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Coccia's life was filled with struggle, survival and service

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By Ben Sheroan

 Recently, I’ve gotten to know Anthony J. Coccia and his life story of struggle, survival and service.

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Born on July 26, 1917, the odds of a long and impactful life were not good for Tony. He was the fourth of seven children born to Italian immigrants Emilio and Maria Coccia and the first to survive infancy. Influenza and diphtheria epidemics of the early 1900s claimed his older siblings during childhood.

Although they died before he was born, Tony frequently visited the graves of his infant siblings. He said he was making up for time with them he never had.

Like everyone his age, Coccia confronted economic hardships brought on by the Great Depression. Again he pushed forward and survived. He often talked with pride of learning about devotion through his father’s example of long hours of continual labor to provide for the family.

His appreciation and love for America and its freedoms influenced Tony to voluntarily enlist in the U.S. Army during World War II. As a member of the 2nd Infantry Division, he landed on the beaches of Normandy on the second day of the Allied invasion that history calls D-Day.

He survived that day’s onslaught, which was the first of 39 consecutive days of combat. He survived and was presented the Bronze Star. Later in life, his war stories included sorrowful remembrance of fellow soldiers who died on the beaches of France.

He would make a life for himself and his family first at the Air Force Missile Test Center at Patrick Air Force Base on Florida’s Space Coast and later as a licensed aircraft mechanic before retiring in 1980 from Eastern Airlines.

His dramatic life stories extended to a 2005 experience on the Florida coastline. Coccia encountered a hurricane battering the shores and again he counted his blessings upon counting himself among the survivors.

A man of faith, he spent time in prayer daily, even after moving to Sunrise Manor Nursing Home in Hodgenville. He would make it his last home.

Although I have visited Sunrise Manor on occasion, I never talked with Anthony J. Coccia. While he died May 10, 2012, just a few weeks short of his 95th birthday, my first time to meet him was this month.

His story was shared by Maria Regina Coccia, a sister devoted to his loving and lasting memory. From her home in Columbus, Ohio, she’s making long-distance calls in search of another person or another community to introduce to Tony.

Each day, the newspaper pages include obituaries that capsulize the lives of friends, neighbors, family members and strangers who die. No matter how skillfully crafted, these obituaries seldom fully reflect the impact of a person’s life.

That’s true for every veteran buried in every grave in Kentucky. 

Ben Sheroan is editor of The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or bsheroan@thenewsenterprise.com.