PFC Batista John Gillio’s story is a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by many young Americans during World War II. He was born to Italian immigrant parents, Louis and Enrichetta Gillio, in Oglesby, Illinois, on 21 July 1921.
Batista’s father, Louis Gillio, had come to the United States as a teenager joining his older brothers Antonio and August. He settled near them in the LaSalle/Peru/Oglesby area of LaSalle County, Illinois, and eventually met and married Enrichetta. Together, they had in addition to Batista, two older sons Charles and Louis Jr and two daughters Rose and Mary.
Life was challenging for the Gillio family, as Louis worked as a laborer in the clay pits and later at the cement company to make ends meet. Batista’s older brother Charles, in the summer of 1933, took a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps at Trader Lake in Oregon. However, after the summer he was able to return to his family in Oglesby and begin a job with the Marquette Cement Company as a switchman for the rail cars in the quarry. But what may have initially seemed fortunate turned tragic as on his fourth day on the job, a small car used for rock came off the tracks. In an effort to get it back, Charles’ head became lodged between the cars, and he suffered a concussion from which he never recovered. He died at age 18 at St. Mary’s Hospital in LaSalle on 22 October 1933.
Despite these hardships and the loss of Charles, the Gillio family remained close-knit, residing in a home they owned at 417 School Street in Oglesby. And in the 1940s, both Batista and his sister Rose found employment at the local clock factory Westclox in Peru.
But war was sweeping across the world. And on 16 February 1942, at the age of 20, Batista Gillio registered and joined the ranks of young Americans preparing to serve their country. At the time, he stood 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighed 179 pounds, and had brown eyes and black hair.
In April 1943, Batista officially enlisted in the U.S. Army in Peoria, Illinois. He was assigned to various units, including Company D in the 20th Troop Battalion of the IRTC and later the 168th Infantry Regiment in the 34th Infantry Division.
In June 1944, PFC Batista Gillio’s regiment found themselves in Italy, heading north toward Rome. The Fifth Army, which included the 168th Infantry Regiment, was making progress, pushing the Germans out of Rome and into retreat. However, on June 5th, tragedy struck. While in his ancestral homeland of Italy, Batista Gillio was hit in the back and killed in action at the young age of 21. His cousin Clement Gillio, also from Oglesby and serving in the war in France, was killed in action five days later.
PFC Batista Gillio was initially laid to rest in a temporary grave. After the end of the war in 1948, his body was repatriated to the United States and reinterred in St. Vincent Cemetery in LaSalle, Illinois. In recognition of his bravery and service, he posthumously received several medals, including the Army Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and the American Campaign Medal. While he may have been eligible for the Purple Heart, no record could be found to confirm its award.
PFC Batista Gillio’s memory lives on as a testament to the dedication and sacrifice of young Americans who gave their all during World War II, ensuring that the legacy of their service will never be forgotten.
This story is part of the Stories Behind the Stars project (see www.storiesbehindthestars.org). This is a national effort of volunteers to write the stories of all 421,000+ of the US WWII fallen saved on Together We Served and Fold3. Can you help write these stories? These stories will be accessible via smartphone app at any war memorial or cemetery.
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- SBTS Historian Pam Broviak
- 1920 U.S. Census, Louis Gillio, Ancestry.
- 1930 U.S. Census, Louis Gillio, Ancestry.
- 1940 U.S. Census, Louis Gillio, Ancestry.
- “Blow Fatal to Oglesby Man,” The Times, 24 October 1933, p. 4, Newspapers.com.
- “.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946,” Batista Gillio, Ancestry.
- “U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” Luigi Gillio, Ancestry.
- “U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947,” Batista John Gillio, Ancestry.
- “U.S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1861-1985,” Batista J. Gillio, Ancestry.