SIX SACCO BOYS LEFT NORTH ADAMS TO FIGHT IN WORLD WAR II
Maria Sacco prays at the altar rail in St. Anthony Church for her six sons serving in World War II.
From The Transcript, November 11, 2004
By Mark E. Rondeau
NORTH ADAMS —Several generations ago, six Sacco boys left this city to do their part in World War II.
Only five came back home alive.
“There were six Sacco boys in the service, and we all served in World War II at the same time,” Tony Sacco said yesterday. This was the greatest number of brothers from any family in the city to serve in the war. “My father said, ‘We’ve got six boys in, and I’m going to lose one.’ And he did.”
Samuel M. Sacco was the first brother to join the service. He served in the Army infantry and first fought in the Africa and Sicily campaigns.
“Then they took him and brought him to England, and they were getting ready for the D-Day [invasion of continental Europe]. And the funniest thing, I don’t know how he ever found where I was,” Tony said. “I was in the hospital at the time. I had hepatitis...I turned yellow. And I was in a hospital in Oxford England.
“And who walks in — it was my brother Sam. All full of mud and all that kind of stuff, but what a joy it was to see him. And that was the last time I saw him.”
Samuel Sacco was killed in action in Aachen, Germany on March 1, 1945, not long before the end of the war in Europe.
“I got a letter from my sister Margaret. She didn’t tell me that Sam got killed. The way she put it: ‘We had a Mass for Sam,’ ” Tony said. “So...I said, ‘Have a Mass?’ Then I realized what happened. He was a great guy.”
Samuel is buried at Southview Cemetery in North Adams.
Tony was the second brother to join the service. He served with the Eighth Air Force in Molesworth, England. He loaded bombs onto B-17 bombers.
Peter Sacco also joined the Army. He served in the infantry in the Philippines. “Brother Pete was a small guy, and in order for him to get in the service, he had to stand up on his toes. He wanted to get in in the worst way,” Tony said.
Pasquale “Pat” Sacco is the only other Sacco brother still alive today. He served in the Army Air Forces as a gunner in a B-17. He served in a replacement crew and was based at a different air field in England than Tony.
“On his third mission, he got shot down over Berlin, and he was a prisoner of war for a whole year,” Tony said. “What happened was the Russians were coming from their section, so the Germans took all the prisoners of war, and they walked them into the western section so [the Germans] wouldn’t be captured by the Russians.”
When American forces were nearing, the Germans didn’t know what to do with all the prisoners. “Pat and a couple of other guys saw a chance to escape, and they ran into the woods. And they were hungry,” Tony said. “All of a sudden they heard somebody speak in English.”
The British forces were glad to see the Americans and sent them back to England. Tony got to see his brother in England. He was quite thin, but otherwise in good shape.
Joseph Sacco was also a gunner in a B-17. He was shot down over France. “The the Free French got a hold of him...and got him into Spain. And then from Spain they got him back into England,” Tony said. “And Joe completed 25 missions. If you were lucky enough to complete 25 missions, you went home.”
Ralph Sacco served in the Army Engineers and took part in the famous drive near the end of the war to rush forces across the one bridge over the Rhine River that wasn’t yet destroyed, at Remagen, Germany.
One time, Tony hitched a ride on a B-17 to visit Ralph in Bristol, England. “We landed on the runway, and the RAF [Royal Air Force] guys came over, and they said, ‘What can we do for you?’ So the pilot of my plane said, ‘Take him out to the gate. He wants to hitchhike a ride into town.’ Well, the British were flabbergasted over that. That was quite an experience.”
Tony met his wife, Annie, in England. She was English and served as a sergeant in the women’s division of the RAF. She served for a time helping oversee barrage balloons.
One time, a plane Tony had just helped load with bombs was accidentally hit in the gas tank with a tracer bullet from another plane. Burning gas was coming out of the tank, but Tony and others managed to get the bombs out of and away from the plane before a disaster occurred.
“I had an awful lot of wartime experiences, but I’m not here to glorify anything like that,” Tony said. “I just feel as though I did what was required of me.”
A professional photo taken during the war shows Maria Sacco, an immigrant from Italy and mother of the six Sacco men in the military, praying at the altar rail of the original St. Anthony Church in North Adams. To her left and right were a “Roll of Honor” listing the names of men from the parish in the service.
After the war, Tony’s father, Francesco, was in failing health and would go down to the North Adams train station to wait for his son Samuel to come home alive.
“When my father kept going down, we kept telling him, ‘Pa, Sam is gone,’ ” Tony said. “He got to that point where he couldn’t understand it.”
Recently, Tony Sacco visited his son, Steve, who had made arrangements for Tony to ride in one of the few operational B-17s in existence. Unfortunately, both days the plane was there the airport in Harrisburg, Penn. was fogged in, and it didn’t fly.
“I really didn’t get up into the air, but it was a thrill to be able to see [a B-17]...after 60 years,” Tony said.
Tony has been very active in the American Legion and other veterans groups, serving in a number of leadership positions. He also has worked extensively over the years with hospitalized veterans: “I always feel that: ‘There, but for the grace of God, could be me.’ And it was a joy for me to do that.”
One of Tony’s sons, also named Tony, served in the Vietnam War. Earlier this year, Tony was on hand for the dedication of the new World War II Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. As do many, he feels the memorial was long overdue.
After the war, Tony worked at Wall Streeter for many years. Later, he opened Tony’s Shoe Service on Eagle Street. In recent years, Tony, a beloved elder of North Adams, has received recognition for all he has done for others. Several years ago the bridge over the Hoosic River near the YMCA was named in his honor. Two years ago he was Grand Marshal of the annual Fall Foliage Parade.
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