An Eyewitness to Mussolini’s Death

 

One of my favorite parts of my job is learning about my patients. I take care of some fascinating people. Such as Anthony Cocchini, born in Scranton, PA in 1918. His parents had moved there from Italy in about 1912. They were from Tuscany and had known each other in Italy. They moved to Scranton separately, found each other again, and got married.

His father was a coal miner, and his mother ran a small grocery store that sold Italian ingredients to her Italian neighbors – neither ever learned English, so the only language Tony ever heard at home was Italian. He learned English in the community and at school but was also fluent in Tuscan Italian, which is a very neutral dialect.

When WWII came along, Tony was sent to Italy to help communicate with the locals. His neutral dialect was helpful, and he had an ear for the various other dialects, so he could imitate other accents he heard pretty quickly. He was assigned to a small group of American soldiers who traveled around Italy late in the war trying to build relationships with local administrators and such.

He and his small group were traveling through Milan one day, and one of his buddies pointed toward a town square and said, “Look! I think they just killed Mussolini!” They wandered down the street, and found Mussolini hanging upside down from an Esso gas station overhang, with his girlfriend and some other associates. They walked right up front to get a close look, and as luck would have it, someone took a picture at that moment (that you have probably seen in WWII books). Mr. Cocchini is the GI with the darker helmet, toward the right.

I asked what he did at such a remarkable moment in history. He said, “Well, we stood around for 10-15 minutes, but we had places to go and things to do, so we got going after a bit.” I said, “You just left? At a moment like that? That’s one of the biggest events in the 20th century!” He responded, “We had places to go, and things to do.” Which, I suppose, they did.

Hitler committed suicide two days later and WWII continued to wind down.

Mr. Cocchini is 99 years old now. Sharp as a tack, still drives a car, and still goes out to his favorite Italian restaurant every Friday night. It’s a wonderful gift that I get to spend time with him. He agreed to take a picture with me today. I’m not as tall as I look here – I’m 6’2” – Mr. Cocchini is not very tall. So now I have two pictures of Mr. Cocchini, 73 years apart. One with Mussolini, and one with me.

These people are dying. How many people are left on the planet who have seen Mussolini or Hitler in person? There are fewer every month. Their experiences and perspectives are irreplaceable.

My kids think WWII is ancient history, like the Peloponnesian War or something. It’s wonderful to hear a first-hand account. I look forward to my visits with Mr. Cocchini. I want to just sit and talk to him, and soak it all up. I could sit there all day. But at the end of our appointment, he gets up and shuffles down the hall, because he has places to go and things to do. Which, I suppose, he does.

I’m thankful that I got to spend time with him today. It was a wonderful visit. I didn’t want it to end. But all things must pass.

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  1. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Amazing.

    Thank you for sharing, and thank Mr. Cocchini for his service!

    • #1
  2. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    My own dad passed away a couple of years ago due to Alzheimer’s. His memories of combat in the submarine service were slipping away. When I went to the air show at Davis-Monthan AFB they had a fly by with an F-22, and a P-51 Mustang that saw service in WWII. Watching that fly-by, and watching some of the WWII vets watching that fly-by was pretty emotional. Fewer and fewer of them attend the airshow as the years come and go.

    • #2
  3. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    “We had places to go, and things to do.”

    Is there anything more American than this?

    • #3
  4. Mike-K Member
    Mike-K
    @

    A patient of mine told me about his visit to Normandy with his American wife and child. He was French and was a member of LeClerc’s armored division that landed August 1 at Normandy, He was taking his wife and child, about 25 years after the war. to see where he had landed and where he had gone in the Normandy countryside. They were looking into a field in one of the Bocage areas and he was telling her about a German tank he had killed with a bazooka. He pointed out the spot and then looked deeper into the hedge. There was the tank, 25 years later. The farmer had just bulldozed it into the hedge and had gone on with his farming.

    He gave me a nice book about Bordeaux where he was born. I visited it a year later. I have been to Normandy but never found his tank.

    • #4
  5. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Dr. B,

    A beautiful post. Thanks so very much for this.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #5
  6. Mike-K Member
    Mike-K
    @

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    Watching that fly-by, and watching some of the WWII vets watching that fly-by was pretty emotional.

    About 15 years ago I took my son on a B 17 for this birthday.  I had a cousin who flew 50 missions in a B 17 from North Africa. I would have given a lot to be able to take him on one but he died before I had the chance,

     

    • #6
  7. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    Sweet.  We really are kindred spirits in our professional lives. I’m going to miss some aspects of it all immensely.

    I took care of a man who was on the turret of the Missouri in the famous Japanese surrender picture.  He won a Silver Star on Iwo Jima.  His son, a Vietnam vet, has one leg and is dying prematurely.

    I spent time today with an 85 year old man whose dad and mom came from Italy around the same time.  His dad was a tailor in Torrence and his folks spoke minimal English.   Mario married Pat and they have been at it for 60 years.  He has to find a new doctor now, one who will see CLL, CAD,CHF,A-Fib,PE/DVT, HTN and some edema, but not the man.  I look at him and see a 22 year friendship and it breaks my heart to say bye.   I suppose I have things to do and places to go, but I’m going to miss it.

    • #7
  8. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    That’s a great story.  Here’s an account of Mussolini’s death.   https://www.c-span.org/video/?184297-1/mussolini-secrets-death

    I’m going to a 60th anniversary of the launch of Vanguard 1 on the 14th.  I exchanged emails yesterday with a 90 year old who knew Von Braun, van Allen, etc. The early Space pioneers are almost all gone.  Five years ago I met Scott Carpenter.  Now all the Mercury 7 are only a memory.

    • #8
  9. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Dr. Bastiat: I’m not as tall as I look here – I’m 6’2” – Mr. Cocchini is not very tall.

    My step-father would have looked great next to Mr. Cocchini. He’s been gone for ten years now. He was barely old enough to get in at the end of WWII, and he had to hunch down to make the height requirements for the Navy to do it. He was 6’6″.

    • #9
  10. cirby Inactive
    cirby
    @cirby

    I got to talk to Gene Kranz, one-on-0ne, for 45 minutes, while he was waiting to speak at a luncheon.

    We talked about tech, with an emphasis on video projection. He commented that NASA would have happily given a million dollars each for projectors equal to the $2000 one we were using for the show.

    (A lot of people don’t realize this, but modern video projection was kicked into gear by NASA’s requirement for large displays in Mission Control.)

     

    • #10
  11. ST Inactive
    ST
    @SimonTemplar

    nice piece

    You should write more.  You’re starting to get better at it.

    • #11
  12. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    I shared this story with my wife and kids.

    BTW, I’ll second ST, you’re quite enjoyable to read.

    • #12
  13. Derek Simmons Member
    Derek Simmons
    @

    Dr. Bastiat:How many people are left on the planet who have seen Mussolini or Hitler in person? There are fewer every month. Their experiences and perspectives are irreplaceable.

    My kids think WWII is ancient history, like the Peloponnesian War or something. It’s wonderful to hear a first-hand account.

    Thanks. AND I’m sure you will help your kids come to understand that WWII is NOT ancient history

    • #13
  14. Old Buckeye Inactive
    Old Buckeye
    @OldBuckeye

    Reading about someone who was there and is still alive brings home the reality of how recent these events were. And how brave our soldiers were, fighting as they did with the kinds of weaponry and defenses available then.

    I get the same kind of feeling when I see pictures of the kinds of cars that were on the roads when my parents were born, thinking they might have been carted around in a Model A Ford as a baby. Look how far we’ve come!

    • #14
  15. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Dr. Bastiat: So now I have two pictures of Mr. Cocchini, 73 years apart. One with Mussolini, and one with me.

    Should we worry? No political aspirations, I hope.

    • #15
  16. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    One of the many reasons we need to keep trying to figure out a cure for this degenerative disease of aging we all have.

    • #16
  17. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Dr. Bastiat: “We had places to go, and things to do.”

    Awesome post.  Thank you.  And please pass on all our thank-yous to Mr. Cocchini.

    • #17
  18. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Doc, that’s a great story but it also may be one hell of a HIPPA violation.  Are you sure you want it posted?

    • #18
  19. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):
    Doc, that’s a great story but it also may be one hell of a HIPPA violation. Are you sure you want it posted?

    I asked permission.

    • #19
  20. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    “We had places to go, and things to do.”

    Is there anything more American than this?

    That was exactly what I thought when he said it.

    • #20
  21. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat: “We had places to go, and things to do.”

    Awesome post. Thank you. And please pass on all our thank-yous to Mr. Cocchini.

    After he left, I wondered what was so important.  What exactly did he have to do?  Now, 73 years later, those things don’t seem so important.  He should have stayed for a while, in one of the 20th century’s biggest moments.

    But at the time, his job was important.  He had a job.  And he did his job.  A lot of Allied soldiers did their jobs.  And everything worked out ok.

    The culture that produces men such as that is a force to be reckoned with.

    • #21
  22. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):
    Doc, that’s a great story but it also may be one hell of a HIPPA violation. Are you sure you want it posted?

    I asked permission.

    I do the same thing too on occasion.   Always permission.  If a bad or weird patient story I change names and some details.

    • #22
  23. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Wonderfully understated post, Dr. Bastiat. Or maybe it’s just a great post that conveys something very understated about Mr Cocchini. I want to add my thanks to him for his service.

    Re: comment 8

    Thank you for the link, Richard Easton. The c-span talk on the book, Mussolini: The secrets of his death, is fascinating.

    • #23
  24. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    That is an amazing story! Wow! I wonder if you could get some of it on recorder – pictures and his voice, but it would be worth just journaling or creating a you tube for new generations. He is an inspiration – and I must say, a testimony to the Mediterranean diet!

    • #24
  25. Tedley Member
    Tedley
    @Tedley

    Most of the history I’m into is well before WWII, so I know where I stand…. 😆

    • #25
  26. Susie Inactive
    Susie
    @Susie

    Wow! Thanks for sharing.  Mr. Cocchini has my undying gratitude for his service.

    • #26
  27. Mike-K Member
    Mike-K
    @

    DocJay (View Comment):
    Always permission. If a bad or weird patient story I change names and some details.

    I have a book on stories about patients. The only real name I used was a wonderful guy I cared for almost 50 years ago. He wouldn’t mind if he were alive.

    • #27
  28. DrewGibson Inactive
    DrewGibson
    @DrewGibson

    Great story; even a “historical day” is just another day.

    I’m teaching the WWII unit in my High School history class. Would you mind if I used your (or his) story?

    -Drew Gibson

    • #28
  29. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    DrewGibson (View Comment):
    Great story; even a “historical day” is just another day.

    I’m teaching the WWII unit in my High School history class. Would you mind if I used your (or his) story?

    -Drew Gibson

    I certainly don’t mind.  I’ll ask Mr. Cocchini.  I doubt he’ll mind, but I’ll check.

    • #29
  30. CarolJoy Coolidge
    CarolJoy
    @CarolJoy

    This was a very captivating story. It does give us a pause to think that at one time, these things really occurred, but people were on their way to do their jobs and make a manageable society out of the mess that Europe had been placed in.

    In my two decades of elder care, I had one  client who had attended Harvard with JFK, another whose  husband had dragged her away from London’s art galleries to have breakfast with the Queen,  and a third client whose brother was one of the inventors of the polygraph machine. That last person  – she  had made it out of Shanghai on the last boat to leave its harbor before the Japanese arrived.

    Hitchcock made a movie about a convict who had been helped by  the woman’s brother:

    Call Northside 777 (1948) – Trivia – IMDb

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0040202/trivia

    The man administering the polygraph test to convict Richard Conte was the inventor of the polygraph or lie detector machine, Leonarde Keeler. He played himself.

    • #30
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