Vittori- Rocci Post 56

143 Brimbal Ave., Beverly, MA 01915

Historical data - Tom Rocci

The following information was received from Royce Rich
During a telephone call with Jake Petronzio about June 7, 1999

It is an honor to write a few lines about an American hero and my friend, Private Thomas Rocci, ASN 31370591, U.S. Anny Infantry, of 8 Beckford St, Beverly, Massachusetts.

I came to know Private Rocci at a place called Camp Gruber, Oklahoma in Late August or early September 1943. Camp Gruber was the end of a journey that for me started at the county courthouse parking lot in Skowhegan, Maine where a group of 18 year old draftees assembled early one morning in July 1943, to be officially turned over to the United States Army by a local draft board official. From there it was a bus ride to the train station at Waterville, Maine and then to a place called Fort Devens, Massachusetts. There, thousands of young 18 year old high school graduates of the class of 1943 were stripped of their civilian clothes and issued a new wardrobe of army boots, khaki slacks and shirts with matching cap. We were also given hundred of shots by army medics; had many defective teeth extracted; went through many I. Q. tests, in a daze, and were then put on a troop train for a trip to the unknown.

This troop train was powered by a coal burning steam locomotive. The passenger cars were red wooden antiques with three man bench seats and windows that opened to let in the hot August air plus smoke and cinders from the locomotive. This journey lasted about 3 or 4 days, day and night, with only occasional stops at a water tower so that the locomotive could take on water for steam.

The trip finally ended on a railroad siding in the middle of nowhere with a long line of army 2 1/2 ton trucks lined up alongside the tracks. It was a short ride to the front gate of Camp Gruber and onto a vast parade ground that was bare of any living grass and surrounded by hundreds of two story wooden barracks that seemed to extend as far as you could see.

At that point all these barracks were empty except for a handful of veterans that were to train about 10,000 new recruits into a new infantry division, the 42nd Infantry Division, which was known as the "Rainbow Division" of World War ] under General Douglas MacArthur. The photo of Rocci in the lobby of your Post has the "Rainbow Division" shoulder patch.             

From the parade ground our names were called out over loudspeakers as- signing each of us to a particular company, so off we marched to the barracks that housed our company. At the company we were assigned to a platoon, then to one of 3 squads of 12 men each. Then we were taken into the barracks of our platoon and there assigned to the bunk bed that corresponded to our position in the 12 man squad. This was the end of that long journey from Fort Devens and it determined who your neighbor would be for the duration.

My bunk-mates were Private Reil of Skowhegan, Maine and Private Rocci of Beverly, Massachusetts. We would answer hundreds of roll calls and formations in this sequence. We became the ·"Three R's". When the first "R" was called, there would be two echoes following. We would be in lock step for the next five months that it took to turn "boys" into infantry foot-soldiers.

The training was long and hard! Reveille was at 5:30 AM. Drills were all day long with blazing sun or rain or cold, and then there would be night marches that could last to midnight. It would be on nights such as these that Rocci would expound at length about how he would never ever leave Beverly, Massachusetts - "Tile Garden City of America" - again!

This "Garden City of America" would often start a debate from other men in the barracks. But at times, after the lights went out at Taps, after a particularly hard day that destroyed everyone's morale, a voice would call out in the darkness ... "Rocci, can you tell us about Beverly, Massachusetts, the Garden City of America".  Little did I know then that I would think of those days very often throughout my life.

As the end of our training cycle neared, there were rumors that we would be transferred to another Army Camp in Kansas. That was good news because life at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma was no picnic. The closest town was called Muskogee and was 19 miles away - even if you could get a pass and manage to get on one of the camp buses to town.

Both of my buddies, Reil and Rocci were on the list of men to be transferred to the 79th Infantry Division in Kansas. I never saw either of them again. Both of my friends were killed in Normandy while fighting with the 79th Infantry Division, "The Cross of Lorraine Division".  Rocci was last seen by members of his squad to be mortally wounded from enemy machine gun fire on 20 June, 1944. Reil died on 5 July, 1944 in an Army hospital in England, also from wounds suffered in the 79th's battle for Cherbourg.

All attempts to locate members of the 79th Division who served with Reil and Rocci have been unsuccessful so tar, although the 79th Division Veterans Association is still trying to find someone. The following information is what I have been to find in Army records.

The 79th Infantry Division left the United States from Boston on 7 April, 1944. They landed in Utah Beach, Normandy on 12-14 June, 1944 and entered combat on 19 June, 1944 with an attack on the high ground west of Valognes, France and the high ground south of Cherbourg, France which it entered on 26 June, 1944.

Rocci was reportedly killed' on 20 June, 1944. That would have been his second day of combat. H-Hour for the Division was 0500, 19 June, 1944 with the objective of taking the Valognes-Cherbourg highway. The 313th Infantry, which was Rocci & Reil's Regiment, jumped off on schedule from Golleville-Biniville. Rocci was last seen by members of his squad in this offensive on 20 June, 1944, and his family in Beverly, Massachusetts was so informed.

The next Army document is an Army Graves Registration 'Report of Investigation', dated 17 April, 1946, stating that a French farmer, Mr. Loetia Poincheval of Tallevast, France had discovered the remains of a partially buried American soldier while working in the ditch beside the road near his farm. The American soldier that ditch beside Highway N-13, the Valognes-Cherbourg Highway, was identified by dental records and two Army J.D. tags to be private Thomas Rocci, ASN 31370591 of the 313th Infantry Regiment. He is now buried among other brave young American soldiers in the American Cemetery in Normandy, France. These are the American heroes that demand our respect.

Rocci's birthday was 6 .June - D-Day, 1944. He was 19 years and he had only 14 more days to live. He wanted more than anything to go back to Beverly, Massachusetts - "The Garden City of America" -, the most beautiful city in the United States.

I would like to request that you stress to the young recipients of Vittori- Rocci Scholarships the importance of the life and sacrifice of Private Thomas Rocci, Army Serial Number 3137059), United States Army with the suggestion that if in their lifetime they are in France that they visit my friend Rocci at the Normandy American Cemetery and to even try to locate the Poincheval farm on Highway N-13 near Valognes in the town of Tallevast, France. These youngsters must realize that the true heroes are not the Generals, but the Privates, the most noble rank one can wear.

I wish you success in your Scholarship Fund drive and r do hope and pray that the young Americans appreciate the supreme sacrifice that soldiers like Private Thomas Rocci made when he gave up his life for .... "Beverly, Massachusetts -The Garden City of America"

Thank you
Royce C. Rich, ASN 31351751