Nutley WW2 Veteran Recalls D-Day, Battle of the Bulge

Falduti recalls record cold over Normandy, hip-deep Bastogne snow

By Anthony Buccino

William Falduti had his 20th birthday in France.

Two months later, in December 1944, the Army corporal was a Jeep driver with the 82nd Airborne 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment delivering mortar shells to frozen Allied outposts defending the crossroads at Bastogne, Belgium.

William Falduti - 82nd Airborne, 1943. Nutley NJ residentThe German troops desperately need to take the crossroad. Bastogne was critical to the success of the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last gasp effort to end the war on his own terms. Bill ‘the battling bastard of Bastogne’ wasn’t going to give up without a fight.

In early 1943, the Milton Avenue resident saw all his friends get drafted. “All my friends were leaving, and I said, I want to go with them.”

“They were drafting all my friends around here and I’m waiting. I’m still waiting. I went to the Draft Board and said ‘take me too, with all my friends.’ ”

He told the Draft Board he was 18 and ready to go. They obliged, sending him first to a cavalry unit “with real horses” in Fort Riley, Kan.

He transferred to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Benning, Ga., where the short, scrappy Italian kid from Nutley toughened up, bulked up and learned to jump out of airplanes day or night, and fight his way through anything. “We did jumping and calisthenics – to build our ego and body at the same time,” he recalled.

Falduti’s unit parachuted into Normandy at 2 a.m. on June 6, 1944. By December these trained fighters were bored sitting in reserve in a French village. In fact, they stirred things up so well, they were asked to leave.

Unaware of the scope of the German offensive, Falduti’s unit found itself in cold unheated trucks traveling into the center of the action.

Hitler’s goal was to split the Allied forces and seize the port at Antwerp. To do that, they needed the crossroads at Bastogne. The month-long Battle of the Bulge involved more than one million soldiers. American losses were 81,000, including 23,554 captured and 20,000 killed.

Falduti had received specialty training at Fort Bragg, S.C., so that after he jumped out of the airplane, on the ground, in addition to being proficient with every kind of firearm, the soldier learned how to handle a Jeep with a supply trailer. This led to his delivering 81mm mortars and other supplies where needed during the battle of Bastogne.

It was the coldest winter in Europe in a long time. The foul weather kept the Allied air force on the ground. “I’m five-three and the snow was up to my butt, ” he said.

His unit occasionally found refuge in farm buildings. Falduti recalls sleeping with cows and horses. The smell was something else but the warmth was worth it, he recalled.

Falduti got frostbite in the edges of his fingers and toes. To this day it still kicks up. But his was not as bad as some guys. He earlier recalled GIs breaking off their frostbitten toes and discarding the blackened digits as you would a cigarette butt.

Falduti got his first Purple Heart at the Battle of the Bulge when shrapnel from an artillery shell ripped into his leg. He was patched up and set back to his outfit.

William Falduti, post-war Europe, 82nd Airborne, jumped into D-Day

Falduti fought across Europe in World War II with the 82nd Airborne beginning with his parachute jump into St. Mere Eglise, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He earned two purple hearts fighting across France and as one of the 'battling bastards of Bastogne' in the Battle of the Bulge. After the war he was the personal armed guard to a high-ranking Third Reich Minister. Falduti told the war criminal he wouldn't hesitate to shoot him if given the slightest provocation.

He and a lieutenant went on a patrol in their Jeep and “bodily connected” the 1st Army with the 3rd Army under General George S. Patton, Jr., The great risk and danger of this patrol earned Falduti the Bronze Star.

Nutley sons lost in the first days of the month-long Battle of the Bulge, were Maro Jahr of White Terrace, Eugene Bellene of Honner Avenue, Halsey Miller of South Spring Street, Charles Smith of William Street, and Malcolm Christopher of Chestnut Street.

Jahr was killed in action in Germany on Dec. 15.

Bellene was killed in action in a tank battle in Luxembourg on Dec. 17.

After his unit surrendered, Miller was one of 130 soldiers murdered by German SS soldiers in the Malmedy Massacre in Belgium on Dec. 17.

Smith was killed in action in Belgium on Dec. 23.

Christopher was one of 802 men killed aboard the troop ship Leopoldville when it was torpedoed on Dec. 24

Falduti received his 2nd Purple Heart for a chest wound from artillery shrapnel received in Baal, Germany. “I had this warm feeling inside my shirt and when I took out my hand it was covered in blood from German artillery shrapnel.”

In the last days of the war, Falduti learned that his Harrison Street neighbor Frank Garruto was nearby. Falduti, who had his own Jeep, set out to find his Garruto only to learn his childhood friend had been killed on April 7, weeks short of the end of the war.


Willliam Falduti interview: Nov. 25, 2005

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