4:24 | Emil DeDonato was only an hour or so away from Berlin when his unit was ordered to stop there and wait. It would be many days before the Russian Army could claim the privilege of entering the German capital. Once it was all over, he was at the top of the list to go home because of his points. There was just one problem. He didn't want to go.
Keywords : Emil DeDonato communications message center Elbe River Germany Berlin points
Emil DeDonato was an advertising errand boy when his name appeared on the front page of the New York Times as part of the first draft of 1941. That was in January, and in December, war came to America. Soon, he was being trained for amphibious landings in anticipation of the work that had to be done.
It was November of 1942 when Emil DeDonato landed in North Africa. His job was to get ashore with the first wave and establish communications with the ship. The situation was chaotic but he stuck with it and made it happen. He was awarded the Bronze Star for this action.
After a successful landing and battle in Morocco, Emil DeDonato's unit was just waiting on transportation north to Casablanca. The commander got tired of waiting and decided they would walk, a distance of 283 miles.
Emil DeDonato was assigned to the message center. There were two four-man teams that went forward with the attack force and set up communications. He was part of the push across North Africa to confront Rommel.
At the Battle of El Guettar, the first frontal assault failed. It was nine days before the GIs prevailed and pushed on. Emil DeDonato was shuffling between the front and the rear as part of the communications team. He had to dodge superior German firepower in the form of plentiful aircraft, burp guns, 88mm guns and Screaming Mimis.
His unit was overextended and the order came, get out of there! Emil DeDonato was under fire in Sicily when he organized his men and got them clear of the danger. He didn't know it until after the war, but this got him a cluster for his Bronze Star. It was just another close call like the ones he had in North Africa.
It was D plus four when Emil DeDonato waded ashore at Utah Beach. It was quiet by then and his unit moved inland. When they advanced to Cherbourg and entered a huge German pillbox, they found a bounty of provisions which was appreciated very much, especially the cognac.
The objective was Paris but the push was bogged down. Emil DeDonato was on one side of a French highway and the Germans were on the other. After suffering some of the German artillery, he saw a wave of B-17's come over and pound the enemy. The strikes were a little too close, as it turned out.
The Rhine was a wide river, impossible to cross without a bridge and Emil DeDonato was heading toward a small railroad bridge that had been found. The Americans were slowly moving across the narrow structure and he took the opportunity to search nearby buildings where he made a lucky find. He was lucky again when, further down the road, German civilians welcomed the GI's.
In the Belgian town of Verviers, American GI's were being hosted by the townspeople. Emil DeDonato was enjoying the beautiful Belgian girls, but a few days later, he was rushing to join the Battle of the Bulge in the middle of a frigid winter.
The message center was a vital part of battlefield communications. Emil DeDonato was constantly training the junior members of the team, which could be working far in the rear or right on the front. Near the Elbe River, he encountered two Russian soldiers who were trying to take a cow from some German civilians. He stepped in and soon everyone was happy.
Emil DeDonata was lucky. He came back from the war and went right back to his old job. He wasn't so lucky readjusting to civilian life. The bed was too soft and even things that should please him caused him stress. It took a falling out with his boss to make him strike out on his own, which led to much success for him.
The room in the POW camp barracks was small but it housed eighteen men, including downed pilot Clayton Nattier. It had a tiny stove which was much improved with a little American farm boy ingenuity.
Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
It was a fierce week long battle for the city of Heilbronn. Even though they were only delaying the inevitable, the Germans weren't beat, yet. Forward Observer Rufus Dalton went into the demolished city looking for a rifle company he was instructed to find. It was an eerie setting with the city in flames all around him. Part 2 of 2.
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
The men of the 92nd Infantry Division had to fight on three fronts. They had to fight the Germans. They had to fight the racial animosity of their fellow soldiers and commanders. And they had to fight Congress, which wanted to maintain segregation in the Army. Lyle Gittens made it through all that with an undampened spirit.
On his first raid in North Africa, reconnaissance platoon leader John Souther captured a hundred Germans with no losses to his own unit. His job in the 1st Armored Division was to be out in front with his eyes open, and he was doing just that when a huge amount of enemy was spotted. Rommel's big push had begun.
Wes Ruth was eating breakfast when he saw the planes coming in. He thought they were ours until the bombs started falling. As he drove frantically to his hangar on Ford Island, he saw the USS Arizona hit. The Japanese had made their move. As a photo-recon pilot, he was dispatched as soon as the attacks ended to search for the enemy fleet.
John Souther was on reconnaissance patrol when he nosed his halftrack up over the edge of the gully in the Tunisian desert. A round from a German 88 immediately tore through the engine compartment, but left him unhurt. They paid mightily for that shot. With his radio, he began spotting artillery on their position, under fire the entire time. He was awarded the Silver Star for this action.
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
When he had to bail out, Jim Wicker was literally sucked from the cockpit when he released the canopy because of his high rate of speed. He was just a hundred miles inland a few days after D-Day and the Germans caught him almost immediately. As he sat in solitary confinement waiting for interrogation, he was comforted by his faith.
Bill Adair was suffering from the effects of a concussion when the battle for the Philippines came to an end for him. Along with thousands of others, he was forced to surrender and was facing the prospect of joining what would become known as the Bataan Death March. Then fate intervened in the form of an ambulance without a driver. Part 1 of 2.
Two engines were out, a third smoking, and they were were losing airspeed and altitude, but they were flying level and pointed home. Then time ran out for the B-17 and Don Scott had to slip down the hatch into the slipstream. Part 2 of 3.
Bill Garrison was standing in a chow line when a man up the line suddenly dropped, shot dead by a sniper. That was only one hazard at the air fields in China; the others being Japanese air raids and infiltrators. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
He bunked with regular B-17 crew members, but Bill Livingstone was a gunnery instructor who was there to keep skills sharp. He was also there to substitute for any crew member who was not able to fly. His very first mission turned out to be a memorable one. Part 1 of 5.
Bill Adair may have been the luckiest man in the Bataan Death march. With a commandeered ambulance full of casualties, he threaded his way through the ordeal thanks to luck and guile. At the end, though, there was a camp waiting for him just like all the rest. Part 2 of 2.
Hannah Deutch was a teenager when the Kindertransport rescue effort became her means of escape from Germany. England was taking in thousands of Jewish children and she got her papers in order and left. Right away, as the oldest one in the large group, she became the leader on the journey.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
B-24 flight engineer Bill Toombs was over Germany when bad went to worse. One engine was shot out. Then an 88 round went right through the number four wing tank. It didn't blow up the plane, but they lost all the fuel for that engine, so now they had two engines out. They made a desperate run for Brussels, which had been liberated.
After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
Rufus Dalton was at the Maginot Line bouncing mortar shells off an old citadel. His unit was suddenly pulled and sent to take Patton's place in the line after the general was summoned to the Bulge. Once they got there, a fierce ten day battle ensued due to the last major German offensive, Operation Nordwind. Part 1 of 2.
Near the end of the war, the food supply in Holland had been disrupted and there was widespread hunger. Henk Duinhoven was lucky to be in the countryside, where gardens had been harvested. When he heard the sound of Canadian tanks, he knew that liberation was finally at hand.
The Allies were pushing across France and the American landing craft were being turned over to the British. John Mahmarian went back to the States for leave, then joined the crew of an LCI heading for the Pacific. He became the skipper of his ship as the war was ending.
Newly liberated POW Clayton Nattier arrived at Camp Lucky Strike, where thousands of men like him waited for passage home. When his turn came, he rode in a Liberty ship, fighting seasickness all the way. He was soon in a luxury hotel in Miami Beach.
About a week before D-Day, the skipper went to a meeting and came back with a thick notebook detailing the plans for the fleet of LCI's. John Mahmarian was the Executive Officer of LCI-500 and he and his captain were very careful to safeguard the secrets in the book.
The second phase of pilot training was called basic training. You flew a more powerful aircraft and you did acrobatics, which taught you how to recover from bad situations in the air. Clayton Nattier knew he wanted to fly the big planes, the bombers, so when he moved on to advanced training, he flew multi engine aircraft.
LCI-500 delivered a company of British commandos to the Normandy beachhead flawlessly. John Mahmarian was sickened, though, when he noticed bodies floating around the ship. As the ship was backing off from the beach, he had to post a man back at the propellers to perform a grim task.
There were radios in the camp, built with bartered parts that the guards traded for D-Bars and cigarettes from Red Cross parcels. Clayton Nattier didn't have a radio in his barracks, but he saw the typewritten rundowns of the latest news from the BBC. He well remembers when the Germans stopped distributing the Red Cross parcels. It was just after the best meal he'd had as a prisoner.
John Mahmarian was a pre-med student when the attack on Pearl Harbor sent shock waves through the nation. He entered a Navy program that would allow him to finish school and then receive a commission. The naval training he received then was unlike any schooling he had ever encountered.