With due deference to rank, city Firefighter Rick Conte believed his deputy chief and longtime friend was crazy.
After all, the odds of actually seeing 65-year-old video footage of Conte’s late father, a U.S. Army MP, during a TV documentary on World War II was about one in 8 million, the number of Army soldiers who served in the war.
As it ends up, Deputy Chief Tom Holman was right.
“It was only a four-second clip, but there he was — and the hair on my neck just stood up. I recognized him right away,” said Conte, who finally relented, borrowed a copy of the History channel’s “World War II in HD” and pored over hours of video Easter Sunday.
His father, Joe Conte, was drafted into the Army before Pearl Harbor. He trained in the Mojave Desert in California with plans to deploy him to North Africa to fight German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Deployment plans changed, and instead he was sent to England to prepare for the Normandy invasion, Conte recalled.
He arrived in France about 14 days after the first troops landed on June 6, 1944. He later fought in the Battle of the Bulge, where he earned a Purple Heart.
On his iPhone, Conte, a firefighter assigned to the Woodward Avenue firehouse, has wartime pictures of his father, including a favorite of him sitting on the ground next to his motorcycle, his riding goggles perched on his forehead.
But it was an emotional moment to see actual video, even four seconds worth, of his father, who died in 1998. Smiling and talking inaudibly, it was an image of his father at about 24 years old, before he met his mother upon returning home and thus before Rick was a proverbial glint in his eye.
“You cried,” Holman reminded him as they recently related the story.
“I sometimes get emotional,” Conte acknowledged.