By Muriel J. Smith
Seventy-five years after World War II, Tony Bucco still remembers.
He remembers living in Aberdeen and how he and all six of his brothers rushed out to enlist in the military as soon as war was declared or they were old enough to sign up. He remembers that six of them served, but the oldest brother, married with seven children, was too old and had too many dependents to be accepted.
He remembers being told there were too many volunteers; he’d have to wait. And how his draft number and volunteer number came up the same time. He remembers when he had to wait a little longer. At 5 feet 1 inch tall, Tony Bucco might have been a steadfast soldier and fighter, but the U.S. Army didn’t have a uniform to fit him, it had to be custom made.
Bucco remembers his basic training, infantry and weaponry training, an 18-day trip across the oceans to Brisbane, Australia, amid a lot of secrecy. It was only after he arrived at the tall building with five others that they all learned their intelligence test results had gotten themselves the positions as clerks for the commandant of the South West Pacific – Gen. Douglas MacArthur. High IQ scores, background checks by the FBI, working for Gen. MacArthur – heady stuff for a 19-year-old Matawan High School graduate from Monmouth County.
Today, Bucco is still proud, still a staunch supporter of every soldier and sailor who serves. And he spent some time this Veterans Day to share some of his experiences with the NJROTC students at MAST, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology at Sandy Hook. Next week, he’ll be one of several accepting special awards and a Distinguished Service Medal from Gov. Chris Christie at a luncheon ceremony at the Sea Girt Armory and museum, honoring their military service.
Bucco, the middle child of the 11 offspring of Rocco and Victoria Bucco, immigrants from Messina and Calabria, Italy, was one of the two Buccos who served in the Army; two were in the Army Air Corps, one in the Navy and one in the Marines. They all came home safely, although Larry, who fought at the Battle of the Bulge, suffered frostbite.
In Australia, most of Bucco’s days were spent in the large rooms with maps of the Pacific theater spread all over the walls; the windows always covered by heavy drapes; he and the other five clerks spent a lot of time hauling confidential papers to a site where they then burned them, scattered them, then buried the ashes.
Bucco doesn’t talk about his encounters with MacArthur, other than to say, “You didn’t speak to him; he spoke to you!”
Except for one incident.
From his office, Bucco could see a Russian girl in an office across the road whom he had met at a Sunday night dance. He opened the drapes and waved to her; at about the same time as he spotted a uniformed officer passing behind him. It was the four stars on his shoulder that Bucco noticed, and set him shivering. Bucco snapped to attention, only to have MacArthur put him at ease and say softly, “By the grace of God, if things go right, we’ll see all you boys go home.”
When MacArthur went to the Philippines, Bucco was transferred there as well, working in Manila from March, 1945 until the end of the war. He spent two Christmases overseas during World War II, and came home in time to the USA to celebrate the third.
And the homecoming was memorable as well. “As soon as that ship sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, all hell broke loose, with cheers, laughter and lots of celebration.” He was five days in California before the troops from the East Coast were put on a train for the final leg of the journey home.
Bucco laughs at remembering he had gone to a gypsy in Australia for fun one day and in reading his tea leaves she predicted he was going to come home to a big party and be surrounded by girls. When he walked in the door, the prediction came true. One of Bucco’s sisters was celebrating her birthday, and the house was filled with all her girlfriends.
How does the country of today compare with the USA of the 1940s? “We’re nowhere near strong enough,” this fighting soldier says vehemently, “our military is understaffed, our men and women don’t get the training they need before they’re shipped out some place, and the Commander in Chief has no kind of background in military affairs. I’d like to see someone in that position who’s been there, somebody who knows we’ve got to go at the enemy face to face, boots on the ground, you can’t stop them by a show.”
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