|Me (second from right) with five veterans of the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion, from left, Sam Trinca, Tony DeTomaso, Bill Secaur, Jim Burke and Chuck Hurlbut.|
In September of 1998, at the invitation of Chuck Hurlbut, I interviewed a group of veterans from his World War II outfit, the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion. The movie "Saving Private Ryan" was released earlier that year. Naturally it came up in conversation. Here is an excerpt from that interview with some comments from Sam Trinca, on the far left in the photo above.
Aaron Elson: Were you scared?
Sam Trinca: Scared? Oh, you didn’t read the article, I had an article in the paper, one of the guys, he was asking about, oh, they saw the movie, what was that movie ...
Aaron Elson: “Saving Private Ryan”?
Sam Trinca: And they called me up because they knew I was one of them. They said "Mr. Trinca, you’re one of the boys who was at Omaha Beach. Could we have a little information about it? What we want to know is, does the producer hit the spot?” They wanted to know if it’s exact, as close as possible, if they made that movie as close as they said, they claimed that that movie was very close to the real invasion.
Aaron Elson: Was it?
Sam Trinca: I don’t know. So they asked me that question. “Did you see the movie by any chance?”
I said “No, I didn’t.”
“Oh, well,” he says.
I said, “Give me a ticket, I’ll go and see it.” How could I prove what the movie looks like if I haven’t seen it? I said “I can tell you my version of the story.” So I told him my story, like I’m telling you now.
He said, “Well, that sounds pretty close to it.”
“Well,” I says, “I can’t tell you what the movie is.”
He says, “Are you going to go see it?”
I says, “I don’t know, maybe yes and maybe no.” But I didn’t see it. See, they were trying to compare how close they came to making it real. Because they said a lot of it was a lot of bull. But some people thought it was real. So they’re taking the people’s word.
Aaron Elson: Going back to scared.
Sam Trinca: Oh, scared. I was afraid to even mention it in the newspaper. I told him, I said, “You know, I was so damn scared I wet my pants so many times it wasn’t even funny.” I mean a lot of my friends downtown, they said, “You’re that guy who wet his pants, ain’t you?”
I says, “I’ll tell you. I’m not ashamed to say it. Yes, I did wet my pants.” I tell my friends. In fact, I was over here at a store here, that my wife goes to, and I saw a lady, a friend of ours. She started, she said, “Hey Sammy. I read the story in the paper. So you wet your pants, huh?”
I said “Yes I did.” I said “I’m not ashamed to tell you.”
She says, “I don’t blame you. I’ll bet you some guys did more than that.”
I says, “They probably did.” Then I says, “Thank god I was in the water anyway, I was soaking wet, so who could tell the difference?” She started laughing. What the hell, I was soaking wet anyway. How many times did I have to wet my pants? I don’t know, from there to there? Hell, yeah, you bet your life I was scared. Scared? Like I said, when you jump off that boat, you don’t know what you’ll do. You know you’ve got to get the mines, your job is to do what you’re supposed to do and keep on going. You’re here. You watch yourself, you try and help your buddy if you can."
- - -
A full transcript will be available in my next book, tentatively titled "Conversations With D-Day Veterans." An audio version will not be available as the interview was recorded in a mall with a noisy waterfall in the background, and later in the restaurant of a Holiday Inn in Ithaca, N.Y., with a great deal of background noise. I have made copies of the audio and supplied them to the author of a book on D-Day who could find few sources on the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion, and also to a documentary producer in England who was making a film about D-Day. I may recreate the conversation using actors to produce an audio version in the future. For more information about the battalion, visit their web site, 299th Combat Engineer Battalion, with thanks to Jeannie Tucker, the daughter of one of the battalion's veterans.
- - -
From Oral History Audiobooks:
From Chi Chi Press:
Visit the Oral History Audiobooks Indiegogo campaign and check out the great perks