Anthony P Muscerino
Name: Anthony P Muscerino
Date of Birth: September 22, 1924
Place of Birth: Melrose Park, IL
Dates of Service: 1943 – 1945
Branch: US Army
Unit: 61st Chemical, 80th Infantry, 318 Infantry
Location: Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes, Middle East
Prisoner of War: No
Today is May 15, 2009. This is Fidencio Marbella with the Melrose Park Public Library in Illinois. Also present are Heidi Beazley, Reference Librarian here at Melrose Park and John Misasi, a WWII veteran. Today we will be speaking with Mr. Anthony P. Muscerino. Anthony served in the United States Army from 1943 through 1945. The highest rank he achieved was as a PFC. Anthony served in Europe, primarily. This interview is being conducted for the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. Okay, let’s go ahead and get started. Tony, why don’t you tell us when and where you were born and a little bit about your family when you were growing up.
I was born in Melrose Park on September 22, 1924. I was born in Melrose Park.
Did you have a big family?
I had three sisters and a brother. There were five of us. My oldest sister died with diphtheria in 1919 and my second oldest sister died with a kidney operation in 1937. Then my other sister, she passed away, I can’t remember the year, about eighteen years ago and then my brother passed away in, I want to say about five years ago.
What did your parents do for a living?
My dad worked at Richardson Company on Lake Street here in Melrose Park and they bought their home in the west end of Melrose Park because it was walking distance to Richardson. He died of diphtheria, pneumonia in 1927. He was only thirty four years old when he died. So my mother never remarried and she had the four children and she took care of us.
Did she have to go to work?
Oh yeah. She cleaned housed for a person for a little while after my dad died and then she went to work in this man’s factory and she was able to, he let her put us off to school and then she’d come home and feed us lunch and then she’d go back to work. She did that until, through the war years.
Oh, yes, but she took care of us.
So you went to high school at Proviso?
I quit high school after freshman year. I went to work.
Okay, and where did you go to work?
Well at that time I went to work at a bowling alley and I was making about thirteen, fourteen dollars a week, which was almost as much as my mother made.
So I’d give her maybe ten, eleven dollars. I kept a dollar, two dollars. And then I got a job at Richardson Company in Melrose Park when I was sixteen. I was there when the war broke out. When the war broke out, the division at Richardson Company that I was with, they closed that division down, they shipped it to Indianapolis and then they laid me off for a while and I went to work at the steel works that was located on 25th in Melrose Park. The Richardson Company called me back and I went back to work there and I was a pressman. We were making laminated sheets. So I was there until I went into the service. And then when I came out of the service I entered barber college and I was working at Richardson so I could make some money. So I’d go to barber college during the day and at night I worked at Richardson. I went to work in Maywood in 1946 and I bought that shop a year later. I bought it in 1947.
Where was this in Maywood?
It was on 56 S. 19th, right off of St. Charles.
Right down the street from here.
Yeah. I was there until 1962 and I opened up a place with my wife and myself; a beauty shop and barbershop in the west end of Melrose in 1962. In 1963 I bought a condemned building and I built a brand new beauty salon and barbershop on 37th and Lake. Then I was there, we wanted to start taking vacations but we couldn’t do it with a barbershop, so my wife and I, we opened up a sandwich shop and a bar. We were there until we retired in 1987.
Okay, let’s go back to your early days here in Melrose Park. Do you remember where you were when you heard about Pearl Harbor being attacked?
Yes, we were at the house. We had some friends. It was Sunday morning and we were all there when we heard it on the radio. There were guys already starting to get drafted. They were going into the service before the war. That’s when we were all together.
So when you heard the news did you all figure, okay we’re all going to have to go off to war now?
That’s what we thought, yeah because with the bombing, that was a pretty patriotic thing. But when we left here from Melrose Park at the train station, that was one of the biggest groups of guys that ever left from this particular station, from Melrose Park. They shipped us to Camp Grant.
Where was Camp Grant?
It was outside of Rockford, in Illinois here.
Is that where you were actually inducted into the army?
I was inducted in Camp Grant.
How long were you at Camp Grant?
Oh, only until they auditioned us and decided what kind of company they would put us with. I was put with a chemical company. I served with; there must have been seven of us from Melrose Park and Bellwood in the same company.
That’s good, so you were with people you knew.
Oh yeah, I knew them. I knew them before we went in.
So what, tell us what the sendoff was like when you got on the train to go to Camp Grant.
Well, we were all young, so we’re all eighteen, nineteen years old. Some were happy, some were sad.
Did your families come to see you off as well?
No, my mother, she was working.
What exactly does a chemical company do? Can you tell us?
Well, we handled all the white phosphorus mortars and flamethrowers and chemical stuff in the case of chemical warfare. We handled all the gas masks and we were a service outfit for the chemical companies. They never used chemicals, so . . .
Yeah, but everybody had a gas mask and they used a lot of white phosphorus, 4.2 mortars.
What’s white phosphorus used for?
Well, it covered the ground. I don’t know exactly. They used a lot of flamethrowers too. In the hand to hand fighting they used flamethrowers. We didn’t use as many in Europe as they used in Japan.
How did you end up in a chemical company?
I don’t know. When they gave us our IQ or something it had something to do with it. Then they shipped you to the infantry or they shipped you to the signal corps. We wound up with the chemical company.
So they gave you tests? Aptitude tests?
Yeah, aptitude tests when you first got in. They did that right at Camp Grant, after induction.
The first thing they did.
First thing they did, yeah. Then they’d send you to different companies.
So after you were assigned to a chemical company at Camp Grant, where did you end up next?
They sent us to Selma, Alabama. They put up army barracks there and we took our basic there and then they sent us to, I’m not sure if it was maybe the latter part of April, they sent us to California to take some desert training because the war was still going on in Africa. So we took our desert training there and then we were getting ready to ship out and the war was over in Africa, so they put us on a ship and they shipped us out to England. We sat there until the invasion.
So where did you ship out from in the US?
New Jersey? And how long was that sea voyage?
The sea voyage was a little short of two weeks, I think.
Was that the first time you had been on a big ship like that?
How was it?
Bad! Seasick all the way!
All the way?
All the way! I wanted to die!
Do you remember the name of the ship that you were on?
The Empress of Australia. It was a Kaiser ship. It was a converted troop carrier in WWI.
Not very comfortable?
Very uncomfortable! Terrible.
So they shipped you over as part of a large convoy?
I believe there were over one hundred ships in our convoy at that time. We had to go in convoys because of the submarines. There was a lot of protection with the destroyers with us. We were on the ships and they didn’t go too fast. We had a storm and sometimes we were on top of the waves and sometimes we were on the bottom of the waves. It’s frightening! We got to England then and we did some more training in England.
Where did you land in England?
I think we landed in Scotland because they had the deeper docking for us.
You had some training in England?
We were at quite a few places in England. Some of our companies were living in billets with English people and some were in Cardiff and some were in Wales and some were in Taunton. So at different depots, they were getting different training. We also got together when we got ready to go into France. We went into France with the Third Army, I’m not sure how many days after D-Day, but we all landed with the Third Army, Patton’s army, after they secured the beachheads the Third Army went in.
So this would have been around July of ’44 or June?
Yeah, the early part of, the latter part of June, first part of July, yeah. I can’t remember, I tried to but I can’t remember when we did go, but we were all based in England. In England all there were soldiers all over. Thousands of GIs there.
Did you have much contact with any of the British civilians?
No, but with some of the girls, you know. But most of the British guys were all in the service. At that time when we got there, they were still bombing a little bit. They were still bombing in London. The U-2 [V-2] rockets came out. They were shooting from Belgium into London. Those people were sleeping in their shelters all night. There were shelters all over England because the Germans were bombing every night.
How was your training in England? What kinds of things did they teach you?
Well, not much, we were in a depot and handling stuff and making sure everybody got what they ordered. If your company was there, and you needed so many bombs or 4.2 mortars or flamethrowers, we made sure you got them.
So then you shipped over to France in June.
Do you remember what your first impression was like when you first saw France?
Well, we climbed off the ship, we climbed down in the beachhead. There was no firing coming at us at the time, but you could see how the guys in front of us were suffering. So we got there and everybody was on the beachhead and that’s when they bombed St. Lo. The planes were up there for hours, four, five hours bombing St. Lo. The minute they bombed St. Lo, Patton’s army took off on the breakthrough and we went to Brest in France; they had the submarine pens there. We captured the submarine pens. From there they put us on a truck and went across to Nancy. That’s where I was in Nancy when I asked for a transfer because I wanted to get into an infantry outfit and they sent me to a replacement depot in Le Mans, France. From there, when the Bulge broke out they sent me to a replacement company. They sent us to the 80th Division. They had come up from southern France too and we all joined the Third Army up there.
So the Third Army was fighting in the Battle of the Bulge?
The Third Army came in, they were a little further south and they came in to help on the Battle of the Bulge.
What was it like fighting under those conditions? We had heard that it was very cold and very snowy.
It was cold. I wasn’t up long. I went up in the second week with the 80th, the second week of December. I was only with them three weeks when I got hit. They were replaced, they lost so many men that they were replaced at least one and a half times, what their divisional strength was.
Can you tell us what your feelings were like right before you first saw action? Did you give it much thought at the time?
Well, actually you gave it little thought because all the while we landed in France, we slept on the ground. We never had billets, we had pup tents. The fact I never slept on a bed until I got wounded. That was from June until January. We slept in barns, we slept on the ground, we slept on tree branches. That’s why you have young kids go to war.
They don’t know any better.
No, our average age of our company was nineteen and a half years old.
That’s with our officers. Most of us were eighteen years old.
The officers were probably only in their twenties.
The officers were twenty-one, twenty-two.
So you went into action with the 80th Infantry Division.
And you were on the line for about three weeks?
About three weeks. We knew a German, the Germans were getting ready to attack us and we knew which way they were coming so they sent our platoon out to a farmhouse and that’s when, we were in the farmhouse when the Germans overran us. They knocked out our communications and first thing in the morning, about four, five o’clock in the morning, then they surrounded us. But for some reason, we had a Jewish kid with us that spoke German and we were all wounded and they wanted us to surrender. No German, he said no, I’m Jewish, I’m not going to surrender. So for some reason they surrendered because they knew their part of the war was almost over and they weren’t trained soldiers and they wanted to get it over with so they surrendered and Company, with their binoculars, saw some action going up there, so they sent scouts to see what was wrong and there were about fifteen, sixteen German soldiers that surrendered. So they sent in the medics to pick us up. When they picked us up, I think I laid about four hours. I was hit in the legs, my left leg. I didn’t know how bad it was because I had my leggings on and my boots on. So they put us on the back of a jeep and they had two litters on the back of the jeep and they brought us into an evac hospital. They had the first surgery in the evac hospital and a day or two days later, they shipped us to Paris. From there I was laying in a bed there and I felt some pulsation going on in my leg. One of the nurses, I said, you know I’ve got a funny feeling in my leg, because I had eighteen pieces of shrapnel in my leg. She felt it and she said “oh boy” and she called a couple of doctors, they came in and looked at it and he said you have an aneurysm in there. The hand grenade cut my artery and veins apart. They couldn’t operate there in the field hospitals, so they had to send me back to Galesburg, Illinois for surgery.
Now coming back, did you fly or were you on a ship?
We were on a hospital convoy coming back to the states.
You were wounded by a hand grenade that one of the Germans threw at you?
Yeah, we were in a farmhouse and they were throwing hand grenades in.
How many men were with you?
Our squad, we had ten men to our squad. Usually they’re twelve man squads but a couple of guys were hit.
So you had ten men and these fifteen Germans attacked you and they ended up surrendering.
It was an act of God I think!
Did you get a chance to meet any of these German soldiers? Talk to them?
No, but I was able to see them because I was here and they were there.
So after you were hit you were sent to Paris and from Paris on to . . .
Well then, then to Cherbourg. We hopped on a ship to go back to England. So we went back to England, then to Scotland there in an army hospital. They just prepared us to go back to the States, to a ship ready to go back to the States.
So this was January or February of ’45?
I got hit in January, January 8 of 1945.
And then you were shipped back to the states from England.
Yeah. I think it says on here when I was shipped back to the States. March 17 I got back to the States.
How was your return voyage?
Oh, this was bad. I was on a hospital ship with the litter cases and the amputees and some guys lost their lives and the smell after seven, eight days. The smell was something else and the water was rough. So a lot of times, I was able to walk a little bit with crutches so I’d get out of that and go on top of the ship and look out.
Get some air.
Oh boy. We got back and in New York they had all the fireships and everything had all their horns going because that was one of the biggest bunch of soldiers coming back at that time. At that time we had some young outfits come in there. They were only in the service six months and they were shipped right there and they weren’t in the service eight months and they were back home wounded in the hospital ships.
Were most of these casualties from the Battle of the Bulge or throughout Europe?
They were throughout Europe but a lot of them were at the Bulge because of when they broke through, they broke through the 28th Infantry Division and they just destroyed the infantry division.
So the 80th had to move up and try and stop them?
The 80th had to move up, yes and help out in Bastogne.
So you were wounded in Luxembourg?
Yeah, they said Luxembourg, but I don’t know exactly if the Bulge was in Belgium or Luxembourg but it was through that central area there. And there, we were in the farmhouse and the Luxembourg people, they spoke German, so the Germans were there, the Americans were there and the Germans came back there and now the Americans were back there. I never saw the Luxembourg people, they were in the basement of their farmhouse so they never came up. We had the upstairs and it was all blown apart when we left with the hand grenades they were throwing inside.
So you were on the ship heading back to the States, did you pass by the Statue of Liberty?
Did you see it?
We saw it and they had the fireboats there spraying the water and their horns blasting.
Then the shipped docked and you were able to get off the ship. Did they have any kind of ceremony or welcome back party for you?
Well, they just brought us to a hospital and they had doctors look at us and decide where they were going to send us, what hospital in the States. They sent us all over the States. We wound up in Galesburg, Illinois.
They sent you by train to Galesburg?
What was that ride like, being wounded.
Well, I wasn’t as bad as other people because it was the leg, the lower part of the leg and I was able to walk, get around a little bit. Some of the guys couldn’t get around.
So in Galesburg, you had your surgery?
I had my surgery in Galesburg, must’ve been sometime in May of ’45. They repaired the arterial venous aneurysm. I was there until, I want to say August and they sent us to San Antonio, Texas for recuperation and we got in San Antone for about two weeks and then they reassigned us to Milwaukee as a prison guard, American prisoners that were AWOL, different stuff. We were to guard the American prisoners in Milwaukee.
You did that until you were discharged in December?
Discharged in October 21st I think. Yeah, I was discharged October 21st.
Here we go, 31st October?
31st October, 1945.
Now where were you when you first heard the war in Europe had ended?
I was in Galesburg, Illinois.
What was your reaction like when you heard the European war was over?
Oh, we were very happy because I think, I’m not sure if I was operated on or if I was getting ready to be operated on at that particular time. It was one or the other. I’m not sure when the war in Europe was over. When was the war in Europe over John?
About May of ’45?
August, no it wasn’t August I know, May I think it was, ’45.
I think the war in the Pacific ended probably in August of ’45.
I know it ended because I was a prison guard at that time, I was up in Milwaukee. We were in the city of Milwaukee, was crazy, people all over. The whole city came out.
For V-J Day?
Oh yeah, everybody was out in the middle, everything was blasting.
How did you celebrate?
Well, we were young. We went to the bars. We were in Milwaukee and then we were on the outside of Milwaukee, I don’t exactly how many miles out of Milwaukee, but everybody treated us real good at the time.
So this would have been around August of ’45?
August and September of ’45. I think almost the latter part of August it was close to and into September.
So you stayed in the service for another month or two after that?
Yeah, until I got discharged around the 31st of October.
Where were you discharged from?
I was discharged from . . .
Was it in Michigan?
It was Michigan. I was separated from Fort Custer.
Okay, then after your discharge you made your way back to Melrose Park?
I came back to, well yeah I got on a train and came to Union Station and from there I took the, at the time there were streetcars. I took the streetcar home.
From downtown Chicago?
Did your family know you were coming when you showed up?
Oh yeah, because I was in the states I had called them up.
So you took the streetcar down Lake Street up to about 25th Avenue?
Yeah, I took it to 25th.
Then you had to walk?
Actually, the one I took was the Madison Street one. I took that to 19th and Main and then I walked to Lake Street. I don’t know if I took the street car there, I usually walked because I just lived on 32nd so we walked. We came to 19th and walked most of the time.
So what was your family’s reaction like when you walked in the door?
They were happy. I didn’t have them come downtown to meet me because it was kind of hard. But I was able to walk, wasn’t using crutches at the time anymore. So everything just waited until everything was healed up on me. So I spent January 8 until sometime in August in the hospital. After that, they were getting us ready to go back to Japan. It was just temporary duty as prison guards.
Once you were healed you were scheduled to go fight in the Pacific.
Yeah, scheduled to go back.
How did you feel about that?
Well, we weren’t too happy because we were gone already, almost a couple of years.
Thank God the war ended though before you had to go over there.
Oh yeah, it’s a different war than the war of today. The war of today, you’re not safe anyplace. Over there, they had said, I heard that it took ten men to supply one infantryman. In war today, the fight’s all over. It’s really different.
No such thing as a front line anymore.
No, the front line’s all over. Where a lot of people, American soldiers, they never saw a German, they never saw a German soldier. When we first got up there we went up to the division headquarters we said, man this was it. Then they put us on another convoy and went up to battalion headquarters and said this was it. From there, they sent us to company headquarters and now we knew that this was it because we were here and they were there. Some guys behind there, they were shooting 105s and ninety millimeters, but they were seven, eight, ten miles behind the line.
You were right there.
Right there. When you’re infantry, you’re right there.
Up close and personal.
Yeah, you were following the tanks. At that particular town we walked behind the tanks to go up. It was cold, so we could be behind the tanks and the tanks were nice and warm.
Because of the exhaust?
The exhaust on the tanks. But there, you slept on the ground too. Slept in a building, a blown out building, you slept on the ground too.
What were some of your commanding officers like, that you fought with?
Well, they were no, they weren’t what you would call professional soldiers.
Ninety day wonders?
Yup, they were all ninety day wonders. Our captain, he was some hillbilly from down south. And in our particular outfit we had some guys that left Germany, Jews and we had three Jewish, four, tech sergeants and sergeants that trained us. They left Germany and they, prior to Hitler, they came to America and joined the army. They were our cavalry, they trained us.
What were the men like in your outfit? Did you develop any kinds of close friendships with any of them?
Oh, it was a very close outfit because everybody was young and even the officers were young. They were all eighteen to twenty-two, twenty-three. Our captain must have been twenty-eight or twenty-nine.
An old man.
What was one of the first things you did when you got home? What did you want to do most?
Oh, I don’t know. Eat my mother’s cooking or something. See some, a lot of our friends were gone yet, that I grew up with and see the guys that didn’t leave that were deferred, jobs or were deferred because they weren’t physically fit.
But they cleaned out Melrose Park pretty good, huh John? I’d say, you went in before me, because he’s three years older than me.
Did you know John back then?
Yeah, sure, we all caddied together. No, my mother was Mary. Mary. My mother was the oldest.
So you caddied at Westward Ho?
Yes, it was a golf course in Northlake City, where Northlake Village is today. It’s not there anymore. But all of us kids from Melrose Park, we used to walk there.
That’s a bit of a walk.
Oh yeah, but North Avenue had hardly any traffic. There was no Stone Park, no Northlake. Just a golf course. And they just built in the thirties, they built North Avenue. When we were kids we used to go play over there. We used to walk, it’s only a couple of miles and we used to walk there and walk home. We were making, when I started it was seventy-five cents a round, so a lot of times we’d carry double, no we wouldn’t carry double, but we’d do thirty-six holes and make about two and a half dollars.
That’s a long day.
Oh yeah, but there was a string of guys waiting to go out. Married guys, nobody made money, it was tough in the thirties, the early thirties. The first time I caddied was in 1934. I was ten years old.
You were able to carry those clubs?
John: A lot of the guys would bring macaroni sandwiches for lunch.
And in fact one of our friends, he passed away; he wrote a book about it. It was a nice little book, D’Anza.
Yes, we have a couple of copies of that book here.
Yeah, he wrote that book about most of us guys from town. He mentioned most of us by name.
John: He’s got my name.
My name’s in there too.
John: There was a creek going through the golf course and there was an old icebox, a steel icebox in the water. I dove in and hit my chest and my knee.
There were a lot of us from Melrose Park that caddied there.
So this was over on Wolf Road?
Yeah, north of North Avenue and just west of, west side of Wolf Road.
Is this where Villa Scalabrini is today?
Yes, that’s it. Scalabrini bought the golf course.
John: The property that it’s on was donated to them. They made a deal with GTE, if they wanted to buy it, they had to give up all the land that was west, I mean east of the creek. [indecipherable]
That’s right, because they used to have a big factory there.
They still do, I think.
It’s still there?
Beautiful golf course. One of the nicest golf courses in the area.
John: We used to play every Monday.
Borrowed members’ clubs.
John: And we borrowed the balls too.
Did you lose a lot of them?
No, we were pretty good caddies. We didn’t lose too many balls.
Okay, so after the war, you went back to work?
Yeah, I took off a couple of weeks and went back to Richardson and when I was there I asked them, I was going to barber college, and they said sure, whenever you decide to come in, just punch in and work. They were very good to me. Richardson Company was very good to me and I did that until I graduated from barber college and I went to work in Maywood. I was there one year and I bought the shop in 1947.
So you had your own little business.
Yeah, and that’s when I got married in 1947.
Did you have any problems readjusting to civilian life after serving in the army?
Not really. Everybody was, we were all in the same boat. Just like during the depression, nobody thought they were poor because everybody was poor. Everybody, it was the same thing.
The Italians, with the dandelions they’d pick them this time of the year where they’re plentiful and real tender and they made terrific salads. It was like spinach or lettuce. Instead of lettuce they’d have dandelions. And then the Italians, they’d sauté them and fry them in garlic and olive oil and they’re very tasty.
That sounds good.
Yeah, it is. In fact if you go to some of your restaurants today they still have dandelions if you want them. But you see all the dandelions here, you’d see the people out there picking, especially in the spring of the year, they’d pick dandelions.
That seems to be a very common attitude of the WWII veterans we’ve spoken with, that was no big deal, you just went on with your life.
Yeah, and very few people talked about it.
You ever keep in contact with any fellow veterans that you served with?
Well, I did in Melrose Park because I was best man for one of them and then we saw the other one in Bellwood. Four or five of them we’ve seen. Ken Ventrella, he wound up with a radio station. He had passed away. Vic Springer, he was the oldest guy in our company. He was twenty-seven years old when he went in. We all felt sorry for him because we used to carry his pack for him, we called him the old man.
Vic was twenty-seven, he was the oldest and Pete Radjovitch and Tony Sars and there was Brooks and Ventrella. There were eight of us from Melrose Park that we knew and we all took off from the train station on 19th.
Do you have any other memories that you’d like to share with us today? Any other last thoughts?
Well, not really. I just wish they wouldn’t have gone to this war now. They killed three generations of young men. They killed a whole generation, two generations in WWII. In Korea they killed all the eighteen year olds then in Vietnam they destroyed the families and starting over here, they should have just went in and continued going in. He did what his father did, he stopped. We’re not occupiers.
Okay, well thank you very much for sharing your memories with us today. Thank you.