By Karen Zautyk
If you were a kid, where would you opt to be on a sunny Tuesday morning in August? In a park? Down the Shore?
For a group of Nutley youngsters, the choice was to be at the Department of Public Affairs offices on Chestnut St. for a lesson local history.
The boys and girls listened attentively as local author Anthony Buccino of the Nutley Historical Society talked about the hometown veterans who served in America’s wars — all the way back to the Revolution. (Did you know that a Nutley soldier, Henry Brown, died at Valley Forge?)
The hour-long workshop on Aug. 5 marked the launch of a program, “Celebrating America – Celebrating Nutley,” which will be held Tuesdays and Thursdays through the month of August. It is the brainchild of Commissioner Steven L. Rogers, who wants to give youngsters, and adults, a perspective on local history, on Nutley’s role in our nation’s story.
This pilot program, which might be continued on weekends in the fall, was designed “to give young students the opportunity to learn about the contributions Nutley citizens made to the town and the country,” Rogers said.
Last week, Buccino focused on the military contributions, of which he is most familiar, having authored two books on the topic: “Belleville and Nutley in the Civil War” and “Nutley Sons Honor Roll: Remembering the Men Who Paid for Our Freedom.” The latter profiles the local heroes who served, were wounded, or taken prisoner, or who made the supreme sacrifice, from the American Revolution through the Vietnam War.
The book also contains a number of letters written by Buccino’s father, Angelo, while he was serving in the South Pacific during World War II. They are wonderfully chatty and reveal nothing to friends and family back home about what the troops were enduring on Guadalcanal and elsewhere. Part of that, of course, had to do with the censors, but even without censorship, it’s highly unlikely brave men like Angelo Buccino would have wanted their loved ones to know the truth of a combat zone.
The closest he comes to it is: “There’s nothing much I can say about things here . . . but we’re busy as hell.”
As for letters sent to the troops, they arrived sporadically and in great batches. “Every once in a while,” Anthony Buccino told his young audience, “they’d get a bucketful of mail, with about eight weeks’ worth of letters.”
The troops “could write back,” he noted, “but you had to burn the ones that had been sent to you.”
Buccino talked about other local veterans of WWII, including a man who parachuted into Normandy and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. “He’s among us,” Buccino noted. In other words, there’s living history in Nutley.
He also spoke of Andy Andriola, who had operated a gas station at Harrison St. and Bloomfield Ave. and who was in charge of a medical supply truck during WWII. “He served in 12 battle campaigns,” Buccino said. “He was in North Africa and Italy and he met the Russians at the Rhine. He was a walking encyclopedia of the war.”
Buccino is passionate about honoring the memory of local veterans, who they were and what they did. Sometimes, that can be as simple as reading their names aloud, as is done at some patriotic ceremonies. “If you say someone’s name, they stay alive,” he said.
Some of the youngsters are getting a chance to meet Nutley heroes. They are participating in a project to interview and videotape veterans, to preserve the stories for posterity. The tapes will go to the Library of Congress and the Nutley Public Library. One of the boys, 13-year-old Sean Fitzpatrick, told us that the experience of talking to a WWII vet was “greatly rewarding.”
Another Nutley boy, Kirill Pavlov, 13, listened to Buccino while carefully and respectfully folding American flags that have been “retired.” A member of Boy Scout Troop 22, Bloomfield, he volunteered for the task and thus far has folded “at least 50.” (If you have an old, worn flag, you can bring it to the Department of Public Affairs — there’s a special mailbox out front — and it will be disposed of with due honor.)
Eventually, Rogers hopes to see the town add special street signs bearing veterans’ names and placed on the specific blocks where each lived. He has invited the youngsters to help design these. “It would be here forever,” he said.
“Many years from now, you can ride through the town and say, ‘I was part of that.’”
As for “Celebrating America – Celebrating Nutley,” Rogers sees the project offering the young attendees “a good, solid background on Nutley history.”
One of its goals, he added, is to teach them “how they, as young people, can have a significant impact on the future of this story. But to achieve that you need a historical perspective, where we were, where we are and where we are headed.”
The free workshops end Aug. 28. If you would like to attend, or get more information, call the Department of Public Affairs at 973-284-4976.