CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Albert LaVecchia was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, in November 1924. Prior to entering the service during World War II, he was working as a produce manager at a local grocery store in Plainfield. The war in Europe was not discussed at all in his family, but the draft was; the LaVecchia brothers knew that they were going to enter military service eventually. LaVecchia received his induction notice at the same time as his brother did, in April 1943. LaVecchia was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, from where he was shipped to Camp Robinson, Arkansas, to train with the 71st Infantry division.
When a recruiter looking for paratrooper volunteers visited Camp Robinson, LaVecchia decided to enter airborne training. He convinced his friend Benny to join him, and they traveled by troop train to Georgia for airborne training. Their time as paratroopers did not last long. The training involved 4:00 AM forced marches, and then pushups for the rest of the day. After three weeks of intense training, LaVecchia and his friend had had enough, and exercised their option to quit; yet, they had to endure a berating by their sergeant for doing so. LaVecchia was transferred to Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi, where a new infantry division, the 63rd, was forming. Assigned to the division’s 253rd Infantry Regiment, he completed his basic training without any issues, and he said that he admired his officers. Following the end of training, the unit traveled to Camp Shanks, New York, from where it embarked on a liberty ship to LeHavre, France in December 1944.
The regiment left LeHavre on a freight train to the front in Alsace, on the French-German border near the site of the heavily defended Maginot Line, which had been outflanked by the Germans in 1940. LaVecchia experienced his first taste of combat during an advance on the German defenses. The Americans improvised winter camouflage clothing by donning white blankets to blend in with the snow. Despite losing several soldiers injured by enemy anti-personnel mines, the skirmish was successful, and LaVecchia came out unscathed.
LaVecchia remembered that, during the ensuing battles in Alsace, he and his comrades used humor to normalize their situation. He recalled joking with his lieutenant about having to use the bathroom while under fire. The 63rd Division crossed the Rhine River, was the first to break through the Siegfried Line, and then fought in the last major battles of the war. LaVecchia rose to the position of platoon sergeant during that period.
Despite his attempts to use humor to mitigate the horrors he witnessed, LaVecchia began to suffer from combat fatigue; during one engagement, he had a heated argument with his lieutenant after being asked to go on a patrol. Following this incident, he developed an animosity towards the division. LaVecchia was able to leave the unit when a group of Army entertainers asked for people to join their group; he was permitted to do so in the final weeks of the war. His battalion, the Second of the 253rd Regiment received the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism.
LaVecchia, working as a dancer and a stagehand, traveled all over Europe during his time with the troupe. They performed the show “Carmen” in Belgium, Paris, Rome, and Berlin, as well as at staging areas for other soldiers. They also performed for the Allied generals in Berlin after the conclusion of hostilities. Famous actress Marlene Dietrich preformed at one show in between acts, which annoyed LaVecchia because he thought she was overshadowing his group. He hid some of her props and switched an army patch she was going to use for another, which drew some boos from the crowd. LaVecchia also remembered having an actor whose nickname was “El Stinko” impersonate an officer and order new uniforms for the crew.
LaVecchia left France in 1946. He remembered his voyage home on a liberty ship as a horrible experience, as he was seasick for the whole twelve-day voyage. Although LaVecchia vowed after landing that he would never board another ship, he did go on recreational cruises in the years that followed. He was honorably discharged from the army at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey with a 10% combat fatigue disability.
LaVecchia returned to civilian life as a produce manager at an A&P supermarket, later worked as a realtor, and got married and had two children. At the time of his interview, he had been to several unit reunions around the country, and at one reunion in New York he put on one last dancing show. Albert LaVecchia passed away in Whiting, New Jersey at the age of 86 in January 2011.