HIGHLANDS – Veterans Day 2020 is a time to look back on all the veterans who have served our nation, both living and those who gave their lives in defense of the country. It is also a time to reflect on 75 years since the end of World War II and honor those heroes who continued to serve in their hometowns, bringing the experiences and disciplines of their military service into the council rooms of their communities today.
Among the numerous veterans who continued to be active volunteers after the war years is Tony Bucco, a World War II veteran, husband, father, grandfather, and former Highlands councilman who quickly earned the name of “The Lone Ranger” because of his insistence on voting his own mind, regardless of the opinions of fellow councilmembers, most of whom were in an opposing political party.
Tony Bucco was not a man to be silenced nor put down. The Lone Ranger held his own at the Highlands Borough Council table, and while often defeated by the majority, he never doubted he was doing the right thing for his hometown.
Even today, Tony at 95, still talkative, entertaining, aware and interested in current politics and definitely with an opinion about it all, can look back on his army service in both the Philippines and Australia, a time he served with and under General Douglas MacArthur, a time when he and his five brothers were all happy to serve the nation. Their parents came to America from Southern Italy, met in their new homeland and married here, then brought up all 11 of the children to have a sense of duty to the nation as a whole and the community in which they lived.
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Of the six Bucco Brothers from Matawan who served in World War II, Frank and Russell served in the Air Force, Bobby in the Marine Corps, Joe in the Navy, and Larry and Tony in the Army. Their other brother, Billy, was deferred since he and his wife had seven children and the draft board agreed the Bucco men had done more than their share. All the brothers returned safely to Monmouth County, only Larry suffering lingering effects from his war years. Larry served at the Battle of the Bulge and was severely frostbitten in that Winter War once again brought to the screen in a newly released film.
PHOTO: Tony Bucco
Once back home, in their later years, both Tony and Larry served on their boroughs’ governing bodies, Larry in Matawan and later Tony in Highlands. Tony also served the community as a softball and basketball coach as well as an umpire.
Now living in their condominium on Shore Drive, Tony and his wife of 55 years, the former Carole McConnell, enjoy looking through some of Tony’s photograph albums from the 1940s, albums filled to overflowing with photos of all the girls who certainly enjoyed Tony’s company during those war years. Diminutive and good-natured…Tony is under 5 ft. 6 inches tall; it was his finesse on the dance floor that made him the center of attention both in the Philippines and in Australia. He can still smile and laugh happily looking back on those foxtrot, waltz and jitterbug days when soldiers danced to live music of local bands and made the most of that time they could grab away from thoughts and actions of war and months and years away from home.
Tony was sworn in as a private in the army on May 28, 1943, and a few days later, reported to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for a four day layover before being boarded on another train to Macon, Georgia. From there it was another week’s respite before the train ride to Fort Ord, Calif. After a couple of months of education and orientation before boarding a converted merchant trip, he was on his way on another cruise, this to Australia and General Douglas MacArthur’s Headquarters. Because of his high standing in all the intellectual tests. Tony and a handful of others were assigned to MacArthur’s headquarters complex and spent almost the next two years in the land down under.
Oh, there were a couple of times he thought he was being transferred, Tony recalls, and one time when he actually did go to New Guinea for a brief three weeks. There was a second time when he was scheduled to go, in light of reports the Japanese were holding a radio station on the hill and endangering both troops and ships at sea. But, Tony smiles proudly, “a group of our soldiers and Australians got up there and took care of that, so they didn’t need our services.”
In March 1945, Tony was transferred to the Philippines, again with the MacArthur entourage, and it was while there that he experienced his only real fear for the safety of his fellowman. And himself.
There was a report from a Major that his weapon was stolen, Tony recalls with clarity and detail. When one of the Filipinos who served cleaning and attending employees for the military, informed officers that an acquaintance of one of the working Filipinos had been in the office visiting, and had taken the weapon, Tony was assigned to go along with the sergeant who was sent to recover the weapon. “I was scared,” Tony admits now, “we went into this little village far away, found the young man, recovered the weapon, and the sergeant threw it at me to take care of while he tended to the personnel. I was holding it, in a forward position, and they all said it was not loaded,” he recalls. But he checked the weapon more carefully and found it wasn’t so. “Had I held it and accidently pulled the trigger, I could have killed someone,” he remembers, still shaking his head at the memory.
With the war ended in August, and troops beginning to get back home, it wasn’t until December that Tony was able to board his homeward bound ship and arrive back in California. From there it was a train ride to New Jersey, a trip to Fort Monmouth, and finally the very best train ride, the one from the Little Silver Railroad station to Matawan and home.
It was in 1965 that Tony, still living in Matawan, met and married Carol. She lived in Highlands and the couple met at a singles event, with Carol laughing, “after the first time…the first time…I met him, I immediately became known as Tony’s girl.” After their marriage, they settled in Highlands on S. Peak St. raised their five children and both became involved in community government. When Tony was asked to run for council, he agreed, won, and eventually served under four different mayors and a variety of council members during his terms over a 20 year period beginning in 1974. While all councilmembers remained friends and socialized, they frequently disagreed at the council table, with Tony earning the Lone Ranger moniker for often sticking to his guns even knowing he would be defeated. “But I always did what I felt was the right thing to do,” he said proudly.