by Mike Fanell
Personally, I think first hand battlefield accounts from vets should be recorded and told for prosperity. I am going to share with you some experiences and stories my grandfather recently told me about WWII.
These are tidbit stories about my grandfather, Pasquelle "Pat" Capparelle, who was in the 150th Combat Engineer Battalion. They had 5 battle stars for being in 5 out of 6 major campaigns in the European theatre and received a unit citation from FDR, making them the most highly decorated unit in the European theatre. They built 26 bridges, including two over the Rhine River. Several of those bridges were built under fire from small arms, artillery, mortars and Luftwaffe aircraft.
My grandfather was one of 20,000 troops to leave NY harbor on the Queen Mary, Dec 21, 1943. Over the radio on Christmas Eve they heard FDR say, "I promise you mothers that none of your sons will be at sea on Christmas". Of course they all had knew that was just a ploy to throw off the German U-boats though. He said the food was horrible and the "British bastrds" charged them one dollar for an onion sandwich or an orange (which is like $20 today, lol).
After 5-6 months in England, they landed on Omaha Beach in mid June 1944. The 150th built and fought their way out of Normandy and took part in the Battle of the Bulge. They were acquired into Patton's Third Army and went with him through Germany and ended up in Czechoslovakia.
Only in the last few years has been willing to talk about the war. He still seemed reluctant to tell me details or full stories but he tells me little tidbits - and here they are.
They were building a bridge and when they completed it, four Germans walked over it and surrendered. They were in a house over looking the bridge all day and could have caused lots of casualties but chose not to fire on them.
Another time they were building a bridge and the Germans did fire on them. A Senior Sergeant was shot and couldn't move. In the face of bullets everywhere and no cover my grandfather ran over to him and dragged him to safety. For this he received a bronze star (one of several medals, badges and ribbons).
His buddy's squad went out at night to take prisoners but they ended up being taken prisoner. Five days later they rescued them though.
While in Belgium, he was given a five-day pass and went to Paris. The Capt liked him and a few other guys he knew so he gave them a truck which was full of things they could sell in Paris, which they did.
His friend took a Luger off a dead German officer. The guy was later killed so he took it back to the states for him. He looked up the guy's brother, (who was in Massachutes state police officer) and gave it to him.
They just took a town in Germany and in a house there, he found the book "Mein Komphf", which was autographed by Hitler! He took that home with him.
He was in the same unit as a world champion boxer. I forgot whom, but I think it was Rocky Marciano, and he knew him. He also won an unbelievable amount of money playing cards in the war.
They were briefly occupying overrun German army barracks when the Luftwaffe attacked them. A fighter was aiming right at where he was. He and another guy both ran into the barracks while the fighter was strafing them. My grandfather dove right and the other guy dove left and the bullets shot the guy's legs off and he soon died. Shrapnel wounded my grandfather there.
He was wounded in another Luftwaffe incident too, while driving a jeep with a Col and his X/O, the jeep was strafed by a German fighter. The Col was thrown from the jeep, getting just a bruise when they crashed, my grandfather was moderately injured and the X/O was killed from the bullets.
They once went two months without a shower or even fresh socks, during the Battle of the Bulge, I think he said.
They were building a bridge and a German prisoner, who was an engineer, said it was wrong. The prisoner explained but the Captain ignored him. The bridge fell apart when they tested it and the German was laughing so hard the Captain pushed him into the river, while yelling - I hope you can't swim you Nazi Ba$tard!
The mayor of the town in Czechoslovakia cooperated with the Germans that my grandfather's battalion stayed in for a while as the town was liberated. A woman asked them for gas and they gave some to her. He later found out what it was for. Some town's people had tied a rope around the mayor's neck and dragged him by a car to the out side of town where they hung him from a tree. He had collaborated with the Nazis.
They were ordered to go to Prague after reports the SS were running down civilians with their tanks. They ended the war in Czechoslovakia. He remembers Patton was on the verge of blasting the city with artillery but decided against it at the last minute.
Grandpa Pat didn't really talk about the war until 2003. He passed away in 2005 - RIP. I'm glad I showed interest in his service, and watched the series "Band of Brothers" with him. His WWII photo album remained hidden in storage for decades, until 2003. Below are the original descriptions for the actual battlefield pictures. The famous war photographer Ernie Pyle took them all.
Pat (top right) with Platoon
Four friends of Pat Capparelle
Pat and 150th working on a bridge