Peter Caruso

Peter Caruso
By Elizabeth Austin


Before The War
My Nunu, Peter Caruso, was the son of two Italian immigrants, and was the 6th of 8 kids.  He had four sisters and one brother.  The youngest two children were twins that died at an early age.  His father was a policeman in Italy but worked in a factory in Brockton, MA.  His mother was a stay at home mom.  By no means did they have the easy life, but they were certainly living the American Dream.
Peter with his mother
When World War II broke out Peter was eager to fight.  He was very opinionated about the totalitarian dictators in Europe.  He strongly disliked Mussolini and Hitler and wanted to fight.  By the time Roosevelt declared war Peter had already enlisted so he could be one of the first to go.  He enlisted in the army on February 26, 1941 and was drafted to the Third Army, 101st Yankee Division Batallion, 26th Infantry.  While Hitler was massacring Jews, mentally disabled people, the sick and elderly, and anyone who dared to oppose him, Peter trained at Fort Jackson, Fort Benning, Camp Edwards, AP Hill Reservation, Fort Mead, Camp Gordon and Camp Campbell.  He graduated as a technical sergeant before being deployed to England, where he would then be shipped over seas to the beaches of Normandy, to fight in D-day. His motto became “War is not good, but freedom isn’t free.” Yankee Division Patch
Peter with his mother

During D-Day
American, Canadian and English troops stormed the beaches all along the French coast on June 6th, 1944.  This historical battle would become known as D-Day.  Peter and the 101st Yankee Division Infantry, along with other American troops, arrived on Utah beach. They quickly advanced inland.  The Allies were able to secure Normandy and claim a major victory. This battle had a major impact in the war; it allowed the Allies to open up a second front to push the Nazis back.
peter standing at attention


The Special Assignments

Front of a picture sent home Back of a picture sent home
  Peter wrote several letters home on the back of pictures.  


Peter was stationed in Cherbourg after D-Day.  Once situated, Peter was given special missions.  He was trained to cross enemy lines and track down Allied bomber planes that had crashed.  He was then ordered to destroy any evidence of the Norden-bomb site.  The bomb site was an advanced piece of technology in American planes that the Allies did not want the Germans to get.   He also held post at night.  The guards had to sit in the pitch black because lights would alert the enemy of their position.  However, despite these precautions Peter found himself faced with the knife point of a German commando.  He never saw or heard it coming.  Peter was taken Prisoner of War along with many other soldiers.  We do not know how many soldiers were taken or where.  Thirty prisoners tried escaping but only six made it out alive, Peter included.  He returned to his unit and continued to fight until his infantry was called to Belgium, where the Battle of the Bulge was taking place.  

The Battle of the Bulge
The U.S. had secured a location in the forested Ardennes region of Belgium.  Only the 106th Infantry Division was stationed there.  The Germans wanted to reach the sea, trap four allied armies in the process, and force negations or a surrender.  The unsuspecting American line was thinly held by three and a half divisions. On December 16, 1944 the Germans attacked.  Despite the odds the Americans were able to hold off the Germans for three days until backup arrived.  The 101st Yankee Division was one of those called in.  The German attack was not successful.  Battle raged for four weeks and the Germans only succeeded to gain a small "bulge" in their enemies’ lines. The fighting expended a lot of resources on both sides.  Both the Germans and American suffered many injuries and casualties.  Peter was one of those injured.  During the battle his left leg was hit by a German mortar shell.  He fractured his pelvis and femur.   picture of peter from newspaper Peter (on the right) and a fellow soldier walking.

picture of peter standing at attention He managed to crawl into a foxhole and miraculously stayed alive for 21 days before he was found, rescued and treated. During those twenty-one days the wound in his leg contracted gangrene.  He was flown temporarily to a hospital in England, and then was taken back to the U.S.

After the Bulge the remaining soldiers of the 26th were transported to Luxembourg, Germany. On the way they liberated Deggendorf, a small concentration camp, then continued on to Austria. While Peter was still recovering his comrades assisted in the capture of Linz, Austria.  Peter was extremely proud of his fellow soldiers and always told us stories about the liberation; something he wished he had experienced but was only able to hear about through friends.  
 
newspaper article on Peter
Back in the U.S.
In the U.S he was treated at Fort Devins in Ayer, MA.  He was put in a full-body cast to mend his broken bones while he simultaneously fought the gangrene.  He fought and won.  His leg was not amputated, but he had a limp for the rest of his life.  His attending nurse, Mary Marelli, ended up marrying him

By the time he was fully recovered the war had just about ended.  We consider it miracle; had the war continued my grandpa would have shipped himself right back out to the front line.  However, since there was no more fighting, the army awarded him an honorable discharge with a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart.  


Peter had made it out alive, he participated in historic battles, recovered from his injuries and got a wife but the war did have its effects on Peter. Upon returning home he seemed profoundly grateful for what he had.  But sadly, like most war vets, he was left with horrid nightmares from his experience as a P.O.W. He never spoke to anyone about what he experienced.
Newspaperatricle on Peter

Life After the War
He did manage to stay in contact with the remaining members of his division.  For the rest of his life Peter was part of the Italian-American War Veterans group in Brockton, MA.  He would write to other fellow soldiers (that lived further away) on a fairly regular basis.  However, the 26th Yankee Division only gathered as a unit for fellow soldiers funerals.
peter at a party with other soldiers  At the time of Peter’s death in 2001, at the age of 81, there were only two others from his infantry still living.  But tried and true, they showed up in uniform to pay their respects and tell tales of their adventures together. One man told a profound story about how “Peter pulled me into a foxhole when I was wounded.  He saved my life, and after sixty years I’ve still never forgotten his name”.  Peter had never mentioned this man’s name or his story to anyone.  No one knew who this man was but he knew my grandpa.
Peter (farthest right) with friends at a party

To his death my Nunu remained a humble, underspoken, under acknowledged hero.    He never bragged or boasted about his acomplishments.  The only stories he ever told were about good times with friends. Despite all of his heroism, extreme luck and amazing accomplishments my grandpa never took credit for what he did.  He saw what he did as his job and nothing special.  Because of this most of the stories of his heroism came after his death and through other people.  He was a very brave and strong man who did many amazing things.  He is a hero to me, so this is my tribute to him.
 
Me with my grandpa
Bibliography

  1.   “The 26th Infantry Division.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 25 Oct. 2007. United States Holocaust            Memorial Museum.  24 Jan. 2008 <http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10006143>.
  2. Austin, Lisa, and Richard Austin. Personal interview. 18 Dec. 2007.
  3. “Canada and the Normandy Invasion.” Map. War Museum. Canada War Museum. 24 Jan. 2008 <http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/newspapers/operations/p_ddaymap_e.html>.
  4. Hubert, Andre, and Henri Rogister. “US Units in the Battle of the Bulge.” Skynet. 21 Mar. 2005.  24 Jan. 2008 <http://users.skynet.be/bulgecriba/usunits.htm>.
  5. Klein, John. “Battle of the Bulge.” ICE. 6 Nov. 2006.  24 Jan. 2008 <http://ice.mm.com/user/jpk/battle.htm>.
  6. “US Infantry.” Battle of the Bulge on the Web. Ed. Tim Spalding. Amazon.com.  24 Jan. 2008 <http://www.isidore-of-seville.com/bulge/4.html>.
  7. US Troops on Normandy Beach. Photograph. 1944. Lib of Congress. 6 June 1944. America’s Story. The Library of Congress. 24 Jan. 2008 <http://www.americaslibrary.gov/aa/marshall/aa_marshall_dday_3_e.html>.
  8. All pictures courtesy of my grandmother, Mary Caruso