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True war story highlights WWII Extravaganza
In the frigid winter months of early 1945, PFC Joseph Badamo was on the slopes of Monte Belvedere in Northern Italy fighting the Nazis.
The 18-year-old had just arrived in the country with Company B of the 86th Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division, and already found himself in heated combat.
“The first three months were the most harrowing because it hadn't got to be my 19th birthday yet,” he told a group of students during the 3rd annual Fourth Avenue Jr. High School World War Two Extravaganza held Thursday evening in the school gymnasium.
He went on to speak about a tragic day in early February when nine men in his unit were killed and another four critically injured.
One of the men killed was 24-year-old Norman Kovatch, “a friend of mine – the only guy I knew really good in my company,” Badamo said. “He got a ruby ring for Christmas from his wife and we all teased him, ‘We are going to get that ring if you get hit.'”
On about Feb. 9, the German Gebirgsjäger, or mountain riflemen, attacked the Americans who were exposed up on the mountain. The US Army Air Corps couldn't send in air support, so Vadamo's unit called in an artillery barrage. The artillerymen set their shells to explode before they hit the ground, which caused lethal shrapnel to rain down onto the troops beneath.
“They told us to hunker down as close as we could to the ground,” Badamo said.
The night before, Badamo had been inside a dugout. In the morning, it was his turn for duty and he traded places with Kovatch.
“He got in the dugout, and one of these shells fell straight right on that dugout and blew him over the side of the mountain,” Badamo said.
“The only thing that was left of his body was his right shoulder, right arm and right hand wearing that ruby ring. Nobody touched it.”
Badamo doesn't know if Kovatch's body, which fell at least 1,000 feet, was ever found, but said his arm is buried in a cemetery in Florence, Italy.
The students listening to this true war story were highly impressed to meet someone who had actually been in a World War II battle.
“It was pretty amazing,” said Daniel Sotelo, an 8th grader attending Fourth Avenue.
“Having a guy who fought a long time ago from World War II coming to this point now is really incredible, because he is still alive and he really did a lot for us. That is one thing I really appreciate. I really had fun talking to him.”
The Extravaganza was designed to teach students about World War II and to give them the chance to meet those who lived through it, “because we are not going to have them much longer,” said Stacy Malena, 8th grade social studies teacher and student council advisor at Fourth Avenue. “It's good to hear their stories.”
The 8th grade students at Fourth Avenue have been preparing for the Extravaganza for several weeks by researching World War II and creating projects including multimedia presentations, models and poster board exhibits.
“They picked a specific topic, and are presenting it,” Malena said. “They've worked really hard on this and they've done a great job. I am very proud of what they've done.”
Some of the students also participated in the Butterfly Project which taught them about the Holocaust.
“It is very serious but it is really interesting to them,” Malena said, noting it is important for the students to learn about the horrors of the war “so we don't make the same mistakes again. We start off with the Holocaust, and it brings them to earth. It really does put things into perspective.”
Xiltlali Zamudio, an 8th grader, created an exhibit with two of her friends about the Holocaust titled “The Final Solution.”
The students were able to speak with a survivor of the Holocaust as part of their research.
“I felt bad, because the guy was talking to me about the concentration camps and I felt like crying because I didn't want to be in that position the Jews were in,” Zamudio said, adding she did feel privileged as well “because we actually got to meet somebody from World War II.”
In addition to live entertainment highlighting the musical styles of the 1940s, the students also got a chance to check out intricately detailed World War II model aircraft and miniature battle scenes depicting both American and Nazi troops.
One of the students interested in the models was 8th grader Pedro Garcia, who said he was highly impressed with the display.
“I think they are well constructed. They look very realistic.”
The models were set up by Vietnam Veteran Bob Carey.
“I build these miniature battle scenes so (the students) can see what it was like, not just what you see in the movies,” he said.
“I like to bring all this out so they can actually see history, because I show them the USS Arizona or PT-109 and they have no idea what it is. They don't know Pearl Harbor was bombed and 1,100 men are still entombed in the Arizona. Until I mention President John F. Kennedy, they have no idea what PT-109 is.”
The students were intrigued by the models and asked many questions, Carey added.
“This year has been really great. A lot of them come up and ask questions or they will listen to you tell about them.”
Chris McDaniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6849.