My dad got the first car in town, and all the roads were already paved, curbs and everything.
We used to play baseball on the road right in front of our house with about 10 kids. We played with a leather ball we made. There was one neighbor who would sit on his front lawn watching us. If the ball went in his yard, he’d cut it up and throw it back at us.
World War II Stories
I was in Company B, 67th Armored Infantry Battalion, 13th Armored Division.
All through school and growing up, I’m always saying “See what I mean”. I told my (future) wife, “I’m not going to use the saying ‘see what I mean’ in the letters until I get into combat.” Then when I got into combat, I didn’t want to scare her, so I never said it. Then I got a letter from her saying, “The newspaper says the 13th Armored Division has been in combat for a month. You haven’t said anything!!”
At one point in 1945 we took the town of Nerberg, Germany. We started enforcing a curfew of 7:00pm for all civilians. One evening, we found two teenagers walking in the street, who kept saying “Ruski, Ruski” (meaning Russian). So the captain came over looking for his translator, but was having trouble finding him. I was with the bunch of soldiers gathered around the boys. I turned to the boys and asked in Polish, “Can you understand Polish?” The boys said they could, so I told the captain I could translate for him. The teenagers said they were hungry, looking for food, and hadn’t known anything about the curfew. I found the entire process very funny so was smiling the entire time. Afterwards the Captain called me over to say he could use me as an interpreter, but it’s no laughing matter. No more smiling or giggling.
Another time in Germany, we had confiscated a radio from a local and used it to listen to a US station that told the news at “dictation speed”. I would write it down every morning and pass it on to the captain.
—The war ended while I was in Branau, Austria (Hitler’s birth place). The Germans had just stopped fighting. People were out celebrating. We were sitting on he’s halftrack (on top of the hood, where the metal window plates were in “up” position, making a seat). One of my friends showed up with someone he’d never seen before and said “He’s from Chicago Heights”
The guy said “I want to show you something.” So they all jumped in a Jeep and drove into what would have been considered “unconquered territory,” if the war hadn’t ended the day before. We drove into Austria about an mile, and came upon a camp of about 1000 prisoners of war, mostly from the US Airforce. And of all those men, 7 were from Chicago Heights Illinois, and 2 of them I knew personally.
One of them graduated the same class as my wife, Lydia. The other was my wife’s brother-in-law.
When I got back to camp, I wrote my wife about those 7, who spread the information to their families. 3 of those families hadn’t heard from the men, so didn’t know if they were even alive.
2 years later, I got together with all 7 men and their wives/girlfriends and had dinner. They all told their stories of how they had been captured. One of them had been a tail gunner when their plane was shot down. They got stuck in the cockpit as the plane was falling out of the sky. Then the plane exploded launching him free, so he was able to pull his parachute.
My brother Mike was in some kind of headquarters in the war. He was able to follow me on the maps through the entire war. Just after we captured Neurberg, he was nearby and got permission to come visit me. He was stopped at the edge of town by an MP who warned him that we had just taken the town, and he’d have to go at his own risk… He turned around and went back.
I was at the end of the Battle of the Bulge. We past Bastogne after they liberated it. We were told we were going to attack Cologne, Germany as the last German Stronghold, and when we got there, we didn’t find any soldiers. It looks like they changed into civilian clothes or whatever. Then we started on to Berlin, but were redirected before we got there as it was “reserved for the Russians,” so we didn’t have to take it.
I saw the eagle’s nest after it had been completely bombed and stripped, and got a picture standing inside it next to a window (without any glass, of course), with the Alps in the back.
—After the Germans stopped fighting, we had a month furlough back in home. I wrote my wife saying we should get married. She planned everything. We got home on Thursday and got married on Sunday. Then I had thirty days at home.
I was still home when they dropped the bomb, and the Japanese surrendered. I found out later, that my division was planned to be the first armored division to land on mainland Japan (if they hadn’t surrendered).
I saw Patton give a speech live once. The only thing I can remember he said was, “When I come through for inspection, all I want to see is smoke and fire.”
(After the war)
I was installing cabinets in Miami, and I saw a tree full of mangoes outside. My family in Chicago loved mangoes, so I picked a whole box to send to them. I couldn’t figure out a way to ship them shorter than a couple weeks, and as my daughter worked at the airport, I went standby and flew the box of mangoes to my family in Chicago.
<3 you Grandpa Joe. Thanks for coming out and sharing all your stories with us.