Area has its own 'Private Ryan'
Letter No. 69 | February 14, 1999
With the showing of the recent movie “Saving Private Ryan” many moviegoers viewed the stark reality of war, and the fear and terror that a soldier faces. One such moviegoer who could have written the movie script was Carmello “Carmen” Bucca, a Revloc resident who celebrated his eightieth birthday on November 1, 1998. (If you remember, Jon, we met at the 1998 Vintondale Homecoming and I introduced you to Carmen, a bald gentleman who accompanied me).
This lengthy article appeared on June 6, 1994, in the Johnstown newspaper during the 50th anniversary of D-Day and was written by columnist Bill Jones. I think it bears repeating (especially if you have a lull in Nanty Glo news, and besides, I can practice my typing).
Carmen Bucca of Revloc has vivid memories of D-Day. He was on the ground in Normandy before the first assault troops hit the beaches.
There was the step into darkness from a low-flying C-47, jumping from about 400 feet instead of the more customary 3000 feet to give German gunners less time to fire at the paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions. Carmen was with the 82nd, which jumped behind Omaha Beach on the Cherbourg Peninsula between 4 and 5 that fateful morning.
“We were under fire all the time, from the time we left the plane,” Carmen said. “We landed in woods and hedgerows. Some guys came down in trees. We were scattered all over hell. It took us a day to get together. Our objective was to disrupt the Germans, cut them in half and stop their supply lines from going to the beach. We secured our objective and helped our troops on the beach.”
They did, indeed. There was dogged, bloody fighting as the Airborne troops cut their way across the peninsula, step by step. The village of Ste. Mere Eglise was liberated, and there Carmen said they found one of their buddies who had been missing since the jump. His parachute had snagged on the church steeple and the Germans shot him.
“It was hell,” Carmen said. “Every day you didn’t know if you would live or die. They shot at us from everywhere, from all sides. When we saw troops we didn’t know if thy were German or American at first.”
Nine days into the campaign, Carmen was hit in the lung by shrapnel. He was taken to an aid station in a cattle barn and then carried to a Jeep - but it was perilous journey. German 88-mm shells began dropping around them and the soldiers carrying him would drop him and crawl into holes, leaving him in the open as shells exploded within 15 feet of either side.
There were 166 American wounded and five German prisoners on an LST that took them to Southampton. On the way, the Americans kept shouting for the Germans to be thrown overboard, but they weren't. Carmen spent several weeks in a hospital before rejoining the 82nd Division, which had been taken to England after 33 days in the line, in preparation for an airborne landing in Holland.
After several battles and another withdrawal to England, the 82nd landed by ship in Belgium late in 1944, in time for the big German counteroffensive known as the Battle of the Bulge. They went through Malmedy, where American prisoners were gunned down by German machine gunners, and almost got caught at Bastogne.
“We went through Bastogne on big cattle trucks, about 50 to a truck, Carmen said. “We heard the Germans would be there in an hour and we kept going. The 101st Airborne was following us and they got caught in Bastogne. Then we had to fight back toward Bastogne to help our buddies there.”
Carmen was shot through the arm during the battle. Like many Americans, Carmen developed a respect for the German heavy tanks and the 88-mm cannons they carried.
“They could shoot those 88s and put it in your hip pocket,” he said. “That’s how accurate they were.”
The 82nd crossed the Elbe River and met the advancing Russians in northern Germany, where German troops retreating from the Americans ran into the Russians first, turned around and surrendered en masse to the American airborne troops.
Carmen earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star medal for valor in combat, along with other medals and awards.
Like old Private Ryan in the movie who visited the cemetery of his fallen comrades, Carmen could only wonder how he was lucky enough to survive it all.
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