For more than 50 years, Dominic Iannotti tried to suppress the painful memories of the beatings, starvation and frostbite he endured as a prisoner of war in World War II.
When other members of his company received recognition for their bravery, Iannotti didn't push for similar acknowledgment. He said he just wanted to forget.The memories came rushing back Monday when Iannotti was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star - almost 54 years after he was captured at the Battle of the Bulge.
Iannotti remembered being forced to walk miles in snow and ice, with no boots or socks. He remembered being fed only once a week, usually potato peels or other scraps. And he remembered being beaten by German soldiers, who used rifle butts to keep their American prisoners in line.
"I thought I was going to die and never see this," Iannotti said after receiving his medals. "I didn't think I'd live this long after what I've been through."
U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, who helped arrange the medal ceremony, and Maj. Gen. David W. Gay, adjutant general for the Connecticut National Guard, pinned the medals on Iannotti's shirt during a ceremony at his Shelton home.
"I'm deeply, deeply proud of you. You are a great American," Dodd said.
Iannotti, 79, a slight man who walks with a cane, seemed overwhelmed by the attention.
He was 25 years old when he was captured by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge, on Dec. 19, 1944. He was held for 41/2 months at two prison camps in Germany before he escaped with another prisoner.
Iannotti didn't contact anyone about the award oversight until about a year ago, when he read newspaper accounts about other veterans receiving medals decades after their service.
"I guess I deserve it after all these years," he said, shrugging.