As we celebrate our freedom on Independence Day with family and fireworks, as well as great food grown by our farmers, it’s easy to forget the men and women who sacrificed in order to fight for the great liberties we enjoy every day. Al Bellotto, a man as rooted in Florida agriculture as a tree to the ground, is one of those men.
Besides being a family man, rancher, and citrus grower, Bellotto has been on the front lines of war. At the adventurous age of 18, Bellotto wasted no time after graduating from Haines City High School in 1943 and joined the Navy. This was not a hard decision for a man who struck out on his own to work for fifty cents a day and saved up twenty dollars to buy his first calf when he was 11 years old.
When asked why he wanted to join the Navy, Bellotto relays, “I thought it would be one of the biggest thrills of my life to be able to land one of those planes on a carrier out in the middle of the ocean.”
Bellotto served in World War II during the Pacific campaign aboard the U.S.S. New York. The ship he served aboard was hit twice by Kamikaze planes and torpedoed once.
During Bellotto’s approximate three-year tour in the Navy, he was one of seven men chosen for an elite program: Navy Frog Men (known today as Navy SEALS). As fate would have it however, the Red Cross called him to be with his dying mother. Upon his return to the unit, the class had graduated, thus not permitting him to finish the program. He then went on to become a gunner. After being promoted to Croixman, he supervised 120 men aboard the battleship.
While in the Navy, Bellotto and his unit were part of two history-in-the-making events during the war. One such event was at Okinawa while fighting for 79 days and nights without relief from combat. Four different times the Navy tried to relieve this staunch and hard-fighting ship with her loyal crew aboard, but each time the relief vessel was hit. No matter, the U.S.S. New York and her crew stayed fast and true to their mission.
Another record set by Bellotto and his unit was during his tour at Iwo Jima, where they fired the most ammunition during one battle. In fact, so much ammunition was fired that it burned the linters in the guns, forcing them to return to Honolulu before they could go on a mission again. Finally on January 2, 1946, Bellotto retired from the Navy and returned home to his family and ranch.
Bellotto states, “I did what I did because God led me to help protect our United States of America, and she does not owe me anything. To serve my country was my blessing and privilege.”
article by DALE BLISS