Providence VA Medical Center, Rhode Island
WWII 29TH ID Vets Meet for the First Time at VA
Military service is a funny thing. Sometimes it seems like the smallest of communities, and you're constantly running into people you know from your time in uniform; other times you can serve together in the same unit and never even meet.
The latter was the case for World War II Veterans Donald McCarthy, of North Smithfield, R.I., and Pasco Cucca of Rumford, R.I. The two men served together in Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry, 29th Infantry Division, storming Omaha Beach in Normandy at 6 a.m. June 6, 1944. The 1st Infantry Division also assaulted Omaha, and by the end of the landing, casualties for the two divisions reached 2,400.
"You remember the Germans on the hill with the 88?" Cucca asked McCarthy, speaking of the 88mm gun used by the German Army during World War II. "We were the lucky ones. We lost a lot of friends that day."
McCarthy nodded. His landing craft overturned, drowning more than half the soldiers on board. McCarthy was a scout with the intelligence and reconnaissance platoon, while Cucca, a medic, was serving as driver for the battalion executive officer, Maj. Thomas Dallas. McCarthy knew Dallas, too, but never met Cucca.
More than 70 years later, McCarthy was talking to Father John Wydeven, a Catholic priest and chaplain at the Providence VAMC. McCarthy was wearing his 29th ID veteran jacket.
"So we talked about my service, and the next time I saw Father John, he said he had some news," remembered McCarthy. "He told me about Pasco and asked if I'd like to meet him. I said, 'Would I ever!'"
Wydeven introduced the two, and after the traditional, "29—Let's go!" greeting, they compared notes.
"He told me what his outfit was, and I said, 'That was my outfit!' Same company, 1st of the 116th," McCarthy recalled.
McCarthy, who has been coming to the Providence VA Medical Center for more than 20 years, said meeting other Veterans is one of the best things about getting his care through VA. "I had insurance through my job at the phone company, but a friend said I should apply, since I had a purple heart. So I did, and I've been coming here ever since and I love it! They treat me like family."
Though Cucca has only recently become a patient of the Providence VAMC, he too has a long association with the facility. "I worked here for 30 years," he said. "I worked as a chauffer, I cut grass, I delivered medicines to all the wards, but mostly I worked for the engineering department."
Seventy years since landing minutes apart on Omaha Beach and more than 50 years of combined association with the Providence VAMC, and the two men never met until December 2015. Funny thing, but sometimes VA is like that.