Bruno Sammartino was the WWWF champion for 4,040 days. He sold out Madison Square Garden 187 times. Sammartino truly earned the nickname, “The Living Legend.”
Those accomplishments were not the most riveting events to occur in Sammartino’s life. Legends with JBL (October 17, 2016) delved into several topics with, “The Italian Strongman,” including surviving a Nazi invasion.
You might be wondering why I’m covering a show that aired almost two years ago. Well...
It’s the Big Show. It’s a big bad show tonight. Oh, sorry. That theme song always pops into my head whenever using the word, “Well,” in that context.
I’ve been following professional wrestling for over thirty years and have been an internet wrestling fan for, let’s say, ten years more or less. I’ve never heard this story before about Bruno Sammartino’s childhood. I figure that if it is new to me, then it will probably be new to others. And, it deserves attention.
Sammartino’s father went to America when Bruno was three months old. He never knew his father until he himself came to America years later in 1950 at fourteen years of age. His father was working with the intent to come back to Italy. When World War II broke out, the passage ways were closed, so Bruno’s father could not return for his family.
In 1943, Sammartino was eight years old and living in Pizzoferrato, Abruzzo, Italy. His uncle banged on the door one night alerting them that the Nazis were coming. At that age, Bruno did not understand what was going on. He heard noises from tanks that were new to his ears being from a town with horses and buggies. “It sounded like the end of the world to us.”
The German SS troops stormed through.
A lot of people didn’t get out in time. They lined them up all at la piazza, the square in town, and they just shot them down. They killed maybe thirty, forty people at a time. They wiped about two hundred people from my town.
Sammartino’s mother trekked a day and a half with her children to hide with Bruno’s uncles at a mountain called Valla Rocca.
They remained up there for fourteen months. Sammartino’s mother, Amelia, had to risk being caught to get food for her family. It took twenty-four hours to walk to a nearby town and another twenty-four hours to return. She did that once a week. Amelia was forty-eight years old at the time.
On one occasion, Amelia was captured. She was the only one to escape. Everyone else was executed.
On a different occasion, the family was found by Nazi soldiers on horseback.
Well, horseback to the bottom of the mountain. We thought we would be safe up there because of such a ridiculous climb. That we think why would they want to come up here, such distance. And who’s up here? Just old men, old women, and kids, you know. ‘Cause a lot of the younger guys they joined with the Allies that were trying to help them, that terrain you know, the best way to come in. Because the Germans, they were so well positioned that every time the Allies tried to conquer our town, they were driven back. So these guys joined and they were trying to help.
We were up there alone. These two guys (Nazis), they carried their stuff, I don’t know how long it took them. Like I said, I was a kid. And they made their way up there and we were shocked. We couldn’t believe it that they came up the mountain. So, next thing you know, they were screaming and scaring the heck out of all of us and they made us come out and they lined us all up. They made a long line of all the people that were up there on the top of that mountain. They were setting up a machine gun or Tommy gun, whatever it was they were setting up with the legs on it.
That’s where I always said my whole life my mom is my biggest hero. She was a peasant woman, uneducated, and she just worked the field all day, but yet she was so brave. Not only the risk of finding food for us. On this particular case, we were so frightened, and she had me on one side. I was the youngest. And my brother, my sister, and the other, I already lost a sister and a brother. I had a brother and sister on one side. Me on the other side. I was so scared I had my head tucked in on her side like holding on. And my mom would talk to us. “Don’t be afraid, because pretty soon everything is going to be fine. We’re going to be in heaven. We’re going to be in a palace. No more hunger, no more cold. Everything is going to be great.”
Thank god, two of the people that had joined with the Allies, a couple of them at the time would always come back to check on their wife or kids or parents or whoever. And it just so happened that they came and saw what the heck was going on. And somehow they were able to overtake these guys (Nazis) with knives that they had.
By the time word came that they could return to town, Sammartino was ill with Rheumatic fever. He was so sick that he had to be carried off the mountain. Doctors did not expect Bruno to live more than a day or two. Amelia said, “I lost two. I’m not going to lose another one.” Amelia convinced one of Bruno’s uncles to travel to a different town to bring back leeches. The idea was that the leeches would suck out the bad blood. As you can tell, that method worked.
Bruno and his family eventually made their way to America in 1950. He was fourteen years old and weighed 83 pounds. Eight years later, Bruno weighed 275 pounds and was one of the strongest men in the world.
That is amazing. Stories like Bruno’s help with perspective. Everyone has moments of frustration with ‘stupid stuff’ in daily life, but it is nothing compared to what Bruno and his family went through. Slow down, have patience, and realize that the ‘stupid stuff’ doesn’t matter in comparison. I find that helps to have a greater appreciation of what we have in life.
Seriousness aside, adapt that tale into an Expendables 4 plot with a time machine to save young Bruno Sammartino and his fellow villagers.
Legends with JBL featuring Bruno Sammartino is a fascinating interview. Other interesting topics include being offered a tryout for the Pittsburgh Steelers, suspended by state athletic commissions, winning the championship from Buddy Rogers, wrestling an orangutan, slowing down his schedule, and breaking his neck against Stan Hansen. I highly recommend watching if you have the WWE Network. If not, then make a mental note for later when you do have the WWE Network one day.
What are your favorite memories related to Bruno Sammartino?