Carmen “Carl” Covino, 99
Rank: Corporal T5
War zone: France
Years of service: 1942-1945
Most prominent honors: European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign and Silver Star attachment, World War II Victory Medal, French Legion of Honor
Specialty: Machine gunner
Anastasia “Sally” Hawrylczak Covino (died in 2008)
Branch: Womens Army Corps
Rank: Private first class
Years of service: 1943-1946
Most prominent honors: World War II Victory Medal
Specialty: Supply clerk
Carmen “Carl” Covino was training in North Carolina to be a machine gunner in 1943, and he didn’t want his future wife to join the Army – but she did.
“Her brothers were in, so she went in,” he said.
He ended up going to Normandy, while the former Anastasia “Sally” Hawrylczak served in the states. And 71 years after World War II ended, they ended up across the street from one another.
Although Sally Covino died in 2008, both veterans are featured on “Hometown Heroes” banners on Buffalo Street near the Village Plaza in the Village of Hamburg.
“I’m not a hero,” Covino insists. “I just did my job. I was in charge of a machine gun, in an anti-aircraft outfit.”
The couple used to go out before the war, and got serious after the war, marrying in September, 1946.
Today the 99-year-old Bethlehem Steel retiree mows his lawn, snow blows his driveway, drives to play cards twice a week and makes a mean pizzelle on his gas stove.
But he saw serious action in the war, landing at Utah Beach six days after D-Day.
“We laid in the harbor for two days, maybe three, because they had no room for us,” he recalled.
He was a machine gunner in the First Army until the Battle of Saint-Lo. After Allied forces broke through, “we went back for a rest. They woke us up at noon and said, ‘Now you’re in the Third Army,” under Gen. George Patton, he said.
And from Normandy, he went to Bastogne, Belgium and the Battle of the Bulge, where German artillery strafed through the nights, and the allies shot back.
“We were shooting planes, mostly at night,” he said.
He saw his first and only dogfight, with about 15 American planes and 15 Luftwaffe aircraft battling it out above. The battle was fierce, but the ground artillery could not help out for fear of hitting their own planes.
“When a plane got hit, nothing but ashes came down sometimes,” he said. “At least one parachuted out, and we went to pick him out.”
One of the other American pilots followed the downed pilot as he got to Covino’s company.
“He waved to them that he was OK, and the plane waved its wings, and took off,” he said.
Covino never spent a night inside a barn or house until the war ended.
And, he said, “It was cold.”
The biggest worry was artillery from German 88 mm anti-aircraft guns.
“Oh that was a good gun,” he said. “They could pick that up and turn it around, where ours were great big heavy guns.”
He remembers the 11-day voyage to Europe on the Liberty ship, where he was so seasick he only had three meals, and finding barrels of hard cider in apple country, barrels of wine and cases of champagne in grape country, and seeing Bob Hope.
About a week before the war ended, they were told not to shoot at anything because the two sides were negotiating, he said.
He kept in touch with most of his friends after they got discharged, writing Christmas cards to about 50 of them.
“I was in with a bunch of good guys,” he said. “Now they’re all gone.”
Covino and three of his brothers served in World War II, and a fifth brother was in Korea. In Sally Covino’s family of six children, only her older sister did not join the armed forces.
After the war, Covino returned to his job at Bethlehem Steel, where he was an overhead crane operator for 20 years, and a stock shear man for another 25 years. His wife was a professional baker. The couple raised four children, and he has three grandchildren.
He said his son asked him for a photo of himself in uniform to use for the Hometown Heroes banner. The banner program is in its fifth year honoring Hamburg residents who served during any war time. About 30 banners go up on Main and Buffalo streets from April 1 to just past Veterans Day, when they are given to the soldiers’ families as a keepsake. Families have been asked to carry the banner in the annual Memorial Day parade.
“Before I knew it, it was up,” Covino said of his banner, noting it is hanging across Buffalo Street from his wife’s banner.
But he’s not a hero, he insists.
“I was a soldier and I did my job,” he said.