A World War II Soldier's Story

My grandfather came to America from Veitri Di Potenza in the region of Basilicata in southern Italy. He came to Buffalo NY and earned the nickname "The Side Wheel" as he oiled the New York Central steam engines. My dad was later called "The Wheel" as all of his friends grew up with nicknames. It was funny because as a child I never knew their real names. Just "The Bird", "The Weasel", and his brother "Jumbo". He was a second generation American Italian. Like many men and women of all races and ethnicity in the 1940's, he started at Fort Dix in New Jersey and found himself in England in June of 1944.

For the purpose of telling his story, I will call him by his first name, James. Like many of his counterparts, he spoke little of the war and I soaked in every detail when he did open up about it a little. He loved "The Longest Day" and I wish he could have seen "Saving Private Ryan" as he would have enjoyed that immensely.

In 2006, The National Purple Heart Hall of Fame was established in Vails Gate, NY. When I heard about it, I wrote them a letter with some pictures and other attachments.

Dear Friends of Purple Heart Recipients:

Thank you so much for creating this Hall of honor and recognition.

My father, Private First Class James was a member of the Fourth Division, Medical Unit, 8th Infantry Regiment. A World War II Veteran of four years and one month, his story is very interesting if not amazing. I have included many documents in the folder to help document his experience.

I will tell you some of the details in this letter that he related to me (like many veterans he seldom talked about the war) to clarify and expand on the documents enclosed.

Born and raised in Buffalo, NY he worked and even did some serious "sparring" as a boxer before the war and fought for the Championship at Fort Dix. He was about 5 '9 "and 185 lbs. Wounded in Belgium, he returned to the States at Fort Dix. My mother's New Jersey family came to visit him and walked right by his cot – he only weighed 88 pounds!

He told me the Fourth Division drifted past the targeted landing on D-Day. This resulted somehow in fewer casualties than some of the other landings. I have included the Eighth Infantry Command Posts which details their locations through four battles on the way to Germany. On that sheet I have marked January 31, 1945 Lommersweiler, Belgium. On that day, Private James was going to the aid of another GI when a Nazi Tiger Tank opened fire on the hill they were on. A huge piece of shrapnel penetrated his thigh (I do not want to make you sick here but I could fit four fingers down to the knuckle into his leg). He was separated from his outfit and laid in the snow for fourteen hours. Somehow, with the help of Major (Doctor) Kenneth M. Alford (also of Buffalo, NY) his leg was saved. Buffalo newspapers included him on their "List of Honored War Dead" as he was separated from his unit and his whereabouts were unknown (I have included these articles in the folder). He told of the surprise on peoples faces who thought he was dead when he came back to Buffalo. From January 31, 1945 until his discharge on January 16, 1946 he spent his time in hospitals in Europe and New Jersey.

With one leg about an inch and a half shorter than the other, he worked for years at the VA Hospital in Buffalo, NY and was a great employee and the best father a guy could ever have.

Before being wounded, during the Battle of the Bulge on December 4, 1944 his unit was ordered to retreat and with another Medic, managed to get three wounded men from behind enemy lines back to town by making three separate trips as they only had one litter bearer. My dad said they could hear hundreds of Nazi's passing within twenty yards as they performed their trips to return the men to safety.

After all this, he did not really think he had any awards coming his way. In 1955, he wrote to get his Good Conduct Medal and Medical Combat Badge. On March 5th, 1956 he received the Bronze Star. On May 18th, 1959 he received his Purple Heart. His family and friends are very proud to have known such a man. He passed away in 1983 from 100% Service Connected disabilities. The "Wheel" was a proud soldier and a great man.

I was never in the service but certainly have an appreciation for those who served. The World War II generation was indeed very special as are all those who risk their lives for America. This World War II Soldier's Story is dedicated to all the Medics who served for us in all wars.