Stories

Jack Biolchini: A Biography

by Rita Renwick Biolchini

Jack Biolchini was born on January 13, 1909 in Jonesville, IL. His parents immigrated to the U.S. from Italy in the early 1900's, were married in 1907 and Jack was their second child. His father, Guiseppe, worked in a coal mine in Jonesville and died on Dec. 24, 1915. A sister, Mary, died two weeks later, both from influenza and pneumonia. His mother, Adelgisa, was left with 4 children to raise. Relatives suggested they be given to Mooseheart to be raised, but she insisted on keeping them. Siblings were Della (b. 1908), Angelo (b. 1910), William (b. 1911 d.1912), Josephine (b. 1913) and Mary (b. 1914 d. 1915). Adelgisa married Angelo Bernadoni in 1918 and had another child, Hugo in 1918.

Jack Biolchini Jack went to work for the Marquette Cement Company carrying test samples when he was 14½. He graduated from 8th grade. The rest of his education was obtained through his own perseverance. He took correspondence classes in English Literature, Chemistry, Math, etc. and eventually became a chemist at the cement company where he worked until he was 65. He also took music lessons and learned to play the accordion. He played in local bars and at weddings. He rode a motorcycle, getting his first Harley Davidson when he was 21 but he rode an Indian before that. He traveled to Chicago for the 1933 World's Fair and slept overnight in Grant Park. He participated in Hill climb contests near Peoria with his motorcycle and was clocked at over 100 mph in some races. He and friends traveled to Mexico on their motorcycles one year. He boxed and was selected to fight a golden gloves boxer in Ottawa at one time. He and friends frequented their houseboat on the Vermillion River in their spare time and also a cabin near Bailey Falls south of Oglesby.

He met Anne Ricci when she was 15 and he was 28. They dated on and off for 6 years (he was worried about the age difference). In December of 1942 Jack was inducted into the Army, went through basic training, came back and married Anne on May 3, 1942. Jack was a member of the 104th Infantry Division of the Army, the "Timberwolves" led by General Terry Allen. He was in the 415th 2nd Battalion Headquarters Company. Since he had a background in chemistry, he was trained to deal with chemical warfare. Types of gasses and poisons, their chemical formulas and first aid treatment can be found in a notebook that he carried with him in the field.

The Timberwolves landed in Cherbourg, France in September of 1944 and fought through Belgium and Germany with the heaviest casualties in October and November. Jack took many photos during the war. There are a few from early in the campaign in France. Most were from April through June when fighting had lessened and they were getting ready for departure from La Havre, France. He did take photos of the masses of starved concentration camp dead at Nordhausen- Mittelbau-Dora, where people were enslaved to produce V1 Buzz Bombs and V2 Rockets (used to attack England during the war.)

Heading home, Jack Biolchini, back row, 2nd from right
Heading home; Jack Biolchini, back row, 2nd from right

Jack didn't talk much about the war. My sister Bernadette recalls him stating that he didn't know how the people who were alive at Nordhausen could still be alive. (They appeared to be nothing but skin and bone.) My brother, Robert remembered my father saying that my mother and father had gone to a friend's home where a guest remarked that the Jews had made up all of the Holocaust - that it wasn't true. My father replied that it was true, that he had been there, but the woman chose to stand by her statement and didn't believe him. My brother said that someday if he encountered someone making that claim, he could say, "My father was there. He took pictures. It is true.

My brother Robert, also said that he often talked with my father in his later years and he reminisced about his younger days, but never talked about the war. My brother said he must have asked him about the war at one point - maybe, "What was it like?" or "Was it like the movies?" and my dad replied that he had seen his friends, good people, blown to pieces and he had seen enough of that. That was all that he would say.

He did keep in touch with friends he had made in the Army. Several of our family vacations included visits to army buddies in New York, Florida, and Louisiana, and sometimes the friends visited our family. On one trip out West with my brother, after he was retired, Jack stopped in three different places to visit with friends from his Army days. He exchanged Christmas cards with many of them for over 40 years.

Jack died on October 16, 1988.