Surviving World War II amounted to a matter of inches for Carmen M. Pariso.
On Utah. Beach, during the Allied invasion on D-Day, June 6, 1944, the 5-foot-2 Pariso realized that being short was a good thing.
Many of his Army buddies were falling victim to the barrage of German gunfire during the landing on the beaches of Normandy.
“I was left standing as the bullets sailed over my head,” Pariso says.
That night, once again, his shortness saved him.
“I relieved a tall friend from lookout duty because I could not sleep,” Pariso recalls, adding that as soon as he took over, “a bullet sailed over my head.”
He had not only been spared, but a friend, a soldier from Texas, was spared, as well.
A member of the 358th Company, Pariso served as a squad leader whose journey across Europe took him through the Battle of the Bulge and several other major encounters with the Germans. His specialty, explosives, often took a heavy toll on the enemy. He destroyed a number of buildings, enemy tanks and bridges. But one bridge – over the Danube River in Dillingen, Germany – proved almost out of reach.
Aboard a boat that came under fire and started to sink, Pariso and a friend managed to survive by shedding their heavy ammunition belts.
“We eventually took down the bridge, as well as an important concrete enemy bunker,” Pariso says. “We had to use double the dynamite, and the blast was so strong that the usual 10 seconds that allowed us to clear out after setting the bomb still wasn’t enough, and I was blown into the air off my feet.”
Years later, Tony Pariso, Carmen’s oldest son, visited Germany and saw the site where the bridge once was.
“You couldn’t tell much that there had been a war. It was all modern,” says the 63-year-old son, who assisted his 94-year-old father in recalling the war stories that have dimmed with the passage of time.
Yet there are memories that Carmen Pariso cannot forget, such as the Nazi death camp at Buchenwald. He says that when he and other soldiers liberated Buchenwald, there were stacks of bodies. And even more troubling, in the middle of those stacks, sometimes they would find captives who were still alive.
“It was awful. The bodies were piled like cordwood,” Pariso remembers. “What could you do? This was war.”
But amid all the horrors of war, there were a couple of somewhat pleasant moments.
One time, Pariso took some German soldiers prisoner, and one of them paid him a backhanded compliment, saying, “You’re small but bad.”
Another time when he was transporting POWs back to the American lines, he had not been given the latest password.
“The guy said he was going to open fire. He heard the Germans talking. I started cursing, and the American said it has to be a GI because I never heard the same curse word twice. They let us through,” Pariso says.
Only once was he wounded, shot in the buttocks with a wooden bullet; but it was not enough to remove him rom the front lines.
At the end of the war, Pariso’s uncanny luck continued. He took his back military pay and started betting against dice players while on the ship returning them to the States. By the time he arrived home, he says, he had won about $30,000 and had to hire another soldier to serve as his bodyguard.
Rather than squander the fortune, he used the money to help start a family business, Pariso Bros., which did excavation and trucking. With his wife, Beverly Bird Pariso, he later founded Carmen M. Pariso in 1970, and to this day many of the company’s red dump trucks and tractors can be seen on area roadways going from one job to the next.
When asked if he considers himself a lucky man, Pariso laughs and says, “Oh, yeah, every time I wake up.”
Carmen M. Pariso, 94
• Hometown: Buffalo
• Residence: Cheektowaga
• Branch: Army
• Rank: Sergeant
• War zone: Europe
• Years of service: 1942-45
• Most prominent honors:
Silver Service Star in lieu of five
Bronze Service Stars; Bronze
Arrowhead Device for assault
landing at Utah
Beach on D-Day;