Former athlete shines on football field and battlefield
The word hero gets thrown around a lot, but it has brought new focus to Shippensburg University.
When you are a kid you think your hero is your dad or big brother, maybe a superhero like Batman.
We look at police officers and firefighters, and sometimes even professional athletes.
The word has stretched its meaning to the point at which we forget what makes a true hero, one that sacrifices their lives for the safety of others and rescues those in danger.
Society seems to forget that heroes walk around each day and people never notice them.
Joe Giacobello is a man who attends Catholic mass, is a friend to all in his community, and above all, a normal, everyday person.
However, he is much more. He is a living hero in every sense of the word.
Giacobello is a man who I only saw walk around my hometown.
I never knew that he fought during World War II to drive the Nazis out of Europe.
This 93-year-old man was Capt. Joseph S. Giacobello.
His heroics might have only stretched to his local community in Mount Union, Pa., but Giacobello also was a student and member of the football and basketball teams in 1938-1940 at then Shippensburg State Teachers College, now Shippensburg University.
With the war beginning, Giacobello was swept up in the draft much like many other young men all over the country.
Giacobello was originally all set to go to a school in Washington, D.C., on a football scholarship.
After injuring his leg, he came home and reconsidered his options.
A man told Shippensburg Hall of Fame coaches Ed Gulian and Vinton Rambo about Giacobello’s football skills at Mount Union Area High School and they quickly came to his home and recruited him.
He was a force in the backfield, but injuries and the draft cut that short.
Giacobello remembers his time at Shippensburg to be an exciting and memorable experience.
His face lit up as he sunk into his couch, “I had a wonderful time when I went to Shippensburg, many great memories.”
From his tales of living in Old Main Room 307 to bed checks by Dean Earl Wright every night after study time, Giacobello rattled off memory after memory with such detail as if they had happened earlier that day.
He said there used to be just the campus library located where Kriner Dining Hall is now, the science building and a few other buildings such as Shearer Hall and Horton Hall on campus back when he attended.“There used to be a big corn field, and we would sneak in there and steal the farmer’s corn all the time” Giacobello said with a sly grin and a chuckle while referencing the location of the newer building like Dauphin or Ezra Lehman Library.
“We ate it though; had ourselves quite a few corn boils.”
Giacobello reminisced about how Seth Grove, who the current football stadium is named after, was still a professor at the time; how area schools, mostly Wilson College girls, called Shippensburg “Farmers’ Prep” and how intelligent and strict his teachers were.
“Times are different now,” Giacobello said, “and when you got a grade in those classes you deserved it.”
He wished he could have finished, but the draft finally got him in 1940.
Giacobello, who served five years in the U.S. Army, led his F Company 13th Infantry Regiment to victory countless times in World War II.
Giacobello’s company was given the mission to seize an enemy-held factory across the Star River in France.
Always a leader, he made sure he stayed ahead of his men. He stormed the factory and killed the first wave of machine gunners.
Upon entering the factory, they fought off and killed 12 more German soldiers, raided another building and waged a three-hour battle that ended in hand-to-hand combat.
As the Germans set fire to the building, Giacobello ordered his men to stand strong.
Giacobello personally fought off two Nazi soldiers, killing both.
At one point, he even jumped on to a Nazi tank and threw a grenade in to save his men.
As the rest of his company finally arrived, he slaughtered the remaining enemy soldiers and claimed a win for the Allies.
For his actions, Giacobello was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross to go along with his two Silver Stars, Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Giacobello, who returned home to work in his father’s business upon being discharged, did try a return to campus.
He lasted all but two months. The pain of war weighed on his mind with so many close friends being lost, and school being furthest from his mind.
He might not be an alumnus, he might not have finished, but Joe Giacobello did more for Shippensburg than many know.
He made it possible to live in the world we have today. He brought freedom to those who were being oppressed, and above all else, he put his life on the line for people he did not even know.
Giacobello is a real hero in every sense of the word and brings honor to not just Mount Union, or Shippensburg, or even his family, but to America.