Littorio Divisione 4th Armoured Tank Battalion
In April 2013, (after months of detailed planning), I coordinated a visit with the family of Italian veteran Libero Puccini just outside Westlake Ohio. I was fortunate to collaborate with filmmaker Michael Di Lauro who, in 2004, produced an award winning documentary, entitled: "Prisoners Among Us". Since most Italian veterans who served in North Africa have passed, or are located in remote areas beyond my capacity to reach them, Michael Di Lauro granted me permission to utilize a few precious minutes of an interview with Libero Puccini, (the only Italian Axis veteran in this documentary). Preparation and research included another visit to my friends at the (soon to relocate), Aberdeen Proving Ground Ordnance Museum. While there, I filmed one of the remaining pieces; the Carro Armato M13/40 medium duty tank. Libero Puccini served as driver, and other tasks among the crew. Special thanks to the Puccini family for the reprinted Biography below, and to sons Marcus and Lee, daughter Sharon and husband Dan Norris who spoke with extraordinary accuracy regarding their father's war experiences in North Africa. Special thanks to my colleague Ted Dyer; pro-model builder, historian and reenactor. Special thanks to curator Ed Heasley; Aberdeen Proving Ground Ordnance Museum. *See the photos below.
Libero was born in Italy, on the Island of Elba, in the village of Capoliveri. He grew up under the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini during the Great Depression. Libero was the son of Quintillio and Sara (Garbaglia) Puccini. He had two brothers Mirto and Beppino. Both brothers died tragically of complications from pneumonia and appendicitis respectively. They died when Libero was about 13 years old. From then on he was raised as an only child. Libero went off to war at the tender age of 17. He was trained to be a tank driver and rose to the rank of Sergeant. He fought as part of the Littorio Division attached to Rommel's Afrika Korps. He saw action in all of the great tank battles in North Africa including El Alamein and Tobruk. Libero was injured several times during the war. He was decorated with the Iron Cross for rescuing two German soldiers from a burning tank. The Americans captured him sometime in 1941. Libero eventually found himself in the USA. He was held in several different POW camps including Fort Knox, Camp Atterbury, Camp Perry and Rossford Ordinance. During his stay he learned English quickly and became a de facto interpreter. His command of the language earned him favor with both the prisoners and the guards. While a prisoner at Camp Atterbury he carved "The Rock" which later became the camp symbol. While at Camp Perry Libero met and fell in love with the beautiful Lydia Mancini of Cleveland, Ohio. She, and her three sisters, had accompanied her parents, to visit a cousin who was also a POW. For Libero and Lydia, it was "love at first sight." After a whirlwind romance of only six weeks, Libero was shipped back to Italy. Lydia and Libero wrote to each other almost every day for over a year. They wanted to get married but Lydia was only 17 and needed one of her parents' permission to apply for a passport. Her Father, Settimio, finally gave in to his love struck daughter. She traveled over to Italy on a converted troop ship, one of the famed Liberty Ships. On 06 July 1947, they were married in Capoliveri, much to the chagrin of the local girls, who had their eyes on the dashing Libero. Their fairy tale wedding was held in the village piazza, where they danced the night away on the cobblestone streets. The Puccini's returned to the United States of America in 1948. Libero adopted America as his new home. He prided himself on his command of the English language and rarely spoke Italian around the house. He soon started his own business and made a very comfortable living. The Puccini family quickly grew with the arrivals of Lee Joseph in 1951, Sharon Lee in 1954 and Marcus Lee in 1959. In the 80's and 90's the addition of six grand children added to Libero's legacy. In 1992, a phone call changed Libero's life. Colonel Jorg Stachel, the Camp Atterbury Post Commander, called. He was looking for Italian POW's who had been incarcerated at his base. The base was holding an annual event honoring the re dedication of,"The Chapel in the Meadow," a small chapel the Italian prisoners had built in 1942. They were trying to find Italian prisoners and camp guards for a reunion. Libero was the only POW they could locate. During one of the many interviews and conversations the camp officials had with him, he related the story of carving “The Rock”. This story took the base leaders by surprise because; “The Atterbury Rock” had attained a certain amount of notoriety in the local area. It had become the face of Camp Atterbury, used on plaques and official photos as well as its web site. The origins of the carving had never been ascertained until Libero came along 50 years later. He became an instant local celebrity and was the subject of several locally produced documentaries, newspaper articles and books. During his later years, the annual pilgrimage, to Indiana, for the reunion was one of the highlights of his life. He made the trip nearly every year, missing only a few times due to health related issues. Libero made many friends at Camp Atterbury and was accepted by US veterans as an equal not the enemy. As one vet put it; "we suffered, lost friends and bled on the same ground, we are brothers."
From the personal memoirs of Libero Puccini North Africa 1941-43
Libero and wife, Lydia Libero's father 1918
Libero Puccini standing next to his work of art, POW Camp Atterbury 1942
Aberdeen Proving Ground March 2013; Carro Armato M13/40 with curator Ed Heasley.
Special thanks to my colleague Ted Dyer; pro-model builder, historian and reenactor who assembled
detailed scale models of Libero's tank, the Carro Armato completed just in time for the trip to Cleveland.
Left to right below; Michael Fraticelli, Marcus Puccini, Dan Norris, Lee Puccini April 2013 Brook Park Ohio.
As always, special thanks to the staff of Holiday Inn throughout the country and Germany.
Photos and memorabilia provided by the veterans and their families.
This independent documentary is not intended to be a comprehensive account of the war in North Africa 1942-43. The completed film will feature rare interviews from veterans connected to the story. The search to locate veterans within this time frame was very difficult. With no funding and a small film crew who sporadically assisted with re-creations, the bulk of production falls upon one individual. Contributions of any kind are welcomed. email@example.com
Jacqueline Borock, Esq. firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos, illustrations, art work or interviews may not be reproduced, copied, stored, manipulated or redistributed without the expressed permission of the author.
Michael Fraticelli - North Africa 1942-43 Survivors' Stories © 2015