Victor C. Mucci – “My Days as a Tank Gunner” (2004)

April 6, 2009 at 8:42 am (Life & Politics, Reviews & Articles)

This following article (which never officially had a title) was written by my (late) grandfather, Victor C. Mucci, and published in the Waterbury Republican (our local newspaper) on Nov. 24, 2004 (as part of a continuing series on the region’s living WWII veterans). This article was edited down from a longer piece that he submitted. He also wrote other articles of his days in the war. I believe this was the only one he submitted though.    
He was extremely proud to have served his country and loved telling stories of his time in WWII. I must have heard those stories a couple of hundred times over the years and certainly miss hearing them now. He passed away on Dec. 5, 2006 at the age of 89, but he will never be forgotten.
He fought for a little over two years in New Guinea and the Philippines as a corporal and tank gunner. Even with all the stories he told me (most included in this article), it wasn’t until watching Ken Burns’ recent documentary on WWII, that I realized the full extent of what my grandfather went through, in order to preserve the freedoms that we take for granted in this country. I am extremely proud of his efforts and it is therefore, with great honor, that I post this article…

 

I took my basic training with the 8th Armored Division. After eight weeks at Camp Polk, La., we were detached from the 8th Armored and we became the 775th Tank Battalion Co. C. The 8th Armored went to Europe and we were sent to New Guinea for mop-up fighting. We were assigned to our rank and duties.  

I was made a corporal, operated a .30-caliber machine gun, along with the 75 mm gun and smoke bomb. Also, I had experience driving a tank in basic training.  

Most of these boys were barely seventeen, just out of high school. Many were country boys who never saw an ocean.   

I was 26. I was one of the millions who answered the call, but had second thoughts about what I was doing thousands of miles from home on that godforsaken island of New Guinea. It was a “hell hole,” putrid, oppressive, stinking swamps and torrential rains. It was an invitation to fevers and infections and that dreaded malaria. I had a severe case of malaria, but I got it under control by taking a double dose of Atabrine.  

After the mop-up operations were over, our next move was the Island of Luzon. We loaded our tanks on L.S.T.’s. We hit the island on Jan. 11, 1945. The bridges could not support our tanks. Our engineers set up pontoon bridges and cleared the way for our tanks.  

Luzon was the longest land campaign in the South Pacific. The Japanese had about 500,000 trained jungle fighters waiting for us as we kept pushing from Manila to Apari in the northern tip of Luzon. It took us 7 ½ months from January 1945 to Aug. 15, 1945 to defeat them. My Company C received four citations from the top officers of the infantry and was the only outfit that fought the entire 7 ½ months without being relieved.   

We fought through the entire island from Manila, San Jose, Cabanaturana, San Fernando, Baguoi, Belete Pass, ending at the northern village of Apari. We joined up with the 101st Airborne paratroopers. It was there that the last G.I. was killed, while celebrating the Japanese surrender in the Philippines.   

My tank was blown up by a land mine sometime in June 1945. The track and sprocket were ripped off the tank. We exited through the escape hatch under the belly of the tank. The maintenance mechanics got parts within a few weeks. Our tanks were again ready for action.   

Another time, my tank was hit by mortar shells, smashing the aerial and crate attached to the rear of the tank. We lost all our rations for the month. Another time, our tanks were strafed by our own P-38s. We were on open road and the infantry was walking alongside our tanks, resting every mile or so. It was while they were walking alongside our tanks that the P-38s started strafing us. They thought we were the enemy. We knew they were our planes. It was over soon. We didn’t know who was to blame, but the infantry suffered heavy losses. We stopped our tanks and waved to them to jump into the nearest tanks. Many tankers were hit when they opened the tank hatches to let the infantry in.  

On another occasion, as the war was coming to an end, we left Apari for our headquarters in San Jose. Somewhere along the route, one of our tracks snapped. It was raining very hard. The tank turned on its side and I tried to jump on the other side of the tank, but my poncho got tangled on the aerial. As I tore away from the aerial, I hit my head against the tank facing the road. I was knocked unconscious and my shoulder was pretty well battered. Three other tankers crawled out safely, but the tank landed about thirty feet down the embankment. The driver was trapped in the tank, covered with a full load of 75 mm shells and in danger of the tank blowing up if the gas that was gushing out should ignite. The three remaining tankers dug with twigs, their hands and their knives, finally getting a hold of him and bringing him to the top.  

There was a happier episode during my time in the Philippines. We were fighting all day long and we decided to bed for the night. About 25 men in my platoon were hanging around taking it easy. I didn’t want to sleep in my tank, so I decided I would dig myself a big foxhole. Some of the boys helped me and I thought I would lie down in my foxhole. After an hour or so, I got up to join the boys. Within minutes, a Japanese mortar landed on the blanket I was using as a pillow while lying down. All hell broke loose. We all took to our tanks, waiting.  

After a few minutes, I walked to my foxhole and picked up the blanket that my head was laying on just minutes ago. There were at least 10 shrapnel holes in it. My tank helmet was blown to pieces. After we all got our composure back, we all had a big laugh. If I hadn’t dug that foxhole, the mortar shell would not have been smothered in the deep hole. I was the “hero” of the 3rd platoon. Until this day, my lieutenant and the rest of the boys remind me how I saved the 3rd platoon without firing a shot.

Victor C. Mucci

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