Carmen S. Turchiarelli
Hometown: Accadia, Italy
War zone: Europe
Years of service: 1943-45
Most prominent honors: Two Silver Stars, Bronze Star, Combat Infantryman Badge
Specialties: Platoon sergeant, bazooka operator
By Lou Michel
News Staff ReporteR
Carmen S. Turchiarelli set foot in America when he was 5 years old. He was one of six children who arrived with their parents, Carmella and Vito, from Italy in search of a better life.
Fourteen years later, Turchiarelli answered the call to defend his adopted country when a draft notice arrived at his Lower West Side home. Without hesitation, the 19-year-old entered the Army, leaving behind his job at the Curtiss-Wright aircraft factory on Elmwood Avenue.
“They asked me if I would have any problems fighting the Italian army, and I told them no,” Turchiarelli recalls about when he entered the service.
But he would not be placed in a position to fight his former countrymen. He instead fought Germans and got his first exposure to combat in one of World War II’s biggest battles – D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
“I was part of the second wave at Omaha Beach, and we were pinned down for 12 hours behind a little knoll. There were a lot of dead guys around me. We couldn’t move because of German guns on top of the ridge,” Turchiarelli says.
With troops on the beachhead, U.S. battleships were unable to blast their big guns for fear of killing Americans.
“A destroyer came up just offshore, and I think the captain must have scraped the bottom of the ship,” Turchiarelli says. “The destroyer, with its smaller guns, was able to open up on the German guns. That freed us up, and we were able to get to our objective by 6:30 that night.”
As the troops fought their way across France into Belgium and Germany, Turchiarelli, a member of the 1st Infantry Division, “The Big Red One,” had the opportunity to distinguish himself. Using his bazooka, he took out two German tanks during the Battle of Hürtgen Forest. His actions saved many American lives, his superiors said, and he was awarded a Silver Star. He also earned a Bronze Star for taking out a German staff car.
In another battle, when his unit was retreating, he noticed a soldier who was caught in the grips of fear and unable to fall back.
“We’d crossed a field and were advancing into a tree line when a machine gun nest opened up, and we had to retreat, and this soldier froze in the middle of the field. I went back and got him,” Turchiarelli says, adding that there was no shame in being overcome by shell shock. “It happens in war. I remember wishing I would get what we called a million-dollar wound so I could be sent back to the States.”
Turchiarelli suffered from frozen feet, hearing impairment from the constant roar of artillery, and snow blindness, but he was never wounded.
Twice he narrowly missed being killed.
The first incident occurred when he and two other soldiers were catching a ride on a tank.
“A new replacement soldier had jumped onto the tank between me and another guy,” Turchiarelli says. “There was a mortar burst above us, and the replacement soldier was hit in the heart and killed. A little piece of shrapnel got him in the chest. There wasn’t a scratch on me or the other guy.”
A week later, the dead soldier’s brother sought out Turchiarelli, wanting to know how his sibling had died.
“I didn’t like having to tell the brother the details,” Turchiarelli says. “I never had a chance to meet the kid. He was a replacement.”
In Turchiarelli’s second close call, he says, he had been stationed in a foxhole at a forward outpost.
“My buddy came and relieved me, and I fell back about 10 yards and laid on the ground to get some rest,” he says. “I no sooner laid down and there was a mortar burst over the foxhole, and my buddy was killed.”
After Germany was defeated, he recalls, he encountered Russian troops in Czechoslovakia and watching as they set afire railroad boxcars packed with German prisoners.
“The Russians were very aggressive and belligerent,” he says.
Turchiarelli says he was relieved when he finally returned to civilian life. But sometimes you can’t leave the war behind. It followed him over the years.
At various times while walking his dog in a woods by his summer cottage in Fort Erie, Ont., he says, he has had flashbacks in which he sees images of the German soldiers he had killed. It’s as if they are lying in wait for him to take their revenge, he says. Once, when he heard old warplanes at an air show over the Niagara River, not far from his cottage, he says, he ran outside expecting to be attacked.
And there are tears. Even at age 92, the horrible memories of war still cause him to weep, though he says he was proud to fight for his country – America.