Niagara Falls City High School students gave a World War two veteran a hero’s welcome Thursday. WBFO’s senor reporter Eileen Buckley says the veteran delivered a historic lesson to the students.
As Lt. James Vaccareloa walked through Niagara Falls High School – students lined the hallways – applauding and cheering for the 93-year-old war veteran.
Vaccareloa teared up as the students honored his service occurring decades ago. He was drafted in 1944 to serve in World War II. He said he was just 19-years old.
“I was just a kid. I was a boxer at the time,” replied Vaccareloa.
Vaccareloa was a combat medic in the 80th division, serving in the Battle of the Bulge – one of the bloodiest of the American battles fought in World War II. He witnessed some very difficult realities of the war.
“My very first patient I saw had a leg missing and I said ‘wow’ – I never saw anything more serious than that in my entire time in the service,” described Vaccareloa.
“What do you remember most from the Battle of the Bulge?” asked Buckley.
“Battle of the Bulge is the sweep that they made and how fast they made it – the Germans and how fast we – and I say we – General George Patton – went up to meet them and make sure they didn’t get so far. We caught them on the outskirts of Luxemburg City and we annihilated them – they were marching four deep down the street laughing and crying until we got there,” Vaccareloa responded.
Vaccareloa teared up when we asked him how the war effected his mental health. He responded saying he gets full medical coverage for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. He also witnessed the disturbing and horrific scenes of the Holocaust.
“Opened the first door and it was full of acid and there were people in it and the second door I opened there was a fire and people in it – they were burning them. I closed the doors and walked over to the next spot and I was milling amongst people that were laying on the ground – they had had shot them – and I said to the captain – this one’s alive,” recalled Vaccareloa.
The war veteran described what he experienced as though just happened. But it wasn’t all bad memories. He recalled meeting General George Patton.
“General Patton’s quite a guy – we used be on a first name speaking to him and I. He was tough – oh he was tough,” declared Vaccareloa.
“There are very few of our World War II veterans left,” said Niagara Falls High School teacher Mike Esposito,
Esposito invited Vaccareloa to speak to his class where the veteran showed of more than a dozen medals he received for serving his country that includes the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
“The World War II veterans are very rare and it was a really, really special treat. Those men sacrificed so much for our country. Just very thankful to we could bring him in our classroom because you know in a few years there won’t be any of them left,” said Esposito.
Vaccareloa’s stories were intriguing to students. Maurice Jackson is a junior. He loves US history.
“I learned so much including what was it like – you know what it is like in our text books, but you never know what it’s like from a primary source, so it was really interesting – it’s something I can’t wait to tell my kids in the future,” remarked Jackson.
“Everything – I loved him. He reminds me of my grandfather,” responded Corey Jackson, a high school junior. She was very excited to get a firsthand perspective of World War II.
“It’s all very important – he was there and that’s really great. I was really excited to meet him. I told my mom about it – it was really good,” Jackson said.
And even though the students and veteran are generations apart – Jackson learned from her teacher at Vaccareloa is an excellent Bocce Ball player – so she asked Vaccareloa if he would play in her Bocce Ball tournament June 18th. He said he ‘would glad to play’. Then Jackson handed him small toy dinosaur – telling him she couldn’t find an army guy, but wanted to give him a gift!
Vaccareloa turns 94 July 7th – as he headed out to his car – he remarked he had never been treated as well as he was with the Niagara Falls City School students.