Fred Baldino was one of 12 children growing up in Pennsylvania during the Depression. After he graduated from high school, Fred worked in a “bootleg” coal mine in Pennsylvania. In May 1941, at the age 19, he and two friends decided to join the Army. First he was sent to an Air Corps base in Florida, where he worked in supply as a sergeant. In early 1942, he decided to give up his stripes, and the safety of an air crew position, to join the paratroopers as a private. After completing the rigorous training in summer 1942, he was sent to Fort Bragg as part of the famous “All American” 82nd Airborne Paratrooper Division, in A Company of the 504th Regiment. Sent to Africa just as the African war was ending, the Division’s first defensive action was keeping safe the vital American white silk parachutes from locals trying to steal them while in transit on the train. The 504th was sent into their first combat jump over Sicily, when 23 paratrooper airplanes were shot down by friendly fire. Although his plane was hit, he and his stick successfully landed and fought both the Germans and Italians on the ground. Later, while being transported on the ground, his truck was strafed by a Messerschmitt, and he was wounded in the arm.
After he recovered, he was sent with the 82nd to Salerno, where they fought fiercely with the defending Germans. As other 82nd Airborne regiments moved to England to prepare for D-Day at the end of 1943, Fred’s 504th Regiment stayed and fought at Anzio, helping to solidify the fragile toehold on the beach working to push the Germans back. For three months, they held and patrolled at the Mussolini Canal, where Fred and one of his patrols captured three Germans from an outpost.
Finally, the 504th was moved to England too late to join the rest of the 82nd Division taking part in the invasion of Normandy, however just at the right time to get a warm welcome from the English girls. 28 504th men did bravely volunteer to leave the virtual English paradise of barracks, hot meals, and girls to take part in the Normandy invasion as leading Pathfinders, however.
After several months of rest and refitting, the 504th had its next combat jump in September 1944 for Operation Market Garden in Holland. Tasked to take the bridge at Nijmegen, the 504th fought bravely to displace the German defenders and took the bridge. Much was lost for the British paratroopers at Arnhem, however, when the British lost their lead tank on Nijmegen bridge, stopped to have tea, and didn’t push on, leaving most of their comrades to death or capture. Fred was wounded by mortar fire in Holland, and evacuated to Brussels and England to recuperate, but his wounds effectively ended his time in combat.
Fred has worked to keep the memories of those in the 504th alive, in particular by supporting Frank W. van Lunteren’s efforts to chronicle A Company’s exploits in his book “Brothers in Arms: A Company, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division from North Africa to Berlin.” In addition, Fred has compiled all the information he could find on Ted Bachenheimer to ensure the memory of this hero will never die. Fred is still married to the woman he married after the war.