Monday, May 25, 2009

My Grandfather - A Memorial 1912 - 1945

This is the only known photograph of my grandfather, Vincent J. Battle.

I did not know my grandfather. He died 19 years before I was born. His death was not in the way you may think given the title of this post, I'll get to that at the end.
My grandmother never gave any details about my grandfather to either of her sons nor to me, in her last years (she lived to be 98) she finally revealed to my father where his father was buried. My father has no recollection of his father, being so young at the time of his father's induction (dad was barely 3) and his father's death (dad was almost 5) and having a mother who relayed not a single strand of information to him, left him nothing but a recall of an Army rep coming to the door of their family's home to inform the family of the death.

This is a memorial of sorts, given only the information that is known to us. There is no less love for this man by my father or by myself than had we had known him.

Note: portions of this post will include quotes from two gentlemen I had contacted who served with my grandfather through training and the war, the quotes from both will be in grey bold italics. The quotes offer only a minuscule glimpse into an otherwise unknown (to us) life.

My grandfather, Vincent Joseph Battle (Vincenzo Guisseppe La Battaglia), was born in 1912, was an American of Italian descent (family from New York City via Montemurro and , Italy) he was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. He was kind, had an affinity for music and math, played the violin (he was an Army musician), he also started studies at Brown University (later in life) and started a family, before being called to serve his country in World War II in 1942.

Vincent was assigned to the 1st Army, 7th Corps, 438th BN AAA AW which began as part of the Coast Artillery, later becoming part of the Field Artillery.

I was in the same 438th AAA (AW) Bn. during WWII with your grandfather. Your grandfather was in Battery "B" and I was in Battery "D". He was a Tech. Corporal and drove a Half-Track. (M3 Half-Track Personnel Carrier. An armored transport with the back "wheels" looking similar to normal armored tanks. 1/2 normal wheels in front and 1/2 track in back)

He and his fellow inductees were originally stationed at Camp Edwards, MA (on Cape Cod), subsequently they were transferred to Fort Jackson, SC then maneuvers at LA, TN and NC. They lived out in the field and slept on the ground each night.

Once, in NC, we were defending this small airport against the 82nd Airborne. The 82nd could not take the field and became so frustrated that they begun throwing rocks at us, we responded in kind. Needless to say both sides left the field with bumps and bruises.

On traveling back to Camp Edwards:

When we traveled by train we had the usual Pullman cars, two freight cars, these were our kitchens and flat cars on which our guns, trucks, etc., were mounted. You must remember that locomotives were very smokey. Each flat car was manned by a fully armed soldier. Needless to say we were a pretty dirty group of G.I.'s. On our way back to Camp Edwards we stopped in Providence, RI. At each stop the soldier had to stand guard on the ground, as luck would have it the railroad platform was loaded with commuters, many commuters wanted to know where we were from and where we were going. It being wartime we could not give any information, so we told everyone that we were just back from North Africa. Incidentally, we were supposed to go to North Africa but orders were changed...the outfit that took our place suffered 50% casualties in the first few days of combat.

After more training at Camp Edwards the Battalion headed off to Europe unescorted (crossing the Atlantic without armed escort), they landed in Scotland on Thanksgiving day where they had a sumptuous K ration (Army issued meals containing: Dinner was canned meat, biscuits, bouillon powder, candy, chewing gum, powdered coffee, granulated sugar, cigarettes, can opener, toilet paper and a wooden spoon). From Scotland they traveled by train to a little town called Digby, a small town in England located north west of London. Training, training, more training and otherwise uneventful.

Next to our Camp was a bakery and each morning we would pick up a loaf of bread. The only problem was that the G.I. bread was not being used, so the bakery was declared "off limits."

They were sent to the southern coast for a British gun demonstration (same gun they had already been trained to use.)

After their demonstration, they asked if we would care to show our ability on the gun. After beating their time by 50% the British left the field to us.

The battalion was split in two one landing D5, Normandy...Omaha (Grand camp) via Portland, England, the other landing D5, Normandy...Utah (Vorreville) via Dartmouth, England. The full Battalion re-joining on D6.

You must remember that this is the hedge grove section of Normandy. The hedge grove's are so thick a tank could not penetrate them. A group of GIs could be on one side and a group of Germans on the other and each group could be unaware of the other. The first night was bad, we were all scared. What made it worse...the Germans had a shell with an attachment that gave off a piercing sound. We named it The Screaming Meenies. Incidentally, none of us got much sleep. The next day were were joined by the rest of the Btl. All of our moves were of short duration so when we moved we were fully operational. As luck would have it we were attacked by a ME 109 (Messerschmitt Bf 109 - German fighter aircraft.) Normally anti-aircraft cannot fire while moving but the pilot of the plane was surprised when we returned fire. It's uncertain if we shot down the plane. One additional point...the driver of one of the trucks had a mental or emotional breakdown. We found him in a farm house trying to get into the cellar. The problem was that the farm had no cellar. To make it a short story the soldier received a section 8, a mental breakdown.

The next area we hit, still in Normandy, was Falaise (south east of Utah/Omaha beach landing.) It was also known as the Falaise Gap. The plan for this area was to encircle the Germans by the British from the North and the Americans from the south. However, the British, under Montgomery, were so slow in their preparation because they were under constant fire from the Germans.

Our next move was to St. Lothis (? Perhaps Othis, which is north east of Paris?) ...Next step Paris, except our orders changed and all we saw of the City of Lights was, we think, the top of the Eiffel Tower. We moved pretty fast through France. The first city we reached in Germany was Aachen. We spent a great deal of time at this area, mainly because we had outrun our supplies. We began rolling through Germany with little or no opposition until we got to the Rhine River. At this time we got pulled out of line and were sent down to Ardennes to test a new gun sight. Security in the area was very lax. We went back to the Rhine, our mission here was to keep up a steady barrage across the river at the Germans. Our easy life soon ended with the Battle of the Bulge. We travelled all day in near zero temperatures. we really did not have winter clothing so we dressed accordingly: two pair of socks, two pair of pants, shirt, jacket sweater, heavy overcoat, wool hat, two pair of gloves, overshoes and we were still cold.

...we finished our combat in Cologne (in March 1945 the allies take Cologne & establish a bridge across the Rhine at Remagen)...we stayed in this German house, while there we found a Nazi uniform, we also found a picture of a German in uniform, low and behold the man in uniform and the owner of the building were one and the same. We took him into custody and turned him over to the MPs. *This is likely where my grandfather got the flag (Nazi) which he had 99 of his fellow soldiers sign (first and last names and addresses in the US) the day the war ended.

We were sent to view a concentration camp. (There were 3 sub-camps attached to Buchen wald / Dora-Mittelbau at Cologne: one for the mayor then Messegelände and Wagonfab. Köln-Deutz, I don't know which one they were sent to.) You could smell the camp from town. In the camp proper, the bodies were stacked like cord wood. The survivors we saw were like skeletons. The dead were being buried by German civilians guarded by a fully armed GI. This was one of the few times I was ready to kill.

From Cologne.....the army made us MPs and sent us back to France and the city of Nancy. In front of our barracks were two statues with arms outstretched. Well, the first day we were decked out in our brand new MP uniforms. We went out for inspection and one fellow started to laugh then another, and another until the whol outfit was laughing. Stretched out in the arms of the statues were two of our men fast asleep. Not a particularly good start. I was part of a small contingent that was sent to a town called Pont-à-Mousson which is located between Nancy and Metz. The purpose of our being there was to keep the GIs out of the two houses of ill repute. A new second Lieutenant joined us fresh from the States. This officer decided to raid one of the houses. Some of us were to go through the front door, the rest through the rear door. Well, the officer blew his whistle and went over the fence, followed by Mahoney (Cornelius) who landed on the officer, followed by me who landed on both of them. We managed to right ourselves, as I was running towards the house I saw one GI sliding down the drain pipe. Needless to say, we didn't find any GIs in the house. (so far) In the house there was one room where a girl and we greeted one another, I checked the room and found nothing of interest. In the hall I meet Mahoney and he checked the room. He asked if I had found anything, which I hadn't. He said something didn't look right. So we decided to check the room again. Now the closets in rural France have no doors but curtains. there were a pair of GI shoes which didn't look right, so we pushed the clothes aside and found this GI. We debated long and hard, about 30 seconds, we put the clothes back into place and left the house.

I remember the day Germany surrendered. I was on duty in Nancy and got Drunk. The side streets of Nancy are crowned, meaning the street slopes down on either side from the center, I remember trying to walk ddown the center of the street and kept falling into the building. It was about this time that the High Point Men (GIs with the highest amount of points - Adjusted Service Rating* - were released first, 85 being the magic number) began getting discharged (my grandfather was discharged in the Summer.) My discharge came some time later and I was finally discharged in November.

3 plus years, all told, with as few as 11 days leave during that time.

My grandfather had survived all this yet after arriving in the US, the driver of the bus he and his fellow discharged GIs were traveling in, en route to a Separation Center at Fort Devens, MA, lost control of the bus trying to light his cigarette and he crashed the bus into a tree. The bus tumbled over and caught fire. They were only 1/2 a mile from the front gate of Fort Devens, 35 soldiers were injured and four of the GIs burned to death in the subsequent fire. My grandfather one of them, absolutely tragic. He was within 48 hours of seeing his wife, his son and step-son.

96,000 Rhode Island Patriots served in WWII and 2560 (1730 from the Army division) died while in service combat or like my grandfather in a rare accident while still on duty/in service...not yet processed out.
His name is inscribed upon the Rhode Island WWII Memorial wall, which was established in 2007, (I don't know the woman pictured but my grandfather's name appears about 12 inches below her left arm, and at the World War II Memorial registry.



With love and a grateful heart to my grandpa!
Thanks go to all who gave their lives.
L.





*Adjusted Service Rating (ASR)
*1 point for every month in service since 16 September 1940
*1 point for every month overseas since 16 September 1940
*5 points for every award of the Purple Heart(for a wound)
*5 points for every decoration
*12 points for every child under 18 (maximum of three)


Edit: May 28, 2009

I finally received the article concerning the crash that killed my grandfather. Here it is in its entirety:

"September 14, 1945

FOUR VETERANS DIE AS BUS OVERTURNS

Thirty-five Others Are Hurt in Accident Close to Gates of Fort Devens

Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES
FORT DEVENS, Mass., Sept 13 -- An Army bus, carrying soldiers on the last lap homeward from European battlefields, crashed into a tree only a half mile from the post early this morning, turned over and burst into flames, killing four veterans and injuring thirty-five others.

The men, most of them members of the Eighty-sixth Depot Repair Squadron, with almost two years of service in England, Belgium and France, had made an overnight train trip from Camp Kilmer, N. J., and were on their way to the processing center here.
Burned to death in the wreckage were:
Corp Charles W. Canino, 24, of Boston.
S/Sgt. Alcideas C. Lawrence of Warwick, R.I.
S/Sgt. Vincent J. Battle, 31, of Providence.
Pfc. Charles E. Royce of Claremont, N.H.
Tonight one of the injured remained on the critical list at Lovell General Hospital here. He is Pvt. John J. Allison of South Braintree, Mass., who was severely burned.
The driver of the bus, Pfc. Joseph R. M. Deveault of Hartford , also was held in hospital.
The bubs on its way here struck a curbing, crashed into a tree, side-wiped an electric line pole and upset. Within a minute the vehicle was flaming as gasoline from the crushed gasoline tank ran over the motor.
All but ten of the men were able to crawl out through a hole punched in the roof just before the fire. With flames leaping around them, several soldiers crawled back into the bus and brought out six of those caught in the bus. The four victims were trapped in twisted seats and metal and could not be freed. Patrolman Ernest Downing of the Ayer police and residents of the district said the action of the men was the greatest display of heroism they had ever witnessed.
"No human being could have saved those poor boys trapped in the flames," said Patrolman Downing.
Corporal Canino had seen his parents only once since he entered the service in 1942.
Sergeant Battle arrived in New York on Monday after two years in England, France and Germany."

8 comments:

  1. My father-in-law was in Battery "B", 438th Antiaircraft Battalion. He died at the age of 92 (about two years ago). He served under 1st Lt. Captain Lawrence G. Davey. His wife is still alive and tells many stories about WWII that sound similar to your Grandfather. He too drove a truck (he was a supply sargent). Does anyone know of a site dedicated to WWII survivors? I was wondering if Cap. Davey is still alive. I would like to find anyone who knew Staff Sgt Thomas Brownlie from the Bronx, NY.

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  2. My father-in-law was in Battery "B", 438th Antiaircraft Battalion. He died at the age of 92 (about two years ago). He served under 1st Lt. Captain Lawrence G. Davey. His wife is still alive and tells many stories about WWII that sound similar to your Grandfather. He too drove a truck (he was a supply sargent). Does anyone know of a site dedicated to WWII survivors? I was wondering if Cap. Davey is still alive. I would like to find anyone who knew Staff Sgt Thomas Brownlie from the Bronx, NY.

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  3. My father was Capt. Lawrence Davey. He died in November 2008 at age 92. Shortly after he died, we found among his personal effects a brief "History of the Battery", essentially a daily log of the battery's movements from their Normandy landing until VE Day. I'm hoping to get copies made.
    Larry Davey Jr.
    Somerville, MA

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  4. My name is Frank Disimile, formerly of Astoria, NY and now living in Ship Bottom, NJ. In WWII I served in the 438th AAA AW Battery B all through Europe. Capt. Davey was my CO, Lieutenants were Hughes, Novak, Fisher and Poirer, Baker was 1st Sgt, Baird was Staff and Sgt. Brownlie was my supply sgt.

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  5. My Grandfather was Joseph Hyso, 1st Sgt 438th AAA AW Battery C. I enjoyed reading the accounts of the 438th and would like to obtain additional information and chronicles of their service.

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  6. My Dad was Capt H Gregory Alexander, MC, a doctor traveling and serving with the 438th AAA AW Bn HQ from its beginning until September of 1945. He left hundreds of photos and letters and official documents.

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  7. Hello, stumbled across this great website, in my search for more info on the 438th! I have recently come across a few photos of what is believed to be 438th AAA B & D companies, whilst stationed in Hyden Park, Sherborne,Southern England. I live only up the road from where one of these photos was taken! In fact, it is the same as the one in which Mr. v.J.Battle is depicted in at the top of the page! If anyone has anymore info, that would be great,thanks. Manny Trainor

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  8. I just obtained a huge lot of 35mm negatives that appear to have been taken by a trooper in "C" Battery, 438th AAA. Several roles are of stateside training in what appears to be Louisiana and Massachusetts. There are a few roles of pre-VE Day travels through France and Germany. Then there are several roles of post-VE Day scenes in Munich and Leipzig, Germany, Nancy, Paris, and Marseilles, France. I also have a few roles of embarkation in Marseilles aboard the SS Central Falls Victory Ship and the crossing across the Atlantic back to the USA. I am interested in chatting with any relatives of "C" Battery veterans who may be interested in viewing my photos.

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