Arizona man's search reunites WWII soldiers
Man finds stories of those who served with his father
PHOENIX — Peter Huegel's photograph from 1944 shows Tony "Shine Boy" Rossetti in Belgium, holding a rifle and leaning against his jeep with his Army buddies, including Gregorio "Goyo" Basurto, a Tucson kid a long way from home.
The soldiers, including Huegel behind the camera, served together in the 502nd Quartermaster Car Company, which landed at Normandy a few weeks after D-Day and later made its way across the continent with the Third Army led by Gen. George Patton.
They were there the morning after American soldiers liberated Germany's Buchenwald concentration camp in April 1945.
"I don't think there was anyone over 60 pounds, not a one," said Rossetti, recalling the horrific scene of emaciated prisoners 67 years later.
Now 87 and living in Scottsdale, Rossetti visited on a recent Sunday afternoon with Basurto, 92.
It was the first time they had seen each other since August 1945, when the Marine Panther troop ship returned the 502nd company to Camp Kilmer, N.J.
The two men shared their memories at the Glendale home of Peter Huegel, 61, the son of their late Army buddy and the photographer who captured their youthful images during the war years so long ago.
The younger Peter Huegel researched his father's military career through photos and documents to learn more about his life and how the war affected him. The fading black-and-white images of these World War II soldiers, along with the younger Huegel's quest to find others who served with his father, were the catalyst that brought Rossetti and Basurto together in the twilight of their lives.
The elder Peter Huegel died in 1975 in his hometown of Canton, Ohio. But his snapshots are an enduring legacy of the 502nd company, a unit of about 125 men.
They were in some cases first-generation Americans who grew up in the Great Depression. They fought the war, silently coped with their physical and mental battle scars when they got home, worked hard and raised their families..
"It's good to be still kicking around," said Basurto, who smiled broadly from his wheelchair the day he finally was reunited with Rossetti.
"God bless! It's good to see you," said Rossetti as they shook hands.
"We're just a couple of (jeep) drivers," Rossetti added. "I feel like a Hollywood star with all the cameras around."
Basurto, from Tucson, and Rossetti, a New Jersey native, came with their respective families to this 502nd company reunion.
Just the two of them. The search for others in the unit has come up empty so far.
The reunion highlight on this afternoon was a 25-minute video that Peter Huegel created as a tribute to his father and the 502nd company. It featured dozens of his dad's photos taken at Camp Young, near Indio, Calif., and during the company's tour in Europe.
Two-cent postcards, yellowing telegrams from train stations, military orders and scribbled captions on the pictures add details.
Shine Boy Rossetti, who earned his nickname for the high gloss of his boots, is shown in a photo beside his jeep. The name "Betty" stenciled on it referred to his British girlfriend.
Snapshots of Camp Young's soldiers and their accompanying captions focus on guys like "Private Pritz, a former school teacher," "the company screwball DeAngelis" and "Housler from Louisianna," the misspelled caption denoting a paunchy GI with an endearing, goofy smile.
Huegel's photographs, taken with a borrowed camera, show a progression of smiling young men in the bright light of their Mohave Desert camp and then on to Europe's darker shadows, where their faces are more weary.
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