7:19 | When the advance across North Africa began, the French were fighting with the Germans, recalls Ed LaPorta. That soon changed and the Nazis' other allies, the Italians, had no heart for the fight. It was still a struggle, and as German planes strafed mercilessly, LaPorta went to the aid of a wounded man.
His wanted to be an engineer like his Sicilian father, but more than that, Ed LaPorta wanted to join the war effort so he volunteered. Experienced in mechanics and truck driving, he was sent to the 1st Armored Division and shipped out for North Africa.
When the troops hit Casablanca, there was no opposition, but along the coast at Oran, it was a different story. Ed LaPorta had the landing craft blown out from under him, but thanks to his training, he made it to shore. By the time the German fortress was knocked out, his company had suffered 80% casualties.
There were no medics around when Ed LaPorta caught some shrapnel in his leg, so he dug it out himself and bandaged it up. He was chasing Rommel's army with the 1st Armored Division and having success by analyzing the strategies of the enemy.
According to Ed LaPorta, there are three things that can happen on a reconnaissance mission and only one of them is good. That wasn't what happened when he was captured by Rommel's troops and beaten by an interrogator from Chicago.
"This is war! We don't care about the Geneva Convention!" That's what the German officer said to Ed LaPorta and the rest of the American POWs as they prepared to serve as laborers. This backfired when the Americans began sabotaging the artillery shells they were carrying.
Someone was punished every time a demand was made, but the American POWs eventually got everything they wanted. Thanks to the Geneva delegate and the iron will of the prisoners, they got blankets, baseball equipment and lumber for a chapel. They even smuggled in a rabbi for services.
The lack of food was the worst part of life in a German POW camp, says Ed LaPorta. On the positive side, they were able to get orchestra instruments and put on plays, but more importantly, they were able to tunnel out and secure more valuable things, like parts for a radio.
The first step was getting a camera. Then, the POW's had to get film and a way to develop it. Once that was done, recalls Ed LaPorta, they could get a picture of a German guard accepting cigarettes. That was insurance.
It was a forced march to a different Stalag and Ed LaPorta refused to leave his sick friend behind where he faced certain death. He carried him for eighty five miles so he could live to see the baby daughter he'd never seen. The destination was Buchenwald, where you could still smell the ovens.
The Russians had liberated them but when they were told they were going to Russia, the answer from the GI's was swift, "No way!" An American convoy caused the Russians to back off and the destination became Camp Lucky Strike and then, the Statue of Liberty.
You don't want to mess with a newly liberated POW. Ed Laporta had to dress down an imbecilic MP when he arrived back in the states and not long after, could be seen leaping over a steam table to get at a non-compliant German prisoner who was serving the food.
Lyle Gittens was nearly ready to graduate college and get married when he got drafted in 1941. He went to the draft board to seek a deferment. Not only was it denied but he encountered some particularly vile racial hostility. He resolved to serve out his year and get back to his life but the attack on Pearl Harbor changed all that. (Caution: strong language.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 92nd Infantry Division was training at Fort Huachuca but it wasn't clear that they would get into combat because of the racial policies in the Army. The War department forced the issue on sending candidates to OCS, fighting it's own commanders who wanted segregation to continue.
Frank Capuozzi was born in Naples. His father worked as a chef in America and as soon as he became a citizen in 1939, he sent for the rest of the family. Frank learned English and worked in the restaurant with his father. After Pearl Harbor, he was drafted and became a citizen in the Army before he shipped out to Europe.
He came in as a replacement to a tank destroyer battalion. Frank Capuozzi was a rifleman who rode in a jeep ahead of the guns as they pushed across France. His unit joined the forces ordered into the Battle of the Bulge, where he had to get some help when he was frozen in a foxhole.
Without enough points to go home in the first wave of returnees, Frank Capuozzi became an acting mess sergeant and took over a kitchen. After all, he was the son of a chef. When he did get home he started a family and worked as a top rate hairdresser in New York.
The Atlantic crossing was 33 days and Lyle Gittens was seasick 33 days. He was in the 92nd Infantry Division which was the only black unit to see combat in the war. He describes the heartbreaking living conditions he found in Italy, where children begged for table scraps and lived on the street.