By Kelly Burch
---- — Editor’s Note: This story is part of an occasional series leading up to the release of “Salute To Veterans,” a coffee-table book about local veterans of war published by North of Boston Media Group and due out in December. To purchase a copy, see box on Page A2 or visit eagletribune.com.
Nearly 69 years have passed since Benedetto Maccarone served in World War II under the infamous Gen. George S. Patton. And yet, Maccarone’s memories remain as vivid as those from yesterday.
“They called him old blood and guts,” he said. “His guts, our blood.”
Maccarone, age 88 and a lifetime Lawrence resident, remembers the battle when his unit tried to cross the mighty Rhine River in Germany. They had been waiting for two nights, but were thwarted by a moon shining as brightly as the sun.
Patton wasn’t one to wait around for Mother Nature to cooperate.
“He used to walk around with two white pistols on his hips,” Maccarone said. “On the second night he said, ‘If there is a bright moon tomorrow we’re crossing, and I don’t care if there are 10,000 dog tags left behind.’”
The moon was just as bright on the third night. And as he promised, Patton was determined that the troops would cross the river. They loaded into row boats with eight men paddling and four men in the center holding the rifles. Under the cover of a smoke screen, the Americans set out to cross the Rhine.
“The Germans were shooting shells at us by the hundreds,” Maccarone recalled.
Somehow, Maccarone’s boat made it across the river. On the other side, however, they encountered a 6-foot-tall concrete wall. Maccarone scrambled over it. And when he looked back to his boat, it had been hit by a shell and blown up just after all the men made it out alive.
His name means “the blessed one” and when Maccarone recounts his time at war, that seems apt.
There was the time when a new lieutenant ordered the men to stand up and shoot at the enemy, breaking the protocol of crawling to stay hidden until they had assessed the situation. The Germans responded by shooting at them with huge anti-aircraft rounds, one of which whizzed over Maccarone’s shoulder and into the chest of his sergeant.
“My neck was bent,” he said. “If it had been straight, I’d be dead. That incident just about wiped out the whole platoon.”
The responsible lieutenant was sent back to England, far from the front lines. Maccarone wasn’t so lucky.
“Other battles were too gruesome to even mention,” he said.
When they weren’t fighting for their lives against the Germans, Maccarone and his comrades were battling the elements. Their leather army boots froze when wet, causing frostbite. Maccarone still has injuries from that, but he knows it could have been much worse.
“Many of my buddies froze to death,” he said, noting that they spent many nights sleeping on the cold, hard ground.
Maccarone sometimes saw other young men he knew from Lawrence. On each occasion, he recognized a face beneath the filth of battle or heard a familiar voice over the cacophony of war.
“It was amazing,” he said.
Four times Maccarone volunteered to go behind enemy lines: He blackened his face with charcoal and donned a black hat to sneak through the night. He made it back safely each time, but on the final run he was almost taken out by his allies when he couldn’t remember the password to prove he was an American.
“My own soldiers nearly killed me,” he said. “Each night it was a different password. I could remember the night before’s code, but not that one. Finally I told the guard all the past passwords and he was convinced.”
In such harrowing situations, Maccarone drew strength from his mother, whose name was carved in the butt of his riffle.
“I’d say, ‘Ma, I know you’re praying for me, but I gotta do what I gotta do.’ That’s what gave me the courage,” he said.
His mother provided the courage, but couldn’t take away the fear.
“Even heroes have fear.”
BOOK FEATURES HUNDREDS OF LOCAL VETERANS North of Boston Media Group is publishing a collectible coffee-table book featuring hundreds of local veterans who submitted their pictures, stories and memorabilia. Due out in early December and in time for holiday giving, "Salute To Veterans" is being offered through Nov. 13 at a special purchase price of $29.95. The book regularly sells for $39.95. This hard-bound book, which recognizes veterans from the Civil War to Modern Warfare, features more than 500 photos -- all of people from the North Shore and Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. If you live here, you will recognize faces. You will also be captivated by a variety of stories told by veterans themselves and talented writers from North of Boston Media Group. To order your copies of "Salute To Veterans" visit http://www.pedimentbooks.com/store/product/merrimack-veterans-book/. You can also call Linda Gardner at The Eagle-Tribune, 978-946-2241.