Italian Prisoner of War, Libero Puccini, the carver of the Camp Atterbury Entrance Stone, meets Col. Jorg Stachel, Camp Commander

From "The Atterbury File, The Next Generation" by the Custer-Baker Middle School, Franklin, Indiana

My Friend Libero 
by Larry Taulman, Social Studies teacher

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 Libero's answers"

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 American soldiers?

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 oblige.

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.