Mel in summer khaki
Just before we went over seas we were sent to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. While there they were giving us all physicals and they thought they found that I had a hernia and they almost didn't let me go. I sure
was worried that I was going to be left behind.
I got cleared to go over seas and we loaded on the USS Monticello, an old Italian luxury liner with mahogany stair cases. I remember we were on
the second level and just above us on the top level was where a bunch of nurses were that were being shipped over seas. Of course that level was off limits to us, but that smell of perfume would drift down to where we were and just about drove us all crazy.
We knew there were a lot of women up there, but it was off limits.
On the boat ride over we first started out all alone on our ship, but the next morning we were joined up with a convoy of hundreds
of ships. One day they detected German submarine sonar and the battleship next to us launched one of those planes off a catapult to search for the sub. Well when it launched it dipped down between the battleship and us and was headed right toward us. I didn't
think it had enough room to clear us and I thought it was going to crash right into the side of our ship, but it barely cleared our boat. When it came back and landed in the water, before it could be picked up it was swamped by the rough seas and sunk.
We landed in Oran, North Africa and the first thing I noticed was this sheet walking up the side of a hill. It was an Arab in that long robe they wore, but it looked like a sheet. After landing we went
to a staging area where we slept in pup tents. One night the harbor got bombed by the Germans and they had all this anti-aircraft fire going up, and those tracers looked like sparks and we thought something was on fire.
I can recall how hot it was and how we would go down to the beach and swim. I remember me and another soldier in our outfit named Leonard Loomis would lock arms and legs and roll down the beach like a big wheel. Another memory of North
Aftica was the day I saw Charles DeGaul walking down the street.
We left North Africa, shipping out of the Port of Bizerti. We landed at Naples, Italy. The first bridge we built was on the Volturno
River. I can recall one day when some civilians were crossing our bridge and this old Italian fella had a donkey pulling a cart that stopped in the middle of our bridge and refused to move. We did everything trying to get that donkey off the bridge and finally
ended up pushing the donkey and cart off into the river, much to the protest of the old Italian man. We had to do it, the bridge had to remain open.
While on the Volturno some officers and myself
were responsible for clearing the mouth of the Volturno so that a boat could pass through carrying General Mark Clark. Sand would build up in the mouth of the river making it impassible. So we took some German teller mines and exploded them in the mouth of
the river to enable his boat to pass through.
I remember one day on the Volturno Bridge a jeep came across by itself and on the jeep was a flag with five stars on it. In the back of the jeep
was Generals Clark and Patton, and riding upfront was Ike and the jeep driver, all alone unescorted. They pulled over and stopped and I didn't have my camera with me. I saluted and they didn't say a word.
Also while on the Volturno we lost Sgt. Leaonard Kramer when a teller mine exploded under a bulldozer. The dozer was being driven by a boy named Brazier. He was thrown through the air but wasn't hurt. Another boy named Puto got a Purple Heart. He
was driving a truck when the mine exploded and got hit in the eyes.
We went on up the boot of Italy and bridged the Garagliano River. I remember there was a bunker we built near the bridge where
we would sleep and go to get out of the German shellings, and then up on a hill there was an old house where we also would go to sleep. The Germans shelled us there using a railroad gun. One day we went for a hike down the the mountain ridge and came upon
an American P-40 fighter that was shot down and burned. We didn't see a body so maybe he bailed out. Also while on the Garigliano we made some runs into Monte Cassino. I remember when they bombed Monte Cassino. We pulled into the town right after the bombing
and there was nothing left but rubble.
Some of those roads in Italy were hard to negotiate. We went up a mountain pass one day hauling a Bailey Bridge they were going to use to cross a chasm.
The curves in that road were so sharp we had to get a bulldozer to push our trailors around them. They were nothing but old lumber roads and hard to drive up.
Part of the time we were in Italy
we lived like royalty. We stayed at a big castle while near Caserta that belonged to a prince. I remember in the back there was a big long water filled area lined with statues all the way down it. While in Italy we also got to visit the ancient city of Pompei
that was buried by the volcano. They had it all dug out of the lava and we could walk through the ruins.