It took the Army 61 years, but retired Command Sgt. Maj. Ensio Tosolini received the U.S. Army's Prisoner of War medal Friday in a ceremony at the new Nevada Military Department armory.
Maybe it's because Tosolini wasn't a prisoner very long. He and the U.S. major with him escaped about 36 hours after a German patrol nabbed them near Carentan, France, in July 1944.
Tosolini said it was the German patrol's own fault because, when they searched him, they missed a hand grenade on his boot beneath the loose fatigues he was wearing.
"After about 36 hours, they were sitting around talking about French women and the major said, 'Throw it,'" he recalled Friday. "I did, and we went over a couple of hedgerows and escaped."
But, he said, he had to go back: "One of the Germans I killed had my .45. I've still got it."
For Tosolini, 80, the POW medal is the latest in a long list of awards and commendations for four decades of military service.
He finished the war with the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart and a dozen or more other commendations for his service in battles from the Omaha Beach at Normandy to the Loire Valley, the Battle of the Bulge and the battle for the Rhine River among others.
Following the war, Tosolini joined the Nevada Army Guard. In 1968, he became the first state command sergeant major - the highest rank an enlisted man can attain - and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1978.
Tosolini, now retired, lives with his wife, Claudette, in Reno.
"In front of you today, you have the epitome of service and leadership," Brig. Gen. Randal Sayre told more than 75 friends, family members and former colleagues. "An American hero who deserves our thanks, a contributor to the global successes of this nation's greatest generation."
Guard members also dedicated a classroom at the new center at Fairview and Saliman in Tosolini's honor, surprising him with a photo of himself in his 20s at the entrance.
"Oh, my God," he said when he saw it. "That goes back a couple of days."
n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.