Veteran’s Day was my father’s favorite holiday. As a Veteran and not a Christian, it certainly ranked higher than Christmas, and was more important to him than Memorial Day or the 4th of July. My youth and young adulthood was spent not knowing the full reason for his pride.
Dad was very old-fashioned. He never used foul-language in front of women. He would never discuss the evils he saw while having fought in three campaigns during World War II, that is, until my daughter, his first grandchild, was required in middle-school to compose an essay resulting from an interview with someone who was alive during the war.
My father shared the information with my daughter taking copious notes that answered the meticulously worded questions. Dad’s responses were not sugar coated by any means. However, keep in mind the questions were prepared by a pre-teenage young lady. It was through this essay that I finally learned the story of my father’s service to our Country. My husband was the recipient of the “not-so-clean” commentary, which he shared with me in private.
This essay provided a skeleton for me to build upon. I subsequently researched areas in the essay with holes, and have found information my father could, or would, not detail. Images and maps of places Dad was stationed, fought, traveled are certainly plentiful today on the Internet. What I am sharing here today is the original essay as written over a dozen years ago. My daughter didn’t mind, I have her permission.
During the War (World War II)
My Grandfather, Julius Kaplan, who is my mother’s father, was a soldier in the United States Army during World War 11. He was drafted at 33 years of age and was inducted on February 16, 1942, two days before his 34th birthday.
The army inducted Grandpa Julie at Camp Upton, New York. He then transferred to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for basic training. Training included learning to operate hand guns, machine guns, rifles, tanks and half‑tracks. A half‑track is a vehicle with tires in the front and tank treads in the back instead of tires. The military occupation assigned to him was supply clerk.
Grandpa Julie left for Casablanca, French Morocco, for the Invasion of Africa on January 14, 1943. He was transported to Africa on the Santa Rosa, a South American passenger liner. The Santa Rosa traveled with two other passenger liners, the Santa Paula and the Santa Maria, one of which was sunk by a submarine in the Atlantic Ocean. My grandfather regrets that he does not know which of the two boats was sunk. The Santa Rosa arrived in Casablanca on January 25, 1943.
Depending on his assignment, Grandpa Julie drove a supply jeep, an ambulance or a half‑track. He had to pick up supplies and deliver them to his battalion. Sometimes he had to drive to the stockade and pick up dead prisoners in the ambulance. The jeep was used for transportation of officers. Sometimes Grandpa was assigned Guard Duty. He did this for a meeting between President Roosevelt, Sir Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.
During his time in Africa, Grandpa Julie drove from Casablanca, through Algiers, Algeria to Tunis, Tunisia four times. Each trip was like driving from New York City to Miami, but in Africa there were no real roads between the cities. The rides were very bumpy and dirty. He also drove to other cities including Oran.
In May of 1943, the German Resistance in Africa ended. Grandpa helped collect prisoners after the surrender of Rummel’s troops. He was then given orders to go to the island of Sicily. The Invasion of Sicily began July 9, 1943. Grandpa didn’t give me much information on the fighting. When the Americans took Messina, the Sicilian Campaign ended on August 17, 1943. Next, Grandpa was assigned to travel to mainland (the peninsula of) Italy where on various details he traveled north through Naples, Rome, Pisa, Milan and Venice. Grandpa participated in the surrender of Himmler’s troops. Heinrich Himmler was a German Nazi leader and chief of the secret police.
Grandpa saw the eruption of Mount Vesuvius because he was stationed twenty miles away. In Pisa, he climbed the leaning tower for which he said you really walk at an angle. Grandpa climbed the 12 floors and rang the bell at the top. In Milan and Naples, Grandpa was able to buy tickets to go to the opera on his days off. Tickets cost $2.00 in U.S. dollars.
Some of the good things that Grandpa remembers about North Africa were being given permission to use a jeep and drive to Jewish Holy Day services in Oran. Unfortunately it was rainy season and the jeep was open. He also recalls collecting unused supplies (canned milk) from his fellow soldiers and giving the milk to a Jewish family who had just had a baby.
Grandpa met some nice people in both North Africa and Italy. During a training session to teach French Moroccans to operate equipment, Grandpa met a man named Maurice Benamu. He asked Grandpa to get a message to his sister, Suzette, on his next trip to Oran. Grandpa was welcome in the Benamu home from then on. My Great Aunt Helen began writing to Suzette and continued to do this for some time. The Benamu family came to the United States after the war ended, and contacted Grandpa. Grandpa was married, so he and Grandma kept in touch with Suzette and her family until the 1970’s.
In Italy, Grandpa remembers the Italian prisoners to be friendly. One prisoner that Grandpa transported was General Molinari. He hadn’t eaten in two days so Grandpa gave him a can of C-Ration and clean water to drink. The General was so grateful that he kissed Grandpa on both cheeks and gave Grandpa a medal from Mussolini. The U.S. Army doesn’t let soldiers wear foreign medals on their uniform and Grandpa eventually lost the medal.
The saddest part of the war for Grandpa was the fact that too many lives were lost for no good purpose. Grandpa did not know any friends from home who died overseas. He also did not know anyone stationed at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed.
Grandpa was given transportation and orders to report to Leghorn (Livorno) for his return to the United States on September 37 1945. He left Italy on September 22, 1945, twenty days after the surrender of Japan. He traveled on a boat, built by the Kaiser Company, for twenty‑one days and eventually landed in Boston by mistake. They were supposed to arrive in New York City and eventually Fort Dix, New Jersey. To get there the Army put the soldiers on a three‑day train ride. Grandpa remembers this as the best ride he ever took. It was a true hero’s return with children waving American flags in every town they passed through.
After several days in Fort Dix for debriefing, Grandpa was discharged and given a train ticket to New York’s Penn Station. His parents, two of his brothers and a nephew, met him there.
Listed on his discharge papers was some interesting information. Grandpa’s rank was sergeant. He had received three medals for service, which are the American Service Medal, the EuropeanAfrican-Middle Eastern Service Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. For three years, seven months and twenty-eight days of service, Grandpa earned a total of $1,025.00.
In researching and writing this report I learned that soldiers in the army have good times as well as bad. I also learned that my Grandfather was part of history. Grandpa told me about a different part of the world involved in the war that I did not read about before.