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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