Heroes: the Army

 

"...The engineers managed to get a few light foot bridges across the Roer, but at a great sacrifice to men and equipment. Some of us were loaded on rubber boats for the crossing while others of us used the costly foot bridges. Not all of up made it across..."

 

 

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 Salvatore J. Conigliaro, Jr.

  • Branch of Service: Army
  • Unit: Co. G., 406th Regiment,
    102nd Infantry Division
  • Dates: 1942 - 1945
  • Location: European Theater
  • Rank: S/Sgt., Bronze Star Medal
  • Birth Year: 1923
  • Entered Service: Piermont, NY

 

 

IMAGE of 102nd Infantry Division

IMAGE of WWII medal

IMAGE of WWII medal

 

 

IMAGE of WWII medal

IMAGE of WWII medal

IMAGE of WWII medal

IMAGE of WWII medal

IMAGE of WWII medal

 

 


Col. B. F. Hurless presenting the BRONZE STAR to S/Sgt. Salvatore J. Conigliaro, Jr.

 

A Personal War Story:

by S/Sgt. "Lucky" Sal Conigliaro, 406-G.

 

     It was the second of December 1944. The place was Linnich, Germany during WWII. I was the third squad leader of the second platoon of G Company, 406 Regiment.

     On December first Co. G was part of the assault on a relatively small town on the Roer River called Linnich. Our troops were relatively green to combat, having been on-line about three weeks. It took tanks and artillery and the ever present Infantry to overpower the German defenses. They did not give up easily. My company lost quite a few good men, dead and wounded. By nightfall we occupied the first street of Linnich on the western edge of town. The Germans held the rest of the village.

     It was a dark night and heavily overcast. G Company was on the west side of the street and the Germans were on the east. The only problem was that some of the troops were not informed of this and it resulted in some unnecessary deaths. A Sergeant and two of his men decided to go to headquarters to review the next days course of action They obviously thought the street was secure, but unfortunately some of our men thought them to be a German patrol and opened fire on them. There was a blast of firepower and then the footsteps were silent. They had unknowingly killed their own men. What a crying shame!

     That same night another of our men was wounded but not too seriously. Nevertheless he was in great pain. Our Medic dressed his wound and immediately gave him a serrate of morphine. The wounded soldier was still in pain. The medic compassionately gave him another, then another, then another shot to comfort the wounded buddie. Apparently the medic was unaware of the regulation that only two shots were to be administered and as a result another GI died needlessly.

     The bulk of the Germans had apparently pulled out of Linnich during the night and all that remained were some scattered snipers who made our job to occupy the town more difficult. House-to-house is a slow process and must be thorough because you would not want to leave any enemy behind you. It took the better part of the day to take over the town.

     My squad was assigned to give cover to a machine gun section on some high ground in the northeast sector of Linnich. We deployed and had begun to dig in when we were showered with a barrage of mortars. They had us zeroed in pretty damn good and in the initial volley the machine gun section lost one of their men to the onslaught. This was an untenable situation as long as the mortars were flying. I ordered the men to withdraw to safety in the buildings behind us some 30 to 40 yards away. We suffered no further losses in the return to safety. Then it was my turn to get back and as I rose and glanced toward the German line my eyes fell upon a mortar shell arcing its way in my direction. It crashed into a fork of a tree about 15 or 20 feet from me and blew. I turned and ran to safety, counting my body parts as I ran.

     Upon arriving someone, I believe it was Lowell Townsend, said "Hey Lucky, your cheek is bleeding." Up to this point I felt absolutely nothing because the adrenalin was really pumping. I then started to feel a wetness on my face as our medic came forward. It was a superficial wound which he medicated and dressed and that was that. In the meantime our platoon sergeant, Harold Klausmeyer, called in some artillery into the area where we suspected the mortars to be and all became silent. They apparently found their mark. Shortly thereafter we again took up our positions without incident.

     Once we settled in and all resistance was gone from Linnich, we secured our position because we knew we would be there for awhile. Once the Germans retreated across the Roer River they blew a dam south of us and flooded the Roer Valley to delay our advance. Both sides were continually shelling each other. I have to tell you that the rockets they were throwing at us were deadly, fast and screamed as they went through the air and they scared the hell out of us.

     There was a house about 300 yards to the east of Linnich close to the Roer River. It was suspected to be a listening post for the Germans. I was asked to report to Battalion Headquarters and reported to Major Gatlin, our battalion commander. My unit was to determine if it was in fact a listening post and if it was, an engineer was to determine what it would take to blow it into oblivion. This was to be a daylight patrol. Jokingly I said to the major, "Major, don't forget to notify the line companies that we will be out there." He gave me a condescending, don't be a smart-ass, smile and we left.

     Our next job was to pick and choose the route we would use to get to our objective and at the same time minimize our exposure to enemy eyes. I asked my squad for three men to accompany the Engineer and me on this patrol. Jim Chance, McDerman and Mac Gunn were the first to come forward and it was settled.

     We prepared ourselves, blackface and all, and assembled and waited for the appointed time to leave. We started down a road moving from house to house, being very careful to keep ourselves out of the sight of the enemy. It was mostly downhill and within 15 minutes we arrived at our target, the house without incident.

     The engineer immediately proceeded to evaluate the house as the rest of us kept a watchful eye for the unexpected. It was determined that one or more people had come and gone as there were empty ration tins, cigarette butts and signs were some one or more had urinated and defecated in one of the back rooms. There was no doubt that someone had been there within the last 24 hours. It was suspected that the Germans had a tunnel under the Roer but we did not find it. What we did find was a heavy door that we were not able to open which was located on the east side of the building which faced the river. Anything could have been on the other side, including a tunnel.

     Our time at the house was relatively brief. In approximately 30 to 40 minutes we had acquired all the information that was necessary and assembled for the return to our lines. Once again we wanted to minimize our exposure to the German line of fire and we were ready for our return on our predetermined route.

     We hadn't taken 20 steps from the house when all hell broke loose. Some people were shooting at us with small but deadly small arms fire. I ordered everyone to scurry back to the house. In the excitement I did not notice that one of the men was hit. It was the engineer. They got him in the left shoulder. Thank God it was only a flesh wound. We dressed the injury and reassessed our position. It suddenly dawned on us that the wound being in his left shoulder meant that the shots were coming from our lines. He was shot by our own men. I was livid.

     In about one hour it would be dark. I made the decision that I would attempt to go the route back to headquarters alone hoping that if it was our troops that they would realize by now, or that they were informed by now, that we were out there. I informed my guys that I would fire a flare to indicate that it was safe and that all on the line were informed of our presence. I flung my M-1 over my shoulder and literally paraded out of the house for about ten steps. I was not fired upon and I broke into a run all the way back to the Battalion Headquarters.

     I busted into Major Gatlin's office and proceeded to 'chew his a--; major or not.' "The last thing I told you was to make certain you notify the troops on line that we were going to be out there. What the hell happened?" I had no sooner finished my tirade when in came Jim Chance from my squad and he proceeded to jump the major's bones using some well chosen explicatives, and deservedly so. The major was genuinely sorry that somewhere along the line the word of our patrol was somehow curtailed. We was very concerned for the engineer and said that he would personally see to his care.

     We all regained our composure and it was not necessary for me to send a flare because Jim Chance said that they all returned when they didn't hear any shots when I left. They were all back and that was the important thing.

     The engineers related his findings regarding the house and the next night we saw and heard the result of our patrol when the engineers returned to the house and planted their explosives and blew the house to smithereens. All that remained was a very large crater.

     About this time I received two replacements. PFC Henry White and a private. I made White my bazooka ammunition bearer. He came to us from the 101st Airborne. He was a parachutist but he couldn't jump anymore. The private was a basket case and should not have been sent to the front lines. He was very overweight and at an age where he could not possibly keep up with the movement of a front line company. I spoke to my commanding officer and told him how I felt and suggested he be reassigned to a non-combat unit. I felt he would endanger the lives of my squad if he could not keep up and he was not infantry material. The private was elated to be assigned to the rear and we got another replacement.

     We spent some quiet time, relatively so. In the meantime we were preparing for our next push across the Roer. The day finally came upon us and we were given our objectives for the first day and a contingency plan in the event that the resistance was greater than anticipated.

     Several hours before dawn our artillery started shelling the German positions east of the Roer. I don't know how anyone could have survived this massive barrage, but if one digs deep enough and you are lucky, you survive. Just as daylight was finding its was across the horizon, our fighters and bombers came through and dropped their loads and did some strafing as the artillery persisted.

     As I waited patiently for jump-off time, I said to myself, "What am I doing here? How did it happen? My mind drifted back to the day it all began.


     I enlisted into what was then the U.S. Army Air Force which was then part of the Army. My basic training was provided under the Florida sun. I was stationed in Miami and was quartered in a hotel on the Indian River. It was 13 weeks of pure unadulterated pleasure. I did not believe this was the military. I was promoted to PFC and asked to become a drill instructor. I thoroughly enjoyed drilling the men. After our basic training was over we were all assigned to stations for active duty I was fortunate in that I was sent to Chanute Field near Champagne, IL where I took an aircraft sheet metal course. During the eight weeks I spent some of my spare time learning judo. I became quite proficient and was asked to teach for awhile until we were again shipped to different stations for duty.

     I was assigned to a P-51 outfit at Key Field in Meridian, MA. We were to be shipped overseas with this fighter group for the balance of the war.

     After a short period of time we were made aware of a new program which would be available to qualified personnel which was called the Army Specialized Training Program. This was an accelerated educational opportunity to learn engineering. In order to qualify one would have to pass a relatively difficult aptitude test. I gave it a shot and passed with flying colors. Lo and behold, they assigned me to Georgetown University in Washington, DC. I was beside myself. It would be about 3 1/2 hours from home. The best part was that it was to last for two years.

     This program was developed in a manner similar to West Point. We used the Cadet system which included a 6 AM roll call, and 5:30 retreat with a marching band. In a very short time I was able to advance from platoon leader to battalion adjutant. In this position I was bellowing out commands for nightly ceremonies. I loved it. I was being educated and I got to go home on week-ends. What a deal -- or was it?

     About six months into the program the military decided that they had need for more infantry people. As a consequence they shut down all the ASTP schools and shipped 30,000 of us to various infantry units for combat training. That's how I wound up in the 102nd Division.

     Along with many others I was shipped to Camp Swift, Texas to get ready for combat duty. That was the first time, since I enlisted, that I began to feel like a soldier. Here again, we were to be part of an accelerated combat training program because we were told that time was of the essence. Our training was comprehensive and lasted about ten weeks. Physical training, firearms training on M-ls, carbines, BARs, Thompson sub-machine guns, Bazookas, 45 automatics, hand grenades, anti-tank grenades and flare guns. We were taught how to fire them, take them apart and put them back together again hopefully, ready to use.

     We ran obstacle course, climbed walls, jumped over water filled ditches, swung on ropes and climbed and descended ladders. We took on grueling twenty mile hikes with full field pack, bivouacked, double timed and bitched all the way, just as any good soldier would do. Our feet were sore and bleeding. Our backs were aching. The food sustained us but it sucked big time.

     Each day brought us closer and closer together as we became a squad, a platoon, a company, a battalion and so on. We were proud of the Ozark Division and we showed it. It was about this time that I tried successfully to reestablish correspondence with a gal named Nancy. I led her on for awhile when I was in the Air Corps training while I was engaged to a gal named Barbara. Our engagement was broken and I realized that I really loved getting letters from Nancy.

     At this point, I had met Nancy on two occasions, as I recall, and what I remembered I liked, especially her legs. I was a leg man. She was kind enough to respond when I sent her a change of address. I think that our romance moved forward rather seriously from this point. This romance was conducted by mail for the balance of the war. Her letters were increasingly more affectionate, as were mine, and I really looked forward to getting them. On my 20th birthday she sent me 20 birthday cards but I received only 16 of them. Each had a clever drawing on the address side. Our mail clerk didn't have to read the name; all he did was see the drawing and he called out my name. I read them over and over again. With each letter I learned more and more about this lady and my feelings grew and grew.

     The original cadre of the 102nd initially were not happy at the fact that they were getting a whole bunch of school boys and they let us know that they didn't think we could take it. As it turned out they were pleasantly surprised.

     Then came the inevitable day when the division was ordered to a Port of Embarkation in New York. We shipped by train from Texas to New York and became part of the first convoy to land directly in Europe (France) from the United States. We loaded on Liberty ships and set sail for LeHavre. The Liberty I was on was called Bienville. It took 23 days to make the crossing by taking a very southern route to avoid the German U-Boats. Unfortunately, there were several occasions when we saw smoke on the horizon and were told that one or more of our ships had been hit. The troop ships were traveling in the interior of the convoy and all arrived without loss, this time.

     We landed in LeHarve, France, bivouacked for several days, ate horrible rations, were strafed by German fighters and received our baptism of fire. We finally loaded on freight cars and were carried to Aachen, Germany where we unloaded, were given the privilege of taking showers. These showers had been there for the miners who worked the coal mines prior to the war.

     And that is how it all started and now I found myself holding my hands over my ears to smother the constant barrage from our artillery to soften the defenses of the Germans before we ventured our crossing of the Roer


     We were to start our crossing when the artillery fired smoke shells to curtail the vision of the enemy, but they knew we were coming. The engineers managed to get a few light foot bridges across the Roer, but at a great sacrifice to men and equipment. Some of us were loaded on rubber boats for the crossing while others of us used the costly foot bridges. Not all of up made it across. It was hell on earth watching good, young, health men drop like flies and the others forced to step over them to try to get across. What a price to pay! And the cost was high.

     Our speed of movement was limited due to the heavy load of ammunition each of us carried, due to the fact that we did not know when the heavy equipment like tanks and artillery and trucks could make it across. That depended on the engineers and the speed with which they could span the Roer with a couple of large pontoon bridges.

     We broke through their defenses after some heavy fighting and were told to advance until we hit more German resistance. As my squad was moving forward the big guns became silent and we carefully advanced, tired and dirty. Suddenly, to the rear of my squad, there was some unusual commotion. As I turned to look back I saw my assistant squad leader, MacGunn, being pushed away by PFC Henry White and White started running away from the squad as he tugged frantically at a grenade on his gun belt. He fell to the ground on his stomach and there was an explosion which lifted him off the ground for a moment and then all went quiet I ran to him while yelling for a medic but when I got to him it was obvious that the medic was not needed. He was gone.

     Sgt. Gunn explained that apparently White had a faulty grenade on his belt. Somehow the firing pin came loose and he and Mac Gunn were unable to tear the grenade loose. White realized that the whole squad was in danger so he shoved Mac out of the way, ran out, and threw himself on top of the grenade. What a sacrifice.

     I'm not ashamed to say that I cried at this loss. We marked his position by placing his bayonet on his rifle and sticking it into the ground with his helmet on top for the grave detail to see. This was how we marked our dead when we could.

     We recommended Henry White for a Congressional Medal of Honor but our wizards at the point of decision felt that his death was not directly due to enemy action. ÇÅ¿Ô Ò*! (The foregoing are in substitution for some expletives that I emitted when I heard of their reasoning.) They did, however, award him the Distinguished Service Cross, posthumously. If we were not there due to enemy action what the hell were we doing there? If anyone deserved the Congressional Medal PFC Henry White certainly did. But what do I know.

     This was the first death of any member of my squad and it really got to me. We finally were ordered to stop our advance so that the troops on our flanks could catch up. Se we dug in. I remained standing in a doorway with time to ponder the most recent event. I lost it and cried like a baby. At this point in time I developed a severe headache what with all our activity, PFC White's death and a lack of rest. This was the first and last death of any of my men right up to the end of the war (Of course I didn't know that at the time, although this is what I wished for.) My head was pounding. My Mother does a prayer for headaches and I wished very strongly that she were there to help me then. I'm not prone to headaches but this was a doozie. I tried to rest but my mind was on my squad. I checked their positions to make sure they were all right. They were as good as they could be under the circumstances. By the time I got back I realized my headache was gone.

     About a week or so later I received a letter from my Mom in which she asked if I had a headache on such and such a date, in the afternoon. At home it was afternoon, but here it was evening. She said that she felt I needed help and decided to do her prayer. Apparently it worked. A coincidence a natural thing hogwash? You decide.

     Not too long ago I was asked if I thought we were sufficiently trained for combat. My first reaction was to say yes. Asked another way one might ask if we were prepared for combat. Probably not. I don't believe that one can really prepare for the horrors of war. The bombs, the bombs and the artillery screaming at you, the noise that never seems to end. How does one prepare for comrades being wounded, maimed or killed. Combine this with the filth, the body lice, the lousy food, the foxholes we had to live in and the weather. There was no way to be ready for all this in our training. You have to experience it, and sometimes some died in it.

     We were shot at in training but under very controlled conditions. We knew we would be OK as long as we kept our butt down. In combat, however, it is different and your ability to survive is in a large part based on common sense and instincts.

     The one thing that the GI knew was the he was one of the good guys and the Axis partners were the bad guys. We knew that the good guys were supposed to win, to prevail, because we knew in our hearts that we were right.

 

----- Sal Conigliaro

 

 


Additional stories of Mr. Conigliaro's experiences with Second Platoon of G Company, 406th Regiment (2nd Battalion) 102nd Ozark Division can be viewed by clicking on the links below...

A Personal War Story

My War Story

My War Story of Sgt. "Lucky" Sal Conigliaro (cont'd)

A War Story: Aachen * Immendorf * Apweiller * Gereonsweiler * Linnich

A War Story: Hannover * Stendal * Gardelegen * Sandau * Havelberg

My Initiation Into the Military

 


 

 

(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)

 

Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...

United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division

102 Infantry Division

History of the 102nd Infantry Division

Attack on Linnich, Flossdorf, Rurdorf - 29 Nov -- 4 Dec 1944

Gardelegen War Crime

image of NEWGardelegen: April 13, 1945:
Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn

American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll

National World War II Memorial

 

The above story, "A Personal War Story", by "Lucky" Sal Conigliaro, 406th, Co. G., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 50, No. 1, Oct. / Dec., 1997, pp. 4 - 8.

The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.

We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.

 

Original Story submitted on 28 July 2003.
Story added to website on 28 July 2003.

 

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