Remember, not all World War II heros dies on D-Day

  • Libero Rufo was killed, St. Lo, France on July 17, 1944 during World War II. A monument in Concord bears his name. Ray Duckler—Monitor staff

  • Libero Rufo was killed, St. Lo, France on July 17, 1944 during World War II. A monument in Concord bears his name. Ray Duckler—Monitor staff

  • Libero Rufo was killed in St. Lo, France on July 17, 1944 during World War II. A monument in Concord bears his name. Ray Duckler / Monitor staff

  • Libero Rufo was killed in St. Lo, France on July 17, 1944, during World War II. Ray Duckler

Monitor columnist
Published: 7/20/2019 6:25:12 PM

Gently move aside the pink and purple petunias in front of the granite tribute.

Then you’ll see his name, Libero Rufo. You’ll read the place he was killed, St. Lo, France, and the date he died, July 17, 1944.

Seventy-five years ago this week.

“There’s so much about D-Day, and rightly so,” said Patricia Hiscoe, whose uncle Libero died less than six weeks after that historic land invasion. “Then I got to thinking about it and there were other people who gave their lives during World War II 75 years ago. Sometimes I think the world of media and the fast-paced social media celebrated D-Day, but we have other people from Concord who died during the war.”

Enter Hiscoe, and her point, certainly justifiable, was clear: With all the fuss made last month over those killed on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, it was inevitable that a soldier somewhere in the Concord area connected to this historical event might be missed.

Rufo fits into this category. He was killed at the Battle of St. Lo, France. His monument is at the intersection of Rumford and North State streets, on a little flower-covered island with flags and breeze-bending stems and obscurity.

The lone way Rufo could have made it into France was if he, too, landed on those D-Day beaches in Normandy.

But those who helped liberate Europe, the men who hit the beaches in the days and weeks after the Allies initial surge, sometimes were left out of the celebratory mix, blocked from public consciousness like, well, like a name hidden behind petunias.

Such is the nature of war, with its chaotic cruelty spread over large areas. Soldiers go missing, records are hard to find and tributes are built before foliage grows around them and cars zip by, unaware they’re passing a hero who sacrificed a lot.

All of which led Hiscoe, who lives in Franklin and has siblings in Concord, to wonder about their father’s brother, whom they never met. Didn’t he deserve some ink as well?

He lives in eternity at Rufo Square. You’ve passed it, right? Going south on Route 3, it’s just past Blossom and Calvary cemeteries, where the road forks right onto Rumford Street.

There are badges from the VFW and American Legion. There’s also a floral piece, featuring red and white carnations, its three-pronged legs pushed into the dirt by Hiscoe last Wednesday, the 75th anniversary of Rufo’s death.

She visited the little island where the tribute stands, surrounded by heavy traffic and the whoosh of passing cars.

“It was sad,” Hiscoe told me. “He was a man we heard about, a war hero, when we were kids.”

Hiscoe knew stuff about her uncle, but we needed a little assistance to fill in gaps. Records, not always easy to find, exist for Rufo. The paperwork says he lived in Concord and enlisted into the Army in Manchester on Sept. 15, 1942. It says he worked in a factory, manufacturing leather. He was single.

He served as a corporal in the 344th Field Artillery Battalion, 90th Infantry Division, U.S. Army. He received the Purple Heart.

He died at age 32. The circumstances surrounding his death were not found. Hiscoe wasn’t sure of the exact details.

She knew, however, that before the monument found its colorful home on the 50th anniversary in 1994, when the late Pasquale Rufo – Libero’s brother, Hiscoe’s father – helped mark the occasion, the Moose Club named its hall after Rufo just one year after the war ended, in 1946.

Through the decades, Hiscoe and her siblings pieced together who their uncle was, questioning their dad and extended family members, who played a larger role back then in the day-to-day flow of information and household functions.

Rufo’s father, Antonio, immigrated here from Italy. He died of black lung disease in 1928, after years of working as a dusty stonecutter. Rufo, one of five children and the oldest boy, was 16. He began to lead by example, dropping out of Concord High School to work at Page Belting.

“My uncle Libero worked and contributed financially,” Hiscoe said. “He was a role model for my father.”

In the years after his death, the family built Rufo’s Greenhouse, which still operates today, on Rumford Street. His brothers and sisters had kids. There were cousins and grandparents, some of whom never met the stonecutter who never made it back from the war alive. Two of his brother, both deceased now, survived combat.

Hiscoe enjoyed Christmas parties and sing-alongs at the Moose Lodge, by then named after her uncle.

“We’d walk into the hall that had the same name as me,” Hiscoe said with pride. “Very cool.”

She continues to work on her uncle’s behalf, sprucing up the area so others might know what her uncle did, who he was, where he died. Maybe someone in a passing car will notice the bright colors and visit.

Hiscoe bought the floral display of red and white carnations the night before the anniversary of her uncle’s death and placed them at his memorial the next day.

She works in the mental health field and helps those with substance abuse problems. She had a client at 7 a.m. that morning, so she couldn’t stay long. Ten Minutes, long enough to reflect.

“It was sort of sad,” Hiscoe said. “Growing up we had lots of family in the neighborhood and I knew my aunts and uncles and cousins on both sides of the family. I was standing there and thinking they’re all gone.”

In a sense, though, one family members lives on forever. Gently move those petunias aside and you’ll see his name.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)




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