World War II veteran remembers service
November 9, 2012
Nate Cerniglia enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944 to join the fight in World War II. He was 16.“I lied my age,” he explained. “I had three brothers and three brothers-in-law fighting over in Europe. I wasn’t to be left behind. It was something I had to do.”Now 86, the Carson City resident doesn’t regret that decision. “Never,” he said. “I went into the Navy for a reason. I wanted to fight for my country. I fulfilled my reason.”But that doesn’t mean he’s left without remorse. While he was away, his father suffered a series of strokes, leaving him unable to speak. “I never got to talk to my dad again,” he said. “That I’m sorry for. I’m not sorry for anything else.”Cerniglia was among the veterans from all military conflicts honored at Wednesday’s Veterans Day ceremony at Carson High School, along with other ceremonies hosted at schools and various organizations throughout the city this week.“It’s just to let the veterans know we appreciate their service,” said Freddy Jones, senior naval science instructor for Carson High School’s Naval Junior ROTC. “That’s simply what we’re trying to do.”Cerniglia said he was honored by the recognition, but also humbled. “I got a little emotional today,” he said. “Sometimes, I can’t go back there. I don’t particularly like to. There’s no good memories.”After the war, Cerniglia went to college then on to a successful career for NASA where he worked on the Apollo 11, 12 and 13 projects, along with others.“I loved my work,” he said. Time and distance have blurred some of his memories of the war, he said, but there are some things he can never forget, like landing in Iwo Jima on Feb. 19, 1945. That’s where he earned his Purple Heart. “Everybody was being slaughtered,” he said. “I went down, too.”He often landed with the 5th Marine Division, and to this day looks for guys he might have known. “Boy, they were a fighting outfit,” he recalled.He narrowly missed the bombing on Yokohama on May 29, 1945, just before the end of the war, which burned nearly half of the city.“If I had landed, we would have been the first on shore,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here today.”And as suddenly as he had enlisted, the war came to an end with the explosion of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.“President Truman dropped the egg, and the war was over,” he said.After helping with some reconstruction efforts, Cerniglia came home. He said he doesn’t think of the war often, but on Veterans Day he pays tribute to those left behind.“You think about your buddies that didn’t make it,” he said.