WWII and my own father:
My Dad, James Norman Buccalo, Jr., served in WWII and was part of the push through the hedge rows after the landings at Normandy and other battles throughout the war. His experiences, as a medic of the 274th AFA spanned from the Hedgerows of Normandy, through Sainte-Lo, to supporting the 37 Tank Bn breakthrough [of Patton’s 4th AD (Armored Division)] at Bastogne to relieve the 101st AirBorne, to the Eagle’s Nest (photo to be provided in later articles).
The following is mostly pre-war dialogue in my father’s own words, referring to the mood, boot camp experience, being shipped oversea and the adventure of it all.
NOTE: copyright, no use without expressed written permission.
If you see brackets ‘[ ]’ it is probably a comment/commentary by Nicholas Buccalo, son of James Buccalo, Jr.
Medics, 274th AFA (Armored Field Artillery Battalion)
Medical Detachment, 274th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 20th Corp., 3rd Army.
Freedom is not free.
by James N. Buccalo, Jr.
First of all, it wasn’t a popcorn war. For those in combat, for their loved ones, and, for that matter for the loved ones of all in service, it wasn’t a matinee at the local movie house — although Hollywood tried (and is still trying) to convince us that what they present on the screen is the way it was, and even that their staging is the prototype for wars, now and future. But I don’t think that the majority of us saw the war the way Hollywood sees it. We didn’t act it out to fit or be shown on a screen. I believe that most of us were carried along by a feeling, an inward certainty, that high stakes were involved. We weren’t trying to act out certain specific scenes in a certain way. The war wasn’t compressed in either time or scope. Rather we were just trying to stay alive while at the same time advancing until the geography was covered and the enemy was no more. Our country, for the most part, was certain that this was a make or break war and we were part of our country. In this respect it was different, I think, than WW l. True, it was fought out on pretty much the same ground (even though alliances had shifted somewhat in the years since WW I), but this time we weren’t — and probably will never be again — innocents in shining armor marching with altruistic motive to the rescue. First of all, we had been severely marked — scarred — by the first world war and those wounds to the nation’s psyche were far from healed. Secondly most of us came to know that the tolling of the bell was also for our own nation’s existence. For me at any rate, the way it was is the way it was.
That Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, I was in bed with the flu. It was my senior year at North High School and I would graduate in June, 1942. The radio announcement of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” reply for the nation has been played and replayed for us over and over — as it should be — during the years since: a cautionary piece of history.
I graduated June 1942 and immediately — and unknown to my parents — went downtown to enlist in the Air Force, then to the Navy recruitment office, and was told at both places that I didn’t see the right colors on one of their tests and so couldn’t enlist with them. I didn’t go to the Army recruiting office because I figured what the heck they were drafting everyone anyhow and I might just as well wait.
I entered Ohio State and indicated that I was in Pre-Med because Mother was herself so intent upon becoming a Doctor — this, in fact, was one half of the Mother-Father reason for moving to Columbus. I think that I had been in school about two quarters when Percy — “call me Lucky” — an acquaintance from Steubenville dropped in, told me about how easy it was to get a job in a defense plant in Detroit, and how well they paid: fifty dollars a week for anybody. He had one of his friends from Detroit with him, Paul Nakamura. Paul looked precisely like every Japanese that we had ever seen in a B movie and like every soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army that we were seeing more and more often in the newsreels. Paul was a Japanese American whose family for generations had practiced the secret art of sexing peeps, but were now in an internment camp.
PAUL, FRIEND OF A FRIEND:
Paul was a tool and die man, at that time one of the highest paid and sought after skill. Consequently he was allowed to work in a defense factory in Detroit. My dad didn’t like Paul — understandable — and he sure didn’t want me to leave home. For me to leave, but worst of all for me to leave with this Jap was, I”m sure, worse than sad, it was betrayal. My father had to cope not only with a son leaving home just because he wanted to but leaving with the enemy who had bombed Pearl Harbor, who had defeated us in the Philippines. This was no newsreel. Here in the dining room of his own house, he was face to face with the enemy and his son chose to go with that enemy rather than stay. All our lives changed that morning: I stood in the dining room saying good-bye, and for the first time in our lives together, my father didn’t order me to do what he wanted. Instead he very quietly told me that I shouldn’t leave, that he didn’t want me to leave, that he wished I wouldn’t leave. I think he recognized the moment and knew that we would never be together again in quite the same way.
To explain it all by saying that we all knew that the draft would call me in a matter of weeks, and that both he and Mother wanted me at home for as long as possible, and that they were very hurt would fall short of telling it all. At any rate, I was full of the prospect of this great adventure, didn’t think of any of this, and left for Detroit.
Paul and Percy lived at the YMCA on Woodward Ave. (Detroit, MI. https://www.google.com/maps/search/ymca,+Detroit,+MIfirstname.lastname@example.org,-83.1608232,12.51z). Percy had two beds in his room: five dollars per week maid service included. Two-fifty for me, two-fifty for Percy. The next morning I took the streetcar to the McCord Radiator factory, told them that I could read micrometers, calipers, and had my own Vernier — none of which I had even heard of until being coached by Paul and Percy during the drive to Detroit.
By 10 AM I was on the production line inspecting shell casings for naval guns. When the Naval inspector, a Lt. jg, came up the line about 10:30 AM, the foreman told him that I had learned physics and mechanics in college and that I really knew my job. The navy guy looked at me for a few seconds and then turned around and walked back down the line. I worked there for five weeks, had a Defense Bond ($18.75) taken out of my check every week and sent home.
Then I got a phone call from Mother: there was a notice from Selective Service, “You have been chosen….” I gave the foreman a couple days notice that next morning. About fifteen minutes later a couple of guys in suits came around to confirm what I had said and ask if I could stay on a few days more. I told them No, I’ve been chosen. I really wanted to go. I left Detroit the next day. This gave me about a week at home before I had to leave. Sometime in there, I was inducted, sworn in, given a time to report at the railroad station, and allowed to go back home until I was scheduled to report.
When the morning came for me to go, the whole family went down to Union Station. There were a lot of other guys there along with some MP’s and some corporals and sergeants. They began to separate us from our families and herd us toward the gate; saying good-bye was so short that it shocked everybody — it was like being wrenched suddenly, unexpectidly away. It was then and on the ride to the processing center at Fort Benjamin Harrison that I began to realize how serious all this was, and began to ponder that coming back home was going to be tougher and less certain than I had ever thought.
FORT BENJAMIN (Training)
Fort Benj. Harrison — what can I say. It was the damnest experience I’d ever had — or had since. Chaos. We were there to get immunization shots, have paper processing done, be assigned to some unit, and shipped out. We got off the train in Indianapolis, waited around until the busses finally showed up which took us to the Fort, went to a supply room where we exchanged our civvies for uniforms, got a couple of blankets, and were then “marched” rag tag and bob-tailed to a two-story barracks and told to pick a bunk and wait. We waited and while we waited we got the real scoop on what was going to happen while we were there, when we were going to ship out, where we were going to ship out to, what kind of outfit it would be, and how soon we would leave the States.
Of course, all this information was supplied in positive manner be guys who had just that morning left the Union Station in Columbus with us.
What really happened was that we finally went to sleep, were awakened by the shouting, yelling, and whistle blowing of some Pfc at 3:30 AM. Most of us still had our uniforms on and we were immediately herded to a huge mess hall and turned over to a sergeant who assigned us to various jobs. The place was hot and steamy and the noise of guys going through the chow line, and the pot and pans banging, and the yelling and cussing of the regulars made the place seem like bedlam. I was put next to a huge — I think 40 gallon — gas-fired automatic coffee maker and told to watch that the water didn’t overflow. I didn’t know how it worked and I was hungry so I sneaked down the line, grabbed some food, and went out back to eat it. Another Pfc found me there and asked me what the hell I thought I was doing. I told him that the sergeant had put me there and that they were going to have me peel potatoes. He said OK, by God you better not leave here. I said Yes sir I won’t. After he left, I went back into the mess hall. All hell was breaking loose. Someone had let the coffee urn overflow. In all the confusion, I just left the place and started to wander around.
Whenever someone asked me what I was doing, I said “On my way to get a shot sir.” They’d say “You don’t call me sir, you call me Cpl or Sergeant” or whatever they were. That night, I went to a different barracks to sleep and when I heard the whistle start blowing, I rolled under my bunk but they already knew that trick so I had to go on KP again.
This time they took us to a part of the camp they called “Clap City” where they had separated all the guys who had venereal disease. This was a horrifying prospect to me so I told them I knew how to work the coffee urn, let it overflow, and skipped out when all the yelling and cussing started and they told me to go get a mop and bucket. While I was wandering around, someone shoved me into a line, and when it came my turn the guys giving the shots said where’s your records. I said I don’t know but I haven’t had any shots yet, and so guys standing on each side of the line with needles stuck them into me and as I moved farther up the line two more guys gave me shots and one of the first guys yelled “He’s already had his,” and the second guys yelled “Then get the hell out of here.”
What with no sleep and all my shots, I got pretty feverish after that but I was afraid to go to the medical dispensary since I figured they’t probably give me some more shots so I just wandered around until I finally went into a barracks and went to sleep.
The third morning morning, as soon as I heard the whistle, I went out the end of the building and I climbed up the ladder that was attached to it ( a fire escape, I guess, although the barracks was wood and the ladder was wood) and I sat on the roof until all the hullabaloo died down.
The next day someone told me to get into a line which was waiting for a bus. I told them that I didn’t have my records; but they said that they’d catch up to me. The bus took a bunch of us to the train station and the train took us to Camp Phillips, Kansas.
CAMP PHILLIPS, KANSAS (TRAINING FOR THE 274th FA Bn)
Arrived Camp Phillips, Kansas early May, 1943. We formed up as the 274th F.A. Battalion and started basic training 24 May 1943. We had a saying at Camp Phillips that it was the only place in the world where you could be up to your butt in mud and still get dust in your eyes. It’s hard to believe, now, that Basic Training lasted only six weeks. During those six weeks, we did calisthenics, 5, 10, 15, 20 miles hikes, qualified for marksman badges on the firing range (Maggies Drawers). We learned to drive all the vehicles: six by six’s, weapons carriers, jeeps, etc.
Since I had been in Pre-Med during my short college academic career, I had been put into the Medical Corp. (there were advantages and disadvantages to this assignment which will become evident later). I learned to give whatever shots were still needed (more shots were always needed wherever we went, whatever we did ). I learned that for most everything that was wrong with a GI, the proper medication to be dispensed was APC tablets. One big step up in knowledge that we medics had over the other GIs was that we knew that APC stood for Acetisalicylic Acid, Phenacitin, and Codein (little bits of superior knowledge such as this inspired confidence in the other GIs that when “the time came” we’d be good at our job and they’d be saved).
We learned that the thing that looked like a pants’ stretcher was a Thomas Splint to be put on the fractured leg before the wounded GI was transported to the rear. Whereas the calisthenics and most of the other stuff became pretty boring and the subject of much grumbling, this “before the wounded GI was transported to the rear” went a long way toward sobering us up and making us realize that this was going to be serious business.
We were all issued little packets of the tiny crystals of the first miracle drug, SULFA. I can’t begin to tell how important this was, how much of a relief it was to know that we could do something about preventing gangrene other than slashing an arm or a leg wide open all the while knowing that this wouldn’t work and that, finally and in a very short time, we would have to cut the leg off to save the life. It was a miracle in our minds before it was a miracle on what were to be our battlefields. It was a talisman that if it couldn’t offer a shield of invincibility could at least make it possible for us to come back whole. In this sense, as much as in the medical sense, it was a miracle. We learned everything there was to know about it: always have it, using first the packet that the wounded soldier carried, sprinkle it as deep into the wound as possible, and tell him that it would keep him from getting infection (he knew what that meant).
We learned how to carry wounded. We learned to squeeze out the codeine paste from the little tube with its own needle — into anywhere we could get to and if the wounded man was in too much pair, directly into his vein if we could find one. (It was funny that the soldier was only a soldier when he was getting chewed out or when he was being commended, and he was just a GI until he was hit and then he became a wounded man.) We learned how to try to prevent shock (raise his feet higher than his head), and, how to drag a wounded man to a supposedly safer place.
As the six week basic training progressed, we came to be increasingly accepted by the other men who considered themselves the “fighting” men, even if they were cooks or mechanics. By the time we finished Tennessee maneuvers, we were accepted.
ADVANCED MEDIC TRAINING (CORPORAL STRIPES):
FORT BENJAMIN HARRISON, INDIANA TRAINING EXTENSION: (Indianapolis, Indiana)
During “basic,” the Captain chose Walsh and I to go on detached service back to Ft. Benj. Harrison for about two weeks of advanced medic training at the ?????????school. (Once again, my impressive academic career at Ohio State [I, Nicholas Buccalo, believe he is being sarcastic/funny] served me well whereas being Irish Catholic (John Alowyshis Walsh) [I, Nicholas Buccalo, do not know who he is referring to, but his mom, a Jones/Henderson/Loar decent he is referring to] was good enough for Captain Charles Francis McLane.) this meant that at the end of Basic, I got my Corporal stripes and Walsh got his T-5.
Following basic training the outfit shipped to Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas, (https://www.google.com/maps/place/Camp+Funston,+Fort+Riley,+KSemail@example.com,-96.7480875,14z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x87bc35727f1038e5:0x5d46d384fd742561!8m2!3d39.0928268!4d-96.7306673) 3 Dec 1943 for more training and the “test” that would determine whether or not we stayed together as an outfit or were broken up and sent to other units.
We did forced marches with our vehicles, forced marches on foot (20 miles in such and such a time) in which we carried those who couldn’t keep up, stayed in the field night and day, and finally conducted fire missions at night. 16 Dec 1943 was the final night of testing.
On the Kansas range there was 12 inches of snow, a bitter wind, and the temperature fell to 20 degrees or more below zero– the guns wouldn’t recoil. Although we were supposed to carry out our firing missions under strictly blackout conditions, we built small, shielded fires and tried to heat the breeches. Finally, around 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, the referees came around, said we’d passed, and sent us back to barracks. On the afternoon and evening of the next day, we entrained for Tennessee Maneuvers.
We arrived at Watertown, Tennessee on a Sunday night, 19 Dec and on Wednesday of that week were committed to our first problem. [probably this base in Smyrna, TN https://www.google.com/maps/place/Tennessee+Army+National+Guardfirstname.lastname@example.org,-86.5155416,5946m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x88640de9be149655:0xad2aa45030573649!8m2!3d36.0115567!4d-86.5074437 ] [I, Nicholas Buccalo, do not see any training type camp near Watertown, TN. https://www.google.com/maps/place/Watertown,+TNemail@example.com,-86.1510925,5505m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x886696ec2a861b65:0x888f4caa5f06c633!8m2!3d36.1003358!4d-86.1319341 ]
Many years later, I came to realize that Tennessee Maneuvers were held on the same grounds over which the Civil War had raged back and forth. But then all I knew was that we were constantly moving. The story about war I found to be that the farther down the line from Headquarters you were, the less you knew about what was happening. Since a lot of what the Medics had to know was to stay with our assigned outfits, and since the closer we got to combat, the more our assigned batteries made sure that we stayed with them, we really didn’t get much of the big picture. Our instructions ran mostly to “We’re moving out, move out!”
What I do remember is that Tennessee meant rain, freezing rain, ice, snow, and then when the weather warmed, mosquitos — millions of determined mosquitoes. I remember that during maneuvers, Herman Johnson went AWOL. Herman was from McRoberts, KY. and for him this was like being in the neighborhood but not allowed to go home which to Herman — especially since he was crazy in love with a hometown girl — seemed like a hell of a way to run a war. He knew a better way.
At first, we were shocked but then when periodically someone would bring up the subject of that f-up, Herman, someone else would explain by giving it a humorous twist. We were all getting better at laughing at and making jokes about our predicaments.
The Captain had started to realign the personnel in our detachment and had brought certain ones of us into the small group with him in Headquarters Battalion and moved others out. This presented the odd picture of the regular Army staff sgt who was cadre being sent out as a battery aid man — a duty usually assigned to a Private or Pfc. Consequently, one of my duties became the making out of the daily report, part of which was to report who was present for duty and who wasn’t.
Herman and I were good buddies. I carried Herman on report as being present, hoping that he’d be back before the Captain noticed. As each day went by, the Captain would ask more often, “Where’s Herman?” We’d say things like, “He’s helping over at C Battery.”
Day by day went by: no Herman and now I was really trapped. Then one day, the Captain said, “By God Buck, you have Herman report to me.” That day at mail call, the Captain got a postcard. It said, “Having a wonderful time, wish you all were here. I”ll be back in a few days.” It was signed “Herman.” The Captain called me to his tent. He showed me the card. Never mind what the first thing I said was. The second thing I said was that Herman would be back probably tomorrow and the Captain agreed to wait. Since everyone else knew Herman was AWOL, this meant to me that now we were all in this together and they’d have to court marshall all of us which they wouldn’t do. Herman did come back a few days later but by this time everyone in the battalion — including Major Gaffney, our C.O. — knew; in fact it had become a joke.
December 25th was a miserable day. All day it rained and sleeted. Herman came back in the middle of the night — really the morning of the 26th. How he found us in that wilderness, I’ll never know.
The ground was a mix of mud, snow and ice. It was raining, and sleeting, and freezing. The blankets that we wrapped ourselves in were thoroughly soaked and now were frozen. Every time we moved, our blankets would crack. We tried to sleep — our feet towards a small, sputtering fire. As I was sleeping uphill from the fire, I kept slipping downhill but I don’t think that all of it was the ice. A lot of it came from my feet just edging towards the little bit of heat. Whatever the cause, my feet kept slipping down into it and when my GI shoes gave me the hot foot, I’d inch myself back up hill and try to sleep. One of the times I opened my eyes, I saw a GI squatting by the fire, stirring it, puttin more wood on. After a minute, I recognized the haunched-over figure. Herman was back. I said, “Don’t put out the fire.” Herman said, “ Damn it Buck, give me some blanket.” I told him to get his own and he said that he didn’t know where they were. I told him that we had divided his stuff up and then cracked one of my blankets loose for him. The next morning I told him to c’mon we’ve got to see the Captain. He said, “Damn, can’t I just be back? Nobody’ll notice.” I said, “ You sent a postcard to the Captain.”
HERMAN ENLISTING AT 15:
Herman Johnson was from Harlan County, Ky. When he was 14 and again at 15 he had lied about his age to an army recruiter who was desperate to make a quota. Both times he had ended up in the Philippines; both times he had gotten into trouble; both times he had confessed his real age and cried that he wanted to go home; and both time he’d been shipped back to Harlan and told not to enlist again. At eighteen, like many of us, he’d been drafted. He had an innocent baby face look and he projected a shy manner. This combination of good-looking innocence and “ aw-shucks” served him well on more that one occasion — and I must admit that several times I tagged along with it when we were in trouble together. Now, as the Captain was taking us to Battalion Headquarters, he first told Herman not to try to pull that baby-blue-eyes stuff on the Major, then said “hell, use everything you’ve got.” We reported to the Major, saluted — Herman could give the snappiest old Army salute I’ve ever seen. Now he threw his best one at the Major and I thought I saw a little different look come on the Major’s face. He threw a good salute back. I thought that it was more than just form and let’s get on with it, but all he said was “Talk.”
Herman told him how sorry he was, that from now on he’d be a good soldier, that he was glad to be back with his buddies, that he knew he’d let us down, that he’d learned that this is where he belonged, and that he’d been just plain dumb. The Major said that if we weren’t about ready to ship overseas and he didn’t want to screw up the outfit, he see to it that Herman spent the rest of the war in Leavenworth. Then he asked me what I had to say for myself. I said, “I was dumber than Private Johnson, sir.” He said for us to get the hell out of there. Herman started to give him one of his snappy salutes but I grabbed him and jerked him on out of the tent. Outside, we heard the Captain say thanks, and then we heard them both laughing. On the way back to our outfit, I said, “Geeze, Herman.” He said, “Aw, Buck.” I said, “Shut up,Herman.”
CAMP CAMPBELL (unknown location)
Maneuvers ended and we went to Camp Campbell. On Feb 1st,1944, we turned in our truck-drawn 105 howitzers and were outfitted with M-7’s [M7 105mm self-propelled Howitzer Armored Vehicle, maybe the ‘Priest’], half tracks [maybe M3, as dad described it to me, Nicholas Buccalo, had a MG in the turret], and M4 Sherman Tanks. We were again tested and again passed.
CAMP KILMER, NEW JERSEY
[according to Google Maps it no longer exists, was near Staten Island, ready for departure: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Camp+Kilmer,+NJfirstname.lastname@example.org,-74.4176547,1202m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x89c3c639edb6d653:0xa202144746ff051e!8m2!3d40.5346672!4d-74.415522 ]
On 25 Jun 1944 we arrived at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.
1 July, 1944, we went aboard the ferry that took us to New York Pier 84 [at West 44th Street: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Pieremail@example.com,-74.0041176,1167m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x89c2584ead35652b:0xa1658168422a2c8f!8m2!3d40.7639911!4d-74.0019289 ], went up the gang plank and boarded the SS John Ericcson [I, Nicholas Buccalo, the ‘known’ SS John Ericsson doing actual combat in the Italian campaign at this time according to wikipedia, BUT, there is a history of an ship known as the Kungsholm renamed to the ‘1942 US Gov’t troopship renamed John Ericsson, 1946 chartered from US Gov’t for 9 voyages. 1948 sold to Home Lines, Panama renamed Italia.’ HERE IT IS: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_Kungsholm_(1928) in 1942 renamed to the John Ericsson] [commissioned as a Troop Transport]— sister ship of the famous diplomatic exchange ship, SS Gripsholm (Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_Gripsholm_(1924) ).
It was obvious that this ship was formerly a luxury liner; but now it was stripped down and every inch was given over to the task of transporting GI’s to Europe. There were nearly six thousand GIs on board this ship that in peace time carried a maximum of 1200 passengers. My hammock was four flights below deck and was the third up from the floor with two still above me. Miserable. Eating was worse. The mess hall was row after row of waist high benches at which we stood to eat. The place was hot and like being in a steam bath. As we left we passed by huge vats of boiling water into which we plunged our mess kits. Along with many others, I skipped meals, bought food from the crew, and got into candy and snacks we had loaded into our duffle bags. I was in my bunk when we sailed past the Statue of Liberty sometime during the night.
[NOTE THAT JULY 1, 1944 is AFTER THE D-DAY LANDINGS. THIS I, NICHOLAS BUCCALO, CORRESPONDS TO THE 274th LANDING IN CERBEUGH, DAD SAID HE WAS A PART OF THIS UNIT FROM THE BEGINNING, THAT IF IT DIDN’T PERFORM WELL IT WOULD BE BROKEN UP, WHICH IT WASN’T. THIS MEANS HE STAYED WITH THE UNIT AND LANDED IN NORMANDY AFTER D-DAY]
III CORPS: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/III_Corps_(United_States)#Europe
4th Armored Division (United States): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4th_Armored_Division_(United_States)
274th F.A. Battalion
4th AD unit awards [AD refers to Armored Division]
- Presidential Unit Citation (Army), World War II (ARDENNES, 22 December 1944 – 27 March 1945; WD GO 54, 1945)
- French Croix de Guerre with Palm, World War II (NORMANDY, 27–30 July 1944; DA GO 43, 1950)
- French Croix de Guerre with Palm, World War II (MOSELLE RIVER, 12-29, September 1944; DA GO 43, 1950)
- French Fourragere (Croix de Guerre colors), World War II (DA GO 43, 1950)
[Note the 4th AD landed on Normandy Beach, Utah Beach, on 11 July, over a month after the initial Normandy landings. I, Nicholas Buccalo, can not conclude that my Dad was a part of this 4th AD. He says below he was in Staford (England) ]
3rd Army (Patton); 4th AD (Armored Division); 274th F.A. (‘armored’ Field Artillery) Ba (Battalion); Medic
SHIPPING ACROSS THE ATLANTIC:
For me, the trip over was exciting. We had nice weather; I got to be on deck; I didn’t get seasick (which in an irrational way proved to me that having been a life guard and swimmer meant that I and water were friends); and, not least of all was the fact that I was on an ocean voyage to a foreign land across the Atlantic Ocean. I liked it.
We landed in ____ [Cardiff?] although I don’t remember the landing, nor do I remember being trucked to our camp. Camp was on the estate of ____ outside of Wolverhampton [https://www.google.com/maps/place/Wolverhampton,+UKfirstname.lastname@example.org,-2.1416384,8597m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x487080d43225d7fd:0x526da09547380126!8m2!3d52.586973!4d-2.12882 ] in Stafford. We had tents with wooden floors and the dispensary was a wooden building which we shared with other outfits. This was a staging and outfitting camp. It was here that we got the last of our shots, drew more equipment such as gas masks for each of us and medical chests and other equipment for our detachment. And it was here that we were outfitted with M4 Sherman Tanks outfitted with French 75’s of the Franco-Prussian War of 1897, M7’s (105mm howitzers on a tank chassis without the turret), half tracks, jeeps, etc.
Our movement across Europe for the most part didn’t have a martial quality, it was more of a flow, a dirge, in an environment of death and death expected. In combat I never stopped, I never ran away. I always went forward. Plato in Protagoras quoted Socrates as saying, “ What cowards go to meet is the very opposite of what the courageous go to meet.”
For me an ever present feeling was that it was an honor to fight for my country. The feeling that I had throughout was Pride. I was proud to be in the American Army, to go overseas, to be in combat, and proud that we won — as I always knew we would. There were __ million of us in service during WW II but the feeling was individual. It was how I felt. Last year, 1998, 330,000 of us passed away. Now in 1999 more than 1000 of us die each day.
For most of us, I think that fear was a matter of reacting to individual situations as they occurred. For me, it was that way. If we were being shelled and the shells were exploding on us, I was scared, frightened but not so invested with fear that I couldn’t do my duty. I could and did rush from a relatively safe place into places under heavy fire to help a wounded man while others were in their foxholes. Whatever might be called fear was mixed with instant and definite reaction of mind and body; for example, oftentimes I would take cover but in many instances I would rush into the danger area knowing that there would probably be wounded there. In other words, mixed with “being scared” was the element of “do something about it — meet it, handle it — it’s where I belong.” This mixture was due, I think, to the undoubting sureness that we had about the combat we were in: we can do it. We knew we could do it. In the scariest of situations, we would step forward. We would, in effect, demonstrate over and over again and against whatever odds, that we were Americans. It was something special to be an American.
Allied casualties Battle of the Bulge: 19,000 died, 50,000 captured.
Check out item 69 in NOTES FOR I REMEMBER
Note: Item 69 in NOTES FOR I REMEMBER could not be found. (JNBIII)
After the battalion’s first action, we were often spoken of in terms that bragged about “our medics,” and the rest of the outfit even began in some ways to look out for us.
2. Notes-WW II
By comparison to what had come before, I guess our first real battle was just outside Verdun. Verdun was protected by ____ forts and was a part of the Maginot Line. About ten o’clock the first night, German bombers flew over. Someone in our battalion opened fire and then everyone began to shoot. We were shooting tracers and these were lighting up the sky and, of course, the tracing worked both directions making a path back to our guns and so our position. Somewhere there were explosions and with every explosion out firing became more furious. We became convinced that our fire was marking our position and with every explosion two things happened: some of the guys were running around shouting to cease fire and more guys started shooting. Those of us who weren’t shooting were digging. I dug and dug. I kept hitting rock. As the bombers came over, I’d dive into the foxhole I was digging. I kept having pretty hard landings and I noticed that I wasn’t much below the surface. Finally all the confusion died down and we slept a few hours. The next morning I discovered that my hole was only about an inch deep. We were on top of one of the forts and I was digging into the concrete.
After telling the rest of the story about the three nights and two days it took for us to capture the City and get across the river and the nightly 10 o’clock visits by “bed-check Charlie,” ended by relating the fact that in 1970, the forts of the Maginot Line were auctioned off. Some were used as tourist attractions, others for growing mushrooms. For some reason the thought hurts me. I just don’t think that’s fair, do you?
VERN SNYDER, Sergeant [tank commander] [Germany]
Who could ever have guessed that Vern Snyder who had only one eye, one good arm, only one good leg, and who, as though this were not disadvantage enough, had suffered the (next to death) most feared wound of all… who could ever have guessed that after the war he would actually come home and marry his blonde, blue-eyed childhood sweetheart. Since this is exactly what did happen, why should I have been surprised when he showed up at our outfit’s first reunion with not only this lovely girl but also with their fair and beautiful child.
Vern was from Colliers, W. Va. Vern was a blonde-haired kid that had a good-natured look about him. He was always smiling and laughing, talked with a sort of nasal twang, and, in general, was both shy and friendly — sort of like a puppy. I saw Vern around during training and since he was a tank commander in Headquarter’s Battery, I got to know him a little better than some of the other guys who were in the other batteries. But then one day, I got to know Vern really well.
Our unit was spearheading into Germany without pause, night and day. During the day, an armored column made a great target. During the night, we couldn’t see a lot and made an easy target. During this advance, the lead elements did something that we’d never done before — they marked the route we were advancing on by setting fire to the barns along the way. So, advancing in the dark, the column was able to stay together.
Daylight found us still advancing on flat ground along a narrow road that went past fields and forests. At one point we made a sharp turn and then the road led directly to the edge of a small town. At the entrance to the town, the road turned sharply right and directly away from the town entrance. As the column approached, passed by, and moved away from the town, we experienced no fire. The main mission of a spearhead is to cut through enemy lines, pass by where there’s no resistance, engage suddenly and with immediate overwhelming force [engage] any armed enemy units, cut them up, and move on. (Mostly, we didn’t even keep the prisoners we captured.)
Walsh was driving our half-track, I was in the other seat, and Bill Fuller, who had hitched a ride with us, was sort of perched between the two of us. Since we were in Germany and expected either to be attacked or to attack [at] any moment, we had all the armored panels up and secured and were guiding by looking through the slitted portals.
It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the sky was clear and blue. The air had that fresh smell of country to it. Hunkered in the track, Walsh and I didn’t smell much more than fumes but we could look up and see the sky. Bill insisted on half standing, looking out above the armor, looking all around, telling us what we were missing. Walsh and I were uneasy. I had told Bill a couple of times to sit down. He kept saying, “You ought to see this.” Finally — I remember this well — I said, “God dammit, Bill, sit down. Something’s not right.” Bill laughed. A second later there was a thud and Bill’s head crashed agains to front armor, then he slumped down, half onto the gears half onto me. He’d been shot in the back of the head. I dragged him into the back of the track, put a compress on his head as firmly as I dared — didn’t bother with sulfa. He was dead. Walsh pulled the track to the side of the road while other vehicles either sped by or deployed. A tank came up behind us, wheeled around, and started into the town.
The town lay on the other side of a large ditch which I figure had been either an ancient moat or a canal. There was a narrow, stone bridge over it so that the one-lane road behind us led through the entrance into the town. On either side of the “gate,” there were the outside of one and two story buildings which were immediately at the town side of the ditch.
The tank commander stood partly out from the turret; the tank clanked slowly forward, stopped, the gun leveled down and then fired through the gate. Then it inched cautiously forward again. At the moment it started over the bridge, a German soldier with a (antitank) stepped out from behind a building and fired. He hit our tank head on. The tank commander half jumped, was half thrown to the ground. I jumped out of our track and ran to the burning tank to drag this guy away before it exploded. It was Vern Snyder.
I dragged him of the side of the bridge and down into the dry canal. By this time everyone — on both sides — was shooting and Vern and I were at the bottom of the canal, the tank was on the bridge above us, burning, and we were caught in the middle.
TOO MANY HORSES
There were so many horses I couldn’t count them all. Our armored column was spearheading in hilly country. We came up to the top of one of the hills and were able to see the road stretched out down below. Ahead of us was a column of the German army retreating. It was so near that it must have cleared the crest and started down the curving stretch of road just a few minutes ahead of us. It was at least 50% — probably more — horse drawn. Our lead tanks opened fire and then moved down the hill so that more of our guns could be brought to bear on them. It was one of the few times that we were ordered to fire at will. As far as I could see there was nothing left of that column when, finally, our M-4 Sherman’s, our M7’s, our half-tracks, and other equipment rolled right over them. There were too many dead horses and Germans and our spearhead rolled through so quickly that I couldn’t count them all.
QUIET NIGHT [FRANCE, AVOIDING DETECTION]
The night we spent in the woods by the side of the road while a German column passed by on the road. Road was just a few feet from us. Moonlit night. See them plainly. Their noise masked whatever noise we accidentally made. We were deep into German territory — which is what a spearhead tries to do — and were greatly outnumbered and outgunned. We heard them coming, deployed into the woods with our guns turned toward the road. M4 tanks, M7 mounted 105 mm, 50 cal and 30 cal machine guns, 45 cal (grease guns), 30 cal carbines — all cocked and ready while they passed by. Took them all night to pass. We heard them talking. They couldn’t have been more than 18 ft away. They were moving to the front and had no idea that we were already miles beyond the front. Ever crouch in the cold, ever hold your breath all night. This was one night after we had broken loose from Normandy and were spearheading across France, heading for the Siegfried Line.
Range of 1200 meters; barrel was rifled so could practically sight down barrel at target; much more heavily armed.
Range of 400 meters; 75 mm howitzer which was artillery piece of French Army in WW I and fired with elevated barrel in an arching trajectory; thin-skinned.
LOOTING — RAPING
Probably occasionally by individuals. Absolutely no rape by any in our outfit. I have no doubt but that many in the rear echelons looted.
STACKS OF DEAD BODIES
Blackout. Opened double doors of large shed shaped like Quonset hut. Something stacked clear to the entrance. Reached in to pull out. They were naked bodies. Went to next hut. Filled with what must have been thousands of eye glasses. Then next hut: dentures. This was atop one of the forts of the Maginot Line. then what we thought was an air raid and we dived down into another hut which was half dug in and must have been used as shelter by the Germans who had been working there.
THE RUMANIAN ARMY [GERMANY] [Dad tells the US Army that the Romanians are the enemy, using Life Magazine]
Far into Germany, we caught up with a column going the same way we were. It was strange looking. The wagons were like covered wagons and looked more like a caravan than an army column. There were pots and pans, everything imaginable hanging and clinking on the outside of the wagons. Some of the men were in what looked like uniforms, others were dressed like the natives in a Bela Lugosi vampire movie. There were women and children — some were babies in arms — riding in the wagons and walking alongside them.
In the movies we’d seen gypsy caravans and this sure looked like one — and I guess that really that’s what it mostly was. Everyone in the column was cheering us. Since the road was so narrow — like almost all of them through the country — we signaled and yelled for them to pull off into the field, which they happily did. Immediately they started building fires and the women began to prepare food. A lot of the men came down to the road and mingled with us, looking at our vehicles and just in general examining everything about us — all the time givlng exclamation of awe and admiration. As usual, I was talking with them, communicating by way of a polygot of languages and signs and so finally finding out that they were Rumanian, Romany.
After a while, something clicked in my brain and I went into the half-track and pulled out an old armed services edition of Time magazine that I’d saved. I turned the pages and came to the article I was looking for: the article about Rumania. Rumania was fighting on the German side. I told Capt. McLane. He was skeptical. I showed him the article. He told others and then the Colonel.
The orders were given and we wheeled out turrets and turned our guns on them. We ordered them to surrender their weapons which were mostly a conglomeration of old rifles from the first World War and earlier. The men began to object quite strenuously — not threateningly — and a lot of them let us know that they were mad at us. The argument went like this: the war was over they said. They were going home they said. They would need their rifles for hunting they said. The men were waving their arms, the women were crying — wailing’s more like it.
To tell the truth, their logic was unassailable and they posed no threat to us. We knew that we couldn’t hold prisoners anyhow. (All we ever did with the German prisoners was make them surrender and start running to the back of our column while we moved on knowing that as soon as they got to the end and realized that there were no more of us, they’d scatter for home.) So rather than separate them from their families and screw Europe up anymore than it already was, we made them lay their rifles on the ground and stay up in the field by their wagons until our column had passed by.
RUNNING ACROSS A FIELD IN THE ARDENNES [near Bastogne?]
It’s really dumb to run across an open, snow-covered field towards an opposite tree line. Why we were doing it I’ll never know. Sometimes you just get into a situation or a place you shouldn’t be in and you just go forward. There were German machine guns at the edge of the woods and afterwards we said hell we knew there would be, it was a classic situation.
But some of our guys did and after they got so far out into the field, the machine guns opened up. (My dad used to tell how when he was a kid, he and his friends would swim the Ohio River from Follansbee, WV to get to the Ohio side. He said that one time one of the kids got tired half way across and yelled at the others that he couldn’t make it; so he turned and swam back to the West Virginia side. My dad relished the story and would always explain to us that if he were half way across and could make it back, then he could make it to the other side.) I guess that’s the way our guys figured because they kept on going. Except that some of them got hit and that’s when they started yelling “MEDIC!!” Well that was me and I went. If the guy was dead, I moved on to one who was still alive. I knew all these guys. Later, if I had time, I’d fill out the tag and fasten it to the dead guy. It’s tough to explain. It’s just the way it was. Finally, our tanks got to the field and silenced the machine guns.
THE PIGS OF RECOGNE
There were a lot of slackers, draft dodgers, during WWII. There still are a lot of slackers. The difference now is that the politicians righteously expound “all volunteer army” and so keep the well-to-do class of Americans out of the inconvenience of serving. Another difference is that then it was shameful. Now, any reason for not serving is acceptable. Some of those during WWII had religious convictions, some political convictions and they served in hospitals etc. They did something. Now you can just stay out. What the hell kind of a “citizen volunteer army is that?”
During the war some who went in found out that they were just too scared and worked to be discharged. Some of the cadre from the regular army who had served for years in Panama and at other posts — who presented themselves to us as hardened, real tough guys , some of them when it came time to ship to Europe were too damned scared to go and either got transferred or discharged. Some guys got into combat and part way through found out they couldn’t take it anymore and just sat and shook and cried and begged to be sent back. I had sympathy for them. I had no sympathy for the slacker. WWII was different than Vietnam or that so-called “Desert Storm” where we drew that macho “line in the sand” — a “line in the sand” for God’s sake?
[really opinionated, and not appropriate for this ‘history’, he should have written this elsewhere as a separate item, and that is my, Nicholas Buccalo’s opinion, since the people he’s referring to weren’t confronted with WW2, how would he know how people would act!!!]
THE END OF THE WAR: We knew that Germany was beaten before the official end. Rather I should say that we knew that the war was over before all the surrender stuff went on. It was more than just that the going got easier — although it began that way in. As we raced through German territory we encountered less and less opposition. This was not just in the number of encounters but in the intensity and duration of them. There was a change of attitude in the people, a change of atmosphere, it seemed, even throughout the countryside.
When the war ended, I was in Pittsburg, on leave before going to the Pacific, and I went into the streets with everyone else and danced and embraced and celebrated its end. When the war in Europe ended, there it was more like a period put to an extraordinarilly long, tiring, and convoluted sentence. There was just relief that we were at the end. We had finally reached Marktl, Germany and moved into some houses. We grew less and less wary of last-ditch snipers, of sabotage by civilians, and positive that the war was over. One of the ways that winning was measured was by yards, or miles advanced. We were spearheads and we measured by the distance of the thrust we made into the German land. By this standard, there was just no place else to go. The war was over. Over, that is, unless Patton decided to take on the Russians. So Victory came somewhere along our route of march, someplace reached and passed on the way to our objective. Sometime afterwards came VE Day.
At risk in Europe, although relieved, our VICTORY was not very much thought about. We were tired, almost uncaring, just pushing on. Safe in Pittsburg, rested and fresh in America, we danced in the streets and rejoiced through the night at the end of the war in the Pacific. While hundreds of thousands were incenerated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I danced in the streets of Pittsburg.
A hero isn’t something you see, it’s something you feel. There’s no look of a
hero, there’s only a feeling — it’s feeling that defines. A marble statue? No, the hero is known only through the eye of feeling, of emotion. Through that eye, we see our feeling and we know that we have seen a hero. When there is the end, when all flesh is burned, all limbs twisted and torn off, all hearts stopped, what is left is not marble but the thing we saw through the feeling eye.
Bill Fuller: I can remember the years, the months, the weeks, the days it took for us to get to that place. Then, finally, I can even remember the final route — the nights and days without sleep, with no pause, guided by the next rise of the land by day and by the fires at night. All these marks along the way until we were finally outside the little German town, our backs to it, leaving it behind, going on. But I don’t know the name of the town. I could never say to Bill’s family: this is where it happened, this is where I pulled Bill down from the half-track, this is where I laid him down, covered his face, put a tag on him, stuck his carbine into the dirt at his side, and left him there to be picked up by Graves Registration. I cannot say that it was at this particular place that Bill Fuller tried to take moment of life on a wonderful day. It was such a glorious sunny day.
War: war’s too much for anyone to write about.
Once upon a time, for just a little while, we knew the truth. We knew we were right. We knew we were the good guys.
There are many times in combat when the officers are powerless. At these times they control nothing, order nothing. These are the times when success or failure of the moment or even the mission — be it large or small — depends totally on the lowest G.I.
Summary by Nicholas Buccalo (son)
[(although he relayed stories verbally to me, Nicholas Buccalo, which I will share along with the gathering of photos) unfortunately Dad didn’t type/write many of the stories, places and dates of the engagements in WW2, missing the patching up of a German soldier, the raid of a german airport, Bastogne which his 274th was a leading element pushing into Bastogne and relieved the 101st Airborne, and many other stories which I, Nicholas Buccalo, wrote from my own memory, that Dad read and said he was surprised how accurate I was… I wish he wrote those stories down filling in the details. He was also confused about D-Day, saying he wouldn’t talk about it implying he was there… I think busy in camp and not aware that the invasion was on, or, how he wrote up a bunch of postcards in England to send to his mom by a laundry service well after he already left for France, to give her the impression he was still in England so she wouldn’t worry. All these stories, places (which I can forgive not knowing) and events were more important than telling of camp stories, which are great, but would be part of a much larger story, not half of the entire story.]
[(two quick stories my mom told me, Nicholas Buccalo (yesterday July 14, 2017) my dad had told her, writing them down before I forget any details): 1) the men were sick of powdered eggs every morning, adding water to scramble them and well one can imagine, so they traded with a farmer for some fresh eggs. One of the men said ‘I know how to make eggs’ and was given the task of cooking them up. To their surprise and disappointment he scrambled the eggs instead of frying them sunny side up][2) in Germany the realized they had all the ingredients to make an apple pie, lard, flower, sugar (and I suppose they found an apple tree) but had no means to bake the pie, so they approached a german woman and conveyed the desire to make 2 apple pies, to which she did, they being more of a long loaf than a round pie one could cut into wedges. One of the men said ‘what if she poisoned the pie?’ So they decided to make her eat a piece which she did. With that, they gave her one pie for her family, understanding she and her family had little to eat, and they ate the other.’ (I suspect this was a very satisfying moment for my Dad as an apple pie would indeed be a special treat on the front)]