956. In attendance were Patricia, David, and Timothy Desiderio as well as Secretary of the Army Wilbur Brucker and General Omar Bradley.

The building has since been razed, but the city retained the honor. Desiderio Park was rededicated to him in 2019. It’s now a place where children smile and play, teenagers have their senior pictures taken, and newlyweds celebrate their nuptials. Hopefully they take the time to read the plaque and learn the reason the park is named Desiderio. His sacrifice should never be forgotten.

In life Desiderio was “a man of peace” as his son David says. A devoted father who loved to involve his young boys in his day-to-day life. I’d like to think, as David seems to, that Reggie would enjoy knowing his name is on a place devoted to peace and merriment. Most people in Pasadena who say “Desiderio” will be talking about a space filled with the laughter of children enjoying the very freedom he died defending.

Special thanks are extended to CDR D, who has been gracious enough to answer a lot of questions from me. Many of the photos used herein are courtesy of him. Most importantly, D was willing to dox himself here to share his family’s story.

Category: Army, Historical, Korea, Medal of Honor, Real Soldiers, Valor, We Remember

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Once again, a big thank you to Mason for posting another story of courage and Valor…and to CDR D for sharing the human side of another unsung Hero.

CPT Desiderio was indeed a Soldier and a Leader. Most important, he was a dedicated Husband, Dad and a Friend to many.



CPT Reginald Benjamin Desiderio.

Rest In Peace, Sir.


Never Forget.


Great read. Tnx to CDR D for sharing.


The picture says it all…

President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neande

Damn. I’m getting a severe case of the dusty eye weeps.
Pass the kleenex.


Heroes have Families as well…

Thank You, CDR D, for sharing with the TAH Family the wonderful memories of your Dad.

It is obvious your Mom and Dad were superb Parents.


Never Forget.


Great job, Mason. You did a lot of extra digging, too.



“Even wounded, Desiderio continued to put his men before himself. The very picture of a combat leader. The kind of man who by his very presence inspires the best from those under his command.”

“When the fanatical enemy overran their position, the twice injured Desiderio responded with equal measure of fanaticism. He charged forward, alone. With his carbine, rifle, and grenades, he attacked.”The one man army inflicted many casualties on the communists,…”

A Warrior’s Warrior! Looks after his men and brings every weapon to bear.

Thanks CDR D for sharing your story with us. And Thanks to Mason for his research and postings. That such men lived, indeed. I’m sure your Dad is as proud of his offspring as y’all were of him.

Battalion Gun Salute Fire by the Battery from right to left…


I better go change the air filters, dusty in here.


Not much more to say beyond what’s already been posted, but thanks for letting this story be told CDR D, your dad was a hell of a man, and should damn sure be remembered!


Amazing story, thanks for sharing. When you posted that back the other day, I started doing the math in my head and was wondering if you were there serving at the time or some other role. I never would have guessed this.


Lewis Millet!!

I knew his son Lew, Jr. in Thailand where we attended the International School of Bangkok together (1968~70). I was over to his house one day and met his father — I didn’t know who he was (found out later he was assigned to RVN but his family lived in Bangkok).

Told Dad* about meeting Lew’s father and he asked, “Millett???? Did he have a huge red handlebar moustache?” …. no, the stache was brownish-grey as I recalled. Dad then told me that I had met the famous Medal of Honor recipient who led the last bayonet charge.

By the way, Lew Jr. went on to serve in RVN and later became an accomplished artist — he sculpted the POW Memorial statue.

*[Mentioned by Mason in the intro as CPL Larry Thorne’s team sergeant in the 77th SFG ≈ 1954, and S4 under LTC Aito Keravuori at Training Group, 1966~68.]

POW Memorial-Millett.jpeg

Well, here’s another connection, Mason. When young Poe was an airborne combat MP in the 101st MP Detachment at Fort Campbell in 1959-60, he was in the same battalion, Command and Control, as then Major Lewis Millett. Ol’ Poe’s memory fails as to what the major’s job was, but Wiki says S-2 staff. He was a bear of a man, a frequent and formidable sight, with near-celebrity status, throughout the battalion area and the division headquarters right up the street. It was rumored that he was both a bit of a wild man and a personal favorite of division commander William Westmoreland.

It was Major Millett who was tasked by Westmoreland with creating the Recondo program, the division’s in-house version of ranger school.

There was another MoH awardee in that battalion at that time, division CSM, Paul Huff. Have you written about him?

Paul B. Huff – Wikipedia

Last edited 5 months ago by Poetrooper

He bears the distinction of being the first American paratrooper to receive the MoH. He was the first in a long, long line…