Name: Leo Cannini
Date of Birth: 1925
Birth Place: Melrose Park, IL
War: World War II
Date of Service: 1944 – 1946
Branch: US Army
Unit: 28th Infantry Division
Locations: France, Belguim, Germany, Luxembourg
Prisoner of War: No
Today is June 24th, 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 member of our library board and a World War II veteran. Today we will be speaking with Mr. Leo Cannici. Leo served in the United States Army from March of 1944 thru January of 1946. The highest rank he achieved was his PFC. He served with the 28th Infantry Division in Europe during World War II. This interview is being conducted for the Veterans’ History Project at the Library of Congress.
Let’s go ahead and get started.
Leo, why don’t you tell us when and where you were born and a little bit about your family?
I was born here in Melrose Park. It was my mom, my father; I had a brother, and myself.
What did your parents do for a living?
My mother was a housewife. My father worked public service, gas company.
You attended high school at Proviso?
And when did you graduate from Proviso?
Can you tell us what you remember and where you were when you heard about Pearl Harbor on December 7th?
I worked at the drug store right on the corner 19th and Lake, Leventhal’s. Remember Leventhal’s? Yeah.
What was your reaction like when you first heard about that?
Well at that time I was still in high school so I didn’t really care.
It didn’t really affect you yet?
After you graduated from high school you went to work?
Oh, you got drafted while you were in high school?
Yeah. I wasn’t supposed to but I was 17 years old. The draft board sent me downtown anyway. Remember Fluke? I had a big argument with him. I said I’m only 17, I haven’t graduated yet. He said so what. He said you gotta go down. So I went down went through the line. The guy says what are you doing here? I told him. You’re drafted you’ll get called in 6 months. Sure enough 6 months later. So then I went down a second time in January, I think it was, no, no it was second time yeah, not even January, at that time they told me I was 108 lbs, they wouldn’t take me. Well that’s ok with me. So then another 6 months another draft so next time I was only 108lbs but they need you now, that was after D-Day, France, so that’s when I made it.
What was the reaction like of your parents when they found out you were going overseas?
They didn’t like it. What can you do? My brother got killed, well he got killed later. He got killed in World War II. He was younger than me.
Now did your parents see you off when you left Melrose Park to go to basic training?
O yeah. I lived here all my life.
So where did you do your basic training?
Fort McClellan, Alabama
Now what was that like?
O wonderful place (laughs) to be from. It’s bad, bad news I’ll tell you. It wasn’t a good place. It was cold too.
Even down south it was still cold?
Yeah. It was March. March in Alabama it was cold, rain, snow.
What kind of things did they teach you to do?
I was gonna be a machine gunner. Heavy Weapons Company.
How did you get picked as a machine gunner?
I don’t know. I didn’t I didn’t say I wanted anything. I didn’t even want a rifle. Well they give you a rifle in training anyway. But I ended up in Heavy Weapons Company in the 28th.
So Heavy Weapons Company is armed mostly with machine guns?
Mortars, artillery, and machine guns, heavy weapons, .30 caliber mortar. I was the smallest guy and carried the biggest load.
Yeah I thought that I was kind of curious. You’re kind of a little guy and they give you the big machine gun to carry?
When I got there, the first gunner, the first battle I was in with him, he got killed so I was next in line, so I got to be first gunner right away. It was okay. I still made it though.
It worked out okay?
So how long were you in Alabama?
Then after that they shipped you overseas?
Yeah, well I came home.
You had some leave first?
I went to Fort Lee, Maryland, then left from there.
They shipped you overseas from Maryland?
How long was the voyage overseas for you?
Did you like it?
It was OK on a boat except for the zigzagging and trying to dodge the Germans.
Oh the German U boats?
U boats yea.
Did you get seasick?
No I didn’t get seasick that time.
You’re one of the first people who didn’t get seasick. Almost everyone else we’ve spoken with got seasick.
Is that right? Not even seasick. I was surprised. I got seasick later on when I went to the Bahamas. (Laughs) Figure that one out 30 years later.
So they shipped you from Maryland to England?
Do you remember where in England you landed?
Now what was your first impression when you got to England? What did you think of that country?
It was raining when I got there. It was raining when I left.
So you set up, you went to some camp in England?
Yeah, I don’t even remember the name of it.
How long were you there before they shipped you to France?
Just two days?
So when was it that you arrived in France? Do you remember?
Let’s see. We got there the 27th I think. Yeah, the 27th of August.
Of August? So this was a couple of months after D-Day?
So did you land on the Normandy beaches?
Which port did you go into then?
So from there you went though France?
Well from there I had to catch up to the 28th because they were passed St. Lo at that time.
Ok so they had just finished with St. Lo?
I don’t know the name of it though. It was closer to, uh maybe closer to Paris. I don’t know.
Nancy is further south. Yeah, this was outside of Paris so I ended up in Paris by the way. My division was the one that paraded.
Tell us about that. What was that like?
I was only there one day. We got there the 28th. I joined the group. The captain told me, he says you came at a good time. I said why. He said well we’re gonna march in Champs Elysees in Paris. He said, isn’t that nice? I said oh yeah. (Laughs) It was wonderful. So I went. It was good you know for the first time walking. It was a long walk too. We had 15, 000 men well less than that cause some got killed. Our division handled 15,000.
So you were all in your dress uniforms parading down Paris?
Did you have much contact with any of the French civilians while you were there?
No not then.
We were on the move all the time.
After you got through marching through Paris where did you end up next?
We went to uh (to John) you know where did we go? Siegfried Line. Battle of Siegfried Line.
Is that where you saw your first action?
Yeah well I saw a little bit before that but that was the major one.
Can you tell us about your first action? Do you remember?
I was scared. (Laughs) Well when you’re not used to people shooting at you, you know. But I made it okay so that’s all I can say.
What was the Siegfried Line?
Siegfried Line. The Germans built a line in France. It was like a concrete, about that high. Wasn’t it John?
John: They had forts and lookouts.
Yeah. They look out.
So is this just a long defensive line to be built to stop the American army? So the 28th had to attack that line?
Yeah. We got through it. Finally.
How long did that take? Do you remember?
I don’t remember. Do you remember? (to John)
John: a week.
You were south of there.
John: A week. We stayed a few days.
I don’t know. We were there a few days, I don’t remember how long. Less than a week. I think we started giving them a run. They started to retreat.
Throughout the battle you were carrying this .30 caliber machine gun?
No I carried the tripod.
The tripod? Someone else carried the gun?
That’s the heaviest about 60 pounds.
Yea and I’m 100 well back then I was 120, I was 108 when I went in.
How many men are in a machine gun crew?
The gunner, the second gunner, and the four carriers. They carried ammunition.
And you were a second gunner?
I was just started. Then two days and I ended up to be first gunner.
After the Siegfried Line, then where did you unit go?
Let me see where we went. We started to going into the Hurtgen Forest.
Can you tell us about that?
Yeah. A lot of bombs and shells and mortars. We lost a lot of men there. A lot of men. We attacked there for four days. In the town of Vossenack. It started to get cold then. Remember John? November. We stayed there till Patton got us out of there. After we were captured. Took us to Luxembourg to a rest area. We weren’t there too long then the bombs started. It was a heck of a rest area. It was bad.
Was the 28th part of Patton’s 3rd Army?
No, 1st Army. We were attached to Patton and attached to, who was the guy in the 7th Army. Remember? I can’t remember his name. Patton was the 3rd Army. He got us out. Had to get out.
What were the conditions like in the Hurtgen Forest?
Not to jazzy. You never know when you‘re gonna get killed. Shrapnel, they got all the trees, just splatter all over. We lost a lot of men there.
Was it just because it was a very thick forest?
Yeah. I’ll never forget that forest.
So you got pulled out of the forest and went into a rest area until the Battle of the Bulge.
So your unit then had to head for the Bulge to try to stop the Germans?
What was that like?
We had to go through France after we left there. Then we went to some other towns, we went through. Then after that we went to 3rd Infantry Division in Colmar, France. Is that what they called it? They were down there for I don’t know months. They couldn’t break the town. They couldn’t capture it. So they were so bad. That’s when they came from Africa. They were so bad shot up. So then we replaced them and took four days, we took the town, the city I think it was a city wasn’t it.
John: Yeah. It was a city.
Yeah. It wasn’t a town. It took about four days. We had more men than they had.
So was there a lot of street fighting?
Well to me there was no street fighting ‘cause the machine guns were further back than the riflemen.
So you would stay back with the machine guns and help the Infantry up front?
Yeah. Where else did we go? After there we came we went to the Rhine the Rhine River.
John: Off the Rhine River. (Garbled)
Yeah. There was another river.
John: The Meuse River
Yeah the Meuse River.
So this would have been in what, early 1945?
That was in ’45 yeah.
John: That was in ‘44
Huh, I don’t think so John. I didn’t write the dates down.
This would have been after the Battle of the Bulge? Right?
That you would have crossed ok. So probably 45 then.
Maybe in Spring of ’45 ‘cause the war ended in May?
We went to Colmar was when after Christmas wasn’t it. It was after Christmas.
Anyway that’s when we went there. It wasn’t as cold there though. Colmar. It was further south.
Did you have much contact then with French civilians after your division took that town?
Some not that much. No time.
Just keep on moving?
Keep on moving.
Kaiserlautern. Another one. It’s hard to remember the name. You forget them or you want to forget them.
No the towns. England, France, Luxemburg. That’s where I copied it from.
So you crossed the Rhine to go into Germany?
The Rhine was in Germany.
John: The Rhine was a German river. We crossed the German Rhine River.
What was the crossing like?
It wasn’t too bad for me.
The fighting had already ended in that area?
Yeah. It wasn’t bad. We had them on the move then.
You went into Germany in probably early 1945?
Did your unit see any action in Germany?
Do you remember some of the towns you fought through?
Kaiserlautern was one of them. That was a bigger town. Some of these small towns you don’t remember the names.
You just drive right through them?
They don’t even put them in the book.
John: Small farm communities
Small farm community.
Yeah. After that then it was the end. After this. It was over May 7th. I can’t remember the name of it though. I don’t remember. I looked in the book. It didn’t say nothing about that. That’s where I got most of the information, from the book.
Can you tell me about some of the men you served with? Did you have in close friends you fought with?
The one close friend I got he’s still living in South Chicago, Chicago Heights. In fact I haven’t talked to him in almost a year. Him and I were, by the time I hit the beach ‘cause he was already there when I got there. When they were making an attack on when we were leaving the town when that morning he told me he says, I’m gonna get hit today. I go what did you say? He said I’m gonna get hit today. I said you never know what’s gonna happened so forget about that. Well they made the attack on this town, then a couple hours later shells are coming in bombs. He was right next door to me you know. He said guess what? I said what? I got hit. He says yeah, I got hit, right here. So he left us and they brought him back. They ended up bringing him in England. He was there for about a month, month and a half, then he came back. We were going along you know and we were going to make it to Colmar again. In Colmar he said you know what, don’t tell me, you’re gonna get hit again. I says forget about it. Sure enough, this was in the morning at about four o’clock in the afternoon, they got him. I says
Yeah shrapnel. He ended up in the hospital again. Every once in a while I give it to him, you know, nuts! He was about 3 years older than me. He was a heck of a guy. We were friends ever since.
Can you tell us what the conditions were like for you going through France and Germany? Just the living conditions day to day? What did you eat? How did you sleep?
Oh, I’d sleep in foxholes.
So every night you had to dig a foxhole.
Oh yeah, unless you found a building to get into. Like in Vossenack, you heard of Forester? It was a house, it wasn’t a house but the bottom was only there, we got inside of it. It was like a basement you know. That’s where we stayed for 3 days. We still had to go out on maneuvers the captain said we had to go. We stayed in a car shack. Crazy. We had to do it. In fact I camped with the captain. He never came back. I wonder what ever happened to him. They sent him to England and he never came back. I don’t know what happened. He got hit in the back somewhere.
Was this is in the Hurtgen Forest where he got wounded?
This last one was in Colmar. The other one I don’t remember the name of the town.
What did you guys do for food?
To eat? Once in a while we got a meal.
A hot meal?
Usually C rations or K rations. John liked those didn’t he?
What were C rations?
Cans. They were cans.
Oh canned food?
Yea the other ones were dry.
Once in awhile you got a hot meal?
What was that usually?
It was pretty good sometimes, depends on the cooks you got. When you get in a rest area, you got a good meal. You can use.
We weren’t that close.
So the war ended in May of 1945, what did your unit do after the war ended? Did you have occupation duty?
Yeah. 5 months. Something like that. Yeah, I think it was 5 months. In Milwaukee County Jail.
Milwaukee County Jail?
Yeah, G.I. Prisoners there.
So after you left Germany you had to. . .?
Well we went. When we came back to the states we went on furlough for 3 weeks I think it was. Then we had to report to Camp Sheldon, Mississippi. Our division was supposed to make D-day on Japan. The head of our division, Cota, he was no good. He volunteered our division to make D-day on Japan. I don’t want to tell you what they said. They got everybody in the whole division. They had big speakers all over. He made a speech you know. When he said that you should have heard what happened. I don’t wanna say what happened. Everybody hated that guy. I think he was worse than Patton. Patton was bad. But anyway, so we went to Shelby, then stayed there for about a week. They told us everybody where to go. If you didn’t have enough points you couldn’t get out. I didn’t have enough points so I waited about three or four days. I happened to be good friends with a master sergeant and I told him find out where I’m going. He said I’m gonna try. He came back a couple times and says, no he won’t tell me nothing. Finally one day he says, Captain wants to see you. I knew right then what it was, I had to go but I didn’t know where. So he says we sat down talk a little bit. He says where do you think you would like to go for the next four or five months. He says you got a choice. We have three places Camp Gordon Johnston, Georgia, some place in Pennsylvania, I don’t remember the name of it, and Milwaukee County Jail. I said the jail. He says yeah. You would be a guard for prisoners. He didn’t say what kind of prisoners. So I figured they’d be German or you know. So he says well I see you live in Chicago. I said yeah, Chicago suburbs. He says how about if I send you to Milwaukee. I said that’d be nice. So I went to Milwaukee. When I thought I got there I see remember Pearl. I see him, I says that guy looks like Pearl. Sure enough he was gonna leave too. I said where are you going? He says well I’ll be out. He was older than me. He says where you gotta go. I said Milwaukee. He says what’s there? I told him, you know. So I went to Milwaukee. He told my parents when he got back where I was going. So after that when I got there they put me on first shift, which you started at five in the morning to one in the afternoon. This guy didn’t tell me that if you stay in the prison area, if anybody tries to escape you gotta chase him. So Tony Mucerino, remember him and Mario Defero. I see them both there. One was on the third shift, one was on the second shift. So they ask me what shift did you go on? I says first. Tony says I wanted the first shift. I said yeah but you’re gonna get out before me so that’s why since he was there before me. So anyway everyday at one o’clock I would walk two blocks to the bus, take it downtown and don’t come back ‘til eleven at night. I did that for the 5 months. I would come home every weekend at 1:00, would leave there catch a train and come back to Melrose. Yeah.
Did you ever have to chase a prisoner?
No, no. Most of them were G.I. prisoners. No foreign prisoners.
These were men who had gone AWOL or committed small crimes?
I don’t know. I never asked them. I just assigned them to the job they had to do, that’s all. I had a cell block, fifty guys. Every day I would get different ones. I had to keep them busy, otherwise they’d get in trouble, more trouble than they were in. But I was never a guard to begin with anyways.
So you did this until about January of ‘46?
Then you were discharged on January 12th.
From there I wnet to, one day I went to Camp let me write it down in Wisconsin, Camp McCoy. That’s where I got discharged.
Then from there you headed home to Melrose Park.
Yep I took the train from there all the way to Melrose, no, I got off at Chicago.
Then you took a streetcar home from Chicago?
No someone came to pick me up. I don’t know who came. Somebody. My parents sent somebody to pick me up. That’s it.
So you moved back home and started work?
No. Well before I went to service I was working for Buick for 8 months. I was working when I got out of school, I was working for this little company. After we gotta out of service we got so much from the state. What was it, $20 a month was it? But I stayed home up to August, but then I says I gotta get a job. In the meantime I talked to this guy from Buick. I got to know him. He said I’ll call you as soon as we get going. They had taken over the plant from Buick. I went to International Harvester. So then I waited around three or four months. I checked with him he said no nothing yet. Then finally in August he calls me and says I got something come on in and see if you like it, you know. So I went it and talked, he says you want it and I says yeah. It was $37 a week. So I took the job. You know I stayed at the office for 8 months. Then I was working for Leventhal’s too. So then I told him well, I say I gotta quit this job. So he says ok. So then I was working there, working 12 hours a day. You know it was good money. After that then I was drafted. After that then I came back here. After you know, it was all over with. Buick was a good plant.
Was that the plant that made the aircraft engines?
What kind of work did you do there?
We had girls making the packages, parts packages for engines. They used to put them in boxes and everything. Me and another guy used to feed the line. We’d give them stuff in the morning and at lunch time. After that the next shift comes in. Then the next shift. There was three shifts. It was an easy job, Bob, Danny, and me. Real easy job I’ll tell you. You had to hide all day most of the time. Jimmy Green was a boss and Eddie Doyle. We got along nice. After I worked there I went to the service and came back. I worked for Antonello for a while, part time. Then I went to Buick, then I went to Harvester. I was still working there part time for him when I wasn’t working. Other than that, I’m still here so.
Did you have any problems readjusting to civilian life after you go out of the army?
No. No problems.
Do you ever keep in touch with any other members of your unit?
Just the one, well another guy but then he moved out of state. I never heard from him again. I don’t know where he went.
Well thank you very much for sharing your memories with us today.