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2014, Aaron Elson



Valentine Miele

1st Infantry Division

"I'm not supposed to be here . . ."

2014, Aaron Elson

    Valentine Miele is a D-Day veteran of Omaha Beach. He was wounded in the Huertgen Forest.

    Aaron Elson: You already were a battle hardened veteran by D-Day, weren’t you?

    Valentine Miele: I was in Sicily, too.

    Aaron Elson: So you had been on two amphibious landings?

    Valentine Miele: Two amphibious landings. And I was always throwing my guts up in those damn square bottom boats.

    Aaron Elson: What was your rank?

    Valentine Miele: I came out a sergeant.

    Aaron Elson: When did you go into the service?

    Valentine Miele: November of 1942.

    Aaron Elson: Were you from this area?

    Valentine Miele: I’m from Jersey City. I went to Fort Dix. I took my basic training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, and then from there I went up to Shenango, Pennsylvania. I stayed there a week or two, 72 hours in Camp Shanks. Then I went overseas. I left from Staten Island. I went to Oran, and then I joined the outfit from there. I was a replacement. I didn’t go over with the division. I caught up with them later in the mountains, in Africa. Near the end is when I got there. Then we went back close to Oran, to Azul I think the name was. Then we started taking invasion maneuvers for Sicily. Then we finished up in Sicily; that was another pain in the neck. We were right straight up there, in the middle of it.

    They took us from Sicily to England, and we got to England, I think it was November 5th, 1943, in this little town. We didn’t do much in November and December. Then in January, we went for two weeks up to Barnstable for invasion maneuvers. Then we invaded England in the morning and in the afternoon. Maneuvers. They would walk us to the beach, then we’d walk out to the landing craft, and we’d circle around, then we’d invade England. Then we’d go out again. Cold. It was cold up there. In those flat-bottomed boats we had, they would go up and go down, and the spray would come over. Your field jacket would be icy. That was a rough two weeks. Then we had two big runs. We used to call them dry runs but there was nothing dry about them. Then we went down to Weymouth, got on a ship, and we stayed on the ship a couple of days, then we went out and we invaded England again. We ran around the woods. And then we would go back to where we were stationed. Then we went again. That was with all the outfits together. And then from there we went back to where we were stationed. Then we thought we were going on another exercise, and they took us to the staging area, and everything was all right. We could walk around; we used to go on little hikes. Then all of a sudden they took us to tents where they had sand tables all set out, and they had the whole beach. You know, when you go to Atlantic City you buy those postcards, and you could pull them out? They had them over there too. Each one was a picture of a beach.

    Once we saw that, we were told to stay in the tent, no walking around. All we did there was eat. They fed you 24 hours a day.

    We ate good. We were there about a week. From there they took us back to Weymouth, and then we got aboard a ship.

    I got out in the Huertgen Forest. I got my legs blown up a little bit.

    Aaron Elson: Which regiment were you with?

    Valentine Miele: I was with the 16th.

    I’m going to England in two weeks. I’m leaving the 26th, going back to where we were. I’m not going to France. I could go. I’d have to get a special pass to get onto the beach. I was there on D-Day, now I’ve got to get a special pass, so I said to hell with it.

    Aaron Elson: You’re the first person I’ve talked to who was on Omaha Beach. What was it like?

    Valentine Miele: It was rough when we got there. I was sick as a dog going in. Puking up.

    Aaron Elson: What kind of a ship did you go in on?

    Valentine Miele: An LCVP [landing craft, vehicles and personnel].

    Aaron Elson: How did you cross the channel?

    Valentine Miele: On the Chase, an invasion ship. Then we had to climb down a cargo net. I was a machine gunner then. I lost the front side of my machine gun on D-Day, somebody chopped it off. It had to be another machine gun. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an air-cooled machine gun. There’s a jacket around the barrel, and it has holes, so the air gets in there. And they hit that. It knocked the front side off my machine gun off. I lost two fronts on my machine gun. And I lost a box of ammunition, too, that day. You see, the gunner only carried the tripod. The assistant gunner carried the gun. The tripod I had tied to my wrist, with a rubber life preserver. When I got off the landing craft, when they dropped that gate, my company commander went off before me, but he was 6-6, he was a giant. When I went off the water was only up to my chest. I took two or three steps, and my feet didn’t touch the ground anymore. So I let go of the box of ammunition, because I had that in my left hand. In my right hand I had the tripod, that was tied, and I started to swim. When I started to swim, I thought I was swimming, the water was deep. I looked over to the side, and there was my first sergeant, he was walking. That’s when I got my foot down on the sand, and I took off for what we called the rockpile. Right at the edge of the water they had all crushed stone, so the water wouldn’t go in. Then behind that, they had a big hole they had dug, so if any water went over that it went in there, and the water coming off the hill went in there. That was a slop.

    Aaron Elson: Was it high tide or low?

    Valentine Miele: Low tide. Good thing. They had it planned right. At high tide we would have lost more. I don’t think we would have made it, because we wouldn’t have any beach to stand on. At high tide it would have gone right up to the crushed stone, and they wouldn’t have seen those – have you ever seen the pictures with the railroad tracks up like that? They would have ripped the hell out of the boats. And then you see those big poles in the water? They had mines on top of those. So at high tide we would have hit them. I think they had it figured the tide came up about a foot every ten minutes or so. And that water, it was rough. They were gonna call it off because it was rough. I’m glad they didn’t call it off. The day before we got in there, the Germans moved a whole infantry division in there for maneuvers, and we ran right smack into them. We lost a couple of men there. I think I got a couple. When we got on the beach we met a lieutenant that used to be with us in Sicily. "Hey, Lieutenant, how ya doing?" Some guy came running up and said, "Lieutenant! Lieutenant! The machine gun up there is cutting the hell out of G Company." So my sergeant says, "Miele, get on the gun."

    I got on the gun. I set the gun up, and we’re looking, we’re looking. He says, "See if you can spot him." All of a sudden I spotted him, about 200 yards away, and I’d say maybe 30 or 40 feet higher than me. He wasn’t firing at me. He was firing down across. So when he opened up again – the Germans, when they fire, they fire fast, they don’t fire like we did, because they change the barrels of their machine guns in seconds. Ours were a pain. We had to take the whole gun apart and screw the barrel off, and then put another barrel on. They would get hot if you fired like the Germans. We only fired bursts of three or four at a time. The Germans put their finger down, they’d run a hundred off. Because they just push a button, the barrel falls out, and they put another one on. We couldn’t do that. We had to take the whole gun down, screw the barrel off, put a new barrel on, then loosen it three clicks, it was a pain. So he fired, I picked him up, I got about ten rounds in there, that sonofagun never fired any more. Some of the riflemen got up and they walked over and looked in the hole. They didn’t signal that there was anybody in there. They just looked in the hole and walked away.

    And after I started firing some other guy picked me up, and that’s when they knocked the front side right off my machine gun. I lost two.

    Aaron Elson: Were you still on the beach?

    Valentine Miele: Right on the rockpile. Then they told us to get the hell off the beach. I was ready to go.

    Aaron Elson: About what time was this?

    Valentine Miele: Oh, about 7 in the morning. Then after we got up there, we only made 1,500 yards on the first day. We were supposed to go 6,000 and set up a roadblock. Never made it. Then we hit the hedgerows. That was a pain.

    Aaron Elson: Did you have tanks with you?

    Valentine Miele: There was one tank by us on the beach, and he wasn’t firing. That’s when our colonel came up, he’s banging on the end of the damn tank with his tommy gun. "Fire! Fire!" Then all of a sudden the hatch would open up, and they were throwing out – not the shells, you can’t call it a box because it’s the shape of a round, what they had them packed in, because you had to make them waterproof, the tanks. They had a big scoop on the back of the tank, it came up and out so they could go in the water. Once they got on the beach they had to take the shells out of the packing case. They were throwing these out, and the colonel was hollering, "Fire!" And he was hitting the tank. They had shells but they were in them damn things.

    Then we got out and we went up the hill. When we got to the top of the hill we lost a couple of guys. Urban got hit there. I think it was Hoffman got hit. Cheseldine got killed. Alabama Sam Cipolla got blown up altogether, I think he stepped on a mine, he was gone. Cheseldine, he shouldn’t have been there. I found out later on what happened to him. He got hit in Africa in the head. See, when you go into the hospital, you’re still in the same outfit, you don’t get reclassified. But with him, he gets hit in the head, and when he found out that the outfit went back to England, he came back to the company, but he should never had been there. They should have sent his rear end home. So he got killed on D-Day.

    Aaron Elson: Where was he from?

    Valentine Miele: I think he was from New York.

    Aaron Elson: What was his first name?

    Valentine Miele: Oh, I don’t know his name. You don’t know anybody by their first name. We found out later on. One day we were in the hedgerows and the old man – the company commander – came over. We’ve got the little stove we used to carry, and we made coffee, and he starts talking. He says, "Cheseldine got killed on the beach." They found out, I don’t know if a grenade or a shell went off close to him. And that’s when they found out he had a silver plate in his head. They shouldn’t have sent him back over there, the bastards.

    Another guy got hit up by the eye. He got it on D-Day. We got him back in October. The company commander took one look at him and said, "Get the hell out of here!"

    He said, "Where am I gonna go?"

    He said, "I don’t care, get out." His eye was pulled over on one side, and they sent him back up on the line. I don’t know, maybe he didn’t want to get out of the outfit. I didn’t want to get out either when I got hit. When I went to the hospital and I came out, next thing you know I got a reclassification; they put me in some ordnance outfit in the Air Force. And that’s where I got discharged from, the Air Force.

    Aaron Elson: Was that the first time you got wounded?

    Valentine Miele: Yeah, only once I got hit. That other guy, Urban from New York, he got hit on D-Day; he got hit in Sicily, right through the shoulder; he got hit when he came back again, the third time I think he got hit in the leg. Then they reclassified him. They put him in some other outfit. They didn’t send him back on the line.


   Aaron Elson: You must have seen guys crack up.

    Valentine Miele: Not too many. Some of them did. Some of them go off their rocker.

    Aaron Elson: How did that happen?

    Valentine Miele: It’s the artillery that gets them, gets everybody. Your knees start shaking and you’re finished, you can’t do nothing. It happened to me, not that I started shaking – it knocked the hell out of me, though. Yeah, September the 13th or 14th.

    Aaron Elson: What was that like?

    Valentine Miele: We went into Germany on the 12th of September [1944]. We went into some wooded area, and we went up this one dirt road, and the Germans start moving around, so they set up the gun. My sergeant says, "Miele, get on the gun."

    I got on the gun and I fired maybe ten, fifteen rounds, and they started to holler, "Cease fire! Cease fire!" And some of the Germans gave up. Then we walk up this road, and I look up and there’s this big tower. It must have been in peacetime like the forest rangers have. It was about 50 feet high, made out of stone. And next to it they had a little house, two or three rooms, I guess they must have lived in there. And part of the house was knocked over. So I dug a hole – you couldn’t dig much of a hole because of the roots and rocks. And we stayed there the whole night. Then in the daytime we went in the house. We went down in the basement.

    It had the open doors, and the machine gun was set up there. I had a big log on the right side of the machine gun. I had the ammunition on the left. And my sergeant said, "Miele, you get on the gun." We always had one man on the gun. So it was my turn.

    My sergeant says, "Miele, you better stay on the gun." So I stayed on the gun. I’m up there, and all of a sudden one of our guys comes out of the tower, and he’s carrying a B.A.R. [Browning Automatic Rifle] He comes about 25 feet away from me, and he waves to me, and then he goes down. What they had, when you go in the country they had barbed wire, they’ve got three strands, for the cows. But they must have had them up for the deer in the woods, because we were in a wooded area. We must have been about seven or eight miles out of Aachen, and you could hear their artillery; when they were firing you could actually hear the gun, we were so close. But you could never see it.

    This guy went as far as the barbed wire, then he went over about 25, 30 yards to his right. And he went down on his hands and knees and he was crawling away, and I’m watching, and all of a sudden I hear that B.A.R. barking. And I’m watching. I’m watching. All of a sudden I see an explosion, then I see him, he turns around, he starts to crawl away, and then another explosion. That was the end of him. And I’m just standing there watching. All of a sudden I see these guys come up the hill. They got as far as that god darned barbed wire, they must have been about 25 feet away from me. About 20 of them. That’s as far as they got. Some of them got away but not all of them. Then I don’t know if they threw a grenade or what. There was an explosion above my head, and my helmet came off, my head seemed to go into my shoulders. It put holes in my ammunition box and knocked the front side right off my machine gun.

    Then I went down into the cellar. I said, "Wright! Wright! Put somebody else on the gun."

    He said, "What’s the matter?"

    I said, "My neck. My neck."

    He said, "You hit?"

    I said, "No, I’m not hit. But my neck."

    The next thing you know, a shell comes in and hits the house. Ba-wham! Then they got plaster, dust, smoke and every damn thing. You couldn’t see nothing. So I said, "Hell, I’ll get out of this house." I went around, I ran right smack into the steps. I had no helmet on, put a bump on my head. I walk around the steps, and there’s my sergeant. He’s out.

    "Miele! Miele!"

    "What’s the matter?"

    "My legs! My legs."

    I looked down at his feet. His feet were swollen. The concussion got him.

    So I pick him up, throw him on my shoulder, and run up the steps. When I get up there, the house is on fire. So I go out the side door, and I run him over to the tower, put him down, and he says, "Miele, you’d better get the gun." So I had to go back in the house. I couldn’t go in the way I came out because it was on fire. I had to go down in the cellar and pick up the machine gun and a couple of boxes of ammunition. I look down and there’s my pack. Kaput. There was nothing to my pack. The shrapnel set it afire; everything was burnt.

    We got out of there, and then I went into the tower because you couldn’t stay in the cellar anymore, the house was really burning then. I put the gun down, and then the other sergeant came in from the rifle platoon, he needed somebody to carry the dead. So we went out, and we got a ladder, we had no litters. We had about a 10-foot ladder, we put two bodies on the damn thing and brought it back to the tower and laid them there. Then I went back into the tower, and the platoon sergeant asked my sergeant who his gunner was. He says, "Miele’s the gunner." And he said, "Well, he don’t go carrying no dead." So I stayed there.

    So from there we put Wright on with the dead, and I told him, "You’d better keep whistling and singing."

    He said, "Why?"

    I said, "Because everybody on this jeep is dead but you."

    "You dirty bastard."

    Then they took us out on the 13th. They took us out in the afternoon. We lost about 33 men.

    Aaron Elson: Going back, when you were firing the machine gun, you saw those guys 25 feet from you?

    Valentine Miele: You don’t think. You see them, and they’re carrying rifles, and they’re coming towards you, that’s all you have to know. Once you start firing, that’s it.

    Aaron Elson: What does it look like when somebody gets hit? It is like in the movies?

    Valentine Miele: It’s not pretty. We had one guy, he dug a hole about two feet deep, and that’s how we found him. We found him sitting on the edge of the hole, his feet were in the hole, and he was hit in the stomach and all the blood and everything ran right down into the hole. He was dead. I forget his name. Young kid, too. He came to us as a replacement in England.

    When we came off the line the 13th of September, we had 57 men in the company, out of 175. In October, we had 22 of the original 215, because we were over strength when we started, we had more people than we really needed. Everything was changed for the invasion. Before, we used to go in as platoons. We went in in boat sections then. They had everything planned. They had good planning. And all the planning they did, they had nothing for the machine gunners. We went in with the captain’s boat. We went in the same time, but in the boat sections they had riflemen, B.A.R., mortar, bangalore torpedoes, pole charge, satchel charge. Satchel charge was just a block of wood packed with TNT and they had a rope on it. The pole charge was a flat piece, then over here they had a nail on it and a long stick. So you put that up against the window, if they close the window, it would be steel, you slap that on there, you pull the fuse, it blows. Then once that blows, the guy throws a satchel charge in. That’s how they had it figured out. Then we had bazookas. Bazookas are good for tanks, but not for soft dirt. Like we had a machine gun on a corner in a hedgerow, if you fire a bazooka at it, it’d go in the dirt. You prayed it would go off. If it hit soft dirt it wouldn’t go off.

    We lost a lot of men. We lost a lot more in the Huertgen Forest. I found reading and reading after, we didn’t have to go through that damn Huertgen Forest. Before we went in they should have saturated that god darn thing like they did in St. Lo. In St. Lo we couldn’t move for beans, the hedgerows were slowing us down something fierce.

    Aaron Elson: What was it like fighting in the hedgerows?

    Valentine Miele: Very bad. You’re close. You’re only a hundred yards away from the enemy all the time. You were behind another one. And they’re five, six hundred years old. Some of them are ten feet wide. And some are only two feet wide but they’re high, and it’s almost like a square box, and in the middle it’s level.

    One time in France we caught the Germans. We had one platoon and one machine gun. That was up against a blacktop highway, a small secondary road, and the Germans hit us, and we fired back, but the Germans had more than we did. There were only about 40 of us, and they had beaucoup back there. So what happened, one of the tanks came up, and he started to fire like holy hell. Now the Germans figured as soon as the tank started firing, we were taking off. But we didn’t take off. We stayed right there. Then the tank backed off. And when the tank backed off, they figure well, when the tank was firing we backed off, and now the tank had stopped and took off. We stayed there, and they came out. They weren’t ready for us. We beat the living shit out of them.

    Another time we were doing the same thing. We went into this area at night. I hated that; go into an area at night and you don’t know where the hell they are, you don’t know where nobody is. We went into this area, and all of a sudden they fired their screaming meemies, that electrical mortar they had. They fired that, it lit up the whole god darn place. They weren’t firing at us, they just fired it that way. We didn’t do nothing. We just lay there, the hell with them, let them stay over there. We seen them. Once that thing goes off, it’s like daylight.

    Then before we could do anything, they packed up and took off. But in St. Lo they did a job. They should have used more of that.

    St. Lo is where General McNair got killed. His son got killed in the Pacific around the same time. I was close to McNair when he got hit in Africa. He got hit in the head. We were stuck there. He was one of these gung-ho guys. "Give me ten men, I’ll take it." He took it, all right. We had good generals, though.

    Aaron Elson: Were you one of the 10 men he took?

    Valentine Miele: No, he wasn’t taking me. I didn’t volunteer for nothing. That’s the only thing I didn’t like. I didn’t like patrols. Machine gunners only went out on the real heavy patrols. I had the chance. The company commander called me down. They had the telephones hooked up. They said, "Miele, the old man wants to see you over at the c.p." I went over and saw him. He said, "Go back and get your stuff, you’re taking over the second squad of the second platoon."

    I said, "What?" I was still a gunner then.

    He said, "Yeah, you were in this company long enough."

    I said, "Nah, no rifles for me." I get some sleep at night, none of them night patrols for me. So then he turned around and said, "All right, go back to your squad." So they took another guy who was there a little longer than me, and put him in.

    That night, a couple of other guys got hit, and they started changing around. I took over the first machine gun squad, then I had a bunch of kids.

    What happened there, they were breaking up all these outfits in the States and sending them over as replacements.

    The assistant gunner was a rough job. He had to carry a 32-pound gun. And the gunner only carried 12 pounds. Then after we got into France, they took the tripod away, and they put two legs on the machine gun, and gave it a shoulder rest and a pistol grip, and they put the legs from a B.A.R. on top of the machine gun.

    The assistant gunner carried ammunition. The gunner carried everything. That machine gun was over 40 pounds then. And I carried that a lo-o-o-o-ong time. I carried a machine gun from ’43, to the 17th or 18th of November, when we went into the Huertgen Forest. That’s when I picked up the rifle.

    I’m not supposed to be here. I’m not supposed to be here.

    Aaron Elson: What do you mean?

    Valentine Miele: I should have been dead a long time ago. Artillery hit close to me, buried me. Rocks hit me. House bricks hit me in the head, from the artillery shells. We were in Stolzberg, down by the railroad track. It was all cinders and house brick. So we dug a hole. And every time a shell hit close, the damn ground would shake, the cinders would come down, the house bricks. It was easy digging a hole. We had a nice hole there. We ate good there, too. Ooh, did we eat good.

    Aaron Elson: What was the food like?

    Valentine Miele: Lousy. That particular time, I had a good house. They had eggs in the cellar, preserved eggs with the shells on. There were two or three crocks of them. And we were getting hot meals there, too. And I’ll never forget, I got on the phone and I whistled to the c.p., and who gets on the phone but the company commander, old Briggs gets on, and he says, "Who is this?"

    I said, "Miele. First platoon, gun squad."

    "Yeah, what is it?"

    I said, "Next time the kitchen truck comes up, let him bring some bread."

    "Bread! What the hell, are you crazy?"

    So the next morning the kitchen truck came up. It was dark. So two men went to eat, and then carry the food back for the other guys, so not everybody’s off the line. All the houses were lined up along the street there, but the house I was in sat back about 100 feet off the street. So about 10 o’clock, I look out and there’s the old man coming over with my buddy, Stephen. And the old man comes in, "Where’s Miele?"

    "He’s upstairs." We had the machine gun on the second floor. In the daytime we used to keep the machine gun on the second floor instead of by the railroad tracks.

    So he comes up and says, "I got you some bread, Miele. What have you got?"

    I said, "Go in the closet." Open up the closet, they had all the preserves you want. Peach preserves, jellies and everything in there. I said, "Take what you want. Come on, you want some eggs?" I got the pump stove, we had the pump stove. The tankers had these stoves, and you pulled the top off, once you pulled the top off, you pulled the irons out, and you put the gasoline, and you pump it up, that’s how we used to make our coffee. So we had the mess kit. I had a nice aluminum mess kit. So we sat down and had eggs and coffee and jellies and everything. So I told the old man, "Take what you want." But we didn’t get much rations from the company. I seen where we used to have peanut butter and apple jelly sandwiches, they’d bring it to you 11 o’clock at night. And coffee. Now you’ve got your cup, and you’ve got to pour the cup into your canteen, so now you put that on your hip so you can get another one.

    But sometimes we couldn’t get anything to eat, you’d eat off the ground.

    Aaron Elson: You would run out of food?

    Valentine Miele: Oh yeah.

    Aaron Elson: What did you eat, potatoes?

    Valentine Miele: I’ll tell you, the 15th of September, we went across the first set of dragon’s teeth and hit the pillboxes, and there I found a smoked ham. It must have been about six pounds. Moldy. Hairs on it and everything. And the guy said, "What are you gonna do with that?"

    I said, "I’m gonna eat the damn thing. What do you think I’m gonna do?"

    "Ahhh, you’ll die."

    I said, "Yeah, I’m gonna die." So I must have carried that about two or three days, we came up to a German house, and I went in and asked the woman for some butter. "Hmmm." I showed her my mess kit, I wanted to cook the ham. She gave me a little lard, yeah, that’s good. I went out in the back and lit the stove, melted the grease, cut about an inch off that damn ham. It was salty, though. Oooh, was it salty.

    A guy said, "I ain’t eatin’ that. I seen it. You cut all that stuff off. You’re gonna die."

    Shit. I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die anyway, these crazy people.

    Aaron Elson: What else would you find to eat?

    Valentine Miele: Onions. I ate a lot of onions. In the C-Rations. Put onions in them, sprinkle bouillon powder over it, crush up the bouillon, our rations were lousy.

Interviews                       Valentine Miele, Page 2