After graduating from Hutchinson Central High School in 1941, with plans on attending college, Russel Bracco began working at Curtiss-Wright aircraft plant in Cheektowaga building P-40 Warhawk fighter planes as part of the war effort.
But in 1942, Uncle Sam had plans for Bracco and he was drafted into the Army. "Why me?" he said. "Of all the guys I was associated with."
Bracco was sent to Texas to study radio and communications. He already knew a little about radios because friends of his had a shortwave radio set. "I hated it at first because it was tough," Bracco said.
After graduation Bracco was assigned to his unit. "I got in with a beautiful outfit. The brand new 14th Armored Division," Bracco said. He spent three years with the division, but only one of those years was in combat.
"I'm telling you. We were lucky."
It was Bracco's job to send and receive coded messages. Everything was sent in Morse code using four-letter words. Russ never knew what he was transmitting. "The Germans probably knew more about what I was sending," Bracco said.
In June 1944, Allied forces began the D-Day invasion of Normandy in the north of France. The 14th Armored landed at Marseille in southern France on Oct. 29, 1944. By November, Bracco's division had started to move north towards the German border. During the pivotal engagement known as the Battle of the Buldge, Bracco's division was instrumental in protecting General George S. Patton's right flank while his 3rd Armored division broke through German lines that had surrounded the 101st Airborne at Bastogne.
On April 1, 1945, Easter Sunday, Bracco's 14th Armored Division crossed the Rhine River into Germany. This was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany. The war ended on May 8, 1945.
Through it all Bracco kept St. Anthony close to his heart. He had grown up attending Mass at St. Anthony Church in Buffalo. "He (St. Anthony) was with me the whole time. Even when I was facing hell," Bracco said. "He helped me a lot and he helps me now."
At the conclusion of the war Bracco was stationed at Camp Edwards outside of Boston. Awaiting to be discharged, Bracco was advised by an officer to work for the telephone company because of his communications work in the Army. Bracco returned to Buffalo. He followed the officer's advice and got a job with New York Telephone Company.
Throughout his training and combat service Bracco had also kept in contact with Francis Nazzaro, a fellow Hutchinson Central graduate. Upon his return, Bracco and Nazzaro married and went on to raise two children.
Bracco kept a diary during his time in the service. With the experiences he catalogued Bracco wrote a book titled, "Tonight I Got My Orders."
Now 96 years old, Bracco continues to live a full life. "I can't complain. I had a good life."