Six of Gus and Katherine Rice's sons left South Philly for the service during World War II.

Army Pvt. Francis "Frank" Rice was the youngest of this real-life band of brothers, and the only one who was wounded. Now he's the only one left.

"That's me," he says, pointing to a framed studio portrait of his handsome, 19-year-old self in uniform, taken after he was drafted in 1943.

Quiet, wry, and still spry despite a heart attack a decade ago, Frank shows me some mementos at the immaculate Burlington Township home he shares with his wife, Gloria. They have three children, nine grandchildren, and a great-grand. In September, they'll have been married 60 years.

"He was in Italy during the war, and they gave him sausage and wine," Gloria says. "That's why he married an Italian girl."

Her maiden name was Mazzuca. She grew up "right around the corner" from the Rice family's rowhouse near 27th and Morris. Pretty much all the kids played halfball in the street and went to Mass at St. Gabriel's.

Gus and Katherine Rice - he was a night watchman at Pier 98 on the Delaware, she was a seamstress - had a daughter, Elizabeth, followed by a run of eight sons.

Brother Charles died of flu at age 4. Harry had flat feet and was turned down for the service. But the six other Rice boys went to war.

"We were fighting for our freedom," Frank says.

George, who went by his middle name, Ramsey, was the first to go. "Ram was drafted into the Army 10 months before Pearl Harbor," Frank says.

Joe joined the Navy, Al was drafted into the Army, Tom joined the Army Air Corps, and Frank was drafted into the Army. Bill was 31 in 1945 when he enlisted in the Navy.

"The Rices had six stars in the window," Gloria says, referring to the service flag, also called a "Blue Star Flag," issued to families of those in uniform.

The flag can be seen in a snapshot of Katherine Rice, apron around her waist and with a big smile, in the doorway of the house at 1633 S. Etting St. "My sister Elizabeth sewed on a sixth star for Bill," says Frank.

Gus didn't live long enough to welcome his boys home; he died in 1944. And his youngest almost didn't make it back after a too-close encounter with a stray German mortar shell in Monte Cassino.

It happened on the morning of Jan. 27, 1944, at the beginning of an epic battle for control of the hilltop and its famous abbey. Pvt. Rice, 19, was advancing up the hill with fellow members of Company A, Third Platoon, 168th Regiment, 34th Division "when I heard this swish in the air," he recalls.

"I started to hit the ground and something in my head said turn, so I sort of turned in the opposite direction. The thing exploded before I was down. I think I blacked out for a couple seconds.

"When I opened my eyes, I was on my hands and knees. I looked down and there were drops of blood hitting the ground. I yelled for a medic."

The explosion had driven a pea-size piece of metal deep into his right leg just above the knee; he also was wounded in his upper right side. The impact crater was where his head would have been had he not turned around.

"Someone upstairs was looking out for me," says Frank, who was awarded the Purple Heart.

After the war, he got a job at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, where he'd worked before the war.

"He was a master electrician," Gloria says proudly.

The couple moved to Ambler, and Frank marched with fellow veterans in Memorial Day parades. Seventeen years ago, they moved to the house in Burlington Township, where Frank plans to do a little barbecuing for the family on Memorial Day.

He occasionally ponders the fact that he's the last of Gus and Katherine's kids, the last of brothers in arms. But he doesn't dwell on that sort of thing; he's had a good, long run.

I get ready to leave, and Frank mentions that before the war, he did welding work on the USS Wisconsin - the battleship that carried a certain turret gunner's mate named Thomas J. Riordan into the Pacific Theater.

"You helped build my dad's ship," I tell Frank, and shake his hand.

A band of brothers, indeed.

Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.inquirer.com.