Veteran puts life on canvas
Serafino received three Purple Hearts, four Bronze Stars in WWII

By Jenni Vincent / Journal Staff Writer
POSTED: August 11, 2008

BERKELEY SPRINGS - Visco "Ralph" Serafino has always been an artist at heart.

And that talent has served him well for the last 92 years, especially during physically tough and emotionally draining times like his World War II military service.

Serafino, who was drafted into the Army in 1942 and subsequently injured while in combat, was no stranger to some of the war's best-known battles including the Battle of the Bulge and the landing at Omaha Beach for D-Day.

Although he had previously served in the Marines after joining at age 17, his second military stint was an entirely different experience, Serafino said.

"I guess my number came off so I went back into the service. The war was very active at that time but when they asked for volunteers, I was one of the ones who wanted to go to Europe," he said.

Training came first, however, with Serafino still vividly able to recall being moved first to Texas and then to other camps across the country.

"When we went on a train, they would pull all the shades down because they tried to keep things as covered up as possible," Serafino said. "They also didn't want any information to get out about the troop movements."

He went to Europe from New York, traveling in a military convoy and arriving in time to be part of the preparation - and eventually execution - of D-Day on June 6, 1944.

Just getting across the Atlantic was an accomplishment, according to Serafino, who said, "When we arrived, they announced that we were very lucky to have survived since there had been submarines around us."

Next came maneuvers, which were meant to get the American troops ready for the upcoming invasion, he said.

Rumors were soon flying about when D-Day would get under way, Serafino said with a chuckle.

"But let me tell you, it came soon enough," he said, suddenly serious.

"We got woke up about 2:30 in the morning on June 3, 1944, and then we boarded the ships. There were just thousands and thousands of men and ships," Serafino said.

"They had divided the section of Normandy, France, into sections and we ended up on Omaha Beach. You have to understand that the Germans never expected anyone to land on Omaha Beach because they had put down lots of barriers and explosives," he said.

"I was on what they called the 13th wave, a wave was a large row of Morgan boats. That's important because up to the 12th wave the men were all slaughtered," Serafino said.

This landing was a significant part of the war, he said.

"We almost lost the war because it was so difficult to land on that beach," Serafino said.

"That was supposed to be the toughest landing of the war on D-Day. I can still see the bodies of men lying on the beach, men who had been slaughtered," he said.

Fighting in the Battle of the Bulge was also quite difficult but for different reasons, Serafino said.

"There was snow, men froze and Hitler made his last stand there at the Battle of the Bulge by using tanks. It was hard for us in the infantry to resist tanks and all of the men he sent into there," he said.

"But on Dec. 25, 1944, the sky opened up. Then the Eighth Air Force came in and helped us destroy the tanks," Serafino said.

Just a few days later, on Jan. 7, 1945, he was wounded in the head by tank pellet spray while in a foxhole.

"I really thought I was dying. But it helped that I was religiously inclined because I thought I saw a vision of Jesus in the sky," he said.

That experience never really left Serafino, who later used his artistic ability to once again revisit that turning point in his life.

"When I came out, it just seemed natural so I painted what I call a vision of Jesus from a foxhole," Serafino said, adding that he's now been painting for about 80 years.

Thanks to his military service, Serafino received three Purple Hearts and four Bronze Stars as well as a special award from the Yugoslavian king in 1943.

He's also a member of many veterans' organizations including the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, Battle of the Bulge and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Retired from civil service work in Las Vegas, where he also dealt cards professionally on the weekends, Serafino spent his time creating beauty for others to enjoy.

"I've given away more than 150 paintings since 1985, to churches and other charitable groups," he said proudly, gesturing toward a stack of sketches on his kitchen table still waiting to be framed.

Touring his home is like visiting an art gallery, complete with colorful paintings of family members as well as local, national and international landscapes.

He decided to come to the Eastern Panhandle for his retirement from Richmond, Va., partially because he'd heard about its beauty and natural resources.

"I heard of the good water here and I believe in the importance of good water and in taking care of my health," Serafino said, adding that he's lived here for 30 years.

"There isn't a better place to live, especially for someone like me who loves nature. It's a good spot to just sit back and not think too much about what happened in those earlier years," he said.

Serafino, who works in everything from pastels to charcoal and from oil to watercolors, remains modest about his art as well as his military service.

"God is the only real artist. What I do here are just reproductions," he said.

"And as far as the war goes, I believe that medals don't make me a hero. The real heroes are the men who are still over there, the ones who paid the ultimate price by losing their lives," Serafino said.

- Staff writer Jenni Vincent can be reached at (304) 263-3381, ext. 138, or