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2014, Aaron Elson



Valentine Miele

Page 2

(c) 2014, Aaron Elson

    Aaron Elson: Did you smoke back then?

    Valentine Miele: Yeah. I don’t know why I smoked. Cigarettes. That’s where I got in trouble, when I got in the hospital. They gave us five packs of cigarettes a week. I’m thinking, there’s something wrong here. One week went by, the second week went by, there’s something wrong here. So when they came around again, they put five packs on my bed. I said, "Hey, wait a minute. There’s supposed to be seven packs. It’s a pack a day."

    Oh no, they told me, five packs. The nurse comes down, she says, "What’s the matter?"

    I said, "This guy’s clipping me two packs."

    She said, "No, he’s not clipping you. That’s what everybody gets."

    I said, "No. I get a pack a day." And I knew why, because I wasn’t stupid. I was in the hospital. I said, Sooner or later I’m gonna be able to walk, I’m gonna get the hell out of here. And I was stacking up on cigarettes. That was back in England. So she got hold of the doctor, a captain. He came in. He said, "What’s the trouble?"

    I said, "You cheated me two packs of cigarettes."

    "No-o-o-o, that’s the rules and regulations."

    "No, no. Seven packs." So I told him I want to see, who’s running this outfit? Colonel So and So. "Give me permission to go see him."

    "Yeah, go ahead."

    So I go and find out where he was, I go in there and see the sergeant. I tell him I want permission to speak to Colonel So and So. So he goes in and talks to the colonel and comes out. "Yeah, the colonel will see you."

    I went in. I saluted him like I was supposed to. And he said, "What’s your trouble, Sergeant?"

    I said, "As far as I’m concerned, I’m getting cheated of two packs of cigarettes a week. All combat soldiers get a pack a day. Unless they changed the rules, there’s still seven days in a week."

    He said, "What are you talking about?"

    I said, "I’m only getting five packs of cigarettes a week. I’m supposed to get seven. A pack a day."

    "I’ll have to check up on that."

    And I said, "Well, Colonel, you’d better check up on it. Somebody’s clipping us."

    So he turns around, he gets on the phone, he calls up this guy, "I’ll get back to you," this and that. About ten minutes, I’m standing in the room, he says, "Sit down if you want." I sat down. Finally he gets a phone call. He says, "You know, you’re right. It’s seven packs." I knew I was right.

    He said, "All right, you go back. You will all get another two packs tomorrow."

    So I was stacking them, I was putting them away. I said, "Soon as I get into town I’m gonna…because what the hell, partial pay I think was about $15, that’s about all we got. You get into England, you could drink $15 in no time. A beer is what, a shilling? But if you wanted whiskey, whiskey was about 2 and 6, you could blow $15 in no time. Cigarettes you could trade.

    Aaron Elson: Tell me about how you were wounded.

    Valentine Miele: Artillery. Blew my knees up. But there was no blood. It was the concussion. And my ears. I couldn’t move. I lay there all night. I lay there all day. Couldn’t get up.

    Aaron Elson: Were there other people around?

    Valentine Miele: Oh, there were other people. Then the next morning they come in to pick up the dead, and I hear the guys talking; of course by that time they’ve moved up. I hear the guys talking, they said, "Hey, we’ve got a live one." They come and pick me up, put me on a litter and they’re taking me out. Then I started to go back and back and back. Went to Vivieres, and from Vivieres they take me to Paris. And then I think it was LeHavre, and from there I went to England.

    Aaron Elson: It was in the Huertgen Forest that you were wounded?

    Valentine Miele: Yeah.

    Aaron Elson: Do you remember the date?

    Valentine Miele: Oh, the 17th or 18th of November. They took us off the line, out of Stolzberg, and they put the 104th in our place.

    We were supposed to jump off I think it was the 15th or 16th, but then it was raining, snowing, and they were jumping off the next day, and that’s when I got hit. The only reason I got hit was because I couldn’t move anymore; I was getting trench feet. I knew it. My feet ached like a sonofagun. I couldn’t move as fast as I should move. I was supposed to be across the street and instead of being across the street I was here, and that’s when the shell got me. If I was up there I probably wouldn’t have got hit. We lost a lot of men in there. We lost a company commander in there, we lost an artillery captain, Captain O’Brien I think his name was. We lost St.Peter in there, I know we lost St. Peter. He was a Frenchman from Maine, that was his name, I don’t know if it was his right name but they called him St. Peter. He was a saint that man. But he wasn’t a young man either, he must have been about 35 or 36 years old. He shouldn’t have been on the line. But he was there a long time, he was there before me. I remember one time we were moving up in France, just walking along the highway, and it was hot. And all the guys who came out of Africa and Sicily, malaria was coming back, and this yellow jaundice was coming on, and we must have walked all god darned day, and in the afternoon. He was in the mortar section, so he was behind me. All of a sudden the word came that St. Peter had passed out, so the company commander said that’s it. We stopped. We must have stayed in that one place about an hour before we moved again. Another time we were in England, and we were going on a 16-mile forced march, and a lot of guys, aww shit, they dropped out, and this and that. I made it. My rear end was sucking wind. I said I don’t know what the hell they’re pulling here, so I said I’m gonna try and stick it out. Because it happened to me, but before it happened I changed leggings, because we were still wearing leggings then, and we went on a short march, and the leggings were giving me trouble. So I went to see the supply sergeant, and I said, "Hey Sarge, give me a big pair of leggings."

    He said, "Why?"

    I said, "I want ’em baggy because they’re hurting my legs."

    So he said all right, I’ll give you these, and they were loose as all hell. If I had the other ones I would have dropped out, because my veins were sticking out. And then the word came down, we finished up, oh, it must have been about 5, 6 o’clock, got the company together, and the company commander said, "All the people that didn’t finish the march, fall out over there."

    So then the company commander came over, and one by one he said, "How far did you go?"

    "I went six miles."

    "What’d you make?"

    He came up to St. Peter, he says, "How far did you go?"

    "Fourteen miles."

    He said, "All right, you go over there." He knew damn well he tried, and Charlie Bell, old Dingaling, Charlie Bell, from Kansas. He used to get me so mad. Especially in Sicily, he’d get me so damn mad. He was in the mortar section, too.

    Aaron Elson: How would he get you mad?

    Valentine Miele: We’re dying. We used to carry two cans of water. And half the time they were empty. And old Charlie Bell would get up in the morning, brushing his teeth, spitting the water out, I’m dying of thirst, and this bum was brushing his teeth. "Dingaling, get over there, do it around the back there." I don’t know what happened to him.

    I didn’t make the reunions for a while. The kid was small. I didn’t have the money. I had this house.

    Aaron Elson: Did you have aftereffects after the war, like nightmares?

    Valentine Miele: When I first came out, yeah. You relive it in your mind. One time I had a bad – when I was in the hospital – because we got hit in Sicily, too, on a Sunday, and the artillery caught us pretty good that day, and just then they turned around and said if you want to go to church you just go, walk back there, they had church services. Nobody went to church. Nobody moved. The artillery was beating the hell out of us. So I must have been in the hospital a week or so, and I fell asleep, I didn’t sleep during the night, so I must have fell asleep about six o’clock in the morning or something like that, I was sound asleep, and they sent the ward boy down. He shook me. He said, "Hey, Miele, you want to go to church?"

    I told him to get the F out of here. I said the shells are coming in. And he left. And then the nurse came down and told me about it, he said, "What the hell’s the matter with you, cursing at that guy?"

    I said, "Me? Cursing at who?"

    "So and so came down to wake you up to go to church and you start cursing at him."

    That was the only time. When I came out of the Army, nah, it didn’t bother me. Nothing botthers me now. I don’t let anything bother me.

    Aaron Elson: Do you like to watch movies about the war?

    Valentine Miele: Oh yeah. I just had Channel 34 on, A&E, they had the Plot to Kill Hitler on tonight. I watch them. I watch them to pick out the phony stuff in it.

    Aaron Elson: Tell me what’s phony that they do.

    Valentine Miele: They’re going to attack across a street, right? The sergeant gets the guys on the hill, and says, "All right. Two at a time go out." We didn’t do nothing of that shit. It was done by motions, hand signals. No line up in formation and go, they pull a lot of that shit. You see a guy run out in front of a tank like he’s gonna throw a grenade, nobody does that. Not a grenade. I seen a guy stand up alongside a hedgerow and knock a tank out, knocked a tank out over there, all of a sudden another one came up and he knocked that one out, and another sonofagun come up, he must have been doing 60 miles an hour that tank, and he had a machine gun going up this road. This guy steps up and Voom! Fires the damn bazooka again. The bazooka, the shell and everything went forward, right out of his hand. I didn’t know what the hell happened. I don’t think the shell came out or anything, and the flame came out in the back, you get a little flame out in the back, it caught him in the face and almost took his eye and ear off. That’s the day we caught 32 German halftracks. In France. And not a shot was fired.

    Aaron Elson: They surrendered?

    Valentine Miele: No, what it was, they were moving back out of France. They stopped in a couple of fields, and we came up in the morning and looked over the god darned hedgerows and there’s these halftracks in there, up and over the the halftracks, "Hands up! Hands up!" They couldn’t do doodly, they had nothing. They were loaded, too. They were taking everything out of France.

    Aaron Elson: When you say loaded, were they loaded with ammunition?

    Valentine Miele: Yeah, but they had everything. They had dresses, coats, shoes, women’s shoes. Whiskey. Cognac. They were taking everything out. A lot of clothes, women’s clothes. Stockings. They were packing them in the halftracks, they could carry all that. We couldn’t carry nothing. What the hell did I carry? One raincoat. One field jacket. Mess kit. The stove. And that’s it. No blankets. We had no blankets. We had blankets but we never carried them. What we used to do, if we’d stop, blankets would come up. You had your blanket, you use them that night, and if you were moving, all the blankets went together, and you put your tag on it. First machine gun squad, then you left them. Or you had to bring them to the c.p. and leave them there. Then you’d take off. Then the next time you’d stop, if you’re gonna stop for a night, the blankets would be there. They would bring them up. You’d have to go get ‘em, maybe four or five miles back. The same with the chow. We had to carry our own chow. Then when it started getting colder you carried it. But you always carried your raincoat. You used your raincoat to cover yourself up at night, if you didn’t get the blanket. Then you had your field jacket on.

    Aaron Elson: Tell me about the trenchfoot.

    Valentine Miele: Your feet turn black. And you can’t walk. You know how you get a toothache and it pains you? It’s the same thing with your feet. They always hurt. Then again, the Army, they messed up. We all had galoshes, so we went in the Huertgen Forest, they took the galoshes off, so we could move faster. But then we had to stay there. And the rain, and it snowed. Shit. And you’re walking around there sopping, and they had muck. We had mud. Oh, man, mud. I got it because, one of the guys that was in my squad, he was standing up and I said, "Davison, what’s the matter? You don’t look too good."

    "I’m all right, Miele. I’m all right."

    "You cold?"

    "Ah, a little bit."

    The next thing you know, he passed out. So we got on the phone, called up the c.p., told them a guy’s got to get out. They said, "Well, you can’t take him out until it gets dark."

    We told them, "This guy’s gonna die if he doesn’t get back." We didn’t know if he had a heart attack or what. He just passed out.

    So the old man says, "All right, bring him down. But you’ve got to go through the ditch."

    There was a ditch down there, where all the water and everything ran in there, and you had to go through that. If you went out of the ditch, you could get artillery. So I said, "Aw, come on, I’ve got to take him down, but I need somebody to go with me." So one of the guys says, "I’ll go with you, Miele." We went down there, and we went through the ditch, that’s when I got soaking wet, mud and everything. Got down to the c.p., the old man says, "How are things going up there?"

    I said, "Lousy. It’s cold." That’s what happened to this guy. I don’t know what happened to him, but he’s no good to me.

    He said, "All right. Just take it easy. Get yourself some coffee."

    I went around to see what I could steal. And then the next thing there’s a truck there, and he says, "All right, you get that guy, he’s yours. The rest of them you drop off on the way up." They were replacements coming in, and they were loaded, they had all their equipment, they had everything. So I told one guy, I was carrying my rifle and a rifle belt, that’s all I had. No pack, no nothing. I said, "Now, we’re going to go across that field because I’m not going through that ditch again." I said, "We’re gonna go across that open field, and when you go across there, I want you guys to run. And I mean run. Because I’m gonna take off. See that big tree over there? That’s where I’m gonna stop. I’m gonna hit the ground over there. But between here and there, I’m not stopping. And if you guys stop out here, yous are nuts." So I took off, and those guys came in, one of them came over huffing and puffing. I was huffing too, but they must have had 50 pounds. We carried a lot of weight. The only thing I carried was the new gas mask, I always carried that. Not that I was afraid of gas, but because it was a good pillow. And it was waterproof, too, you could put your cigarettes in there. In Sicily I was the only guy carrying the pistol with a rifle belt. You’re supposed to have a pistol belt, but the rifle belt you’ve got a place to keep your cartridges, so that’s where I used to keep the cigarettes. And in Sicily I didn’t smoke that much. France I used to smoke. Now I smoke cigars altogether. I smoke about six, sometimes ten a day.

    Aaron Elson: Did you ever get into Paris on leave?

    Valentine Miele: Five hours I was in Paris. We got into Paris one night for five hours, and I went to just get drunk, that’s all. And on the way home, I wound up in the same camp, but I wasn’t at all interested in going to Paris. I was interested in going home.

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