McKEES ROCKS, Pa. (KDKA) — At 95 years old, Wilbert Cusano of McKees Rocks recalls with great clarity his landing in Normandy on Omaha Beach 75 years ago.
“In combat, I was 20 years old and living months every day,” Cusano told KDKA political editor Jon Delano.
He recalls fighting his way into Nazi-occupied Europe. Back then, Sgt. Cusano led a squad of would-be engineers clearing mines and building bridges so that American soldiers could advance against the enemy.
But Cusano was not among the first on Omaha Beach on June 6th. He praised the soldiers who paved the way for him and his troops.
“Those were the heroes of the war, those fellows that went in that day,” he said.
He came in shortly thereafter under heavy fire from the Germans, and once on land, Cusano and his team had very specific orders.
“We had to clear minefields to get our vehicles through and tanks and open roads and bridges to get them across,” Cusano recalls.
The 295th Combat Engineers have their own book, tracking their push across France, Belgium, Holland, and into Germany.
Delano: “You had to get these bridges built?”
Delano: “Under fire?”
Cusano: “Under fire with protection from ours.”
Delano: “Before American troops could advance?”
Cusano: “That’s right.”
Delano: “So you really were in the front line?”
Cusano: “Yeah, but we didn’t realize it then. Now I do.”
Delano: “You didn’t realize the danger you were in?”
Cusano: “No, we had orders. Whatever we did, there was no questions.”
Cusano was injured by shrapnel but refused to leave his comrades.
Today he pulls out a box of medals like the French Legion of Honor award he received on the 70th anniversary of D-Day and other mementos, like his dog tags and a clicker.
Delano: “A clicker?”
Cusano: “We used at night for communication. We did not have things like they had today. We had nothing.”
Given the advancement of technology in today’s era, Cusano was fighting a very different war, in a very different time. He says of the 400 men in the 295th Combat Engineers, only two are alive today.
As for his comrades of 75 years ago?
“I never forget them.”