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My War Years by Anthony Pacioni

June 2, 1942, I was inducted into the army. I was eager to get away from my family that felt like an albatross around my neck. They all reminded me, without intending to, how poor we were and how insignificant we all felt because of our lack of material possessions. For winter fun we had one sled to ride for me and my younger siblings. None of us ever had ice skates. For summer we managed a couple of pairs of roller skates. I remember having a bicycle that some one stole, I suspect these toys were given to us by some charitable agency for father could never afford them.

I had a poor image of myself. The army was a way out. It was a means of getting away from my feelings by separating myself from the source. I believe that is just what happened. My behavior toward people changed, as the following events will show.

I was sent to Camp Grant in Illinois by train to begin my induction. Leaving my family removed a burden and now I felt some relief. I managed to get a seat by the window. I liked sitting there. It gave me the chance to watch the scenery and the people as we passed through the various towns. I found myself thinking about who all those people were who lived in those towns. What kind of lives did they have? Were they happy or sad? What meaning was there in it all?

I looked around me on the train and made a big discovery. Some of the recruits looked sad and frightened. They sat slumped in their seats, their heads looking down. Those kinds of feelings were my long time companions so they were easy for me to recognize. I never thought that others suffered as I did. I was able to make the connection and the realization surprised me. I understood that in some ways, I was just like other people.

Within a week of our arrival at Camp Grant we again boarded trains to be taken to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. I enjoyed the climate and the town. The temperature, at times, reached 110 degrees. In Chicago that temperature would cause distress. In El Paso, because of the low humidity, I felt great. At home when I shaved on a hot, sticky summer day my skin would feel rough and irritated. Here it felt smooth and pleasant to the touch. When going to town in an army truck, I enjoyed the beauty of the ranch homes as we dove by. The roofs were covered with various color tiles which I assumed were made of clay or slate. If I remember correctly, some of the colors were red, blue and green. Compared with the dull sight of the roof tops in Chicago, the scenery before me was a pure delight. Hanging every where around the houses were gourds from which dropped long trailing plants unfamiliar to me, yet their presence added to my sense of pleasure.

El Paso, however did have a measure of disappointment for me. The restaurants never served spaghetti with red sauce! At home this dish was served every Sunday without fail. I realized that not having it was a pleasure I missed. I asked some restaurant owners why the item was never on the menu. The only answer which I remember, but to this day makes no sense at all, is that refrigeration was a problem.

Winter presented another problem. The weather was always very warm and it never snowed. I missed the heavy snow and blustering winds of Chicago. I would look up to the snow capped mountains of El Paso for some relief. I got some release from my loneliness but it was not enough.

When I was inducted into the army, I was assigned to be cook's helper to the 82nd Chemical Battalion. Peeling potatoes, washing vegetables and scrubbing pots and pans was not my cup of tea. How to get out of this job? I requested an interview with the commanding officer. Me, a private the lowest of the low wanting to speak to the captain to tell him the army made a mistake regarding my job placement seems pretty cheeky, as I look back on it. But I needed a new assignment. Was I scared? You bet I was. At home, fear would stop me from doing what I wanted. In the short time I was in the army something in me had changed. Now, fear galvanized me into action.

The day of the interview arrived. I entered a room and faced the captain. I'm very aware of his superior rank. I snapped to attention. The obligatory salute and address of "sir" is given. I explained my cause. "Sir, I feel I can be of better service to the company in the personnel section." I immediately supported my request by telling him my college training was in personnel administration. I ended up by saying, "Should such a position become available I would appreciate if he would consider me for the job. I said nothing about being dissatisfied with the cooking job. That would never do. It would create the impression that I was a complainer and thus a poor soldier.

To my surprise the captain said, "I agree with you." It was a wonderful feeling for me to have the captain respect my request and point of view. The belief in myself got a great boost that day.

As the personnel clerk of the company, I prepared the payroll and typed the furlough requests that granted soldiers' leave. I was now very popular. Enlisted men would seek me out wanting to know when we were going to get paid or if the captain had signed their furlough papers. The look of joy on their faces when I gave them the information they wanted to hear made me feel happy. The attention coming my way was good for my ego.

One day while at work I picked up a notice with the heading: WARRANT OFFICERS. It's a position comparable to a first lieutenant in status. There is a difference. A lieutenant had to attend a three month training session and pass before he got a commission. A warrant officer, is commissioned on the spot. The notice gave a time and place where the interview would be held for those who were interested. I typed out an application for the position and put it on the captain's desk. It would need his approval.

The day of the interview arrived. It took place on an open field. There was a large number of men applying. I looked cautiously around. As I had expected most of the applicants were sergeants. I was afraid that I wouldn't make it.

Suddenly my name was called. I was galvanized into action and found myself in front of the interviewers. There were about six officers sitting at a long table. I snapped to attention, gave the salute and in as firm a voice as I could command said, "Sir, Private First Class Anthony Pacioni reporting as requested, Sir." I waited. I was under extreme stress. My mind, however was razor sharp. I noticed the man before me is a one star general and my knees started to give way.

Out of the many questions he could have asked me, he picked the one that I found easiest to relate to. He wanted to know why I joined the army. As one trained in personnel administration I knew an applicant's motivation is important in determining his suitability for a job. I could have said I was inducted but that answer wouldn't do anything for me. I could point out my college education. That might have helped. Instead I gave the answer that meant the most to me and yet carry the most weight.

"Sir," I began, "I joined the army because I felt it was my duty. My country has given me much. Now that she is under attack I feel it is my duty to help defend her. Sir."

On April 2, 1943, ten months to the day I was inducted, I was commissioned as a warrant officer by order of Lieutenant General Hodges, Third Army Headquarters. I was transferred from the 82nd chemical battalion to the 34th Evacuation Hospital where I was to serve as assistant medical registrar.

Eventually, we were sent to the European Theater of Operations. One day we set up the hospital as a practice session. We invited the locals of a small English town to come in and look around. I spotted the face of a child in the crowd. She had the most beautiful cheeks that I had ever seen. They held the blush of a rose in full bloom. The edges faded away into the porcelain white of her skin. Black hair framed both sides of her face. I turned to a doctor standing besides me and pointed to the child. "Look at her beautiful cheeks."

"We call them cemetery roses," he said. I was stunned. "Cemetery roses? What do you mean?"

He replied in a low soft voice. "Those rosy cheeks mean that she has or will get tuberculosis and she will die." This reality left an imprint on my heart.

The day came when we boarded ships that would take us across the English Channel. We landed at Utah beach. We trudged across the sand to the vehicles on the road. My duffel bag hung across my shoulder and was heavy. The metal helmet on my head felt uncomfortable. I was fatigued and wanted to rest. That was out of the question. Ostensibly we were marching towards the trucks on the road and would be driven to our destination somewhere behind the front lines. For many this was a one-way trip, as death on the battlefield awaited them.

On July 4, 1944, we set up our hospital. The next day the hospital was officially opened. We were located in a field overlooking the city of Carentan, France, under the command of the First United States Army. By 2030 hours of our opening day, 525 patients had been admitted. On August 16, 1944, the 3rd Evacuation Hospital reverted back to the Third US Army under the command of G. S. Patton, Jr. Thus began our long journey across the continent. On March 24, 1945, Frankfurt On Main fell to the Third Army. The next location for the hospital was secured. We were on German soil for the first time. As we crossed the Luxemburg German border we were greeted by huge signs reading, "You are entering Germany. Do not fraternize." The word was to become as much a part of our vocabulary as the word, "chow."

After Frankfurt, we operated a hospital in Suhl from April 14, 1945. >From there we went to Sanderdorf where the hospital would end its service. On May 4, 1945, we learned that hostilities had ceased along the front we were serving. Four days later, the European Theater of Operation had ended.

May 9, 1945 was officially proclaimed VE Day. It was time to look homeward. I was as eager to return now as I had been to leave. War had made me realize how much my family meant to me. You might say, I left as a boy and came back a man.

Originally Posted by Josephine (Jun 10, 2002)


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