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Tell me a little about your early military experience

The first two or three days in the military I spent in Fort Dix.  They were trying to figure out Storeywhere we were going to go after that.  It was kind of crazy; they didn’t know what to do, we didn’t know what to do, and we were just trying to march and no one knew how.  During training there was the first time I fired a gun that was bigger than a 22 caliber. I held it like I had always held my 22 caliber, fired it, and the butt came back, hit me in the face, and gave me a swollen lip.  We trained in small tanks.  I had a choice of tanks or horses, it was a Calvary Training Center, but I never had good luck with being on a horse, so I choose the tanks.  In the end it didn’t really matter because I didn’t stay with the tanks anyhow.  I spent about three months there at Fort Dix, and while I was there I got a call from my father telling me that my best friend had been killed taking part in the invasion on D-day.  It was about October or November when I got transferred to another camp in Texas, Camp Housey, we called it Camp Lousy, for advanced infantry training.  It was there that I earned a medal that in a way was harder to get than any of the other medals that I received.  It was the expert infantry badge and you had to go through two weeks of a very hectic and strenuous training, some individual and some group.  They would send you out at night with a compass and approximate directions of about how far to go.  Out of our whole regiment only 11 of us passed that training.  Unfortunately, sometime between then and now I managed to lose that badge somewhere.  After our training there was complete we were packed onto a train one night and traveled throughout the whole day and were still in Texas, seeing as how big the state of Texas is.  We finally arrived at Camp Swift in Texas and I found myself in the 10th Mountain Division.  You might wonder what the hell is the 10th Mountain 10th Mountain DivisionDivision doing there in Texas and the answer was while it was not ideal training grounds, we would be experiencing combat on flat land as well, so our time there was not wasted.  We were there for two or three months, and then they stuck us on a train and we zigzagged all around the southern states.  Eventually we ended up in a place called Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia.  I’m sure there is nothing there now except for maybe a foundation.  We were there during Christmas, which not a very fun place to be during the holidays.  Shortly after that, we were on a boat headed to Europe. 

Tell me about some of your early days in the war

On the way going over to Europe, now that I think about it, I should have been scared to death.  We knew about the U-Boats, and the ships getting sunk, and we were entirely by ourselves. We were on the USS West Point, which was the largest ship the United States had, and the fastest too; which meant it was too fast for convoys to keep up. We sailed nine days to Naples, Italy with no escorts, no nothing. When we got close to Europe we had a few planes circling above us, but the rest of the time we were on our own.  I really didn’t think about it then, but afterwards I thought about it and I really should have been scared at the time.  I guess it’s true, sometime what you don’t know can’t hurt you. We landed in Naples, and by that time the fighting was well past Naples.  We were actually the last outfit to get into action in Germany.  They were actually having a tough time in Italy and had tried many times to get through the line in the Apennine Mountains.  They sent us up there to get up into the mountains that the other troops were having trouble making it though. When we landed in Naples this was the first time we had really seen war.  There were some sunken ships sticking out of the water and some of the local kids would came by when we ate with buckets to get whatever leftovers they could find.  Everything that they could find went into one bucket, whatever it was they took it home and ate it.  The average person would have probably thrown up looking at it, but when you are hungry, you eat what you can. We spent a few days there inMoney Naples, and then we had to unload off the large ship and go aboard smaller ones up the Italian coast to a place called Livorno. One of my jobs was to get down there with the guys and load and supervise loading the boats to make sure nothing went in the wrong direction.  They all spoke Italian, and I only spoke English.  The lieutenant would hang over the side of the boat, saying tell them to do this and that and I would look at him and say sure; I will tell them, but will they know what I am saying.  We got on a small ship, more like a little banana boat, and it was really horrible.  We headed up to Livorno, and once there we camped in a park, just a couple of miles from the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Before I knew it we were taking off into the hills, which was the first time we really heard the guns going off.  We were heading up a dark road at night, then all of a sudden the sky started exploding. There were large flashes and lots of noise and you really weren’t sure whose guns they were.  We finally we made our way to a small village and once there we could not come out during the daytime. This was because the village was at the base of a hill and the enemies on that hill might see troops if they came out during the day.  That’s when the attacks on the hills began.  This area had held up the Italian campaign for a very long time.  The reason for the hold up was that the Germans were up on top of a steep hill looking down and had a large advantage.  The backs of some of these hills were mostly sheer cliffs, so there seemed no way except for a costly frontal assault.  The Germans did not bother to look behind them, thinking that no one could get up there. However, we did. We went up with ropes and everything else that we had, and like the colonel said, what was the result: we won.  I wasn’t in the very worst part, but going up some of those hills were pretty bad.  The regiment next to ours had it even worse.  We were on the side thought to be impassable, so no one was looking for us, and by the time they realized we were up there, it was too late. It was foggy that night too, which provided extra cover.  The first casualty in our company was a young Chinese boy, Chinese descendant that is.  This seemed kind of strange that we were a United States Army in Italy, fighting the Germans, and a young man of Chinese descent was the first man that we lost.  The thing I remember is that whenever you got to a place even after a victory you could never kick off your shoes and relax, because you knew sooner or later there would be a counterattack.

Tell me about what you did to receive the Bronze Star

By then we had gotten by some of the worst hills and mountains. It seemed like we just kept going up one and down another.  Some of them had names and some of them just had numbers.  I think at one point they ran out of names so they just started using numbers.  That one day was something that I have always remembered very clearly.  We were going up a hill and near the top they said hold up here and dig in.  Back then whenever you stopped marching you started digging a fox hole.  Around 90% of them you never got to get into, by the time you would dig down about 12 inches then it would be time to move again.  So this particular day we were digging and we were making almost no progress at all because it was very rocky soil.  Down below us were two other guys that were digging a hole, and those two got moved out to do another job. Because their fox hole was about twice as deep as ours, my buddy and I said lets go take that hole.  So we left our coats and rifles by the first hole, and we went down to start digging the second hole.  About five minutes later the mortar shell came in and landed right in the first hole that we had been working on and blew everything up: our rifles, jackets, everything.  We had almost no equipment left, but we were safe.  Another shell hit pretty close by, and at that time I was in the hole digging, as we had just switched off. When the shell came in the guy in the hole always had the advantage because he flopped down in the hole and the other guy had to flop down on top of him. My buddy flopped on top of me and got hit in the back with a piece of shrapnel.  If it had been the other way around it would have been me on top. Finally, they said it was time to move out. I went back up to the first hole where our equipment had been laying and saw that my jacket was blown to pieces and my rifle was torn apart so I really had nothing left. Bronze Star There had been a few people hurt and some killed around the hill so there was equipment lying around that I collected.  That was just how it was, you picked up this, and you picked up that, a rifle here, some ammo there.  This was by no means the end of it, because then we moved over the next hill.  When you are in the infantry you follow the guy ahead of you; when he went you went, when he stopped you stopped.  You didn’t know why you went or why you stopped, you just hoped that they guy at the head of the line knew where he was going, because you sure as hell didn’t know.  Finally we stopped, and as I was looking around I saw a friend of mine, Mel Borders, about 15 feet away. Just as I saw him a German who was not that far ahead of us fired a rifle grenade and my friend was hit in the leg. It blew a good portion of it away.  I then went over to help my friend.  In the service sometimes there is a question about how much you should leave your position to go help someone.  At the time I didn’t worry much about protocol or regulations, I just went over to help my friend.  He was showing right down to the bone and bleeding terribly, so I put a tourniquet on him, high up on his leg.  I don’t know what I used, a belt or something like that, and I was able to stop most of the bleeding.  After being there a few minutes I realized that I would have to let the tourniquet off after a while.  I  looked down at my watch, but realized that I didn’t have it anymore.  It was back on the hill and was left in my jacket that was blown apart.  It was only about 100 yards away, so I went by myself back to that hill.  I knew about where it was, and somehow in the dark I was able to find the jacket and the watch which amazingly was still working.  I then went back and stayed with Mel for 12 or 13 hours through the night.  DuringStorey And Borders the night there was fighting all around and it was impossible to tell who was doing what.  Mel was unconscious and I was quiet as to not give away our position.  Throughout the night I administered first aid as best as I could, and the next day they came and got him.  After they took him away, I managed to get back with my outfit somehow.  One of the things I lost that night was my sleeping bag.  I was one of the few people who had managed to have a sleeping bag, and when Mel was hurt I put the sleeping bag underneath him. When they took him away to the hospital they took him sleeping bag and all, and I ended up losing my sleeping bag. Incidentally, I saw Mel years later in Colorado and they were able to save his leg. He had actually ran some marathons and competed in some bike races.  He is gone now, like most WWII veterans are.  Originally I was awarded the Silver Star for this; however, it was later downgraded to a Bronze Star.  Mel always said I should have gotten the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Tell me about how you were wounded in the Second World War

We had already gone through the mountains and the Po Valley.  Incidentally, our company was the first company to cross the Po River.  I was in either the first or the second boat, I can’t remember exactly.  No matter what they show in the movies, we were paddling the boats ourselves. There is some footage of motor boats zooming across the water, but no way Jose, we paddled across.  As we went through the Po Valley it was pretty much a footrace with us chasing the Germans.Purple Heart  There was some isolated action here and there, but very little for the most part.  When we hit the Alps, up along a place called Lake Garda, they told us that there was an elite group of SS troops up in the small town on the mountain.  We walked all night long up this pass and got there in the early morning.  There was a little bit of gunfire as we made our way into the town called Spiatza, if I remember correctly.  We were told that we had to clear a hill and and it was there that were still Germans dug in.  So we started making our way up.  We passed through a garden after coming out from behind a stone wall, and about 10 to 15 yards past the wall machine guns opened up on us from the hill.  Two of our guys were instantly killed.  The guy in front of me got hit six times, but would end up making it.  I was hit three times, and the enemy fire tore my rifle apart in my hands.  Finally, I got back around the stone wall and I stood there for awhile trying to get my breath.  The guy next to me said, "Hey boy, you’re bleeding."  I then looked down and blood was running off the end of my hand.  I didn’t even know until then that I had been hit.  With the adrenaline and the heavy coat that I was wearing, I didn’t even realize it until afterwards.  I wound up going to the hospital for a month.

After I got out of the hospital, I came back to the States. Our outfit was getting ready to go to the Pacific and join the war effort there. But before that happened, they dropped the bomb.  Knowing that we would not go back into combat again was a great relief for all of us.  After that I spent a few more months in the army and was then able to come home.

Tell me about some of your contacts with German soldiers during the war

There was one German soldier who came down from the hill once.  I think he was about ready to go home, so I captured him and his weapon.  However, that day he came out better than I did, because I had to guard him all night while he slept. So I don’t know who was the prisoner that night.



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