Local WWII vet honored with ‘Quilt of Valor’

Mapleton resident presents Ruggeri, 96, with special gift

Sentinel photo by MEREDITH PEACHEY
96-year-old World War II veteran Tim Ruggeri, from Belleville, receives a ‘Quilt of Valor’ at his home. Family and friends gathered on Friday to honor him for his military service with the 8th Armor Division. Traci Walter, of Mapleton Depot, made the quilt at the behest of Jay and Elaine Buchanan, both members of the Huntingdon County Veterans Association. ‘He’s an American treasure,’ Jay said. ‘It was the right thing to do.’

BELLEVILLE — Many people know 96-year-old Tim Ruggeri, from Belleville — whether because of his pizzelles, his harmonica playing or just because he’s been around so long.

Not everybody knows that he is also a World War II veteran.

On Friday, Ruggeri was honored for his service with a Quilt of Valor, made by Mapleton Depot resident Traci Walter, a member of the Quilt of Valor national organization. Walter said this is the first presentation she has made in Mifflin County, but has presented 28 quilts in Huntingdon County.

“We don’t just do Huntingdon County,” Walter said. “Every veteran deserves one.”

Ruggeri served in Europe from 1942 to 1946, as a tank driver for the 8th Armored Division. His mission was to drive a 32-ton Stuart tank to Berlin, Germany, fighting the enemy.

“Our job was to go in and hit fast,” Ruggeri said, to make room for bombers and bigger tanks, like the 64-ton Sherman. During one of their early excursions, Ruggeri remembered that the gunner had a problem with the breach of cannon, causing it to be unfireable. They were still able to shoot using their 150-caliber and 130-caliber cannons as well as their guns.

“We moved pretty good on the road,” Ruggeri said.

Ruggeri said the tank was one of 25 in the “Thundering Herd” Battalion. The interior held four soldiers.

“You lived together, cramped up with your buddies,” Ruggeri said.

The proudest moment of his time there was his involvement liberating the Langenstein concentration camp, on April 13, 1945. Ruggeri said they raided the German bunkers, killing many of the soldiers hiding out. But what Ruggeri most remembers is how it felt being in the war.

“We were afraid, being far from home and going over there,” Ruggeri said.

Even before enlisting, Ruggeri served the war effort. At age 16, he worked in a Philadelphia factory, sewing parachutes, hats and raincoats. He also used to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps camps in Arizona, building houses for the Apache tribes and creating roadways.

These days, Ruggeri enjoys spending time at the local senior center and visiting with his children, grandchildren and neighbors.

“Life is good when you wake up in the morning and you have another day,” Ruggeri said.

Walter made the quilt at the behest of Jay and Elaine Buchanan, both members of the Huntingdon County Veterans Association. Walter started making Quilts of Valor nearly two years ago, first paying for everything on her own, then being co-sponsored by the HCVA and the Huntingdon County American Legion. In 2018, Ruggeri played the harmonica as part of the HCVA Sept. 11 memorial event and shared some of his life story. After meeting and talking with Ruggeri, Jay said he and Elaine wanted to honor him for his service, his community involvement and his devotion to his wife and family, so they contacted Walter.

“(Tim)’s an American treasure,” Jay said. “It was the right thing to do.”