Veteran Spotlight: Cpl. Massaconi and Terror of Iwo Jima
[Charles] Narcheeso "Cheeso" Massaconi is a lifelong resident of Cheshire and served his country admirably in the Army from 1942 to 1945. My interview with Massaconi took place in his own man cave (his garage) and was an evening of pure enjoyment, complete with, peppers, cheese, sopressata, a little bit of wine and an abundance of history.
"We didn't have much, but we made the most of what we had" said the 97-year-old veteran, and then chuckled, "I asked my father for a nickel to get some ice cream once .. he looked at me and said, 'you wanna' eat supper tonight, don't you?' "
He also had two brothers who served in the Army: Michael (who served at The Battle of The Bulge) and Peter.
Drafted right after Christmas in 1942, the 18-year-old Massaconi was sent to Fort Eustis in Richmond, Va., then to the Pacific Theater. His assignments would include Pearl Harbor, and the Battles of Saipan and Iwo Jima, which he described as "Hell on Earth."
The battle for the 8-square-mile island took place from Feb. 19, 1945, until March 26. Over those five weeks. U.S. forces suffered more than 30,000 casualties during Operation Detachment, primarily Marines who had spearheaded the invasion. The assault had been mounted to provide emergency landing zones for the Army Air Forces' B-29s that were being used to bomb Japan.
I asked him about Iwo Jima and it brought back many memories, most of them not good.
"The Japanese had big guns in the tunnels on Mount Suribachi that came out on tracks. They unloaded on us ... we were sittin' ducks," he recalled. I asked him if he was ever scared and he didn't hold back: "I was no hero ... too goddamn scared to even eat."
Massaconi said they were terrified and worried about staying alive: "If you wanted to die, get out of your foxhole at night."
He remembered digging foxholes on Iwo Jima — but some of the men refused.
"There was a black unit with us that didn't want to dig foxholes, instead, they set up tents. We warned them how dangerous it was ... the Japanese staged a sneak attack one night and went right down the line, throwing grenades into the tents, killed everyone," he said shaking his head.
He continued, "I'll tell ya' one thing, whoever trained our German shepherd dogs did a helluva' job. When the Japanese killed a dog, we buried'em just like we would one of our soldiers, boy, they were good dogs."
There wasn't another battle like Iwo Jima, Massaconi said. "In Europe, you always knew where the enemy was and who you were fighting — not at Iwo Jima — you never knew where the goddamn enemy was, Japanese attacked when you were the most vulnerable."
The young corporal also saw how the evil of war can bring out the worst in people, such as the dentist who would sneak out a night pull the gold fillings out of the mouths of dead Japanese soldiers.
"The bodies were decaying ... maggots all over'em ... they finally told him to knock it off," Massaconi said. "We had no sterilization at Iwo — those same damn pliers he was using on us."
The Battle of Saipan brought out equally horrifying memories for Massaconi.
"I was on radar patrol tracking enemy planes. Our planes would take off with bombs to hit Japan ... they'd rise up slow, then drop close to the water, shudder, then go back up ... never forget a plane coming back from a mission dropped right in the water and exploded — oil and gas burned for two hours," he said, looking down at the floor. "We lost 12 young guys."
I asked him if he had a mentor overseas or looked up to anyone. "The only guy I ever looked up to was Joe DiMaggio," he said with a smile. I can attest to that comment 100 percent after seeing the pictures of the Yankee Clipper on his walls.
Was it tough being away during Christmas I asked? "It was kind of sad. I just wanted to get the war over with and get back home and go to work," he said.
His thoughts on his service? "I loved my country and wanted to do what's right ... think we did OK ... still can see my mother crying, saying, 'you no go, stay home and help the family,'" he remembered, looking off in the distance.
Massaconi, soon to be 98, still works in his gardens and this past year went out and enjoyed his passion for deer, rabbit and pheasant hunting. Massaconi is also a distinguished member of the UNICO Hall of Fame. It was a superb evening, spent with another member of The Greatest Generation.
Cheeso Massaconi, it's men like you that make the United States of America great. Thank for your service to our country.
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