Shaun Illingworth: This begins an interview with Mr. Arthur C. Wenzel on April 11, 2005, in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, with Shaun Illingworth and ...
Patrick Clark-Barnes: Patrick Clark-Barnes.
SI: Sitting in also is ...
Joyce Wenzel: Joyce Wenzel.
Arthur Wenzel: ... and Art Wenzel. [laughter]
SI: Thank you both very much for having us at your home today. I will let Patrick ask the first question.
PCB: Mr. Wenzel, where were you born?
Arthur Wenzel: [I was] born in Newark, New Jersey, 1921.
PCB: I see you went to both grammar school and high school in Irvington.
PCB: Can you tell me what you remember about that?
AW: Well, I went through the eighth grade in Chancellor Avenue Grammar School in Irvington. ... I believe the school is still there, and, in Irvington High School, I did my four years there. ...
PCB: Did you play any sports in school?
AW: [At] Irvington High, I played football and we had a grammar school baseball team, which I also played on.
PCB: Are there any other interests or pastimes that you remember?
AW: Back then? I was in the Hi-Y Club. I was an officer in the Hi-Y Club, which was associated with the YMCA, and it was all high-school students. ... It was a very, very good club. It was a well-worthwhile club. I imagine it still might be around.
PCB: Did you give any thought to college after high school?
AW: At that time, yes. I went to Drexel Institute for a year-and-a-half. That was a cooperative school, where you go to school your first year and, [over] your next four years, you go out in industry for six months, and then you worked, and you would come back to college for six months. ... It was a case where I didn't take that much interest in the needing of a college degree, at the time, and I dropped out after a year-and-a-half.
PCB: Did you and your family feel the effects of the Great Depression?
AW: To a certain extent, I guess everybody at our age felt the Great Depression. Fortunately, my father worked for the American Insurance Company. He ... worked there for almost fifty years. The work was uninterrupted and he was able to support his family, somewhat, not [always] the greatest support, but we got along very well. We were comfortable.
SI: Were his hours cut during the Depression?
AW: No, they weren't. He worked in an office. His hours were not cut. He was a white-collar worker, yes.
PCB: Do you remember any of the New Deal programs? Were you involved in any of the New Deal programs?
AW: [I was] not involved in any of them at all. The National Guard was becoming very popular at that time, but my parents didn't let me go into it at all, but there was the NRA [National Recovery Administration], the WPA [Works Progress Administration], the PWA [Public Works Administration], and they all did create jobs for the unemployed, [aided the] employment situation, which was very acute in this country.
SI: Did you see the effects of any WPA programs in your town?
AW: No, not really, not really. I can't remember any bridges [being built]. ...
JW: With the WPA, down on Springfield Avenue, all down into Newark, if there was a snowstorm, they would be out shoveling.
AW: Okay. I didn't know that. I thought they had their own employees to do it.
SI: Could you tell us a bit about your mother and father?
AW: ... Both my mother and father were born and raised in Newark. My father was born in 1889. My mother was born in 1896. My father lived until 1978. He got to see ... all of his grandchildren before he passed on and my mother lived until she passed away in 1988. She got to see all her grandchildren, too. Neither got to see the great-grandchildren, unfortunately. ... They both enjoyed good health, both easygoing. What else can I tell you? My mother was a housewife. I had a sister, from whom I'm estranged, and that's it.
SI: Your father was a veteran.
AW: My father was a veteran of World War I and he was taken out of the war when he was gassed. He was gassed with mustard gas, but, luckily, he never had any ill effects from it.
SI: Did he ever talk about his service during World War I?
AW: Yes, he did, yes, he did. ... In fact, he gave me the complete history, in eight volumes, of World War I and, since I've retired, I finally got to it and read it all. Now, my youngest son has the volumes down in Fairfax, Virginia. ... It's all documented with the, what's the great printing department our government has, [the] department of something?
SI: Government Publishing Office?
AW: Something like that. It's all documented there. ... I have a copy of it and it's from him to me. He was "Junior" and I was "the Third." That's something I never forgave him for, because I always wanted to drop that "Third." [laughter] Well, you'd be surprised at the problems it caused, in bank accounts; when they moved into Chatham, and we were living there, the bank accounts [were mixed up], because they weren't that sophisticated at that time. A lot of it was handwritten, I think, and, just as well, I got rid of it.
SI: Can you relate any of the stories he told you about being in the service in World War I?
AW: He was in the ... Battle of Saint-Mihiel, M-I-H-I-E-L, and the Argonne Forest, yes, very bloody.
SI: Was he in the frontlines?
AW: He was [in] the infantry, 78th Infantry Division, which I believe was the, still [is], the New Jersey Reserve Division.
JW: And you and your father both left from Fort Dix.
AW: That's right. We were both inducted in Fort Dix and both discharged from Fort Dix.
SI: Jumping ahead, when you were ready to enlist, did his stories about the service influence you in any way?
AW: Well, I knew it was going to be a lousy deal, but we had to do it.
SI: After hearing what must have been some intense stories about infantry combat, did you think to yourself, "Maybe I should go into the Navy?" Did it ever occur to you to look into other branches?
AW: I thought about the Air Force, but my eyesight failed it, so, that took care of that. So, I went right into the Army. I enlisted. I wasn't drafted; I enlisted.
PCB: Where did you meet your wife?
AW: We met years ago. Where was it, Joyce? Was it in the Presbyterian church there in South Orange Center, or was it where we cut and went over and had Cokes the day before?
JW: Probably there. [laughter]
AW: Okay, probably (Paley's?), in South Orange Center. That was an ice-cream store across from the church. [At] the center of South Orange Center, it comes to a point, there's a Presbyterian church and we met, theoretically, there. ... We knew each other off and on. ... She was about fourteen, I was about sixteen at the time, but we never went steady until right before I went in the service, yes. I was lucky enough to win her over, I guess.
SI: We mentioned the New Deal earlier; what did your family think of Franklin Roosevelt?
AW: They were staunch Republicans. They never discussed politics with me. ... They never talked about adult situations with me. It seems strange, but, for example, my grandmother, on my mother's side, I think I was twenty years old before I found out that she was my step- grandmother, and they made a big deal out of it. I said, "What are you making a big deal about? She's my grandmother; that's all I know." This is the kind of childhood I had. They never, you know, really leveled with me, [regarding] the facts of life and things like that, yes, but that was about it.
SI: Can you elaborate on what it was like to go to Drexel before you went into the service?
AW: It was an engineering school. I was a business administration student. Drexel and I did not get along too well. It was in the city. ... If my parents had identified it, I probably would have been better off in a smaller school. ... I got by all right, but it was nothing to brag about. I wasn't headed for anything, so, that's why I dropped out, because I was wasting money.
JW: You thought you were there for a good time.
AW: Well, if you want to say that, too, I didn't let my studies interfere with my education.
SI: Was it difficult to raise the funds to go to Drexel at that time?
AW: My parents and grandparents helped out, yes, and I worked summers.
SI: What did you do?
AW: I parked cars at the Sea Girt Inn.
SI: You spent your summers in this area.
AW: Yes, in Belmar, yes, by the way. Yes, my grandmother had a home down there in Belmar.
SI: When did you start coming down to the shore?
AW: Probably [from when I was] about four years old, yes, until I went in the service, yes.
PCB: In 1939 and 1940, was there a sense that the United States would enter the war?
AW: No. I didn't think there'd be any war at all. I thought they'd keep us out of it, but, as time moved on, of course, you could see how Hitler had moved ahead with his aims. He was getting ... hotter and hotter. I wasn't surprised; our General Staff wasn't surprised, either. Otherwise, Pearl Harbor never would have happened.
SI: You mentioned that your family did not discuss things like that with you.
AW: Oh, we discussed the war and that, yes. I mean, [we] discussed some things like that, yes.
SI: Was it discussed in school? I have heard that the issue of whether to support the Allies or not, before Pearl Harbor, became a hot topic in the Newark area because of the number of German immigrants and other immigrants in the area.
AW: I guess that was part of the feeling, but it wasn't that way in our family, even though they were [of] German descent.
SI: What about your friends or people you worked with?
AW: We had some people on our street who were pro-Nazi, oh, yes.
SI: Were they Bund-ists?
AW: Bund-ists, yes, yes. I remember the Bund camp up in Andover, at that time. Andover is [in] North Jersey, somewhere.
SI: Do you remember any marches by the Bund-ists?
PCB: Where were you when you first heard about Pearl Harbor?
AW: I was in a bar on Florence Avenue in Irvington, known as Paul's Bar. We were playing shuffleboard and, all of a sudden, the word came through, about two o'clock in the afternoon, that we had been attacked at Pearl Harbor. Everybody in there said, "Where in the hell is Pearl Harbor?" Nobody knew where it was and, finally, some guy who was a little bit older came in, later, and says, "Looks like we're going to war tomorrow." ... Sure enough, we were at war the next day. Roosevelt declared war. This is a Sunday afternoon. I was working at Western Electric at the time.
SI: What were you doing there?
AW: I was a packer, factory work.
SI: How did your life change in the first six months, up to a year, after Pearl Harbor? Were you still on the home front? Do you remember things like the blackouts and rationing?
AW: I don't remember rationing at all. I don't even know if they put it in right away, the first six months, because, within four or five months, ... I was in the service, in five months.
SI: Do you remember the blackouts?
AW: No, I don't recall the blackouts. I recall them over in Italy, in France and Germany, yes. ... [When I got a] furlough home from overseas, I remember them then. That was in ... [the] latter part of 1944, early 1945.
SI: Do you recall if there was any initial fear of saboteurs or of an attack by either Germany or Japan in your area?
AW: Just some narrow-minded people who heard there was going to be an attack ... of the Japanese on the West Coast, on our "left coast," and that was all. No, there wasn't any fear. I didn't see how they could get over here and I wasn't that interested in their U-boats, although they were here. [laughter]
PCB: Before joining the Army, had you traveled at all or had you stayed mostly in New Jersey?
AW: Pretty much New Jersey, yes, [and] Philadelphia, to go to Drexel.
SI: I know the draft was on before Pearl Harbor. Had you registered?
AW: I was registered after Pearl Harbor. At that time, I was twenty, I think, yes, ... you didn't have to register until you're twenty-one. I believe that's what it was.
SI: What influenced your decision to enlist, rather than wait to be drafted?
AW: I just thought, "It's a good thing to get in the service and get the thing going and get it over with and the more people who enlisted, the more we got in, built up sooner, the sooner we'd get it over with," and it had to be gotten over with. ... Still, at that time, Joyce and I had no commitments to each other and I really didn't have any aims in life, except, you know, "Let's get this phase of my life [over with]." I was never dreaming of Rutgers, except for the old slogan, "If you can't go to college, you go to Rutgers." [laughter] That was a New Jersey slogan. Is it still around? [laughter]
SI: In some form, yes. [laughter]
AW: Yes, okay. [laughter]
SI: How did your family react to your decision to enlist?
AW: They were not happy with it, but they agreed with it, yes.
PCB: How did you find basic training?
AW: I was very athletic and I found it very easy. I really enjoyed it. It was good work, good marching. Long marches never bothered me. [laughter] I was a very good rifle shot and I never should have been in the Medical Corps. I should have been in the infantry, but that comes later on. I'll tell you when we get into, you know, where we were stationed and things like that.
SI: Can you take us through the process of enlisting, including being sworn in and going through Fort Dix?
AW: It was at the Sussex Armory in Newark, which I think was a National Guard armory. From there, they packed us ... on a train, gave us train tickets. We got to Trenton and got off there. A bus picked us up and took us down to Fort Dix. That night, they showed us how to make a bed and [we had] no uniforms. We didn't get those for about two or three days. ... Within five days, we were on our way to Camp Blanding, Florida, for basic training.
SI: Was it a shock to go from civilian life to military life?
AW: No. I was glad to get out of the factory.
SI: Had you been away from home before?
AW: Oh, to go away to Drexel, yes, I was, at least for a year.
SI: When you went to Drexel, did you live on campus?
SI: What were your initial days at Camp Blanding like?
AW: ... Well, I went into service May 13th and we're down there by the 20th of May.
SI: How well did you acclimate to military discipline and protocol?
AW: No problem, fell right in with it. I was a good soldier.
SI: What did they do? Do you remember your drill instructor?
AW: Yes, I remember all of them, yes, and a couple of them had battlefield commissions and I saw one of them right before he was killed. That was about a year-and-a-half later, over in Alsace-Lorraine, in France. Yes, I remember them very well. They were very good. This was the Texas National Guard Division, the 36th Infantry. As a matter-of-fact, it has just been brought back as the 36th. They made a tank battalion out of it, down in Texas, but, now, it's back to the 36th again. So, they'll be going over soon, in Iraq.
SI: Were you placed into the 36th Infantry when you were at Camp Blanding?
SI: You were?
AW: Yes. We weren't put into a branch at the time.
SI: You went right into training with the National Guard unit.
AW: Yes. We were the first Northerners to join it.
SI: What was that like, training with the Texans?
AW: Well, the guys we were training with were all from the North, different parts of the North, Pennsylvania, New York State, and so forth, Jersey, and we had the Texas instructors. ... Eventually, when ... we were assigned to a company in the division, for example, the Medical Corps or the infantry or the artillery, they were all Texans. We fell right in with them and, by the time we got up to Camp Edwards in Massachusetts, we had already known them pretty well and we had gotten other Northerners in by that time, so, we were getting balanced at that time. By the time we hit the beaches at Salerno, I'd say we were probably thirty percent non-Texan.
SI: Was there any of the re-fighting of the Civil War that we hear about?
AW: In some cases, it got very hot. In most of the cases, that was joking. That was history then, pretty much.
SI: What was it like to be in the South at that time, in terms of getting used to the heat and the different climate?
AW: Not bad, no problem.
SI: Was that the first time you had traveled that far?
AW: I was down in Georgia before that, yes, visiting friends at ... University of Georgia.
SI: I have interviewed a number of people who were in National Guard units. Particularly when you first joined the 36th Infantry, the National Guard presence was probably still very palpable. Can you talk about the National Guard system as it went to war?
AW: ... Well, they were the original draftees. They were called up right away. Plus, the draftees that they needed to fill the ranks of that National Guard, they were only in for a year, until Pearl Harbor. The following day, all of that was rescinded and they then became a regular Army unit. There was no longer a Guard. The Guard was [no longer] going to be, "Go back to your base and keep coming out for monthly meetings, weekly meetings, and things like that."
SI: When you joined the 36th Infantry, were your officers and NCOs [non-commissioned officers] out of the old National Guard?
AW: Yes, yes, they were the old National Guard, yes.
SI: I have heard that there was a lot of nepotism in the old National Guard system.
AW: Oh, there was a lot of nepotism, yes, but, over a period of time, that broke down. ... After the casualties mounted, [there] became more opportunities for anybody ... to move ahead, yes.
PCB: I see that you applied for officer school, but never went. Can you talk about that?
AW: Yes. It was at Camp Edwards. I was approved to go before the board to be approved for the Infantry School in Fort Benning. ... Before I got to the board, all personnel were frozen. We pulled out of Camp Edwards, went down to Camp A. P. Hill for mountain maneuvers, which is, evidently, getting us ready for the Atlas Mountains in North Africa, and, within a month, we were on our boat, away, going over. That ruined all chances, but everybody says, "Wasn't that too bad?" No, it wasn't too bad. I probably would have lasted about three weeks as a second lieutenant in the infantry, and probably [would have] been killed. So, I feel very, very blessed I've been around this long. I feel very bad for those guys that got knocked off, why it was them and not me.
SI: Before you went overseas, were you and your buddies aware of how dangerous it was to be in the infantry? Was that on anybody's mind?
AW: No. ... We knew you're going to go in first, [laughter] but the infantry also had other people with them. They had forward observers from the artillery, they had medics with them, of which I was one, and we were right in there with them. We were in the first wave. I was one of the first thousand troops to be on Hitler's Fortress, what they called, at the time, Festung Europa. This is after Sicily. That was not considered part of it. ... Well, I'll tell you about it ... when we get to the invasion part, how we thought we'd be in Rome that following weekend.
SI: Camp Edwards was in Massachusetts.
AW: Yes. After we were at Camp Blanding, we went to maneuvers in North Carolina, [the] central part of North Carolina, and then, up to Camp Edwards, in Massachusetts. It worked out good, because that's when Joyce and I got together again, because I could get passes, weekends and so forth, when I could get home. [laughter]
SI: At which phase were you put into the Medical Corps?
AW: At the conclusion of basic training, yes, and I don't know why. I was the best shot ... probably in the entire group down there. [laughter] I was the one that could pick off the bull's-eye and everything else. How I missed it, I don't know. Even the people who ... looked at the records said, "What are you doing here?"
SI: You took naturally to the military training.
SI: Had you done any shooting before the war?
AW: Yes. Some friends had rifles. We went out in farms and took potshots at beer bottles and soda bottles, whatever we could find.
SI: Was there any kind of testing to determine if you would be good for medical training or was it just that they needed people?
AW: I think they took it off your IQ tests and things like that. ... I guess there was also a psychology questionnaire you had to answer. ...
PCB: Where did you depart the United States? Did you leave from Massachusetts?
AW: No, we left from Fort Dix, in New Jersey, to go overseas, got on a Liberty boat and [it] took two weeks to get there, to North Africa, landed in Oran, in Algiers.
SI: How soon after the initial invasion did you land in North Africa?
AW: We got there in April of '43. The war ended in Tunisia, at Bizerte, or somewhere like that, in June of '43. Rommel got pinned back there. We never saw combat. They put us on maneuvers in the Atlas Mountains.
SI: I read that, at that time, the fear was that Spain would join the war and invade North Africa from the rear. Were you aware of that at all?
AW: No, no. Rumors, you hear rumors, but, you know, you look back, you just get rid of them.
SI: What were your impressions of North Africa at the time?
AW: Well, it was very, very eye-boggling, mind-boggling, eye-openers, because we just couldn't get over, you know, [the] different culture, completely, to see men walking along, holding [hands]. In fact, ... the government supplied us with some literature on it. "If you see Arab men walking along, holding hands, or squatting to go to the bathroom, don't laugh," things like this, little tips where we could be accepted into their society temporarily, particularly where we're going to be bivouacked, and we were bivouacked, after we came out of the Atlas Mountain training, over in Rabat, in North Africa, in Morocco, French Morocco.
SI: How did you get along with the native population? Did you have any interaction at all?
AW: Very little, and there are an awful lot of French citizens living there, so, we probably gravitated to them more than we did with the Arabs.
SI: What did your training there consist of? Was it just a refresher?
AW: It was actually, you know, as close as we could make it to combat training, particularly from a physical standpoint, climbing mountains, because I guess they knew we were going to go to Sicily, or Italy, at the time, yes.
SI: Can you elaborate on what mountain training entailed for you?
AW: Going up hills, getting up there, having a temporarily, supposedly, wounded person and bringing them down on a litter, taking him to an aid station, getting him refreshed, getting him to the ambulance and back to a further hospitalization. That's pretty much what it was, but we weren't with the infantry at the time, so, it was kind of ridiculous. We're hauling our own people down, but it gave us a chance, you know, if we're told he had broken legs to make splints up for them, and so forth, to improvise, which we had to do a lot of.
SI: When were you first given medical training and what did that consist of?
AW: I got that in Camp Edwards. In fact, ... we joined the company, the unit, on maneuvers in North Carolina and that's where I got my first medical training. We used to have sessions with doctors.
SI: In regard to what you would be able to do in the field, how much did they teach you?
AW: To get the guy back as safely and as fast as we possibly could, trying to save his life at all times.
SI: Would you perform immediate first aid, then, get them back to someplace where they could be treated further?
AW: Yes. You had to be very careful [in] how you handled them, too.
SI: What were the maneuvers in the Carolinas like? Did you go through swampland, that sort of thing?
AW: Yes. I guess, maybe, they're getting ready for the Pacific at that time. They didn't know where they were going. All of a sudden, you got the orders to go to Camp Edwards, when we broke ground in Carolina. We're in pup tents and everything then.
SI: Did you practice amphibious landings in Massachusetts?
AW: No. We didn't do that until North Africa.
SI: I thought I read that there were amphibious operations off of Martha's Vineyard.
AW: No, we didn't have any; I wish we had. [laughter] No, we didn't have any of that. Mostly, it was medical training in Massachusetts.
SI: When you were in North Africa, did you assume that you were going to be sent into combat in North Africa?
AW: We didn't know where we'd go into combat. All we got were rumors and ... I just took it as, you know, "When it comes, it'll come."
SI: Were you eager to get into it? How did you feel?
AW: I didn't have ... too much feeling about it. I figured, "When it comes, we're going to be in combat." That's it. If we could avoid it, fine, but we couldn't avoid it.
SI: After Tunisia fell, were you moved over to that area?
AW: No. We were moved to Rabat, in the opposite direction, ... which is right near Casablanca, on the Atlantic, a little bit north of Casablanca, in French Morocco, and we were there for the summer of '43.
SI: Once it became clear that we were going to Italy, did your training pick up? Did they start doing amphibious landings?
AW: Yes, oh, yes, a lot of it, yes. We'd go out there for three or four days at a time and run on to the beach, wondering, "What the hell are we going to do now?" [laughter] ... Yes, we had a lot of infantry training at the time, invasion training, particularly going up and down ropes to get into the boat. ... "What are we doing this for? Don't they keep the boats deck-high?" and they did when we had the real invasion. All the climbing up and down ropes was worthless, the training in that, because we got on the boats, we just jumped on, and went in.
SI: Can you tell us about the preparations leading up to the invasion of Salerno?
AW: It was pretty much of a summer off. We got medical training in Rabat, ... outside of Rabat. We intermingled with the French people, somewhat, in Rabat. ... Other than that, it was a pretty easy summer, got passes to town maybe once a week, maybe once every two weeks, to break up the monotony. They had movies periodically, where they could bring a whole regiment together. ... We'd be visited by ... veteran British troops, who would tell us what it was like and what we were going into, and to make sure you only give your name, rank, and serial number, because they tried to always coerce a lot more out of you.
SI: What did you think of these lectures by the British combat veterans? Did they leave an impression on you?
AW: They were very impressive, very interesting.
SI: Did you get any impression of what the British thought of the Americans?
AW: They thought a lot of us, at least in the situation we were [in]. [laughter] I understand it was a little bit different in the UK, but, where we were, they thought a lot of us. Over there, [in Great Britain], it was a little bit different; "You're overpaid, you're over-fed, you're over here," seriously.
SI: Can you tell us about the preparations for Salerno in September?
AW: Right around the 1st of September, I guess it was maybe a couple of days before we took off, we had our training behind us, we were ready, we were in Oran, in Algiers, that's where we debarked from, and Eisenhower came and, [we] shook hands with him, greeted the troops. ... Coincidentally, I shook hands with him when I got my degree from Rutgers. He was the guest speaker of the ... June '48 graduation. At that time, he was president of Columbia and out of the military service. He reviewed the troops and [we] got on there, we're in the boats, I guess, [for] about two days or so, and, on ... September 8th, that night, there was an important message from Ike. ... He announced that the Italian government had surrendered, and we're figuring, "My God, we're going to be in Rome this weekend." ... They had only surrendered a couple hours earlier and we were supposed to be greeted on the beach. That was the good news. The bad news was that they [the Allies] agreed that we would not do any shelling, no naval support, no air support. We were going in cold. We used to figure, "Well, that still won't be bad," but one thing we didn't know was that there were three panzer divisions waiting for us on the beach, and it was like a semi-circle. If you took this cup and cut this part away, this is where the Germans were, around the mountains surrounding our beachhead, and they had their eighty-eights, which were ... their antiaircraft guns, and they were firing them pointblank at us, just like a machine gun, and we got wiped out on the beach. We caught hell. A couple of us were lucky enough to make it. Our CO [commanding officer], his name was Jack Aikins, he was a surgeon out of Oklahoma City, he wasn't on the beach two minutes and his leg was cut right off. Vernon Anderson, another medic, ran off the boat. He was shot and killed immediately. The fellow, the first one I had to treat, ... was a buddy of mine. His head was so ripped back, I didn't know how to take care of it. I didn't know where to start and I'm laying in the sand or behind a dune and I've got some sulfa, all the sulfa I had, and [I] loaded it into this [wound] and got a bandage and just tied his head shut. That's what I mean, where you had to improvise. Somehow or other, I got him back to one of the barges going back and he lived for three days. The day he died, his son was born.
SI: When you got into the landing craft, were you still of the mindset that this would be easy?
AW: Oh, no, we knew it was the real thing. Oh, yes, [laughter] we knew that, because of the night before, what Ike told us; he was wishing us bon voyage and all that kind of stuff. We got in the craft, about twelve of the LSTs [landing ship, tank] circled around, and we headed for shore, which was about three or four miles away, and they dropped us off in waist-deep water. Unfortunately, my grandson has our 36th Division book and quite a few of the commentaries. I've got about three or four articles that were in Stars and Stripes. He has those, too.
SI: Were all of the medics on the same boat?
AW: No. We were with the infantry, with the infantry. We were loaded down with medicine. ... For food, they gave us chocolate bars [which were intended to last] for about three days.
AW: ... We went back in about, I guess it was about four-thirty, the first wave, and we got pinned down on the beach for quite a while, at least the medics did, because we were so busy treating the wounded. Why we didn't get it; well, we did get it, and then, about four hours later, ... we get inland, into a small town. In the meantime, the Germans had enough planes to send over to strafe us and bomb us, fighter planes mostly, and a couple of dive bombers. ... For the next six days, it was hell. Montgomery is coming up from Sicily, on the east coast of Italy. That saved our butt. We then got a regiment of paratroopers [to] come in as infantry soldiers. They helped. ... Finally, after about a week, they had to pull us out, because we were so decimated. That's when we got our first replacements from all over the country.
SI: In preparation for this interview, we read the history of the 36th Infantry Division and it draws attention to, and you also mentioned this earlier, the panzer divisions.
AW: There were three panzer divisions there. ... Probably, the one soldier that came out of this smelling like a rose was a fellow ... out of Pittsburgh by the name of "Commando" [Charles E.] Kelly. He did everything. He went right in there and he made his objective the first day.
SI: I read about that in the section on Medal of Honor recipients from the 36th. In that initial battle, it seems like many men took on tanks almost single-handedly. From where you were, did you see any tanks coming toward you?
AW: ... I've seen tanks, yes, but, as a rule, you had your head down, trying to either dodge shells or else take care of somebody or evacuate him.
SI: How quickly did you run out of supplies?
AW: The first day, ... but they got [fresh supplies]. I think the bravest guy I saw that whole time was a big Native American. He was driving a bulldozer on the beach, leveling the beach off. They were firing all these shells at him. He stood right there, and then, all of a sudden, he got it, he got killed, and somebody moved in right after him and, that way, we were getting our tanks in. ... Our tanks were useless against the Tiger tank. They were so inferior. I think they were called Abrams tanks at the time. I'm not sure. ...
AW: Maybe they were Shermans. I forget. Maybe it's the Abrams today, but it was very, very inadequate. ... That night, we were bombed by the Germans and we lost four more troops that night. A dive bomber came, I'd say as far ... away [as] from here to that hallway, dropped a bomb, and three of our guys got buried alive. Another one got killed from the concussion.
SI: Most Salerno veterans I have spoken with, or whose accounts I have read, talk about the lack of air support.
AW: We had no support at all. We finally got it after two or three days, but that was mostly to fight the Germans' fighter planes, to keep them from concentrating on us. ... There was a city near [Salerno] called Paestum. That was [where] the invasion actually was. It was a Greek city, about 3,200 years old, and they had some beautiful statues and everything there ... created by the Greeks. That's when they were exploring Roman [territory], before the Roman Empire became an empire.
SI: Did you serve as a medic alongside litter bearers or did you serve as both?
AW: We served as the frontline medics and we're also litter bearers, because we had to get them back to a certain point. Somebody had to get them back. Sometimes, we used some infantrymen who had maybe an arm wound or a leg wound, or something that wasn't that serious, to help carry them back.
SI: At Salerno, did you ever carry men back to the evacuation ships?
AW: Yes, my own buddy, the one who had his head practically blown off, his scalp removed, just a flap there. Yes, I took him right back to the ship, carried him back. Now, with our National Guard unit, most of the soldiers were from Paris, Texas, which is somewhere outside of Dallas.
SI: You mentioned the eighty-eights and, also, the dive bombers. The Germans were renowned for using weapons that were not only deadly, but also terrifying.
AW: They were. Their most terrifying weapon, we hadn't met yet. That was called the "Screaming Mimi." We found that when we were at Mount Maggiore in central Italy. We were there the night they introduced it. ... What it was was a mortar that fired either six or eight shells at one time, normal mortar shells, but, before it got started, it cranked off and made this horrible screeching sound. ... I mean, it really penetrated through the mountains. I guess it echoed and you'd say, "What the hell was that?" and, all of a sudden, there's, "Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom." ... Luckily, it wasn't very accurate, which is unusual for the German weapons. They were very accurate.
SI: At Salerno, were there also mines?
AW: I don't think they had time to put the mines in. I don't think they expected us to hit there. They probably thought we were going to hit more up around between Naples and Rome, around Anzio. Oh, after Salerno, we were pulled out and we were out of combat for about, I'd say, four or five weeks. In the meantime, ... the Third Division moved in, the 34th Infantry Division moved in and, I think, the 45th. The British were there and, at that point, we moved into central [Italy], oh, I'd say near Vesuvius, north of Naples, not too far north, though. ... We had to get that road to Rome, that Route 6 into Rome, and we were stalled there. We really were stalled badly. I'll never forget that winter of '43 and early in '44. That was a miserable time. It did nothing but rain and [there was] snow and muck and we had nothing but casualties. ... You've probably heard of the Rapido River. At that time, our General of the Armies, Mark Clark, without a doubt, about the ... poorest general the Army ever had, he crucified our 141st and 143rd Infantry Regiments, practically had them wiped out at the Rapido River. ... I got it [a book] out of the Morris County Library, A River Deep and Deadly, [A River Swift and Deadly: The 36th "Texas" Infantry Division at the Rapido River by Lee Carraway Smith (1997)]. Even the Germans couldn't believe that we were crossing. There was a river that was, perhaps, maybe the width from here to the kitchen, but about eight feet deep and very swift. ... This was in, I think it was January. Luckily, we were the reserve regiment and he sent those guys across and the Germans just mowed them down. They couldn't even get across the river, most of them, because the Germans could see them. They were [holding the] high ground, as usual, ... masters in the art of defense, and there they were, just picking our guys off. They were humane enough to capture a couple of them, send them off to [POW camps], which is a hell of a lot better than getting killed or being crippled. ... It got so bad, we had so many casualties, the Germans had a lot of casualties, too, because our guys always fought back, ... [that] we had to have a temporary peace. ... One of the fellows in our outfit spoke German, and, strangely enough, he was Jewish, but he went out and negotiated with them and we had a four-hour truce, where we could bring our dead back and they could get their dead, and [then], we went at it again. ... Clark sent us across that river. Even our own general [MG Fred L. Walker] says, "Don't do it. They don't have a chance," but he [Mark Clark] did it and he happened to be in the circle of the "good old boys." He was one of Ike's boys, out of West Point, the bottom of his class, I might add. ... I know, when the war was over, the Texas Infantry Division, when they're back in Texas, tried to get Sam Rayburn, who may have been the Vice-President [Speaker of the House of Representatives] at that time, to lead a court-martial of Clark or to remove him of all military honors, but it failed. ... Clark ended up as a superintendent of the Citadel in South Carolina. That's just a sideline about what we had to put up with and ... we couldn't make any progress there, at San Pietro or the Rapido River or at Monte Cassino, and this is what they don't teach the kids. Talking to young people, I often say to them, you know, if they ask me about the war and that, I say, "All right, let me ask you, did you ever hear of the Salerno invasion?" "Never heard of it." "How about the Battle of Cassino or Anzio or the Rapido River?" I mean, all of these things have been on PBS, the History Channel. "Never heard of it." That's why, somehow or other, I'm trying to get the word out that, yes, there were battles besides Normandy. There were beaches as bad as Omaha Beach and other invasions in Europe, and we happened to have the first invasion, which was nine months prior to Normandy. Our objective was to take Rome, which, after eight months, we finally did. ... To show you the inadequacy of Clark's staff, when he went into Anzio, they went in without a battle. All they had to do was go in ...
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AW: ... Cross the highway, the main highway, set up, and they had time to do it, but they stopped about a half-a-mile before the highway. Why, nobody knows. So, therefore, Anzio, instead of knocking off the Germans, all they did was bring more German troops over from Russia and brought them down to where we were, at Anzio, and our troops were on a flat plain, had to dig in into a sandy base, with very little protection. Finally, they brought in a lot of logs and everything, where they could protect them, and they were there, stuck there, from, ... I'd say, roughly, January of '44 until we broke through in June of '44.
SI: To step back, after Salerno, you had to bring a lot of replacements into your unit. How did that go?
AW: They were good men. They came from all over, California, Michigan, the ones I'm thinking of out loud, Pennsylvania, more from Jersey, yes.
SI: Was getting integrated into the unit difficult for them?
AW: Well, it depends on whether you're friendly or not. If you're friendly, you would probably [be] welcomed into the unit and you'd try to pick out your buddies before and see who had a common denominator with you, who you were going to get along with, and so forth, answer their questions, which were a lot because they came in, you know, awestruck. ... We had so much combat, [laughter] like, one week before they did, one week more than they did.
SI: Were you usually assigned to an infantry unit or were you sent out to whoever needed you?
AW: We were assigned to; ... in a triangular infantry division, you had three regiments and, with [them] there, you had artillery support for each regiment [and] you had a medical battalion for each regiment, backing them up. ... Well, Signal Corps was split out, the Engineers, Company B, 111th Medical Battalion and Company B, 111th Engineers. ... Maybe it was Company A through D of the battalion, First Battalion, of the infantry regiment, the 142nd Infantry Regiment. That's the way it usually broke down and you usually stayed with that, but you could be with a different battalion, still with that same regiment.
SI: We found a website that featured stories from medics, in particular, some of the men I believe you served with. I cannot pronounce his name correctly, but one was Mr. Przygocki.
JW: Oh, Przygocki.
SI: Przygocki, yes.
AW: Oh, Val Przygocki. He's my buddy.
SI: He mentioned you in one of the stories.
AW: Did he really?
AW: How did you get that?
SI: It is on a website.
AW: I know somebody up in Lake Hopatcong ... hit me on [the] web, you know, [and wanted to] talk about it, but I never liked to talk about it. Val is very outgoing.
SI: In several of his accounts, he describes being at a battalion aid station and being ordered out from there.
SI: In this early period in Italy, did you have the opportunity to set up a battalion aid station?
AW: Yes, oh, yes, as soon as we got in there far enough. You couldn't very well do it on the beach, where ... [the enemy could] knock it off right away. We had to get in a ways and we were in about two miles after that second day. An interesting thing, ... we're moving ahead, finally, after about the third or fourth day, and we see this plane coming in. "My God," we thought, "Oh, Christ, here comes another Messerschmitt." ... It looks like one of the infantrymen ... hit the plane, which it had. We're shooting at him and bringing him down. I was the first one there and I had an axe, because we weren't allowed to carry side arms or any kind of gun, and I had him by the throat. He was coming out and he said, "Let me go, you bloody bastard." [laughter] It was a Spitfire, one of our Allies, [laughter] but we thought it was a Messerschmitt. We weren't about to ask questions.
SI: Were you at San Pietro?
AW: San Pietro. It was on the way to Cassino. No matter which way we went to Cassino, we were stymied. The Germans always had a higher mountain, they always had better visibility, and we had three infantry divisions that were getting worn out. We had help from the British. We were then getting in troops from the Senegalese, from Africa, part of the British Empire, coming in. The Sikhs, they were good soldiers. What they would do was catch some Germans sleeping, three of them, and they'd cut the ears off the two ends, this is no kidding, ... then, finally, kill them, and then, the poor guy in the middle wasn't worth anything after that, by the time he came to.
SI: I have heard about the Gurkhas and the Sikhs. Another often overlooked fact is how many different forces served in Italy, the Canadians, the French and the British Empire units.
AW: ... The Canadians; ... no French, that I remember. In North Africa, yes, but ... we weren't in combat in North Africa. The Italians, they formed an army after that, but they weren't worth a ... Well, there was a mountain here, Mount Maggiore, Mount Lungo, and another mountain over here, an even higher mountain. Lungo was low. We assigned it to the Italians. They went up there [in columns] of two and ran back. The Italian Army deserted, [instead of fighting] the Germans. So, what we had to do [was], it was leaving our flanks with two regiments open, so, we had to get back and take over that mountain. Mount Lungo was a low-lying mountain.
SI: When did you first have a chance to interact with Italian civilians?
AW: As soon as we got there. [laughter] "Where's so-and-so?" You look at a map.
SI: What did you think of the Italian civilians?
AW: Oh, they're nice people, very nice, yes. We're welcomed. They're glad to see us. They're glad the war was over, their part of the war was over, and, when we got to Rome, they just welcomed the heck out of us. ... We did that two days before Normandy, the first unit in history to take Rome from the south. Hannibal couldn't even do it.
SI: What was going into Rome like?
AW: It was great. Romans were out there cheering us, on the road, and the Germans were already on their way. ... We were bombing them as they escaped. I think they left the city the night before, but you've got to build up to that, after ... we made the breakthrough out of Anzio.
SI: After Rapido, what happened?
AW: We were withdrawn, and then, we went into Anzio. We weren't at Anzio where the troops were stuck for about three or four months; we were only there about two days. We dug in. They relieved some of the troops, sent them back, and they moved us and, through our own general, Clark had nothing to do with it, our ... 142nd Infantry Regiment made a classic move. At night, starting as soon as [it got] dark, ... we went over a couple of mountains. I forget what the name of the town before Rome was ...
AW: ... Velletri, I think. This was the last town before Rome. We went through there and I guess we covered a good four or five miles that night, ... the whole regiment moving [at once]. The Germans didn't detect a thing. The next day, we're out there on a battlefield where ... we shelled the heck out of the Germans. ... Oh, we had the Navy out there, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, shelling them and we continued to move until we got to a little knoll, before we got into where we could see Rome, the plains right before Rome, and all hell broke loose then and I was never so busy in my life. ... Why I didn't get it then, I'll never know. They had mortars, they had their infantry coming at us and ... we had a firefight. Within a matter of about three hours; no, it went into the night, because we didn't move until the next morning, ... we won the battle, an awful lot of dead, wounded. One of my old sergeants in basic training was the Graves Registration officer and I'd run into him all the time, picking up the bags. You know, they wanted to get rid of the bodies as soon as possible, rather than have them around there, original black bags. ... That next morning, we marched ahead for about four or five hours and, before you know it, they brought the trucks up and we drove into Rome, on June the 4th, 1944. It was two days later [that] Normandy happened.
SI: When you were pulled off the line, where would you go?
AW: Back about anywhere from five to ten miles, always where we could be pulled back [into the line] real fast if we had to, if there's a breakthrough or anything like that, but the Germans had no interest except to defend, and kill Americans in Italy. That's all it was for. It was a diversionary operation, to keep Stalin from screaming, "You're not doing anything." In the meantime, they got ready for Normandy, Operation: OVERLORD.
SI: Most Italian Campaign veterans I have spoken with mention that they felt as though they were not getting the best of everything, that supplies and replacements were going elsewhere.
AW: We had enough supplies. I mean, when we first went into Salerno, they gave us two days' supply of food. You know what it was? six highly-condensed energy chocolate bars. That was supposed to last us for ... the day. Most of the guys finished them on the boat going in. So, what we had to do was get tomatoes and figs and that from the Italian people.
SI: There was a lot of trading with the natives.
AW: Yes. There was in North Africa, too. They'd do anything for a pack of cigarettes.
SI: Was there any black market activity?
AW: I guess the GIs would, you know, set their own price on a carton of cigarettes.
SI: What did you see as you went through Italy? Do you remember the towns and what state they were in?
AW: Most of them, ... you know, in southern Italy, including Naples, were pretty well bombed out. ...
SI: We talked about the Rapido River crossing in general terms, but what were your activities during that period? What were you specifically doing?
AW: In Rapido River, we were in reserve. We were ready to move in and, fortunately, we never had to. They called that particular assignment off. Then, we had to go back, get more replacements. ... I think that's when we went back and we trained for ... our Anzio invasion, when we broke through there. ... After taking Rome, we moved ahead to where we could almost see Pisa and we came back, they pulled us out, and we had three weeks' further invasion training, for Southern France.
SI: In Italy, the conditions were very inhospitable.
AW: The Italians?
SI: No, the climate.
AW: Oh, the climate. That winter was horrible, rained all the time, it snowed, with mud up to your knees. It was just hard to even walk.
SI: How did that impact your job?
AW: Made it tough. The job was to get the wounded back and get them in [an aid station], so [that] we could give them another life, or at least get them back into the line again, and we made it, real rough. A lot of guys got injured and ruined their backs, and everything else, just going down the side of the mountains carrying a full-grown man, and the only thing we'd take away would be his rifle and his backpack.
SI: Were there many weather-related injuries, such as trench foot or frostbite?
AW: Oh, yes. That was more in France, though, I think; no, we had trench foot in Italy, and frostbite, yes, yes.
SI: For those kinds of injuries, would you provide any treatment or would you just send them back to an aid station?
AW: We moved them back to another aid station. From there, they'd go back to a field hospital, which was a good-sized operation, and, from there, they'd go back to North Africa.
SI: When you were in these mountains, you had mules, however, you often moved supplies or wounded men yourself. Can you talk about that?
AW: Moving supplies? Oh, we carried it with us.
SI: Can you discuss the problem of transporting supplies up and down the mountains?
AW: What we used in Italy were a lot of mules. You probably saw that in Ernie Pyle's movie [The Story of GI Joe] that was made back in 1945, with Robert Mitchum, which, part of it, was about the 36th. They brought him [Mitchum's character] off the mountain. He was the captain of that one infantry company that Ernie Pyle had written about, and he was a real captain, out of the old Texas National Guard, [Captain Henry T. Waskow]. ... In that movie there, they showed how they used the donkeys for everything. We usually said the Italians would take them up for a buck a day or something like that. American dollars were worth something then. I guess they still might be.
AW: We're now back, to finish up our story in Italy. After we took Rome, we went north and we stayed in a ... town called Citavecchia, a little bit northwest of Rome. ... While we were there, our own Air Force came over and bombed us. They salvoed their bombs on our own troops. We were part of it. Luckily, the bombs landed near[by], but nobody got hurt, at least in our unit, and we then continued on, chasing the Germans at this point. ... This was very unusual combat, because we were never in a position where we were fighting them on level ground until we moved out of Anzio, and it continued here, north of Rome. ... It seemed like a lot of fun, compared to what we went through, the hell we went through, in those damned mountains in Italy before Cassino and through all the mountains surrounding Cassino, just almost an impregnable fortress. [We] went north until we got to Pisa. They pulled us out of the line again, and then, we were in for more invasion training for the invasion of Southern France on August the 15th, '44.
SI: In the history of the 36th Infantry Division, it says that during this time, when you were pursuing the Germans, some of the troops the Germans fielded were Mongolians or prisoners that they turned into soldiers.
AW: I think we hit that in France. I don't recall ever seeing it in Italy. He had his best divisions down there, under [Field Marshal Albert] Kesselring.
SI: Please describe the preparations you made for the invasion of Southern France.
AW: [When] we made the invasion of Southern France, we were a veteran outfit, used to combat. We were green when we went into Salerno and, if we hadn't been green, ... they say that we probably wouldn't have stayed there, we probably would have been back on the ships, but, now, we knew what we were getting into. ... We expected to go in and we were told [that we were going to] be in the first wave again. ... This was later in the afternoon, when we made the invasion, but we're still the first wave at this particular section and it was a cove located between the cities of Saint Raphael and Frejus, F-R-E-J-U-S, on the French Riviera. To the best of my recollection, it's a little bit west of Nice. The admiral, who was in charge of the operation, says, "No, you're not going in there. You'll go in here. They're going to rip you to pieces in that cove, it'll be another Salerno, and we're going to put you over here." We went in, followed another infantry regiment going in, and we landed without anybody being wounded. We landed with dry feet, we got right off on the ground, and, within two hours, we're five miles inland, all because this admiral used his head and didn't set us in on a sure kill, because we expected it when we went in there. In fact, I'll be honest with you, for the first time in my life, I expected to die, and I was so unconcerned about it [that] I was reading the book King's Row on the way in. I'd just finished it before we landed. That was a book which Ronald Reagan later made a movie of. ... That's how much interest I had in it. [We] went in and we immediately moved, took right off, all through Southern France, the Provence part of France, along the Jura Alps, all the way up into the Vosges Mountains, where, then, we hit some combat again. In the meantime, while we were going up there, we cut off the German 19th Army, [which] surrendered to one of our lieutenants, and it was quite an accomplishment, because they were trapped down there in southwestern France and [we] took them, for all intents and purposes, out of combat, away from the troops coming in from Normandy.
SI: According to the record, there was a very large battle at Montelimar.
AW: There was a big battle at Montelimar and that's where we cut them off. ... I forget the lieutenant's name, but he accepted some German three-star general's, comparable to our three-star general, sword.
SI: The nature of combat in France seems so much different than it had been in Italy. How did that change your job, from a practical standpoint?
AW: Easy; we didn't have to carry the wounded so far. We could send jeeps up to get them and bring them back. Because we were in such a fluid motion, moving ahead all the time, and it wasn't a case of moving down the side of a mountain where you just couldn't maneuver the body, or get a vehicle up to him. We had to get him down first. Here, we're bringing the vehicles right up to them, probably within, maybe, five hundred feet of the line, if there was a line, because we were moving so fast. It made it a lot easier. There was a more ... leveled field, until we got up into the Vosges Mountains, and then, it started all over again until we got to the Rhine River. The Vosges Mountains ran into Alsace-Lorraine.
SI: In the period before the Vosges Mountains, did you have adequate air support?
AW: Yes. If we needed it, we had it, but most of it went with the heavy bombers who were bombing Germany, to keep the remainder of the German Air Force from shooting down our bombers. That's where our fighters were, but, if we needed them, yes, we could get it. We could get it from Bari, in Italy, or we could get them from England, if necessary, a lot more security, a lot better coverage.
SI: Did the level of casualties remain the same, even though you were moving quickly?
AW: Dropped way off, until we got to the Vosges Mountains.
SI: Did you have an opportunity to interact with any of the French there?
AW: As we went through the towns, they were so happy to see us, you know, they'd always greet us, be on the side, handing you a bottle of wine or something. The girls; you know, occasionally, you'd look over and see a French girl there, you know. They were there cheering us on, Joyce. [laughter]
SI: From what I have read of the Vosges Mountains, it seems as though many of the advantages the American Army had were taken away, such as air support and supply lines. It was an infantry-versus-infantry battle. Is that what you saw?
AW: We still had good supply lines. I never remember needing anything. ... We entered the Vosges Mountains [in] somewhere, like, mid-November, and by, I guess, about mid-December, ... we were on the side of a hill, looking down at Alsace-Lorraine, Kaiserslautern, and one of the guys from the 36th came up and says, "The Captain wants to see you." So, I went back and he says, "I've got news for you. You're going home," just like that, and took everything, all my medical stuff, all away from me, not that I needed it. They just didn't want me to go back again, because they knew I would go back until the last minute. ... I joined a bunch of other guys who were well-decorated, from other companies, from every division in Europe. I got in with a lot of guys from the 82nd Airborne and a few other divisions, yes. It was nice, going back and exchanging ideas with them. ... We all had to come back at the same time, too.
SI: Were you sent out to sell war bonds, anything like that?
AW: No, no. We were just on furlough and they gave us thirty days [before] we had to report back. ... While we were home, ... they wired us and told us we had another ten days to report to, I guess it was Camp Kilmer, at such-and-such a date. In the meantime, that's when we got married. Joyce waited for twenty months.
SI: Were you continually corresponding during that time?
AW: Very heavily, yes. We were engaged then. ... We were engaged in '42.
SI: Do you think the war influenced your decision to get married? Did it make you want to get married sooner?
AW: I wanted to get married as soon as possible, anyway, yes.
SI: How often did you get mail? What kind of a morale effect did that have on you?
AW: Excellent, excellent morale factor. Joyce wrote regularly. My parents wrote. Her sister wrote, once in a while. I was corresponding with buddies all over the theaters of war. Yes, it had a good morale factor, very high.
SI: Were your letters censored when they went out?
SI: Did you find that, after a while, you self-censored?
AW: Oh, we never wanted to give away anything confidential. No, it's [just to] express my love. Wasn't that right?
JW: But, your letters would arrive with black cross-outs.
AW: A lot of them?
JW: A lot.
SI: Things that you might not think of as important, others might see otherwise.
AW: Could be.
SI: It could even be something as innocuous as the weather.
AW: And that proceeded until the end of the war. After that, we could send them what we wanted, as long as we used common sense.
SI: Before the Vosges Mountains, were you in the Moselle River crossing? What was that operation like?
AW: I don't think our regiment was in it. Thinking back, what city was that near? Did it say, Lyons?
AW: Remiremont? I was in Remiremont. I guess I was there. I just don't recall anything about it. I got my Bronze Star, one of my Bronze Stars, in there. It could have been around Montelimar or Remiremont. I'll get the citations for you by the time you get back.
SI: You mentioned that you really believed that you were going to die in the invasion.
AW: Invasion, yes, because we were told, ... "Here's where you're going to go," and, [if] you look at the map, you say, "My God, ... this is going through hell all over again. Who planned this, Clark?" By that time, we had General Patch, [who] was the General of the Army. We went from the Fifth Army to the Seventh Army. We were all glad to get away from Clark. If you get that book, don't forget, it's ... The River So Swift and Bloody [A River Swift and Deadly]. I got it in our county library, maybe [the] Rutgers library has it.
SI: We have a pretty good library. It also sounds like you were not panicked in any way.
AW: I was not panicked. Salerno was mostly [anxiety]. You went to bed that night and you figured, "Oh, boy, I'll be in Rome ..." you know, and then, "I suppose the Germans are there..." and it's mostly a matter of tossing and turning, until you got up at three o'clock and got in the LST, but, this time, we got into it [and] we were very casual about it, I must say. [laughter]
SI: Most combat veterans I have spoken with say that they eventually reached a point where they become fatalists. They just think, "If I live, I live; if I die, I die."
AW: Yes. You figure the odds are getting against you the longer you stay in combat. So many shells missed you and, even if so a couple may have hit you, you're still there and one of them's going to get you; the law of averages.
SI: What was the biggest threat that you faced? Was it artillery, small arms, etc.?
AW: I think landmines, scared the hell out of me. Artillery never fazed me, actually didn't faze me that much, nor did small arms. I'm not trying to sound stoic or anything like that about it, but it didn't faze me that much.
SI: Some of the artillery pieces the Germans used, particularly in Italy, are famous, like "Anzio Annie." Were you ever attacked by those?
AW: Yes. We got that the two nights we spent there before we ... broke out of Anzio. Yes, they shot it at us, very heavy equipment. I guess it's something like "Big Bertha" in World War I. They took it back into a tunnel, or something, after they fired it.
SI: Did you encounter the landmines mostly in France or in Italy or both?
AW: Italy. In France, we moved too fast, until we got into Alsace-Lorraine. Then, after that, once we crossed the Rhine River, then, we went right through there.
SI: As a medic, did you have to be particularly alert for booby-traps? Would the Germans booby-trap bodies, that sort of thing?
AW: Oh, yes. I don't recall them ever booby-trapping one of our bodies, but I really don't recall a booby-trap near us, but I guess they did it. ... Yes, you were sensitive to it. ... We had so many guys, I mean, you know, they figured, "Get a wristwatch here. Get one of their wallets." I never went for that. Everybody had to have a Luger. I didn't have any. I didn't go for any of that stuff. They wanted to take home a German helmet, and that's all we need now, Joyce, to get rid of. [laughter] Nobody wants it anyway. [laughter]
PCB: Did you have a break between Italy and France? Were you put on furlough?
AW: ... No break. ... Guys went to rest camps in Caserta, Italy, where the king's palace was.
PCB: How long was that?
AW: Usually for three to four days, yes. They tried to get as many people as possible through those, and there's nothing to do. I mean, what do you do with a small town with nothing, with about ten thousand GIs from three divisions going in there? just hope to hell they don't get into fights, yes, but there was a few breaks. I'd liked to have [had one] at the end, where they send you to the Riviera or to Paris or London.
SI: When you were in Rome, did you get to travel around Rome at all?
AW: We were given passes there for an afternoon, that was all.
SI: What did you do?
AW: Walked around, had an audience with the Pope, ... not being Catholic, but I bought some ... rosaries, had them blessed by the Pope, I guess it was Pope Pius, some number, [Pius XII], and gave them to all our Catholic friends when we got home. I think we still have one here. Nevertheless, at Kaiserslautern, Alsace, that's when I came home and I rejoined them a little bit beyond the Rhine River, but, on the way back, I came down with malaria, European malaria. ... I left the States by February, maybe early March, and I didn't get back to the outfit until almost the end of April and, about two weeks later, the war ended. There was no more combat, really, to speak of, just miles and miles and miles of German prisoners, who were trying to escape the Russian onslaught, and that was down in southern Germany, through Ulm and Nuremberg, Mainz, down through that area.
SI: Did your unit come across any labor camps or concentration camps?
AW: Oh, yes, ... good point. We liberated Landsberg. That's the camp where Hitler wrote Mein Kampf. ... We liberated them there and it was a very sad thing, to see all these people, how emaciated [they looked]. ... I don't think this was as bad as some, as Auschwitz or some of the others. This may have been mostly for the ones that they didn't care to knock off, but mostly Germans, I'd say, who they didn't trust.
SI: Political prisoners?
SI: Did you have to treat any of them?
AW: No. ... They had their own doctors there, at that point. We had captured enough German doctors to do their own treatment. We supplied them with the medicine needed, yes.
SI: Before then, had you known anything about the German persecution of Jews and other groups?
AW: Not like we know now. We knew that they had camps like that. We've heard about them, [but] couldn't visualize it, anybody being ... so cruel.
SI: Did you have any interaction with the displaced persons?
AW: Yes, we did. We ran into a group of Russians when it was over. They didn't care for us at all and we tried to be friendly, but we just ignored them, probably got ignored more than anything else.
SI: Did you have trouble communicating with them, or anyone else you encountered?
AW: There were enough people around [who] spoke English, really, yes.
SI: When you were in, say, Italy, would you use men in your unit who were of Italian heritage as translators?
AW: Oh, yes, all the time.
SI: Was there a lot of interaction in that way?
SI: Did anyone try to see any relatives while they were there?
AW: ... Yes. When they'd get into towns, they did. I know one guy had relatives in Rome. He went and looked them up, yes.
SI: You mentioned that, at the end of the war, thousands of prisoners poured into your lines. Did you notice any changes in the makeup of the German Army at that point?
AW: They were average Germans, out of the Wehrmacht. They were not out of the elite divisions that Hitler had. He probably had them surrounding him and, like kids, I noticed some older ones, yes, but there were so many of them, you just couldn't take stock of them. They just wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as possible. They wanted to go home. [laughter] We got them on a truck. I don't know where they took them, probably to the States, and I imagine they might still be here.
PCB: As a medic, did you ever carry a weapon?
AW: Never. They were not permitted, because of the Geneva Convention after World War I, never allowed to carry them. ... They do now, and they did in Vietnam. They are in Iraq.
PCB: I know that some World War II medics did.
AW: No, we didn't, weren't allowed weapons. ... We could have been shot if we were caught with a weapon, particularly a Luger.
PCB: Did the Germans abide by the Geneva Convention?
AW: Not at all. Off and on, you noticed it. I know, when I went out to get some wounded one time, I know they're looking at me; they never shot at me. ... I went out with four guys and three of them took off. I came back with one of them. One of the wounded had taken off, too, but I came back with the one guy I went out to get, kind of balanced him half-assed, ... [with] his arm around my shoulder and hobbling back. We got him back.
PCB: Do you feel as though they respected the Red Cross?
AW: I think they did, because we had the ... Red Cross painted on the front of our helmets and in the rear of the helmet and, also, if you could remember to wear the brassard around your arm, so, I'd have to say, overall. They couldn't control artillery shells or shrapnel, ... mines or anything like that, but, overall, yes. ...
SI: How often would you be sent out into "no man's land," in front of the troops, to recover someone?
AW: Happened often, particularly in Italy, because we weren't moving that fast. We were probably drawing back every hundred yards, which is a big loss, or gaining a hundred yards, which was a tremendous gain, made the papers. ... You didn't want to get caught, you know, when the troops are pulling back and you're still going forward. ... Yes, we did okay.
SI: Did they usually send you up alone or in pairs?
AW: I went out alone already, sure. They said, "There's a wounded guy out there," and you [would] go out and look for him.
SI: It sounds like it was physically difficult to bring somebody back by yourself.
AW: Yes. You always said, "If you can save one mother's son, you've done your job." We saved many.
SI: Some of the medics' accounts describe how mentally-wearing the position is, since you see so much carnage, but they note that it is also rewarding because you can help people.
AW: Exactly, plus the fact it was frustrating because you couldn't fire back, very, very frustrating. You couldn't defend yourself.
SI: Do you know if any of the medics you served with were conscientious objectors?
AW: [Yes]. We had one or two in our company, but they had to go out [under fire]. ... They wouldn't have gotten with the 36th otherwise, ... if somebody had believed them. [laughter] One guy we had, he was [from] mid-Kansas; what's that religious sect out there, similar to the ones in Pennsylvania?
AW: Like the Amish.
AW: Mennonite, right. He was a Mennonite and he turned out to be pretty wild after a while. [laughter] ... We broke him in right, I guess.
SI: Do you think the conscientious objectors were legitimate?
AW: Yes, I do believe it, yes, because he went out and did ... just what we did, too.
SI: What about mental ...
AW: Yes, there were a lot of them, yes, a lot of them. I'd say ninety percent of them were legitimate and ten percent may have been put-on, just like a self-inflicted wound. Usually, a shot right through your left foot or your right foot, straight down, or somebody shooting off their toe, [would] get him out of combat. ... Sometimes, we had trouble with ourselves, taking them down the hill; we thought they could walk. If we thought it was self-inflicted, we'd question them about it. "Did you do that yourself? If you did, you're on your own. Go ahead." Going down those hills in Italy was not easy, because you fell so often, particularly carrying another body down.
SI: What was your unit's attitude toward the mental cases? Was it recognized as a legitimate medical problem?
AW: ... Well, I could see this more with the Germans, after what they went through at Normandy and after what they did at the "Million-Dollar Mountain," Mount Maggiore, in Italy, where we threw a million dollars worth of shells [at them] in two days. That was a lot of money in those days, [laughter] and I can see where they would be shell-shocked. Those Germans were tough. They were good soldiers. The advantage we had over them was that if our commanding officer said, "Go over there and shoot somebody," you'd figure, "Well, let's see, I'll go this way first and I'll go that way, and then, I'll cut across and I'll get him from over here." The German would go straight ahead. He did ... exactly what he was told [or] he'd get killed. Our guys could think a little freer and still accomplish the same mission, with fewer casualties. They were so regimented in whatever they were thinking. I guess, with Hitler there, they were afraid to think anything else, and the old Prussian generals, they were all that way, but they were good soldiers.
SI: The concept of American ingenuity, coming up with new ideas in the field, is often discussed. Did you see examples of that, in the tactics, for example?
AW: ... Yes. The perfect example of that was when we broke through Anzio, broke out of Anzio, moving all night long, a whole regiment, probably about thirty-five hundred troops. ... All of a sudden, the Germans are there, saying, "Where the hell did they come from?" and here we are; we're ready to go. We want to get into Rome and we've got to do it as fast as possible. Within, I'd say, a matter of twenty-four hours, we're on trucks riding into Rome, after that fiasco, getting up that far, ... nine months after Salerno. It took that long. There went my first weekend.
PCB: The 36th was in combat almost constantly. Were you well supplied with bandages?
PCB: Did you ever have to scrounge for supplies?
AW: No, no. We were always well supplied, never had any problem with that, no. Yes, we took quite a few prisoners at the end of the war, too. We captured [Hermann] Goering. In fact, I saw him. He was, like, from here to the kitchen away, and somebody said, "Who's the fat guy?" "I don't know. Looks like Goering, doesn't it?" and we both laughed and walked away, but it was Goering. ... Our general at that time; our original general had gone back to the States. He was reassigned. Another general was in there. [Our] original general was [Fred L.] Walker. He was a real good one. He came in with the National Guard, and the other one, [MG John E. Dahlquist], he had entertained Goering and, boy, did he hear about it, had him in for a chicken dinner in his trailer. We had captured [Gerd] von Rundstedt. We had gotten the German, the guy that finally signed the surrender papers, [Admiral Karl Doenitz]. We got the old French staff of the politicians, President [Paul] Reynaud or whatever his name was, and a few others. We had Admiral [Nicholas] Horthy, from Hungary. He was the head ofHungary at the time. We liberated him. Oh, we had a litany of people we liberated and captured. We captured a lot of the German high staff.
SI: Either in combat or later, did you ever have to treat any Germans?
AW: ... Oh, yes, yes. The early joke was, they used to tell them that they're getting blood transfusions that was Jewish blood. They'd go wild, particularly with these panzer divisions we had in Italy, [that] greeted us in Italy. [We would tell them], "Juden blut, Juden blut." "Nein, nein, nein," and they'd go ballistic. Yes, we treated them, though, yes. We would bring them back. I never remember taking the Germans out, we usually made them walk, because we wanted them for information, wanted to interrogate them.
SI: It sounds as though you faced a variety of units, Wehrmacht, SS.
AW: ... We generally ... were facing the toughest, usually the SS, yes, but the Wehrmacht, too. There were some in that 19th Army.
SI: Were you able to tell how tenacious the SS were?
AW: ... Yes, they were. They'd fight to the death. They were tough, and particularly in Italy, where they constantly had a higher mountain to observe us [from]. Now, when we bombed Cassino, that took an executive order from President Roosevelt to bomb that ... monastery, executive order, and it did no good, just laid a lot more steel on top of [the] steel that was already there. ...
-------------------------------------END OF TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO--------------------------------------
SI: This continues an interview with Mr. Arthur Wenzel on April 11, 2005, in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, with Shaun Illingworth ...
PCB: ... Patrick Clarke Barnes ...
JW: ... Joyce Wenzel.
SI: We were just talking about Monte Cassino. Did you actually see the bombing?
SI: Can you describe what you saw?
AW: It was too far in the distance. All I saw was a lot of planes going over, one wave after another of bombers, our fighter planes, going in and dropping everything they had on that monastery. ... Within maybe a half-hour, it was all over. At the time, I think we had Poles up there in the front. They tested it out and they got shot right down again, did no good. I didn't know if it killed any Germans.
SI: At the time, the 34th; I am sorry, the 36th.
AW: There was the 34th with us.
SI: Was the 36th on Mount Cairo, or the "Million-Dollar Mountain?"
AW: "Million-Dollar Mountain" was Maggiore. Mount Cairo was off [to the right side]. Then, you had ... the mountain the Italians had, Mount Lungo, and then, there was Mount Cairo to the right of that, as you're going north, to the east of it.
SI: Did your division actually attack Monte Cassino?
AW: No. That was taken by Polish [troops] and I think it may have been the Sixth [Infantry Division] who took Monte Cassino, finally, because, when it fell, we were practically in Rome. I mean, they were cut off; the German troops were all pulled out. That was a tough take. They lost a lot of [men]. ... It was a waste of time even to spend time in Italy. It was so insignificant. We would have been so much better off if we'd hit Southern France. There were no fortifications there or anything. ... Again, it was to appease Stalin, that's all, and it occupied three or four divisions. I think it was the Third, [which] was Audie Murphy's outfit, the 34th, the 45th, the 36th, one regular Army, three National Guard divisions.
PCB: Do you feel that the opening of that second front, other than just to appease Stalin, made the invasion of Normandy easier?
AW: Yes. ... We were occupying at least twenty divisions. They ... maybe [were] not in the line, but they were right behind. ... They were flexible enough where they could yank them out of there in a hurry to go somewhere else, but, because they fouled up so bad in Normandy, with Hitler's orders and ... Rommel not being there, attending his wife's birthday, ... they never got in there in time, but, yes, we probably did take enough [pressure] off from there. At that time, I don't know where the hell all the German men went to.
SI: Can you tell us more about the period when you came home on furlough? You mentioned that you got married.
SI: What was it like to be home, and then, to have to go back overseas?
AW: It was hell going back, I'll tell you, but we did it. I mean, not one guy deserted. Don't forget, we were all combat-tested, we were all well-decorated and, one little story, when we were leaving, going back, that night there were a lot of Red Cross girls there, giving us this and that, going back. They didn't know that we were going back a second time and one of them said, "You're going over for the first time?" I said, "No, we're going back for a second time." I said, "We're all here because we're well decorated. Now, we're going back to finish it off." I'll tell you, the two of them sat there and cried, and one of them gave me a kiss I'll never forget. [laughter] I had a lot of things in my arms, Joyce. So, yes, it was noticed going back and it was hell going back, yes, but we accepted it and not one guy missed the boat. We went back on the Queen, as a matter-of-fact. We were back in four days and we just shot right across. There was no zigzagging back and forth, convoy-style.
SI: When you initially came over to Europe, what was that voyage like?
AW: When we initially went to Europe? Oh, initially, [when I] went to Europe was [when I] first stepped on the beach at Salerno.
SI: I meant crossing the Atlantic, to North Africa. Were you in a convoy?
AW: We were in a convoy, Liberty ships. We landed in Algiers.
SI: Was there anything memorable about the voyage? Were there any U-boat alerts?
AW: Well, there's always a U-boat alert. Yes, there was always one of those. We had to [do that], and we did zip back and forth in convoy-style, to avoid any U-boats ... torpedoing us, yes.
SI: Were the conditions cramped?
AW: Yes, but, with twenty-four hour card games, we managed. One thing we never had to worry about, except in the early days at Salerno, was the German Air Force. Our Air Force took care of that so fast and so well, they had no air force left. All they had were those screaming bombers [V-1 and V-2 rockets] at the end, going into ... England, beginning of the jet age.
SI: Most of the rockets were sent to England, but I know that they used some at the front. Do you remember ever seeing a rocket attack?
AW: No, I never saw one. I was only in England a little while, and that was on the way home. After that, we came back; I'm trying to think where we left from. Was it Le Havre? I guess it was Le Havre, on a Navy ship, on a destroyer. We were expected to sleep on the deck. A couple of the Navy guys felt sorry for me, so, they took me in. They had a spare bunk in their cabin. I stayed with them the whole time, and von Braun was on the same boat.
SI: Wernher von Braun?
AW: [Yes]. We were bringing him back.
SI: Were you in one of the "cigarette camps" before you came home?
AW: "Cigarette camp," what's that?
SI: Camp Lucky Strike, Camp Chesterfield; they were all named after cigarette brands.
AW: Never knew that. That's news to me. No, we were living in a German town. We each took over a house, whatever we wanted, stayed there. We had a two-family house.
SI: How long were you on occupation duty?
AW: From May the 8th, 1945, until, I guess, mid-September of 1945. That's when we started coming home. Both times when we landed in the States, it was in Boston Harbor.
SI: What was occupation duty like? What was it like to actually be interacting with the Germans, after fighting them for so long?
AW: We couldn't talk to them for a while, couldn't socialize with them, but, after a while, I'd say within a month, that was lifted. Eisenhower had the foresight to realize they couldn't keep the GIs from not talking to the German girls, or the German people, and we tried to, you know, ... as we were told, "Spread as much goodwill as we could," which we did. You'll never find nicer people than a GI, never find a nicer guy, always willing to give the enemy, the children of the enemy, candy, give the enemy cigarettes, great people, the GIs, even today. That's why we probably had so many friends when the war ended. We don't have them today, unfortunately, because of jealousy, I guess, of other nations.
SI: You mentioned meeting Russians. I think you were referring to the displaced persons.
AW: ... Displaced persons, yes.
SI: Did you ever actually meet up with the Russian units that were coming in from the east?
AW: No, never did. We ended up and it was in Austria, Kitzbuhel, Austria. That's their Hollywood. Another one we captured was Leni ...
AW: Yes, we captured her. She was a real Hitler-ite, compared to Marlene Dietrich, who was one of the Allies.
SI: Did you ever get to see a USO show?
AW: Oh, yes. They were nice, they were entertaining, get you away from the usual GI stuff, and you'd get [them] usually right on the base, you never got away, where you're bivouacked, within a mile of it, anyway.
SI: Did you see anyone famous?
AW: Never saw Bob Hope, John Garfield. Yes, there was one famous [one] and I can't remember who it was. Yes, every so often, you'd see a famous one.
SI: During combat, did you ever have any interaction with the Nisei [442nd Regimental Combat Team] unit?
AW: Yes. They rescued our 141st Infantry, 1st Battalion, in Italy. Because, when I woke up one morning, I was in the hospital with jaundice, I woke up, I thought I was in Pearl Harbor; there was nothing but Japanese around me. That's where these guys were from. They liberated that "Lost Battalion." They went out and got them and brought them back, [took] a lot of their own casualties, yes. The Nisei were great soldiers, loyal soldiers, very well decorated. So, I got to know quite a few of them there in the [hospital]. They spoke English as well as I did. Most of them were educated on the West Coast.
SI: You were then in the hospital for jaundice. You also came down with European malaria after you returned. Was there any other time that you were hospitalized or needed medical attention?
AW: No. Well, I got wounded twice, but they were "million-dollar wounds;" a million dollars because each wound was worth five points, with a Purple Heart, when it came to getting discharged, and that was the other thing. We had a lot of points, because of overseas duty and because of medals and things like that. Even a Good Conduct Medal was worth a few points.
SI: How would you rate the medical treatment that you received?
AW: Excellent, dental, too, yes.
SI: Were you given antibiotics? Were they available at the time?
AW: [Yes]. They had penicillin.
SI: Did you ever get those in the field or was it just sulfa powder?
AW: Sulfa powder, and we did get penicillin after a while. Morphine; we had all the morphine we wanted. We had to watch it, though. ... I know the guy, my buddy, when he had his head almost blown off, I gave him three shots of it, as he was in such pain, but, yes, we carried morphine with us.
SI: How strictly were these supplies regulated? I have heard some people say that they had to account for the morphine, because the Army did not want it to wind up on the black market. Was that ever an issue?
AW: You know, I don't really recall that ever being an issue. I don't recall ever having had to sign for morphine. Usually, you went to the supply aide and picked it up before you went out, yes. I don't recall it.
SI: Did you ever have to go out on a patrol?
AW: Oh, yes.
SI: When you went out on patrol, was it medics looking for wounded?
AW: [Yes]. We took a litter with us. One of us would carry a litter and the rest would have supplies, yes, get out there, treat the wounded and bring them back, and a patrol, generally, was maybe a matter of an hour or two, or maybe six hours, ... pick up vital information and, also, ... with instructions, to capture some enemy.
SI: Did you ever fear becoming a POW?
AW: No. It didn't bother me. If it did, I wouldn't have gone out. [laughter] ...
AW: As far as my medals were concerned, I received the Purple Heart twice, wounds at Mount Maggiore, wounds received in Saint; I can't remember the name of that town, Ste.-Marie-[Pass] ... or something like that. It was in Alsace-Loraine, and that was after the story that Przygocki sent in to you. [Editor's Note: Mr. Wenzel is referring to accounts contributed by Valerian Przygocki that the interviewers read online.] I'm pretty sure he mentioned the town there. I also received two Bronze Stars for heroism in action against the enemy. ... For one of the Bronze Stars, I was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross. When you get a copy of it, you'll wonder why I didn't get it. ... Well, you have a list of everything there. The easiest thing for me to do is to read it, because there are so many. ... [Editor's Note: Mr. Wenzel takes out the list.] [I] received the Combat Infantryman's Badge, and that was issued when they found out that we were in as much combat as the infantry. So, they gave us a Combat Infantryman's Badge. Then, they decided that this isn't the badge to give them, because, if the Germans catch them, they're going to think they're carrying guns, so, they then made it a Combat Medic's Badge. ... I already had my orders, and still have copies of them, for the Combat Infantryman's Badge. A lot of people say, "What are you doing, being a medic with that badge?" Well, it's legitimate. I have two Invasion Arrowheads for having participated in [the landings]. I don't know whether they gave them out for all [waves], whether you're in D+6 or D+1 or what, but I have two, because I know I was in two first waves. ... The first one was for Salerno, on September 9th of 1943, and the other one was for Southern France, August 15th of 1944. The battles and campaigns, I have [stars for] five campaigns, which were really in ... a silver [Service] Star for the campaign ribbon, [Editor's Note: Five bronze Service Stars would be combined into one silver Service Star] which included Central Europe, Naples-Foggia, Rome-Arno, the Rhineland and Southern France, and other medals they gave to anybody who was in these theaters, the European-African-Middle East Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the Liberation of France [Medal], Presidential Unit Citation and individual divisional citations, and the New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal, with an oak leaf cluster, issued by the State of New Jersey. [Editor's Note: Mr. Wenzel puts the list away.] That takes care of that, and I will supply you with ... whatever I have, and even some newspaper articles, the one like Przygocki sent you, and I've got another one where I was out with ... three other guys and we clobbered a German. ... The guy gave up. We gave him C rations. I think he was mad at us, and a couple of others in there you'll find of interest, if you want it for your archives. I can't do it right now; my grandson studied it, because the kids never knew anything about this, and they wanted me to get in on something like this right away. ...
SI: Thank you. Would you mind talking about the incident where you, Przygocki, and the other medics brought a man back in a tank?
AW: ... It's very descriptive, if you have it there. I kind of forget it. In fact, the fact that he wrote it up, I figured, "Is that me?" [laughter] I had to remember; yes, that was ... one of the times I got wounded, on the way back. We ... went out and got a wounded lieutenant. ... We were being shelled and sniped at so heavily that ... we had to figure a way to get out of there. ... There was a tank, so, the sensible thing to do was [to have] some of the guys go back in the tank at least, and another fellow and myself went back on foot. ... As we went back, they kept firing at us. Now, whether they thought we were infantrymen, [I do not know], but we were going in the opposite direction, anyway, and we stopped at a, what was it, where a group of nuns lived? I guess, you'd call it a nunnery. They had us in there and they gave us soup, fed us, and then, we took off in a gulley with a lot of water. We went, I guess it was knee-deep, tearing through that. That's when I picked up a piece of shrapnel, but ... we got back then and we got that lieutenant back safely, too, but they went back in the tank. ...
AW: ... And I did get the Good Conduct Medal to keep.
SI: I am interested in the command structure within the medical unit. Would you usually take orders from the medical battalion or the infantry outfits?
AW: ... Medical battalion, yes.
SI: They would send you out.
AW: No, the infantry would send us out, but, I mean, the orders, direct orders, "You, go up there and be with the infantry. You're going to be with them for a day or two," that would come from the medical battalion, ... through the protocol, upon request from the infantry outfit. They need medics because they expect a lot of combat and we'd go up with them, yes, and, if we were up there, and infantry, certainly, ... [if] a sergeant or a private or a colonel [were] to tell us to go out and help this guy, we'd do it. So, the orders were mostly from an infantryman or from our own conscience. ... "This is our job; we should go out and do it."
SI: How did you get along with your officers?
AW: Very well. Yes, they liked me, but who wouldn't like me, right, Joyce?
JW: Oh, I don't know. [laughter]
SI: Were your officers regular Army or ROTC?
AW: No, they were doctors, doctors who were there, originally had [been] National Guard doctors, but they, in turn, as I say, Aikins ... lost a leg at the knee and the rest of them were all physicians, one from New Jersey, Dr. (Farber?). We called them, "Doctor," not, "Captain." Bert Marks, he was from Miami.
SI: How formal was your unit? Would you always have to say, "Sir?"
AW: Oh, yes. ... We had to follow military discipline all the way.
SI: Was any of that relaxed during combat?
AW: Oh, yes. No officer wanted to be identified too fast in combat, but we had some great infantry officers, I'll tell you.
PCB: Are there any particular characters from your unit that stand out in your mind?
AW: We had characters, yes. Some guys, I guess [they] became the alcoholics after the war was over, but they were characters while they were in there, always good for a laugh. Przygocki always tells the story about the guy that lost his teeth before we went into combat and ... all he did was bitch about [how] he couldn't chew the C rations or the K rations. ... I'll tell you, the food we had, those C rations were brutal, absolutely brutal, and that's how I got my jaundice, lived on those for about four months, every morning, noon and night. You had stew, hash and baked beans, and the other one was three pieces of hardtack and either a lemonade, a horrible cocoa or a ... powdered coffee, which was terrible, acidic. ... That's what we lived on for three or four months at one time and, all of a sudden, I guess the grease caught up with my liver. Luckily, I've never had any problem with it after that, nor have I had; the malaria came back on me one time, and then, ended. I've been very lucky, very healthy, pushing eighty-four. So, I'm lucky.
SI: How often were you able to get a hot meal, a shower or a change of clothes?
AW: ... If you were in combat, you didn't get that. I remember, one time, I couldn't shave for eleven days. We couldn't get any fresh water to drink. We got water, but we had to boil it and you didn't want to have too many fires going. So, it all depended on whether or not you were in combat. When you're off the line, you could get a shower probably every other day. You could brush your teeth once or twice a day. You could shave, if you wanted to, every other day or so. They didn't bother you too much about that when you're off the line for a couple of days, but it wasn't enough. I probably lost a couple of teeth because of it. I was lucky [that] I was able to save the rest.
SI: How often did disease affect men in your unit?
SI: Obviously, combat wounds took a heavy toll on your unit, but I am trying to get an idea of how disease and other health issues affected the unit.
AW: No, disease didn't do too much to it, probably a virus or something like that. One time, ... this was in North Africa, and we almost lost a battle. They couldn't get quinine for malaria and what they did was, they gave us a product, a substitute, called Atabrine. Well, we had Atabrine that night and, you can't believe [it], ninety-five percent of the infantry, and anybody who had anything to do with the front or reserve, was out throwing up their guts. We're so nauseous. They figured, "What are we going to do now?" and then, these guys in combat were ready to close in on Rommel in Tunisia and they finally started giving us a quarter of a tablet, half a tablet, and, over a period of maybe a month, we got the full tablet back. ... By that time, our system was inured enough to absorb it and prevent malaria, but, obviously, it didn't prevent malaria completely for me, ... because European malaria is nothing like Asian malaria, but it was bad, very bad. Joyce saw me go through it once, right after I got out of service, when I was going to Rutgers. I think it was around exam time. [laughter] ...
SI: Can you tell us about the process of leaving the military, coming home, being discharged?
AW: It was an adjustment, big adjustment, being married, I was never married before I went in, looking for a job. ... Well, deciding what we wanted to do, first of all, that was the biggest adjustment, and Joyce insisted I go to college. So, I finally was accepted at both Yale and Rutgers, but, because she wanted to be close to her mother, we went to Rutgers, and we got an apartment down there. First year, ... it was awfully hard getting back into college algebra. ... I know the guy pushed a lot of us through with Ds, just to get us through that one stage, Maxwell Leliku. I'll never forget him. I mean, we hit stuff in math I never knew existed in college algebra, because it had been, let's see, I graduated high school in 1939, this is 1945, six years, too much, out of training. Luckily, ... I started in November and I got two courses, which gave me full credits, which got me through in January, and then, we took up a full course. So, the accounting, or whatever other course it was, I took history, I aced [it], and that kept me in, and then, we took up the full course and it was an adjustment, sticking with the math, even the second half. Again, I got through it with a D, but I ended up with, what's the best at Rutgers, 4.0?
SI: It has been reversed.
SI: I think it was 1.0.
AW: Okay. I probably ended up with a 2.1 or 2.2 average, overall weighted average. That wasn't bad, considering I had a son. ... [I] did the four in two-and-a-half years and, to make it in time, I even took a course at Newark-Rutgers at night, advertising course.
SI: Was it a business major?
AW: Business administration, yes, and, for some reason or other, as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to work for Exxon, Esso, Esso Standard Oil, in sales, and that's what I did.
SI: Had you had any contact with Esso before going in the service?
AW: None whatsoever. ... I don't know; ... let's say it was just a hunch.
SI: You thought that they were a good company to work for.
AW: And I had my ups and downs with Esso, but I did well.
SI: What were the conditions at Rutgers like for returning veterans at that time?
AW: They were very good, yes. We had an awful lot of Socialist, left-leaning professors, and we really gave them a run for their money, because we weren't the typical eighteen-year-old kid entering Rutgers. ... I was twenty-four, twenty-five; I'd say the average [age] was more like twenty-eight, a lot of guys that are [in their] thirties, and even some in their early forties, and we weren't about to take anything from a bunch of Socialists. After all, we fought for democracy, not Socialism.
SI: Many men have commented that the professors either really enjoyed having students who were so eager to learn or they were put off by students who would talk back and would ...
AW: Challenge them. We were challengers. We really were challengers, yes, and I'd say, in my class, ninety percent were veterans.
SI: Did you have any interaction with the kids coming out of high school?
AW: Oh, yes. They'd have some questions about what was going on and so forth, because they were probably going in the service anyway, because I think the draft was continued, as I recall, and definitely was continued when the Korea [War] broke out.
SI: You did not ignore the high school kids; you interacted with them.
AW: Yes. We didn't ignore them, no. We lived down in New Brunswick, until, I guess, still probably my first year and probably until April or May of the first year, because I went right around the clock, twelve months a year. ... I was telling you [that] I was lacking a couple of credits and that's when I took advertising, two courses, up in Newark. ... By that time, we were living with Joyce's family, back in Maplewood, and then, we had our son then, too. I was lucky. I went under PL 16, versus, I think the other one is PL 346. The big difference was, under PL 16, your earnings were unlimited. I could make any amount of money and not have it affect my monthly take, whereas [under] PL 346, you got just so much, that anything you made on the side over that, they took away from you. In addition to that, they also paid for our books and our education, but ... they didn't pay for room and board, but they did put up some barracks for the married couples, but we didn't take advantage of that, because we already had our apartment.
SI: Did you work at all while you were going to Rutgers?
AW: Yes. I worked in a pharmacy for a while and, after that, I worked selling memorials for my uncle. I really clicked, made a lot of money doing that. He had me on a commission basis. He had bought a second memorial shop in Elizabeth and I did very well selling memorials.
SI: It must have been very difficult to raise a family, go to school full-time and work.
AW: No, it was fun. The only thing was, it was a challenge. It was a real challenge. I mean, I didn't get to see my son the way I [would have] liked to, like to have, although, to this day, [we are] very close, yes, and that was a challenge. It was tough financially, and, particularly, I think we had more financial problems after I started working with Esso. I worked for Sears-Roebuck, part-time, to make ends meet.
SI: Was it difficult to find a job then? Many veterans were reentering the job market with you.
AW: Most of the veterans were taking their old jobs back. We were guaranteed the job back, the same job you had, practically, or something comparable to it, at the same pay, plus, whatever cost of living increases were given out, raises. The policy was very good.
JW: The hardest part was finding living quarters, and nobody wanted to rent to you if you had a child.
AW: That's right. That's the first thing they'd ask you, "Do you have a kid?" "Yes, I do," and it got so [bad], I finally say, one time, ... "Would you wait a moment?" He waited. I said, "Okay, I'm back; I just killed the kid. Now, can I have the apartment?" and [I] laid a little profanities on to it after that. ... One time, it almost came to fisticuffs, in Newark. The guy says, "Oh, you've got a kid? You can't have this apartment," [laughter] and Joyce was holding me back. This is all I had to have, taking this from some guy who probably never even got close to the war. It was down on High Street in Newark. I'll never forget it.
SI: Why no kids? Why did they not allow children?
JW: I have no idea.
AW: I have no idea.
JW: Probably, they had had a poor experience with children in the apartments, being disruptive or ruining things. I don't know.
AW: That's a good point, Joyce; thank you.
SI: Yes, thank you. While you were at Rutgers, did you get to experience any of what we would call the normal college experience, like going to athletic events?
AW: We went to a couple of football games and that, yes. We tried to follow it as closely as possible. In fact, if we didn't have our son, I probably would have tried out for the football team. At that time, Herm [Herman] Hering and Frank Burns played. Frank Burns, later, was a coach at Rutgers. He was also the coach at Chatham High and his son went to college with my son up in North Massachusetts. He was a quarterback and my son was a linebacker and they got very close up there, and Herm Hering, he was a great guy. He made All-American. He passed away, unfortunately, a couple of years ago. He was a good friend. Joyce worked with him at Chatham High when he was football coach. Joyce was the bookkeeper and, also, a secretary for the principal and athletic director, yes.
SI: Is there anything that you would like to say about your career?
AW: With Exxon? I had a great career with Exxon. I probably should have done better, but I didn't. I had my ups and downs, I'll be honest with you, but I ended up "up." Everything worked out well. I think the highlight of my career was when I was selected to go to Vietnam, when the Standard-Vacuum Oil Company broke up. Standard-Vacuum was one-half Standard of New Jersey, Esso, going back to 1962. The other half was Socony-Vacuum, which was Mobil. The two were one company out there. They decided to break up. All the marketing out there had been Mobil, the flying red horse. Nobody knew who Esso was, except at the back of a Flit can or Esso Aviation Fuel. My job was to go out and train all these ... ex-Mobil employees in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia in Esso's way of doing business and training, and that lasted for six months. ... The nice part was, Joyce was out with me for three months and, in the second half, the second three months, I was supposed to go around and see the results of my efforts. ... Luckily, a lot of it turned out good. Some of it didn't turn out well, so, we had to start re-training all over again. ... This is now known as Esso Standard Eastern, the new company out there, which divorced itself from Mobil. ... The way the employees were picked was like a football draft, "I'll pick him and I'll get him," and the same with countries, and it worked out very well. In fact, they offered me a nice job out there, going to Australia, but I went back and I discussed it with Joyce and she wanted nothing to do with Asia and the kids said [that] they were just getting into ice hockey. ... [I thought], "I'll take a chance and say, 'No,'" because, another thing, you could be in Australia for two years, you could be in Singapore for two years, terrific, but, all of a sudden, you're in Bangladesh for five years and you've got a very unhappy family. Number two, ... this is what happened with all the people out there, they had to give up their children after a certain period of time, when they became of high school age, because the Philippines had the only good American high school in Asia that you would consider sending your child to. Other than that, it was sending them home with your in-laws or your parents to go to a prep school, or send them away to a prep school. Joyce and I didn't feel that we wanted to leave our children that early. At that time, Ray was about fourteen, Russ was about ten. So, we didn't feel it was worthwhile doing that. So, I turned it down. Another highlight, I was the main training man for all of Esso Standard Oil Company, Humble Oil Refining at the time, and I think it even carried over into Exxon, where I ran a training school for training dealers for all over the country. ... I ended up as a field sales manager after thirty-four years, no regrets.
JW: Then, we moved to Seabrook. [laughter]
AW: No, we had a home on Long Beach Island for thirty years, in addition to our home in Chatham. You familiar with Long Beach Island?
AW: You're not?
SI: A little bit, yes.
AW: Oh, that's a great place. It used to be a greater before it was so populated. You know where Manahawkin is? Okay, you go right out the causeway there to the ocean. You're five miles [out] at sea at that point when you're on the island. It's eighteen miles long, Barnegat Lights on the northern end, Holgate or Beach Haven's on the lower end, and even though it takes an hour-and-a-half to get to Atlantic City, you can see it, on a clear day, from the island. ...
SI: You were in Southeast Asia in 1962.
AW: '62, yes, there was a hot war going on. They said we had eighteen thousand, fifteen thousand troops out there. I'd say it was more like thirty-two thousand troops, at least two divisions, plus, a lot of specialized troops working with ... the South Vietnamese, the ARVN, [the Army of the Republic of Vietnam].
JW: But, the thing was, we came back [and] nobody here knew we were at war.
AW: Really, they didn't, and we had a hot war going on there. That's when I carried a gun with me, when I went out to the bulk plant. It was right on the Mekong River. I carried an M-1. I knew how to handle it, yes.
SI: Was that ever an issue?
AW: Oh, I asked for it. I said, "[Will] you get me an M-1?" "Sure." Had ammunition, I knew how to handle the thing safely, but they say, every so often, they'd lob a shell over into the bulk plant, for some reason or other. The Vietcong didn't want to destroy the bulk plant, because they wanted it themselves, which they eventually took over anyway. It was run by some Australian. He was a tough, old guy. This was after you [Joyce] left.
SI: Were these refinery employees that you were retraining?
AW: ... No, marketing, sales people.
SI: They had stations in Southeast Asia.
AW: No, they trained the dealers. ... We'd give them [the] training materials they needed to train the dealers properly, and the main objective, a lot of people didn't know it, but [it] was, our sales [goals] were to help the dealer make money. He's an independent business man. I'm talking about dealers in the States; I had to become very familiar with what the relationship was between the company and the dealer out there in Asia. Every one was different and they had very poor rapport between the salesmen [and the dealers]. That's what I tried to instill. I guess Mobil didn't care, and I noticed out there, with our own people, their big deal was to wash their car on Sunday and read the Paris issue of the Herald Tribune on Wednesday or something, or Newsweek, and all they did was, they couldn't wait until five o'clock to go out and drink. I said, "Christ, there's other things than that. You've got to go out and work with these people," not that I was against a drink at all, but I think I instilled some of it. What happened after I left, I don't know. That's a very interesting assignment.
SI: Yes. Not many Americans were in ...
AW: ... Vietnam.
AW: Very few in Cambodia and very few in Laos, yes.
PCB: You were involved in a reunion association. Did you keep in contact with many guys from your unit?
AW: From the 36th? Yes and no; yes, not many. There are not that many left. I've got a handle on quite a few of the guys from the unit. So many of them passed on and the guy that gave me all that information, he recently passed on, but I'd say there are about five or six of them which I can easily follow up on.
PCB: You keep in close contact with them.
AW: Yes. Przygocki's one of them. He's probably my closest friend from the unit. Harvey Reves in California, (Dick Slavic?), who, when he left [for] the service, he had a brilliant baseball career ahead of him with the old Milwaukee Brewers, back in the American Association, back in the early '40s, and he threw his arm out in the service and he went back and he became an alcoholic, because he couldn't get a job. I understand the poor guy has Alzheimer's now, but he also wrote a book, which Joyce read, I never got to it, and Joe Vodvarka, from Delaware, he's a well decorated guy.
SI: He came up in some of the stories as well.
AW: Vodvarka did?
AW: You're pretty familiar with the names, aren't you? ...
SI: That is why I asked you these questions.
AW: Yes. You probably came across Reves, too, then.
SI: I think so.
AW: So many of them are gone now. I wouldn't say twenty percent of our outfit is still alive, and we'll have another reunion soon. I don't know whether we'll make it or not. It's difficult for Joyce to travel. ... If it's in the East somewhere, we'll probably make it. If it isn't, we won't, but I know one thing, I'm going to call Przygocki before the next day goes by. [laughter]
SI: Is there anything that we skipped over? Would you like to say anything about your family?
AW: Well, we have a great family. We have two sons. ... They both worked for Kodak. One is retired from Kodak and the other was picked up by a headhunter, after twenty-three years with Kodak, and they're both still doing very well. The oldest one is fifty-eight now and the youngest one's fifty-four. The one who lives up in Randolph, in North Jersey, [on] the other side of Morristown, he has three children, one grandchild. That's our great-grandchild. All the grandkids are college graduates, except one, two master's degrees, and the other one [son], in Fairfax, Virginia, has two sons and an imminent engagement announcement. Our youngest grandson, grandchild, is twenty-four. The oldest is a girl; she's thirty-three, [will be] thirty-three in May.
SI: Congratulations to both of you on such a successful family.
AW: Thank you. Both kids were very athletically inclined. With all that long hair bit and all that other stuff, we never really went through or had a problem with them, and maybe we're just lucky, the way we raised them, touch of luck, maybe. It doesn't always happen that way.
SI: Did your sons get to travel with you when you went to Southeast Asia?
AW: No, no, they didn't, no. Joyce's parents came down and took care of them for three months, but they're easy to take care of. We get our great-grandson down here, oh, maybe one day a month. He's so easy to take care of. He's a ball. He loves it down here. He's four years old now, and we expect another great-grandchild in ...
AW: August, my birthday, maybe, Joyce. It could be July 31st. It's coming up fast.
SI: Congratulations on that as well.
AW: Thank you. Okay, we'll let it go at that then.
SI: Thank you very much for sitting down with us. Thank you, particularly, for your hospitality.
AW: Oh, you're welcome. It was a pleasure, really was.
JW: It was nice having both of you, meeting you.
SI: Thank you.
PCB: Thank you.
JW: I hope it turns out to be very interesting for whomever is typing it.
SI: I am sure it will be.
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