Dad was with the Fifth Army in WWII. He volunteered because that is what you did back then. He was a little older than most of the other soldiers, having already been in college for almost two years. They put him in the 90th Quartermaster Railhead Company which was also populated by a black division. This may have been the reason he was one of the few from his generation who was always for integration, and why he told grandma never to use the N-word. He also lost a stripe by getting into a fight with a southern racist who probably had it coming. Dad never beat anyone up who didn’t have it coming in the first place. I saw him toss a guy over the cigarette machine in our restaurant, pounce on him, and threaten to break his neck because he’d said something inappropriate to my mom. You didn’t mess with my dad.
The Fifth Army went through North Africa, and then was part of the invasion force in Italy at Salerno with the help of the British X Corps and later the French. It was one of the first multinational forces. He spoke a little Italian, so he became the unofficial liaison between the quartermaster and the locals, trading spices which he said “the American cooks didn’t know how to use anyway,” for eggs, ham, and fresh vegetables. While General Clark may have been controversial, and some have said incompetent, Dad was far removed from the politics of high command. He did what he was told, from supplying the soldiers with whatever they needed to picking up a gun and heading to the front; he was at the North Apennines and the Po River. The family rumor is that he played football in the Spaghetti Bowl in Florence on January 1, 1945. If he didn’t play, he was there, in the thick of it, and he would go on to play for Niagara, and to play semi-pro ball in Syracuse, NY.
After the German surrender in Italy, Dad and his division were on standby; the rumor was that they were going to Japan to assist with the invasion. No one knew what their orders would be on August 6, 1945 when the Enola Gay bombed Hiroshima. On August 13 he and his division were put on troop transports heading for the Suez Canal bound for the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. His whole division was at sea when the victory over Japan was announced, and the convoy was given new orders to sail for New York. He arrived on August 29, and was demobilized with an honorable discharge on October 25, 1945 at Fort Dix, NJ.
Photo: The “Enola Gay” returning from its mission on August 6, 1945 where it dropped an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan. (UPI/File)