Joyce Marie Taylor
In 1954, not long after the active stage of the Korean War ended, Milton E. (Angie) Ceraso graduated from Graceland Junior College in Iowa. A cease-fire had been signed on July 27, 1953, however, many say the war never actually ended because an official peace treaty was never signed. North and South Korea simply agreed not to fire at one another. The Korean War has gone down in history books as “The Forgotten War”.
“Jobs were hard to find back in 1954 and I didn’t know what the heck I was going to do,” Ceraso said.
With no other choice, he went to the U.S. Army draft board in June of 1954, but was told that he had to wait until January or February of 1955 before he could enlist. He pleaded with the enlistment officer, telling her he had no job and couldn’t find one, and asked if he couldn’t be moved up. She said she would see what she could do.
“I was drafted in September of 1954 instead of waiting until January or February,” said Ceraso.
Soon he was off to basic training in Camp Gordon, Ga. and after that he was shipped to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas for artillery training. There were 3,300 soldiers there at Camp Chaffee, he said, and after training they were shipped over to Germany in four-man buddy teams.
“We spent 12 miserable days on a boat going over to Germany,” he said. “We were packed in like sardines.”
Once there, the troops were split up and the different teams were sent to various locations throughout Germany. Ceraso was sent to Mannheim to the Second Armored Division, a self-propelled 105 Howitzer outfit.
“It was a cannon mounted on a tank track,” he explained.
The troops there spent time out in the field practicing just like war was going to start any day, he said. The field was close to the Czechoslovakian border and Ceraso said it was really strange at times because the U.S. was guarding one side of the fence and the Czechs were guarding their side.
“We were looking over the fence at one another,” he said. “Anyway, we played war and that’s what I did for a couple of months.”
Ceraso’s half-brother, Staff Sergeant Talmadge Gaskins, was stationed in the Counter Intelligence Corps in Goeppingen, Germany, about 90 miles south of Mannheim, and he offered to try getting Ceraso transferred down there. Two weeks later, there he was, stationed in Goeppingen.
“I worked right across the street from him in Headquarters 9th Division Artillery,” said Ceraso.
Because he had two years of college under his belt, it gave Ceraso a bit of an advantage over the other soldiers in his outfit, as far as his battery commander was concerned.
“Captain Phillip H. Stephens, I will never forget him,” Ceraso said.
Capt. Stephens had just lost his driver and he asked Ceraso if he would like the job. He went for it.
“I was his driver the whole time I was there,” Ceraso said. “He was just like a daddy to me.”
Aside from being Stephens’ driver Ceraso also worked as a mail clerk.
One fond memory he has as a mail clerk was that every time one of the men in his company would get a package from home with cookies or cakes they would share it with him, just because he delivered the package to them.
“I gained about 20 pounds,” he said, laughing.
Ceraso also recalled a Christmas room decorating contest while in Germany. There were four soldiers in his room.
“We won it,” he said. “We got a three day trip to Paris over New Year’s weekend.”
The four soldiers spent New Year’s Eve in Moulin Rouge in Paris watching can-can girls.
“We could understand that, but when a comedian got up and started telling jokes we couldn’t understand that,” he said. “Everybody was laughing, so we just laughed, too.”
Ceraso stayed in Goeppingen for 17 months as a Specialist 3rd Class until he got out of the service in the summer of 1956, two months ahead of time, so that he could attend Troy State College, which is where he earned his BS degree.
Three summers later he earned a Masters degree in school administration. He was offered a job at a school in Alabama with a starting salary of $3,100 a year and he accepted it. About a week before he was supposed to start work there he got a postcard in the mail stating they had made a mistake on his salary and that it would only be $2,800 a year.
“I lost $300 dollars before I even started work,” he said laughing.
A friend told him not to accept the job offer and that he knew of a school in Mayo, Florida that was in need of a basketball coach and teacher. A phone call and a few days later, Ceraso hitched a ride to Mayo, Florida with Vasco Koon in a 1948 Studebaker.
“We used 10 quarts of oil coming 240 miles,” he said, laughing again.
He stayed with Vasco Koon’s family that first week until he found a place of his own in town, and with no car of his own yet, he rode the school bus back and forth to work until he could get his own vehicle.
Ceraso met his wife of 53 years in his new hometown of Mayo. Dolores was a 5th grade teacher at the school and she would bring her class to the library at the same time Ceraso was there for his planning period, since he was a floating teacher and had no room to call his own.
“We got to talking and I thought she’s kind of a cute gal,” he said. “I believe I’ll ask her for a date.”
Ceraso said he finally got around to asking her for a date and on May 16, 1959 they tied the knot.
“That’s my story and I’ve been here ever since,” Ceraso said.
He was able to continue his education at FSU for three summers and obtained a degree in counseling.
“I was a guidance counselor for 27 years at LHS,” he said.
Then he was elected and served two separate terms as Lafayette County Superintendent of Schools. During his first term, his wife was his assistant superintendent. In between those two terms he worked at Advent Christian Village helping to get the assisted living facility started. Meanwhile, his wife was recruited down to Dixie County as a deputy superintendent.
Ceraso said he is grateful for the G.I bill that allowed him to further his education and obtain his BS degree in 1958 and then his MS degree in 1966.
“Without that, I would never have finished my schooling and come as far as I did,” he said. “It paid my way through college.”
Ceraso is a proud member of the American Legion Post 105 in Mayo and the Rotary Club of Mayo. He also had the honorable distinction of being the chairman of American Legion Boys State for 10 years from 2002-2012.