Monday, August 5, 2013

Semper Four: An Oral History


  Today I published a collection of four interviews with Marine Corps veterans as an ebook, available for Kindle only. Audio of the interviews is available in my eBay store. A print version of the book will be available soon. This is the introduction and a portion of the first interview.

This is neither a comprehensive picture of the Marines in World War II nor even a portrait of one particular battle. My father served in a tank battalion in the European Theater of Operations. In 1994 I self-published  a collection of stories told to me by veterans of his battalion. I turned to the still-young Internet to promote the book, and in 1997 I launched the World War II Oral History Web Site @
Because it was rich in World War II “content,” my web site took on a life of its own. The son of a 1st Infantry Division veteran asked if I’d like to interview his father, who was in the first wave on Omaha Beach. Lyn Barenbrugge sent me some stories she’d helped her father-in-law, a veteran of the 10th Armored Division, put down on paper. Margie Hoffman contributed some stories about her childhood in England during the Blitz.
In 1992 I met Bob Levine, a former prisoner of war, who encouraged me to interview American ex-POWs. Then in 1994, with the 50th anniversary of D-Day approaching, I interviewed several local D-Day veterans. And in 1999, while on a trip to Germany to visit the town where a buddy of my father was killed, I met the German historian Walter Hassenpflug, who got me interested in the Kassel Mission, a tragic air battle.
Being just one person with a full time job on the side, I chose to focus on these four areas: my father’s tank battalion, former prisoners of war, D-Day veterans, and survivors of the Kassel Mission.
Every so often I would get an email saying, in effect, “Where are the Marines?” “What about the Pacific?”
Then I got lucky. In 1998 Kurt Pfaff, director of the Eldred, Pa., World War II Museum, invited me out to interview local veterans on Memorial Day. There I met my first two Marines – Jerome Auman, who served as an MP in Samoa and later witnessed one of World War II’s iconic moments, when, “by the grace of God and a few Marines, MacArthur returned to the Philippines”; and Bill Scheiterle, who was a lieutenant during the invasion of Peleliu.
In 2002, at a Memorial Day barbecue, I met Nick Paciullo, a neighbor. Nick was a veteran of the 4th Marine Division and was wounded twice on Iwo Jima. And in 2007, I received an email from Diann Hamant asking how she could find somebody to interview her father, who’d spent a year on the island of Tinian and saw the Enola Gay before it took off on its mission to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I asked Diann where her father lived and she said Cincinnati. The 712th Tank Battalion was having its annual reunion in Cincinnati that year, so I suggested that Diann bring her father by the hotel and I’d be happy to interview him. She did, and I had my fourth Marine.
There are far more comprehensive books about what it was like to be a Marine in World War II. But I will say one thing: Each of the four Marines in this book has a remarkable story to tell.

Nick Paciullo

4th Marine Division

Iwo Jima

Hackensack, N.J., Sept. 4, 2002

Aaron Elson: Did you grow up in New Jersey?

Nick Paciullo: No, on Long Island. Queens.

Aaron Elson: Was your father an immigrant?

Nick Paciullo: Yes. He came to this country when he was nine years old. And my mother was born practically here.

Gladys Paciullo: On the way over?

Nick Paciullo: Yes.

Aaron Elson: Really? She was born on the ship?

Nick Paciullo: Yeah. Isn’t that something?

Aaron Elson: So she met your father over here, naturally.

Nick Paciullo: Yes, and what went between them, that I can’t tell you. I wasn’t born yet.

Aaron Elson: Did you have brothers and sisters?

Nick Paciullo: Yes. I had one brother and three sisters. Actually, 11, my mother had miscarriages in between. My sister Rose is a twin, but she died at childbirth.

Aaron Elson: You had a twin who died at childbirth?

Nick Paciullo: Yes. We didn’t know about it. We were all too young. We heard about this later on.

Aaron Elson: What did you feel when you heard about it?

Nick Paciullo: It felt funny. It was brought up like in a conversation. And we didn’t even realize it. But those days, I guess it wasn’t an outspoken thing, they kept everything to themselves. And I had a pretty good life with my father. I worked with him.

Aaron Elson: What did he do?

Nick Paciullo: He was an ice and coal man. He had his own business for many years, and I woke up the horse in the morning. While my father was having his breakfast I used to have breakfast with my horse and his name was Nickie, the same as mine. And then I used to get all the stuff ready, polish the reins and all that because everything had to be nice and clean. Then I came home and he went back to work. I went to school, and he did his route and came back and he had lunch ready for us.

Aaron Elson: Where did you go to school?

Nick Paciullo: PS 155 in South Ozone Park.

Aaron Elson: And high school?

Nick Paciullo: John Adams. I was there four years but I did not graduate. I joined the service instead of graduating. I was only 17 years old when I enlisted.

Aaron Elson: You were only 17?

Nick Paciullo: Nineteen forty-two.

Aaron Elson: Did you have to lie about your age?

Nick Paciullo: No. I fought with my mother because I wanted to join when I was 16. There was a man that lived like the next block but behind us, he was a sergeant in the Marine Corps. And, you know, talking to a Marine and I loved the Marines, and I wanted to join the Marines.

He says, “You join the Marines, and I will fix it up, after boot training you’ll spend the rest of the war at 90 Broadway.”

I says, “Are you kidding? I don’t want that. I want to go overseas and fight the Japanese.”

And that was the beginning of it. Then I went to boot training. I joined in ’42 but they didn’t take me in until January of ’43.

Aaron Elson: When did you turn 18?

Nick Paciullo: April the 13th the following year, in 1943.

Aaron Elson: So you went to boot camp in January of ’43?

Nick Paciullo: Right. And graduated there and I was attached to the 3rd Marine Division. One day in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, “Line up!”

We all lined up.

“Split in half. This side and this side, every other man.” This was the 3rd Marine Division, and we started the 4th Marine Division, and I grew up with the 4th Marine Division.

Aaron Elson: So you were in from the very beginning of the 4th Division?

Nick Paciullo: Yes, I’m the original.

Aaron Elson: And what was your rank?

Nick Paciullo: I was a private, Pfc, corporal, private, Pfc, corporal ... I was a little bad in the service. I was with two gentlemen – two Marines I should say – from Chicago, Pudlow and McDowell. They were two crazy guys and I joined them too. They were in my squad, and we had a lot of fun. We were always in trouble. But we got away with it.

Aaron Elson: Now you and Nat [Nat Rubin, a veteran of the Merchant Marine], were reminiscing about Swabbies and the Shore Patrol. Is that who you got into trouble with?

Nick Paciullo: Yeah, a little bit in San Diego.

Aaron Elson: Tell me what kind of trouble you would get into, if you can with your wife here.

Nick Paciullo: No, it wasn’t dirty or anything else like that. I’ll give you an incident, what happened one night. The three of us – in fact, there were about five or six of us, walking, and we see this big door open. A big office. We walked in. We’re talking the pencils, and I took a chair with rollers on it, and I put one of the guys on the chair and we were rolling him around in San Diego. All of a sudden I’m pushing and I can’t go nowhere. They had my duty belt. It was an MP Marine, oh God, where’d these guys get this stuff? And we had a court martial. And we got away with it, because we didn’t rob anything, all we took was pencils and that one chair, and we were having a good time.

The following week, we went from Camp Lejeune to California. And then just before we get to California, they were having the zoot suiters terrorizing in California.

Aaron Elson: Zoot suiters?

Nick Paciullo: Yes, the Mexicans, that’s what they were called.

Aaron Elson: Terrorizing?

Nick Paciullo: Yes. And when we got to California in what, Union Station, is that in California? “Everybody put on duty belts, rifles and bayonets.”

What the hell is going on?

At the time we didn’t know what was going on, and we were ready to clean out the streets. And then something must have happened, and instead of fighting the Mexicans they took us to Camp Pendleton.

Aaron Elson: There were riots?

Nick Paciullo: Rioting, and they were doing a lot of crazy things. Zoot suiters. And then Camp Pendleton, and we spent a couple of months there. And in ’43, we hit the Marshall Islands. The first time a fresh Marine division ever hit an island from the States to the enemy.

Aaron Elson: What were your thoughts crossing the ocean?

Nick Paciullo: I didn’t have much thought. I didn’t think of getting killed, shot or anything. We all talked and had a good time, we didn’t say “You’re gonna die” or anything like that.  ... (thumbing through a book on the 4th Marine Division) ... this is my buddy.

Aaron Elson: Richard D. Anderson?

Nick Paciullo: Yeah. That story.

Aaron Elson: (reading) “... gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the 4th Marine Division during action against enemy Japanese forces on Roi Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Mariana Islands, Feb. 1, 1944. Entering a shell crater occupied by three other Marines, Private First Class Anderson” – were you one of the Marines?

Nick Paciullo: Yes.

Aaron Elson: “...Private First Class Anderson was preparing to throw a grenade at an enemy position and it slipped from his hands and rolled toward the men at the bottom of the hole. With insufficient time to retrieve the armed weapon and throw it Private First Class Anderson fearlessly chose to sacrifice himself and save his companions by hurling his body upon the grenade and taking the full impact of the explosion. His personal valor and exceptional spirit of loyalty in the face of almost certain death were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”

Nick Paciullo: By the way, our last reunion, a couple of buddies of mine, they live in Washington State, Anderson lived in Washington State, and he was buried at Kwajalein. And they took his body and brought it back to Washington State where his family is.

Aaron Elson: Was he in your platoon?

Nick Paciullo: My squad, yes. And he was the fourth guy that we used to go out with. Very nice guy. Pudlow was killed on Iwo, and McDowell lost his leg on Saipan. I almost lost my eye on Kwajalein, right after that.

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