Italian Prisoner of War, Libero Puccini, the carver of the Camp Atterbury Entrance Stone, meets Col. Jorg Stachel, Camp Commander
"The Atterbury File, The Next Generation" by the Custer-Baker
Middle School, Franklin, Indiana
Italian Libero Puccini came to America
in 1943 as a prisoner-of-war. Captured in North Africa by Allied troops,
Libero was one of approximately 3,000 Italian soldiers, sailors, and
airmen interned at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. After the war, Livero and
his wife, Lydia, whom he met while a prisoner-of-war in toledo, returned
to the United States in 1948 and now lives in Ohio.
I first met Libero Puccini in the
summer of 1992. My wife and I were attending the 3rd annual
Italian POW chapel; reunion at Camp Atterbury. Libero and his wife Lydia
were introduced to us by Colonel Jorg Stachel, then Camp Commander. Thus
began a real, genuine friendship.
Livero and Lydia visited our home on
several occasions. These visits were especially enjoyable. Drinking
coffee late into the night, I was all "ears" as Libero
described his experiences as an Italian POW at Camp Atterbury. I had
many questions and Libero was the only ex-POW I had ever had the
opportunity to talk with, and I wasn't going to miss anything he related
to us about those POW years.
"Some of my questions and
Q: What were the circumstances of your
capture in the War?
A: It all began a long time ago in
North Africa - more precisely in Tunisia. The War was coming to a close
for me, and it found me sitting on a small hill, anticipating something
unpleasant about to happen. Almost immediately I noticed on a slightly
higher ground the top of an unfamiliar helmet, soon followed by the
entire body of a young man dressed in an unknown uniform, but holding a
very recognizable repeater rifle. Being in a position to do nothing
other than surrender, I raised my arms high in hope of no harm or worse
coming to me.
Q: How were you treated by the
A: A very young soldier looked at me
and asked in a language unknown to me a phrase that ended with two nouns
similar to my own language, "Italian" or "German"?
After responding in Italian with a simple "Italiano", there
came a reply I never expected. A pat on my shoulder and a pronouncement
of a friendly greeting, "Paesan". I knew then that my war was
over. A very humorous thought then crossed my mind. Had I known that the
American soldiers were going to be so humane, I would have surrendered a
hell of a lot sooner.
Q: What were your feelings about the
War in general?
A: My adventure had begun nearly two
years earlier when a pair of insane individuals resolved to conquer the
world and would use me, as well as a very large group of confused young
men, at extreme risk, to accomplish that task for them. I had the good
fortune to come out alive with only a few scratches. Sadly, too many of
my comrades were not able to survive the conflict. Additionally, I was
captured by a benevolent enemy that eventually provided me with a grand
new adventure and a new life.
Q: What were your feelings about being
sent to a POW camp in America?
A: It was March of 1943 and as a POW
of the American Armed Forces my destiny was to be sent to the United
States. It really was the realization of a childhood dream that had been
to travel to that incredibly large nation of promise, cowboys, Indians
and popcorn. It came to pass with my enthusiasm and determination that I
was able to master the American language and conduct, ultimately
assimilating the country's culture and lifestyle.
Q: What were some of your memorable
experiences as a POW at Camp Atterbury?
A: Some of the most interesting
anecdotes of my experience as a POW at Camp Atterbury are attributed to
being involved in an exercise of artistic skill that would mark the
entrance of the camp, the date of its establishment and symbolic sword
on a large glacial stone. The project could have been accomplished in
two weeks time. I was assigned another POW to work with me. Having not
much to do and being it was a pleasant summer we decided to do a little
goldbricking and prolonged the enterprise for the rest of the summer.
The rock is now in a prominent position where I hope it will remain as a
memory of the time. Memory serves me with some other pleasant POW
experiences. Soldiers commuting to camp would greet us loudly, offering
us cold drinks, and inquiring about our own war experiences. A jolly
soldier assigned to guard us would ask us to keep an eye out for
officers coming while he was relaxing in the shade. We were happy to
Q: What were the circumstances of you
returning to visit Camp Atterbury?
A: Many years have passed, mostly
pleasant, in my life. Four years ago, by a set of odd circumstances,
Colonel Satchel, the commandant of Camp Atterbury, discovered me as he
only ex-POW, of several thousand, living in the United States. It was
particularly interesting to him that I was the one who had carved the
rock. The gentleman asked me to be part of the annual celebration by the
small chapel built by us POW's during our internment. Gathered in front
of a totally restored chapel a mass was celebrated. the colors raised
and the national anthems of both countries were sung. Unfortunately I
was he only ex-prisoner present, out of the thousands interned at the
time. I was overwhelmed by being an honored guest. I was greeted by the
camp officers, by the members of the Italian American Association of
Indianapolis, and guests of the nearby town of Edinburgh.
Q: Finally, how has life been for you
living in the United States?
A: Everything now is a memory of a
momentous past, and I have been quoted as saying that former enemies can
become friends. My reality of that concept is my proud citizenship and
marriage to a lovely American lady whom I met as a POW. Having resided
in the United States for nearly fifty years; I am the proud father of
three grown children and six wonderful grandchildren. Coincidentally,
one of my sons now serves as a career officer in the United States Armed
Services. The years have also gifted me with an innumerable amount of
great friends. With all the trials and tribulations of life, it had been
an interesting ride that I can only hope leads to many more years.