Measuring Up

Dec 7, 2023
Written by: Rodney Wilson

On Wednesday, December 6th, just one day before the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, they laid Edward Zilli to rest in the veterans’ section of Rosehill Cemetery. He began his life in Clifton, New Jersey, which was some 1,700 miles from where his life ended. Never having been to Clifton, New Jersey, I did a bit of research on the geography of the Clifton area. It’s a suburban industrial area, and a bedroom community of New York City, quite a bit different from Minot, ND.

How did Edward Zilli end up in Minot? Well let’s start from the beginning. Edward Zilli was born on February 8th of 1923. With a little math you’ll discover that Edward Zilli was 100 years young when he died. Warren G. Harding, a Republican from Ohio, was President of the U.S. in 1923 when Edward Zilli was born. In August of 1923, President Harding would die from a heart attack and be succeeded by then Vice-President Calvin Coolidge. Although Edward Zilli was born in New Jersey, he would be raised in Moriches, New York…but if you asked him, he would tell you he grew up in Long Island, New York.

Ed Zilli
February 8, 1923 –
November 30, 2023

Fast forward to 1943 when a then 20 year old Ed Zilli enlisted in the U.S. Army. It would certainly be fair to say that the hub of Edward Zilli’s life was his military service. As a journalist and a friend, I would often sit and listen to him recount his experiences. Basic training, which he described as very basic training would end and then began his voyage across the Atlantic on a troop ship to England where a little event called D Day was being planned. June 6th of 1944, Edward Zilli would be crossing the English Channel with the Allied invasion that would eventually end him up on Utah Beach. His stories, like those of so many others, leave you empty inside as you think about the horrific conditions under which these men fought and died for their country. After D Day and the march into France would come the Battle of the Bulge under the leadership of the man that Edward Zilli refers to as “Georgie”. It was Patton that led the Third Army across France. It’s pretty clear that Edward Zilli respected Maj General Patton, knowing that his leadership and the resolve of the Third Army was key in turning the Battle of the Bulge.

Edward Zilli re-enlisted in the Army, and would find his wife to be, Margareta, in Germany and the two would get married and have their first child, a daughter, Mariam. 1953 would be a year of transition for the Zilli family. Edward would retire, and the Zilli family would head home to the United States and establish a home in Long Island New York, this time in the town of Bay Shore, and for 25 years Edward Zilli was “a cop” in his words. During his time as a police officer for Suffolk County they would add another member to the Zilli family, a daughter by the name of Margie.

After retirement Edward and Margareta would move to Florida, where they remained until 2005. Margie had met a young Airmen by the name of Ted Bolton and Ted would be stationed at Minot Air Force Base. Margie and Ted were married and would raise their kids in Minot. In 2005 Edward and Margareta and Ted and Margie would be brought together in Minot where Margareta passed away in 2008 and Edward would pass away in 2023 at the age of 100 years and 8 months.

In 100 plus years of life I believe there comes a transition where you quit making history, and become part of history. To have lived through World War II and been part of the D Day invasion gives Edward Zilli the right, if you will, to share his stories with those who will take the time to respectfully listen. We call them stories, but they really aren’t. They are the true-life experiences of a man who served, and loved, his country as a member of the U.S. Army. Even though we are able to remember those experiences long after Edward Zilli is gone, they will eventually start to lose some of the details that made them special. I guess that is why it is so important that we allow ourselves to review the life of Edward Zilli on days like June 6th, as we count down those who were on the beaches at Normandy. Once thousands, now there are just a few. The same can be said for World War II veterans in general.

Someone like Edward Zilli takes a lot of history with him when he passes on.

I was able to meet and interview Edward Zilli in his later years. We often talked about “Georgie”, and Utah Beach and The Battle of the Bulge. As with any veteran I have interviewed, I wish there would have been a way to record all of those conversations word for word. I am also pretty sure there are experiences that we will never hear about. We are protected from some of the worst details of D Day, and rightfully so. It is hard to imagine losing a friend, but even more so, many friends. Those who didn’t make it off the beach or even make it to the beach. We need to see the big story. We needed to honor Edward Zilli on Wednesday as we lay him to rest at Rosehill Cemetery. But we also needed to silently look around at all of the other graves and be thankful that some 79 years ago Zilli, and thousands of others like him, were willing to go to war to protect our freedoms.

Living 100 years in a peaceful world would have been amazing enough. Living 100 years and being in harm’s way like Edward Zilli was defies description. Rest in Peace Ed Zilli. You deserve it.

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