Guest Column by Frank Nuzzo, World War II veteran
Editor's note: Pfc. Frank Nuzzo, a Cuyahoga Falls resident, served as a combat engineer in the U.S. Army's 5th Armored Division, 22nd Armored Engineer Battalion, from 1943 to 1946. His service took him to England, France, Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany. Nuzzo recently jotted down his memories of serving during World War II. The Cuyahoga Falls News-Press will periodically publish excerpts of these writings. Photos were provided by Nuzzo. The events described in this excerpt took place in 1943, according to Nuzzo.
There are no closer comrades than men under combat conditions, depending on each other for their very lives. No one knows it more than they.
The ground war in Europe was fought by cold, frightened, wet, dirty, tired and miserable young men, deliberately placed in jeopardy where no one would go of their own accord. [They were] forced by circumstances to attack or defend in order to survive.
Our group of recruits left from Edgewater, N.J. -- my hometown -- by Army truck to Fort Dix, N.J. My father was a recruit at Fort Dix during World War I. [He said] the food was very bad and the men complained to the officer in charge, who asked if any of you could do better. My father said he could and did. He was made Mess Sergeant and stayed at Fort Dix until the war ended.
We were assigned to our tents, many tents, a confusion of tents that all looked alike. It was easy to get lost, so I noted which aisle and how far in mine was. Nighttime, without lights, was the worst.
I was issued my clothes and two barracks bags full of supplies, then [went] to the mess hall for supper.
While looking for my tent in the dark, a voice said "Soldier, get up on this truck and start shoveling out the coal." My first day [and] already an unpleasant surprise. The sergeant gave me a shovel to unload a truck full of dirty coal, in my nice clean uniform.
Time for a quick decision.
I climbed onto the truck and jumped off the other side onto the snow, ran between tents, [and] over tent ropes to my tent. I was home safe and kept my uniform clean as the sergeant ran past into a multitude of look-alike tents. It was a lesson toward survival in the Army.
Then there was Matty, a rumpled-looking soldier, homesick and absent without leave (A.W.O.L). And he never left Fort Dix. Matty ate at the mess hall and slept in the latrine. I wonder what became of him.
I soon left Fort Dix on a troop train bound for Fort Lewis, Wash.
I traveled this route before. It was after graduation from Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood, N.J. I was 17. I joined the Civilian Conservation Corps to see the great western part of America. It was still about a seven-day trip to Washington State and the same destination -- Fort Lewis.
At inspection stops, we could get out to stretch our legs. One stop was Albert Lee, Minn. A soldier fell as the train was starting. He had a leg under the train wheel and his Army days were over.
Our chow was carted through the train by the Kitchen Patrol soldiers. We ate and slept in our seats.
Looking out the windows, I saw a constantly changing, fascinating, life-size panorama of America: mile after mile of changing beauty -- the plains, the mountains, the cities, towns, the Missouri and Columbia rivers -- all part of a great nation.
Our destination: The 44th Infantry Division, 63rd Combat Engineers
It took 13 weeks of infantry training, which is not enough to learn all that should be known, including M-1 rifle and machine gun, plus bazooka and grenade practice, then some weeks of engineer training.
I had several weekends to get reacquainted with Washington State. I spent six months in the Civilian Conservation Corps on Mt. Rainier, Olympia, Spokane and Zilla. In Tacoma, it was cot and breakfast for 25 cents to service people. [I] took a tour of Puget Sound on a private yacht and a train to Portland, Ore. two weekends.
It was one night, on guard duty, that I met another guard that was trying hard to get someone to go over the hill with him -- another A.W.O.L-happy recruit without the guts to leave alone. He wanted to go back home. I told him that was the first place they would look for him. He was so miserable we called him "Happy."
Basic training ended. We were ready for maneuvers on a division scale.
Some soldiers were chosen for Army Specialized Training (A.S.T.P.) at a college. The courses were psychology, language or engineering. [They were] selected by [their] I.Q. and questioned individually by a group of officers. Somehow, I was chosen to go to Louisiana State College at Baton Rouge. We had two extensive tests, lasting all day.
I was again chosen, somehow. I asked for psychology, which would include questioning of prisoners. I had a preference, but no choice. I was told their choice was engineering at Texas College of Mines at El Paso, Texas.
I was told how lucky I was -- "You will help rebuild Europe. You will not hear a shot in the war ... Starting out as a First Lieutenant, or Captain, U.S. Army."