Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"That guy who wet his pants..." (on Omaha Beach)

Me (second from right) with five veterans of the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion, from left, Sam Trinca, Tony DeTomaso, Bill Secaur, Jim Burke and Chuck Hurlbut.

In September of 1998, at the invitation of Chuck Hurlbut, I interviewed a group of veterans from his World War II outfit, the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion. The movie "Saving Private Ryan" was released earlier that year. Naturally it came up in conversation. Here is an excerpt from that interview with some comments from Sam Trinca, on the far left in the photo above.

Aaron Elson: Were you scared?

Sam Trinca: Scared? Oh, you didn’t read the article, I had an article in the paper, one of the guys, he was asking about, oh, they saw the movie, what was that movie ...

Aaron Elson: “Saving Private Ryan”?

Sam Trinca: And they called me up because they knew I was one of them. They said "Mr. Trinca, you’re one of the boys who was at Omaha Beach. Could we have a little information about it? What we want to know is, does the producer hit the spot?” They wanted to know if it’s exact, as close as possible, if they made that movie as close as they said, they claimed that that movie was very close to the real invasion.

 Aaron Elson: Was it?

Sam Trinca: I don’t know. So they asked me that question. “Did you see the movie by any chance?”

     I said “No, I didn’t.”

“Oh, well,” he says.

I said, “Give me a ticket, I’ll go and see it.” How could I prove what the movie looks like if I haven’t seen it? I said “I can tell you my version of the story.” So I told him my story, like I’m telling you now.

He said, “Well, that sounds pretty close to it.”

“Well,” I says, “I can’t tell you what the movie is.”

He says, “Are you going to go see it?”

I says, “I don’t know, maybe yes and maybe no.” But I didn’t see it. See, they were trying to compare how close they came to making it real. Because they said a lot of it was a lot of bull. But some people thought it was real. So they’re taking the people’s word.

Aaron Elson: Going back to scared.

     Sam Trinca: Oh, scared. I was afraid to even mention it in the newspaper. I told him, I said, “You know, I was so damn scared I wet my pants so many times it wasn’t even funny.” I mean a lot of my friends downtown, they said, “You’re that guy who wet his pants, ain’t you?”

I says, “I’ll tell you. I’m not ashamed to say it. Yes, I did wet my pants.” I tell my friends. In fact, I was over here at a store here, that my wife goes to, and I saw a lady, a friend of ours. She started, she said, “Hey Sammy. I read the story in the paper. So you wet your pants, huh?”

I said “Yes I did.” I said “I’m not ashamed to tell you.”

She says, “I don’t blame you. I’ll bet you some guys did more than that.”

I says, “They probably did.” Then I says, “Thank god I was in the water anyway, I was soaking wet, so who could tell the difference?” She started laughing. What the hell, I was soaking wet anyway. How many times did I have to wet my pants? I don’t know, from there to there? Hell, yeah, you bet your life I was scared. Scared? Like I said, when you jump off that boat, you don’t know what you’ll do. You know you’ve got to get the mines, your job is to do what you’re supposed to do and keep on going. You’re here. You watch yourself, you try and help your buddy if you can."

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A full transcript will be available in my next book, tentatively titled "Conversations With D-Day Veterans." An audio version will not be available as the interview was recorded in a mall with a noisy waterfall in the background, and later in the restaurant of a Holiday Inn in Ithaca, N.Y., with a great deal of background noise. I have made copies of the audio and supplied them to the author of a book on D-Day who could find few sources on the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion, and also to a documentary producer in England who was making a film about D-Day. I may recreate the conversation using actors to produce an audio version in the future. For more information about the battalion, visit their web site,  299th Combat Engineer Battalion, with thanks to Jeannie Tucker, the daughter of one of the battalion's veterans.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Breakfast at Denny's

Reuben "Ruby" Goldstein

The following is from the preface to my book "A Mile in Their Shoes":


Have you had breakfast? Perhaps you’ll join me at Denny’s. I’d offer to pay, but Cliff Merrill insists on picking up the check. Cliff is a retired colonel. Who are we to argue?
Cliff’s wife Jan will join us, along with Reuben and Sue Goldstein. Ruby is fond of reminiscing about the Great Depression and is a big fan of the $1.99 Grand Slam breakfast – these are 1994 prices, mind you!
Let’s take this table in the corner. It’s Sunday morning, and the restaurant in Bradenton, Fla. – where the veterans of the 712th Tank Battalion from World War II are having their annual Florida “mini-reunion” – is crowded. Soon the waitress brings our plates, with their neatly arranged sausage patties, their bacon, pancakes and sunnyside up eggs. She disappears momentarily and returns with two thermal decanters of coffee.
Before long, as it always does at these reunions, the conversation shifts from restaurants in the Boston area – another favorite topic of Ruby’s – and salmon fishing in Alaska, an annual pastime of Cliff and Jan – to Normandy and 1944.
Cliff is solidly built, even as he pushes 80, with pale, chiseled cheeks and a splash of red beneath his eyes. He could still fit into a uniform, while Ruby, with the exception of his facial features, bears little resemblance to the rail-thin cavalry sergeant in 50-year-old snapshots.
When the battalion experienced its first combat on July 3, 1944, in the Haye du Puits sector of the Normandy battlefield, Cliff was a company commander in the 712th. Ruby was a tank commander in his company.
“Do you remember,” Ruby says, “we had these flare guns in the tank?”
“Smoke,” Cliff says.
“Yeah, smoke mortars,” Ruby says, although the next few times I hear him tell the story it will still be a flare gun. Memory is funny that way.
“I had mine wired to the inside of the basket of the turret,” he says with his Boston accent, “and I took it with me after the tank was hit.” This was on either July 4th or 5th, 1944. A few days later Cliff would be wounded and would miss the rest of the combat in Europe, although he would return to the European theater as a member of the tribunal at the Dachau war crimes trials, and later as a provost marshal. Ruby would be wounded too, but not until the Falaise Gap in August, and he would later return to the outfit.
“There was a machine gun nest in the field,” he says. “He was waiting for somebody to cross the opening to the field, then he’d let go. So I started to fire it [the smoke mortar] and lobbed it over the hedgerow. It couldn’t do any damage, but it must have scared the hell out of them, because I fired quite a few shots. But he caught one paratrooper that was trying to go through the opening. He caught him and killed him.”
“It was a captain of the paratroopers,” Cliff says. “I tried to stop him.”
Cliff pauses amid the clinking of coffee cups and animated conversations at nearby tables. He glances down, as if he is deep in thought.
“Before your tank was hit, you ran over,” he says, staring now at his plate, his voice barely audible, “there was a wounded German. You ran over him with your tank. Did you know that?”
“No, I just kept going.”
Jan Merrill, who is Cliff’s second wife, glances knowingly at Sue Goldstein, who married Ruby shortly after the war, as if to say you’d think our husbands wouldn’t talk about these things over breakfast. But the women know it’s better to talk about it over breakfast than to not talk about it at all.
“Jesus,” Cliff says, “you flattened him right out.”
“We kept going,” Ruby says. “Didn’t stop for anything.”
“He wasn’t wounded any longer,” Cliff says. “The tracks ran the whole length of him.”

GOLDSTEIN, Reuben "Bob" Of Hull (Mass.) Entered into rest June 22, 2012, at the age of 94. Bob was a proud U.S. Army Veteran of WWII and a Purple Heart Recipient. Beloved husband of the late Sylvia (Raskind) Goldstein. Devoted father of Martin Goldstein and his wife Pamela of Randolph, Stuart Goldstein and his wife Donna Marie of Hanover, Barry Goldstein of NJ and Donna Goldstein of Hull. Loving brother of the late Melvin Goldstein, Nathan Goldstein, David Goldstein and Jack Goldstein. Cherished grandfather of Alyssa, Ashley and Philip. Services will be held at the Stanetsky Memorial Chapel, 475 Washington St, CANTON, MA on Monday June 25, 2012 at 10:00 AM. Interment Lindwood Memorial Park, (Moses Mendelsohn Section), Randolph. Memorial observance will be held at the home of Martin & Pamela, on Monday beginning at 6:00 PM and on Tuesday and Wednesday beginning at 2:00 PM. In lieu of flowers expressions of sympathy in his memory may be made to a charity of your choice. Stanetsky Memorial Chapel 781-821-4600 www.stanetsky.com

Ever since I began attending reunions of the 712th Tank Battalion, I can't recall Ruby Goldstein ever missing one, either the annual reunion or the Florida minis. I heard two stories at the first reunion I went to, in 1987, which were instrumental in turning me into an oral historian. Neither story was the kind of story you'd expect to hear, about courage under fire, about bravery. One of the stories, told by Wayne Hissong, was about all the things he did upon returning home to avoid facing the mother of a buddy with whom he'd entered the service, and who wanted to know how her son was killed. The other story was told by Ruby, and was about a rabbit. Those of you who knew Ruby have probably heard this story more than once, but here it is nonetheless:

Reuben Goldstein
I was in the replacement depot waiting to rejoin the battalion, and we were getting hungry. It was after breakfast, and it’s getting close to noontime, and who know when the heck you’re gonna get chow, or what you’re gonna get.
So this fellow and I, we take a walk, and we get to a farmhouse, where we get some eggs. But we bought them. The Germans wouldn’t buy them, they’d take what they want. I had some francs in my pocket. I said, “Give me six eggs.”
I put them in my field jacket, three in one pocket, three in another. We go along, go into another farmhouse, and I want some more eggs.
The woman in the house could understand what I wanted. She goes out to get the eggs, and I go to sit down – forget it! I made a mistake. I crushed the six eggs in my pockets. What a mess I had!
I got the other six eggs. I cleaned up as best I could. I cleaned out my pockets. Then I said if she had a rabbit we could buy a rabbit. So it cost me, I think it was ten francs, it’s two cents a franc, twenty cents, and I got a rabbit. It was a nice, big, fat one.
We get back to camp, we said, “How the hell are we gonna kill this and cook it?” So this one kid from down South, I don’t remember his name, he says, “I’ll show you how we do it.”
He takes the rabbit by the hind legs, on the tree, Bam! Hits the head right on the tree, holds the hind legs, puts the rabbit on the ground, puts his foot under the neck, and pulls his head right off. Then he takes a knife and guts it.
We got a couple of branches from a tree, and two forks, cleaned them off, dug a little pit, and started a fire. I got some salt from a guy, and we poured it all inside of the rabbit to clean it out, we didn’t have any water. We poured all the salt, and we’re scraping it with knives to clean it out, and everybody, their mouths were getting full of saliva, you know, we’re gonna have something to eat.
We turned that thing, and we’re turning it and turning it, it should be done by now. We break a piece off and go to eat it.
Did you ever eat shoe leather? You started chewing, you figured look, it’s better than nothing. You spit it out, you couldn’t eat it.


 One day I was driving my goddaughter Avery somewhere, she was in her early twenties at the time, and I had a recording of Ruby telling that story. I said "Listen to this," and I played it on the CD player. Two thirds of the way into the story, she made me turn the CD player off. "Ewww," she said, or a word to that effect. Maybe it was "Yuck." Only then did I realize how graphic a story it was.
One day Tony D'Arpino, who lived in Milton, Mass. -- Ruby lived in Hull -- came into Ruby's dry cleaning establishment. The two of them got to talking, and they discovered that the both were veterans of the 712th. Ruby was in A Company and Tony in C Company, so they didn't know each other during the war, but from that point on they were good friends. The last few years they were both widowers, and they would travel to reunions together; sometimes Tony's daughter Ann would drive them, other times they'd struggle in wheelchairs through airports.
When I went to Milton in 1992 to interview Tony, Ruby came over and I interviewed them together. Ruby brought some pictures and memorabilia, including a training manual. I opened it up, and immediately my respect for Ruby rose several notches.
"Wow," I said. "This was autographed by a general?"
Ruby didn't know quite what I was talking about.
"Right here," I said. "The general signed your book."
Ruby looked quizzically at the page, and then laughed. It was the page with his address.
"General Delivery," he announced. "It was signed by a general!"

"Uncle Ruby, you're my hero," George Goldstein wrote on the obituary guestbook.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Letter From a German Wife to Her Soldier Husband

The destroyer USS Butler (DD-636)

   The American War Orphans Network is a wonderful group, and has helped many Americans deal with the loss of a parent in World War II. I often wondered if there were a similar organization in Germany. Quite a few years ago I asked a German veteran if such a group existed, and the answer was no.
   I recently called Felix Podolak, a "Tin Can Sailor" who served on the USS Butler, to ask his permission to use his 1994 interview in my forthcoming book "Conversations With D-Day Veterans." In the interview, Felix mentioned that he had a buddy on the ship, Gus Siebert, who made two copies of a history of the Butler, one for Gus, the other for Felix.
   The book contained a translation of a letter from a German wife to her husband. There is no indication whether the husband lived or died, or even who he was, as the letter was found in a gun emplacement on one of the invasion beaches, and the soldier's name, as well as the last few lines of the letter, were too smudged by water damage to be legible.
   Here's an excerpt from that conversation:

   Felix Podolak: I had a chance to meet my captain through the Tin Can Sailors. I met him over a drink, and he was gonna be the guest speaker. So I said, “Do you remember that time we had to go chase that British cruiser that was off the Azores?” And there was another incident when we were in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I came off leave from Garfield to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and when I got there, the fellow came down from the yard gang, he wanted to know if he could pump out the No. 2 magazine, in the forward part of the ship. They felt somebody sabotaged the ship, flooded the forward part of the magazine because we were supposed to leave the next day.

When we got to Algiers the captain called me into his quarters, and he had a tape recorder. He recorded everything. He got down to maybe there was some sabotage. After the questioning, he said, “Podolak, maybe the FBI will pick you up to question you, but as far as I know now, you didn’t have nothing to do with it, you came off liberty.” So during the speech he said, “Podolak can sleep a lot better now, he won’t have to worry about the FBI picking him up.” That was about 30 or 40 years later, but he made a joke out of it. He was a terrific captain.

Gus made this book for him and me, there’s only two like it, it’s a history of the ship. Gus was on the forward repair party with me.

The captain went ashore. In one of the pillboxes he found a letter, this fellow out of the pillbox was supposed to write to his wife but it was wet and dirty, and Gus speaks German. He interpreted everything, and this is what the guy was writing to his wife in Germany. This is what we picked up, it’s in here somewhere, this is the communique. Gus being of German descent, he spoke very fluent. In Palermo they were bombing us, and Gus had a chance to be the interpreter for a German pilot that we picked out of the water, in Sicily.

 Aaron Elson: Is this the letter here? (Reading): “When Captain Matthews came back from his trip to Cherbourg, he called me to his cabin and showed me a letter he’d found in one of the German gun emplacements there. He asked what it was. It was a letter from a German wife to her soldier husband. He asked if I could translate it for him. The envelope had a return address but water had blurred the ink, making it impossible to read, and the letter had the last few lines and the signature also blurred. ‘My dear Ewald and my dear father. ...

"‘My dear good Ewald, it is Friday morning, half past eight. Want to hurry and write you a nice letter. I received your dear letter yesterday and was very happy to hear from you my love, and to have heard what you did Easter Day. But now I know that you have seen the great lovers on the screen and yet you didn’t mention a bit about love in your letter. What do you do in your visits to the movies? Do you sleep while the picture is on? With whom do you usually go out, or do you go out alone.
'Dear Ewald, when you write, please don’t complain about your food openly. Just because your officers receive better food than you do, remember, you’re the dumb one when you start to get hotheaded. Therefore, my sweetheart, don’t write about these matters openly.
'Yesterday afternoon I went to the health clinic. A fitter from Ludenscheid was there, and he took my measurements for a health belt. I had to go to the welfare office and get a certificate for it. Then I went back to the clinic and had it stamped, and yesterday afternoon went to the clinic to try it on. The fitter was yet a young man about 30 years old, and I sure felt embarrassed and ashamed to be in my undergarments while he took the measurements. There were 12 other expectant mothers there. The clinic is going to pay 70 percent of the cost of it, and I will have to pay only the 30 percent. I don’t know how I’m going to get something to hold my stockings up with, because you have to have a good reason whenever you want to buy things like that.
'I came home on the train at 3:30. Then I drank some coffee and rode out to the farm. It was almost 8 o’clock and I was just getting ready to plant some vegetables when all of a sudden it began to rain. We had to run, but we got wet just the same. Our daughter came at 5 o’clock and asked for a piece of butter bread and some coffee. She always wants to be where I am. She was out to the farm with me and picked flowers in Forsters’ meadow. Then she sat down by the side of the road and tied the flowers into small bundles. Then she noticed the Russians, which the people are hiring to dig their gardens, and she got frightened and started to cry and came running to me, and then said “Momma, on account of the Russians, I lost all my pretty flowers.” I had to laugh and told her “You little goat, don’t be so scared.” When it stopped raining I wanted to send her home, but she wouldn’t go alone.
'This evening I have cramps in my hands. That’s why I can’t write so plain. My fingers hurt a lot and have blisters on them. In the morning I have to take our daughter to the dentist because I made an appointment for the 14th of April. Yesterday I met Mrs. Sonnerkin, who is a midwife, and think I will have her when our baby arrives. She suggested I have the baby at home instead of in a hospital, because she could be closer that way, and also the hospital would cost 150 marks, while at home the clinic would pay for everything, even 35 marks for a nurse. Lena is going to nurse me, and in case an operation is necessary, Dr. Dimkle will see that I get to a hospital. Then I wouldn’t have to pay anything. I’ll have it home, I think. What is your opinion?
'Dear Ewald, I have to close now because it is 10:30 and we have to leave. Our daughter has to be back at school at 2:30. Last night the Tommies were overhead again, and they didn’t leave until after 12. Until then, we couldn’t go to bed. It was very bad. Now my super sweetheart, a thousand kisses from your faithful wife and daughter.'”

"As I mentioned in the beginning, this letter contained a few more lines and also was signed. As a thought, as of this writing, if their baby was born in 1944, he or she would be now 45 years old. Twice as old as many of us were at that time.”

 Felix Podolak: You notice, she wrote something in there, that she was tired and that her hands were, she must have had to work or something, but she wouldn’t say that she was working hard if you notice. Even on our ship, our mail was censored by the officers.

There’s an article in there about us chasing around, and we finally found that cruiser that was torpedoed by the Germans. It was torpedoed in the bow. Every time it would go down you’d see a big gust of water like a whale. It was only making a couple of knots, and we were sent out to pick it up. While we were sent out to pick it up we didn’t know where, because you’re riding what we call radio silence. We got as far as the Azores, and the next morning we woke up, the fog lifted, and the cruiser was right in front of us. He said it had to be divine intervention, because we traveled more than a thousand miles in three days, and there it was right in front of us. And we brought it back to Bermuda."

As of this writing, Felix Podolak is 91 years old and still living in Garfield. God bless him.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

You can't make stuff like this up

Me, with five veterans of the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion, from left: Sam Trinca, Chet DePalma, Tony DeTomaso, Jim Burke, and Chuck Hurlbut.

During the past few weeks I've been transcribing a conversation I had in 1998 with five veterans of the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion. The battalion was split up on D-Day, with some members landing on Omaha Beach and others landing on Utah Beach. A narrative drawn from my individual interview with Chuck Hurlbut is included in my book "Nine Lives," but I always kind of dreaded transcribing the group interview because a) I wasn't sure I would recognize the individual voices, and b) the conversation began in a mall in Ithaca, N.Y., with an artificial waterfall in the background, then moved to lunch at a nearby Holiday Inn, and concluded in the lounge.

I'm almost finished with the transcription, which I plan to include in my book "Conversations With D-Day Veterans." Today I came upon two passages in one of the files I've converted for use in the transcription program ExpressScribe. The first is one of those scenes that is both sad and humorous at the same time. The second is a wonderful description of the effect of American tank ammunition early in the war when confronted with a German tank.

1) Jim DePalma: Do you remember when the German paratroopers came down during the Battle of the Bulge? We captured what, four? We had about four we captured, I don't know what town it was. Anyway, I had the duty of guarding these four, taking them to the POW camp. Who the hell was it, Mitchell, said to me, he says, "Have them dig a latrine." So I give them a shovel apiece and they started to dig, and one guy started to cry. This sergeant started to cry. So I said to someone who could speak German, "Ask the guy what's wrong with him." Well, he thought he was digging his grave.

2) Bill Secaur: I got chased down a road by a German Panzer 200 yards behind me with a jeep. I was driving a jeep with a machine gun mounted with a messenger. We ran into our outfit in a schoolhouse and they said you better get some sleep. We woke up an hour later and everybody's gone, kitchen equipment's all there, and everything else is gone. We went out the back door of the schoolhouse and here comes a Panzer tank. We took off with a jeep, that's when we went into the woods. We went into the woods, and here's a tank destroyer outfit  from the U.S. and they were waiting for the tanks to destroy 'em. When we first went in with American tanks we couldn't touch a Panzer tank. The shells would bounce right off like a ping pong ball.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

D-Day 2012

A photograph by Robert Capa of the D-day landings in 1944. Photograph: International Center of Photography/Cornell Capa/Magnum 

   The following is an excerpt from my book-in-progress, tentatively titled "Conversations With Veterans of D-Day." I interviewed Valentine Miele, of Palisades Park, N.J., in 1994, shortly before the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. "Conversations With Veterans of D-Day" is a sequel to "A Mile in Their Shoes: Conversations With Veterans of World War II," whose e-book edition for Amazon's Kindle has ranked consistently on Amazon's bestseller list in its category (History...military...U.S....veterans) for the past three months.

   Valentine Miele was a machine gunner in the 1st Infantry Division, the fabled Big Red One.

Aaron Elson: Which regiment were you with?

Valentine Miele: I was with the 16th.
I’m going to England in two weeks. I’m leaving the 26th, back to where we were. I’m not going to France. I could go. I’d have to get a special pass to get onto the beach. I was there on D-Day, now I’ve got to get a special pass, so I said to hell with it.

Aaron Elson: You’re the first person I’ve talked to who was on Omaha Beach. What was it like?

Valentine Miele: It was rough when we got there. I was sick as a dog going in. Puking up.

Aaron Elson: What kind of a ship did you go in on?

Valentine Miele: An LCVP.

Aaron Elson: You crossed the channel on what?

Valentine Miele: On the Chase, an invasion ship. Then we had to climb down a cargo net. I was a machine gunner then. I lost the front side of my machine gun on D-Day, somebody chopped it off. It had to be another machine gun. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an air-cooled machine gun, there’s a jacket around the barrel, and it has holes, so the air gets in there. And they hit that. It knocked the front side off my machine gun. I lost two fronts on my machine gun. And I lost a box of ammunition too, that day. You see, the gunner only carried the tripod. The assistant gunner carried the gun. The tripod I had tied to my wrist, with a rubber life preserver. When I got off the landing craft, when they dropped that gate, my company commander went off before me, but he was 6-6, he was a giant. When I went off the water was only up to my chest. I took two or three steps, and my feet didn’t touch the ground anymore. So I let go of the box of ammunition, because I had that in my left hand. In my right hand I had the tripod, that was tied, and I started to swim. When I started to swim, I thought I was swimming, the water was deep. I looked over to the side, there was my first sergeant, he was walking, and the water was only up to here. That’s when I got my foot down on the sand, and I took off for what we called the rock pile. Right at the edge of the water they had all crushed stone, so the water wouldn’t go in. Then behind that, they had a big hole they had dug, so if any water went over that it went in there, and the water coming off the hill went in there. That was a slop.

Aaron Elson: Was it high tide or low?

Valentine Miele: Low tide. They hit at low tide. Good thing. They had it planned right. At high tide we would have lost more. I don’t think we would have made, it because we wouldn’t have no beach to stand on. High tide it would have gone right up to the crushed stone, and they wouldn’t have seen those, have you ever seen the pictures with the railroad tracks up like that? They would have ripped the hell out of the boats. And then you see those big poles in the water? They had mines on top of those. So at high tide we would have hit them. I think they had it figured the high tide came up about a foot every ten minutes or so. And that water, it was rough. They were gonna call it off but it was rough. I’m glad they didn’t call it off. The day before we got in there, they moved a whole division in there for maneuvers, the 4th or 5th of June they moved a whole infantry division in, and we ran right smack into them. We lost a couple of men there. I think I got a couple. When we got on the beach we met a lieutenant that used to be with us in Sicily. We met him. “Hey, Lieutenant, how ya doing?” Some guy came running up and said, “Lieutenant! Lieutenant! The machine gun up there is cutting the hell out of G Company, cutting C Company apart.” So my sergeant says, “Miele, get on the gun.” I got on the gun. I set the gun up, and we’re looking, we’re looking. He says, “See if you can spot him.” All of a sudden I spotted him, about 200 yards away, and I’d say maybe about thirty or forty feet higher than me. He wasn’t firing at me. He was firing down across. So when he opened up again, the Germans, when they fire, they fire fast, they don’t fire like we did, because they change the barrels of their machine guns in seconds, ours were a pain. We had to take the whole gun apart and screw the barrel off, and then put another barrel on.
They would get hot if you fired like the Germans. We only fired bursts of three or four at a time. The Germans put their finger down, they’d run a hundred off. Because they just push a button, the barrel falls out, and they put another one on. We couldn’t do that. We had to take the whole gun down, screw the barrel off, put a new barrel on, then loosen it three clicks. It was a pain. So he fired, I picked him up, I got about ten rounds in there, that sonofagun never fired any more. He didn’t fire no more. Some of the infantry got up, the riflemen got up and they walked over, and they looked in the hole. They didn’t signal that there was anybody in there. They just looked in the hole and walked away.
And after I started firing some other guy picked me up, and that’s when they knocked the front side right off my machine gun. I lost two.

Aaron Elson: Were you still on the beach?

Valentine Miele: Right on the rockpile. Then they told us to get the hell off the beach. I was ready to go.

Aaron Elson: About what time was this?

Valentine Miele: Oh, about 7 in the morning. Then after we got up there, we only made 1,500 yards on the first day. We were supposed to go 6,000 and set up a roadblock. Never made it. Then we hit the hedgerows. That was a pain.

Aaron Elson: Did you have tanks with you?

Valentine Miele: There was one tank by us on the beach, and he wasn’t firing. All he was doing, there’s when our colonel came up, he’s banging on the end of the damn tank with his tommy gun, “Fire! Fire!” Then all of a sudden the hatch would open up, and they were throwing out, not the shells, you can’t call it a box because it’s the shape of a round, what they had them packed in, because you had to make them waterproof, the tanks. They had a big scoop on the back, it came up like this and out like that so they could go on the water. So once they got on the beach they had to take the shells out of the packing case. They were throwing these out, and the colonel was hollering “Fire!” And he was hitting the tank. They had shells but they were in them damn things. Then we got out and we went up the hill. When we got up to the top of the hill we lost a couple of guys. Urban got hit there. I think it was Hoffman got hit. Cheseldine got killed. Alabama Sam Cipolla got blown up altogether, I think he stepped on a mine and it blew him, he was gone. Cheseldine, he shouldn’t have been there. I found out later on what happened to him. He got hit in Africa in the head. See, when you go into the hospital, you’re still in the same outfit, you don’t get reclassified. But with him, he gets hit in the head, but when he found out that the outfit went back to England, he came back to the company, but he should never have been there. They should have sent his rear end home. So he got killed on D-Day.

Aaron Elson: Where was he from?

Valentine Miele: I think he was from New York.

Aaron Elson: What was his first name?

Valentine Miele: Oh, I don’t know his name. You don’t know anybody by their first name. We found out later on. One day we were in the hedgerows and the old man, the company commander, came over. We’ve got the little stove we used to carry, and we made coffee, and he starts talking. He says, “Cheseldine got killed on the beach.” They found out, I don’t know if a grenade or a shell went off close to him. And that’s when they found out he had a silver plate in his head. They shouldn’t have sent him back over there, bastards.
Another guy got it in the eye, up by the eye. He got it on D-Day. We got him back, they sent him back in October. We got him back in October. The company commander took one look at him and said, “Get the hell out of here.”
He said, “Where am I gonna go?”
He said, “I don’t care, get out.” His eye was pulled over on the side like that, they sent him back up on the line. I don’t know, maybe he didn’t want to get out of the outfit. I didn’t want to get out either when I got hit. When I went to the hospital and I came out, next thing you know I got a reclassification, they put me in some ordnance outfit in the Air Force. And that’s where I got discharged from, the Air Force.

Aaron Elson: Was that the first time you got wounded?

Valentine Miele: Yeah, only once I got hit. That other guy, Urban from New York, he got hit on D-Day, he got hit in Sicily, right through the shoulder. He got hit when he came back again, the third time he got hit, I think he got it in the leg. Then they reclassified him. They put him in some other outfit. They didn’t send him back on the line no more.

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Thanks for reading. Watch for more information on this upcoming book.

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