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Lou's Trombone Goes to Normandy

The following was sent to The Odessa File by former Schuyler County resident Steve Rondinaro in advance of the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

By Steve Rondinaro

June 6, 1944. A day like no other. D-Day.

To be able to go to Normandy and make music to mark the 80th anniversary of that incredible turning point in World War II is both an honor and a thrill. To be able to take my dad’s trombone and play in that setting may be an experience beyond words.

Louis Angelo Rondinaro was one of those kids who went straight out of high school and into the army in 1944, landing in the newly formed 42nd Rainbow Infantry Division. They shipped overseas on the heels of D Day, landing in Marseille, France. They would chase the Nazis up through France, across Northern Germany and down the eastern part of country, liberating Dachau in the process. My dad was hit by Nazi mortar fire south of Munich just weeks before the war ended. He dragged himself across the field of fire to take over for the dead radio man. He vectored in our artillery to take out the mortars and save his fellow soldiers. It wasn’t his first act of heroism. Dad was awarded a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster but he came home minus a leg and with severe nerve damage.

Music helped save Louie Rondinaro.

He left Watkins Glen, NY for bootcamp with the speed of a natural born athlete and a passion for baseball, along with a love of music and talent on the trombone. He came back from the war physically broken and emotionally drained. Goodbye sports. But he could still play that trombone. And play it he did.

College after the war proved too much. He could have cashed in on government disability payments but instead he took a job in a factory making metal cranes and hoists. That’s the way he was wired. And he’d play that horn on weekends with a local dance combo. He met the woman who would become my mother on one of those jobs. Ah, the gift of music.

Dad had iron chops and an incredible ear. He could hear something once and play perfect harmony the next time around. The Italian guy with the wooden leg fast became a local celebrity of sorts.

When his son came along, Dad had him making noise on that horn about the time he could walk. I was going to be a trombone player. Period. And I became an OK trombonist, playing through high school and into college. I also played baritone bugle with the Squires Drum & Bugle Corps from Watkins Glen. But the horns went into the closet in the late 70’s as I dove headlong into a career in broadcasting and TV news.

Decades went by and life moved along. Dad dealt with the lingering effects of his injuries with periodic stays in the VA hospital and regular fittings for a new wooden leg. Severe thunderstorms would make him flinch. Nerve pain would make him wince. The war was never far away for Lou Rondinaro.

So, he never talked much about his experiences. Dad had heard about Rainbow Division reunions but didn’t think they were for him. A call from one of his Army buddies he hadn’t seen in years changed that. Dad went to that first reunion and never looked back. And he always brought his horn. He’d play the Rainbow song, melodies from the war years, Taps… and if there was a music group, he’d be sitting in. Dad also became our town’s de facto bugler, playing Taps at local memorials and events.

When Lou Rondinaro died in 1991, I inherited that trombone. I gave my college horn to a neighborhood kid just starting out. I vowed I was going to practice and get my chops back. But I’m the type who needs a reason to play. Dad’s horn sat in several closets in several places, collecting dust. He probably wasn’t very happy with me.

Upon moving to North Myrtle Beach three years ago, a neighbor connected me with the North Myrtle Beach Community Band. I went to a concert. They were good. The wheels were turning and the juices started to flow. I was in luck: it’s the kind of group that doesn’t turn anyone away. I joined.

The first time I pulled that horn case from the closet and opened it up was pretty daunting. Dad’s Rainbow reunion music was still in there, among other things that triggered all manner of memories. This was the horn he’d taught me to play on. This was the horn I’d lugged to the car as a little kid when he’d go off on a weekend gig. This was the horn he played when we’d do duets of Italian songs for Grampa Rondinaro. This was the horn he’d played for his Rainbow buddies and the people of our hometown. I’d better do this horn proud in my “golden years.”

I’ve done OK. I’ve enjoyed playing with the band and soon was asked to join Festive Brass as well. It’s Myrtle Beach’s ceremonial band and we’re all about honoring our military and our veterans. When the opportunity arose to go to Normandy, France and play as representatives of the United States for the 80th anniversary of D Day, we were all in.

Lou’s trombone is going to Normandy.

I cannot imagine what it’s going to be like to play that horn in that place at that time. I simply hope that I do it justice and do him proud.

Photos in text: From top, Louis Rondinaro during the war; Lou playing the trombone; and son Steve (foreground) playing his Dad's horn. (Photos provided)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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