Purple Heart vet honored by York Township
Louis E. Celli
Updated: July 2, 2012 9:59AM
With Memorial Day approaching, the honoree of the York Township Senior Center’s latest “Remember When” display takes on a greater meaning.
Purple Heart veteran and Wheaton resident Louis E. Celli, 89, visits the senior center every Monday and Wednesday for lunch. His dedication and service to the country was celebrated by York Township Supervisor John Valle.
Celli grew up in Chicago, graduated from Schurz High School and was drafted at age 19 in 1943.
“I was happy to go,” Celli said. “I tried to get into the paratroopers and the air corps. I didn’t make it, so I was assigned to combat engineers.”
During his Army career, Celli was a member of the 7th Infantry Division, 50th Engineer Combat Battalion. After 17 weeks of basic training, he was sent to Ft. Hood in California and then overseas to serve in the Pacific.
Celli was a part of the assault landings on the islands of Kiska, Kwajalein, Leyte and Okinawa, with a few stops in Hawaii for more training.
“It was supposed to be rest and relaxation (in Hawaii), but we trained some more and went to Leyte in the Philippines,” Celli said. “We secured that island and went to Okinawa.”
His actions on the Island of Leyte would forever change his life and would earn him the Purple Heart. A low-flying Japanese aircraft evaded radar and bombed the unsuspecting troops.
“We had 25,000 pounds of TNT there for the combat engineers to use to demo enemy barricades,” Celli said. “I was on guard duty that night and the explosion blew me about 35 feet and I was peppered with shrapnel.”
The aftermath left Celli fading in and out of consciousness, eventually waking aboard a hospital ship.
“I felt real hot and my ears were ringing,” Celli said. “I thought I was done for and all burned up. I thought, ‘What would my parents think?’”
After receiving his Purple Heart, Celli returned to duty, but it wouldn’t last long. After a trip to Okinawa, which felt like “a honeymoon cruise” of card games and sleep, the war ended.
“There was one evening where all of a sudden all kinds of firing was going on,” Celli said. “It was a celebration that the Japanese had surrendered.”
Celli spent one more month overseas in Korea and had bittersweet emotions when he learned he could return home late in 1945.
“I was glad, yet I wasn’t,” Celli said. “I had such a camaraderie with some of the guys. It was a funny emotion.”
Upon returning home, Celli bought and sold military surplus supplies all over the country, sold cars with his father and later worked for American Airlines at O’Hare International Airport. He did his best to keep up with the friends he made during his service time.
“My sergeant was great,” Celli said. “I kept in contact with his wife and each year we would send each other cards with notes. I had two other friends from Michigan that I would visit. They’re deceased now.”
He celebrates his birthday July 4, adding, “Everybody celebrates my birthday that day.” The honors keep coming, and he even took the court with two fellow veterans for a Chicago Bulls game last year.
“They honored me and two friends of mine,” Celli said. “Before the game, I was able to give the game ball to the referee and we got a standing ovation from 22,000 people. I was very happy about that.”