Melrose Park Memories

Digital collection of historic Melrose Park artifacts

Ralph Pasquerella

Ralph Pasquerella

Name: Ralph Pasquerella
Rank: T-4
Date of Birth: February 4, 1917
Birth Place: Melrose Park, IL
Dates of Service: 1942 – 1945
Branch: US Army
Division: 2nd Infantry Division
Location: Idaho, California, Europe
Prisoner of War: No

Audio Interview

Veterans Memorial Project
Veterans Memorial Project
Ralph Pasquerella

Interview Transcript

Today is May 6, 2009. This is Fidencio Marbella with the Melrose Park Public Library in Illinois. Also present is Julia Gregory, Reference Librarian here at Melrose Park. [also present was Ralph’s friend Frank Moccio] Today we will be speaking with Mr. Ralph Pasquerella. Ralph served in the United States Army from 1942 through 1945 in the 2nd Infantry Division. The highest rank he achieved was as a T-4. Ralph was born in Melrose Park, Illinois on February 4, 1917. This interview is being conducted for the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. Let’s go ahead and get started here. Ralph, why don’t you tell us when and where you were born and tell us a little bit about your family.

I was born on February 4, 1917 and my mother had four boys and four girls.

Was your family an immigrant family? Did they come here from Italy?

No. They were all born here. All born here.

So before the war started and you joined the U.S. Army, what were you doing? Were you working?

I was working at the Richardson Company in Melrose Park.

Okay, what did you . . .

I inspected battery boxes.

And how long did you work at Richardson’s?

Four years.

So the US actually entered WWII in December of 1941. Do you remember where you were when you heard about Pearl Harbor?

Yes. I was playing football that Sunday afternoon.

How did you actually hear about it?

Well, we heard it from the fans.

What was your reaction like to that?

Not too good. It was sad!

When the US was attacked at Pearl Harbor did you at that point realize that, okay, I’m going to have to go to war too?

That’s what I figured. I was a 4-F at that time.

Oh. Okay, why was that?

I volunteered for the Army at the beginning. I figured get my six months in, my one year in and get out. But it didn’t work that way.

What disability did you have at the time that made you 4-F?

Perforated eardrum.

So then the draft started and you ended up getting drafted into the US Army.

I got married and then they drafted me.

When were you drafted?


After you got drafted, the 4-F didn’t apply to you anymore?


Why was that?

I don’t know. It didn’t bother me at all, my ear.

Frank Moccio: Did you tell them you were in the CCC?

No I didn’t say anything about the CCC.

So before you joined the Army, you were in the Civilian Conservation Corps?


This was in the 1930s?

Right. 1933, 1934.

Okay, what did you do in the CCC?

We built a road up in the mountains.

In what state?


So you went all the way from Illinois to California for the CCC?


Can you tell us a little bit about what exactly is the CCC? What did they do for the country?

Well, they worked in parks.

They repaired a lot of the infrastructure for the country?

Right. All kinds of construction work. We got thirty dollars a month. Twenty five went home and five you got for yourself.

So this was one of Franklin Roosevelt’s Depression-era programs?

Right. He started the CCC camps in 1932.

How did you like being in the CCC?

It was alright. I liked it. I was a little kid, but I made it.

How old were you when you were in the CCC?


So that’s why they had to send the money home?

That’s right.

So how long were you in the CCC?

Nine months. Three in Idaho and six in California.

Oh, what did you do in Idaho?

Blister rust. They called it blister rust. We had to chop some branches from trees and stuff like that.

In national parks?


Just cleaning up the parks?


So after you left Idaho, you went to California?

Went to California.

That’s where you built roads?

That’s where we built the road up in the mountain. It was a shortcut from Pasadena to Los Angeles. Up in the mountains.

That must have been hard work.

Oh that was hard work!

What was the weather like out there?

Beautiful. Blue skies. Sunshine every day.

Was this the first time you had been away from your family for that long?


What was that like for you? Did you enjoy it?

I was kind of homesick. Then I got over it. After about a month or two months, I got used to the situation.

Frank Moccio: Did they feed you Hack?

Oh yeah! They fed you good. They fed you real good.

What was the food like?

It was good. It was a good diet. It was a good diet. Plenty of vegetables, meat.

So that was rare during the Depression then.

Oh that’s for sure because during the Depression my mother had eight kids. Of course when I was gone she only had seven.

Were you the only one that had to join the CCC? Did anyone else in your family join?

Oh, my brother Don and my brother Tony.

Were they with you?


They had different assignments?

They had different assignments later on.

So after the CCC you went back to Melrose Park?

Went back to Melrose Park.

And you were working at Richardson’s?


Then after the war started, you were drafted into the Army in 1942. What was your wife’s reaction like when she found out that you had been drafted?

She didn’t like it. She started to cry.

So then after you received notice that you were drafted, where did you go for your basic training?

California. Camp Hunt, California.

Do you know what city it was near?

Saugus. Saugus, California.

So they sent you by train across the country?


What was that train trip like?

Oh man, it was something. It was real tiresome. It took a long time, three days.

Any air conditioning?

No air conditioning.

Did you at least have a sleeper?


You had to sit in a coach?

A coach.

For three days?

Absolutely. Just a coach.

Do you know how many people were on your train with you going to Camp Hunt?

Seventy-five to a hundred. We all left Rockford, IL, Camp Grant.

That’s where you were actually inducted into the Army?

Inducted into the Army, Camp Grant. October, 1942.

So after you were inducted in Rockford, you went across the country to Camp Hunt in California.

No, we went to Idaho.

Oh, you went to Idaho first.

Where in Idaho? Do you remember?

About fifty miles south of Boise, the state capital.

Why did you have to go to Idaho first?

That’s where they sent us.

How long were you there?

Just three months. Then we went to California for six months.

So your basic training started in Idaho?


Can you tell us about your basic training? What did they have you do?

Well, I was in the medical corps. I didn’t have a gun.

So right from the start you were in the medical corps. You didn’t transfer in?


So why did you, did you get to choose the medical corps?

I didn’t get to choose it.

How did you end up being a medic? The army told you to?

Right. The guy says, well you know what? You’re a little guy. You’d make a good gunner on a B-24 or B-17. But he says we ain’t gonna send you there. We’re gonna send you to the medical corps. That was in Camp Grant. So when I got to Idaho I worked at an infirmary with a doctor. After three months we all got shipped to California and I worked in the dispensary there. When I went overseas I went with the 2nd Infantry Division as an aid man.

So you shipped out from Camp Grant you went to Great Britain or Africa?

Great Britain.

So I imagine they sent you by ship?

By ship.

So you went by ship from California all the way to Europe?

From Boston.

Oh, okay. They shipped you back from California to Boston by train?


And then you shipped out from Boston.


Now what was your voyage like crossing the Atlantic? Had you ever been on a big ship like that before?

No. It made me sick!

For how long?

Oh, two, three days. I was absolutely sick, but coming back home it didn’t bother me a bit.

How long was the trip across the Atlantic for you, going to Great Britain?

I think it was two days. I know we slept one night on the ship.

Do you remember where you landed in England? What port?


Oh, you went to Scotland first?


So what was Scotland like? You had never been overseas before, had you?

Everything was new to me.

Did you get to interact much with the civilians in Scotland?

Not too much.

You were kept separate for the most part?


Did you ever have a chance to get any leave?

When I was overseas? No.

How long were you in Scotland?

I think two months. Then we went to Wales. We were getting closer and closer to the channel now. On June the sixth we made the invasion. I didn’t make the invasion with the first wave, but the second wave.

But you actually landed on June 6 in Normandy?


Were you on Omaha or Utah Beach?


With the second wave?

Second wave.

Can you tell us about that? What that was like? What you saw?

Well, all I remember is hearing “Medic, medic, medic!” Two, three wounded guys at one time. How could you do that?

So you landed on the beaches on a landing craft?


And went ashore. This would have been on the morning of June 6?

Morning of June 6. The second wave, not the first wave.

But there still must have been a lot of fighting going on?

Oh yeah. They threw everything at us but the kitchen sink!

So being a medic, you had to put yourself at risk pretty often.

Well we had protection. We had big red crosses on the chest and one on the back and one on each arm. They weren’t supposed to shoot at us.

Did they follow the rules?

They did, the Germans did.

Did they? So you were able to go out there.

I administered first aid many times the Germans could have shot me if they wanted to. But they didn’t. They knew I was administering first aid.

Now what kind of first aid can you give a man on a beach like that?

Well . . .

What would you do?

The first thing was control the hemorrhage, if they were really bleeding. Some of the first aid jobs were, the guy had a shrapnel wound. His arm was loose or his leg but we had to get a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and then ship them back to the first aid station. That’s it.

So you had to carry these men back to the aid station?

No, we had litter bearers. They did that. I did the first aid and they carried the wounded back.

So you just stabilized them and the bearers would come and pick up the men and bring them back?


Now did you know any of these men that you had to treat?


But these were all members of the Second Infantry?


So this was just the first day.


On June 6. After the Americans finally captured the beachhead and started moving inland, did you go with them?

Right, we went to battle at St. Lo.

You went to St. Lo? What was that like?

Oh man, that was rough. The whole town was leveled. The only thing that was standing was the church steeple.

Why was it leveled? Was it by the American artillery or the airstrikes or the Germans? Do you know what happened?

Between the Germans and the Americans.

Do you know why the US had to try and capture St. Lo?

No, I don’t know that.

After the St. Lo battle, this is still in June of ’44?

July now.

We’re up to July?


So after St. Lo, do you remember where you went after that?



We went to Paris.

Were you part of the liberation of Paris?

Yes. The Second Infantry liberated Paris. That I remember.

Can you tell us about that?

Oh that was something else. That was something else.

Did you get to meet a lot of the civilians in Paris?


Tell us about that.

They were nice. They treated us nice. But now they say if I went there to France, they would ignore me.

They’ve kind of forgotten what we did for them?


Did you have any time to enjoy Paris before you had to go back into battle?


What kinds of things did you do for fun in Paris, or sightsee while you were there. Did you see any of the cathedrals or the Eiffel Tower?

Oh yeah, I slept underneath the Eiffel Tower.

Why was that? Just the place you were camped out?

Right. We had no barracks or anything like that. We slept on the ground in foxholes and whatnot. We medic guys slept under the Eiffel Tower.

Did you see anything else in Paris while you were there?

Notre Dame Cathedral.

What was that like?

Oh that was huge. Beautiful.

Did you go in there for services or just to see it?

Church services one Sunday morning.

That was held by the army?


So after you were done with Paris, where did your unit end up going next?


And what was going on in Belgium? You were just trying to liberate that country?

That was rough. That was the Battle of the Bulge. The Battle of the Bulge. That was rough.

So now this was December of 1944?

1944, right. Absolutely right.

What happened in the Battle of the Bulge? Why was it so rough with your unit?

Well, the only thing I can say was the German army; they brought in more troops and made it really rough for the United States Army.

So it was a surprise attack?

Right. Absolutely. They proceeded to give us a beautiful present.

What was that?

Big shells coming in!

Before the Battle of the bulge started the American army thought the war was pretty much over and then they were suddenly surprised by the German counterattack?


What was the weather like in Belgium?


What was it like trying to fight under conditions like that?

It was hard. It was hard. It was hard to fight. I know the guys were all moaning and groaning about the cold weather.

So when the Germans counterattacked what did the 2nd Infantry Division do? Did you have to withdraw a little bit first?

We did. They were going to shove us back to Paris, then back to the beach. But that didn’t happen.

You stopped them.

Yeah we stopped them. And in January, we noticed we started going forward, forward, and forward.

Frank Moccio: Tell them the story about when you were in a foxhole. What happened? Somebody jumped into the foxhole with you?

In Regensburg, Germany we were getting shelled and I jumped into a foxhole and who jumped into the foxhole right after me was a boy from Melrose Park. Honest to God. Isn’t that something?

What was his name?


Did you know him from Melrose Park?

I knew the whole family. I knew the whole family.

So here you go, you travel across the ocean . . .

There were six brothers in that family. Five are dead and one is living.

Frank Moccio: What’d you say? Don’t I know you?

I thought it was Slappy, but it was Gus.

Frank Moccio: Gus Sperando.

Slappy was his brother?

Slappy was his brother.

Frank Moccio: What’d you say? You look familiar?

No, I said Slappy! I remember saying what I said, Slappy!

What did he say?

He didn’t know my name. He said I remember you from the golf course. We were caddies together. It was the old country club in Northlake, Illinois.

Frank Moccio: Everybody had a nickname. His [Ralph’s] nickname is Hack.

Did you have a chance to talk to him much? In the foxhole?

A little bit.

Catch up on old times?

Old times, yeah.

This was in Regensburg, Germany?

Regensburg, Germany.

Was this during the Battle of the Bulge or afterwards?

Afterwards. This happened in March or April. The war ended May 6, 1945.

So after the U.S. stopped the Germans after the Battle of the Bulge, your unit moved forward into Germany?


Did you actually go to Berlin yourself?

Just on the outskirts.

What was that like, seeing Germany firsthand?

I didn’t really get to see Berlin; I was just on the outskirts.

What were the reactions like of the German civilians, to the Americans?

They didn’t pay attention to the soldiers of the U.S. Army. They didn’t pay attention. They were cold. They were really, really cold people. They weren’t like the French or the Belgian people. They were glad to see the soldiers from the army of the United States, but in Berlin, no. Understand they were cold.

So where were you when WWII ended?

At the end of Berlin. At the beginning of Berlin. We met the Russian soldiers.

Oh, you met the Russians?


Tell us about them.

All they wanted was chocolate and cigarettes from the US soldiers. Chocolate! Chocolate! Cigarette! Cigarette! The five campaigns were a rough part of my life.

Can you tell us the five campaigns, what they were?

Normandy, St. Lo, the Battle of the Bulge, Rhineland. I’ve got my discharge paper. My daughter took it out last night, must not have put it back in.

You mentioned that you were awarded the Silver Star.

For five campaigns, the Silver Star, that represents five, the Silver Star represented five campaigns. Normandy landing, St. Lo, the Battle of the Bulge, the Ardennes and Rhineland. That’s the five.

So what was your reaction like when you found out that the war had ended?

Oh, I was happy.

Did your unit celebrate?

Oh yeah, they celebrated.

How did they celebrate?

They drank a lot of vodka and cognac.

Did they get that from the Russians?


For the chocolate and cigarettes?

Right. That’s right.

So you’re in Germany at the end of the war. How long did you have to stay in Germany?

After the war?


May, June, July, August. In August we got on a ship and came home back to the United States. Five months I was still in Europe.

Was there any fear that your unit was going to have to go to Japan?

Yes, and when we heard the news about the atomic bomb, it cancelled everything. We were supposed to go to Japan. We were going to invade Japan. It didn’t happen.


The atom bomb stopped everything. The atom bomb.

That ended the war in Japan.


So this is your discharge paperwork. Can I see that?

It’s all on the bottom there.

You were demobilized in December? If you could, can you tell us, you went back to France after Germany and you were shipped back to the US? What was the mood like on the ship leaving France for America?

Oh, happy, happy. Everybody was happy.

Still a lot of celebrating going on?


So after the trip back from Europe, where did you re-enter the US? Did you go through New York?

New York.

Did you get to see the Statue of Liberty coming in?

Yes, we passed right by it.

What was that like when you saw it?

Oh it was a happy feeling. Happy feeling.

Do you remember the ship that brought you back to the US?

You know, I can’t tell you that. I don’t remember the name of the ship. I know it was a big one.

The trip back was a lot easier than the trip going there?

Oh yeah.

You didn’t get seasick this time?

I didn’t get seasick this time at all coming back home.

Now was there a big welcoming ceremony for you when you came back to the US?



It was quiet.

You just got off the ship?


Then where did you go after you landed in New York?

Topeka, Kansas. The Nineteenth General Hospital. Had to go for surgery.

Oh, why was that?


So they wanted to fix you before they discharged you.


So how long were you in Topeka?

About a month.

Then, is that where you were actually discharged from the army?

No, Fort Sheridan, Illinois.

So after Topeka, you went to Fort Sheridan?

Fort Sheridan.

And how long were you in Fort Sheridan?

About a week.

Then that’s where they gave you your discharge papers?

December 19, 1945.

So then you went straight home?

Straight home.

How did you get home from Fort Sheridan?

One of the boy’s brothers came to us with a big car; I don’t know what it was. They gave me a lift too.

And they brought you back to Melrose Park?

They took me to the train station.

Then you took the train home?

Took the train home to Melrose Park. And I walked home from there.

Was your family expecting you?

Yes, they were expecting me.

What was their reaction like when you showed up?

Oh, my God. Everybody was crying, especially my mother.

Was your whole family there by then, all your siblings?


So what was one of the first things you did when you got home after three years in the army?

One of the first things I did was I had a little dinner with my mother and family and then I went by my girl. That was my second wife. My first wife I lost while I was in the service. Eva, she lost the baby and herself. She had something terrible, toxemia they called it.

You weren’t able to come home for that?

I came home.

You did?

I was in the states when this happened.

This was before you were shipped overseas?

Before I went overseas. When I came back from overseas I went out again with my second wife. We got married. In 1946 we got married. In 1947 my Sylvia was born.

Is she your only child?

Yeah, only child.

Did you go back to work at Richardson’s after the war.

Yes, after the war I went to Richardson’s, back over to Richardson’s.

Kept on doing the same job?

The same job. I still worked a couple of years, then I quit. I didn’t like working the hours, they changed every week. Seven to three one week, three to eleven another week, eleven to seven another week. I didn’t like that.

That must have been hard with a family. Did you have any problems readjusting to civilian life after serving in the army?

A little bit, a little bit. Readjusting yourself.

How did you, or did you enjoy your time in the army?

Yeah, I would say so. I enjoyed myself.

You learned a lot? Saw a lot?


Do you ever keep in contact with any fellow veterans?

No, they’re all gone. They’re all gone. All the guys that were in the Medical Corps with me are all gone. Or they’ve got to be in their nineties. Most of them would be in their nineties.

So being in the Medical Corps, did you ever consider a career in medicine based on what you saw and did?


Are there any particular stories or memories of your service that you’d like to share with us? Any individuals in particular you’d like to tell us about?

Well, the only thing that made me happy was giving first aid to the wounded. That made me feel good. I did something for our soldiers. A lot of soldiers were crying for their mothers, when they were wounded. Ma, ma, ma! Mother, mother, mother! It was real bad. It was bad.

But you got to save lives instead of taking them.

Yeah. All I had to do was the first aid and ship them back. The litter bearers would pick them up, put them on the stretcher and go back to the evacuation hospital. From there, they go to the general hospital and from there they went to England, all the wounded.

What were your commanding officers like?

They were nice. They were nice.

Were these usually doctors?

Yeah, they were real doctors. On was from Rockford, Illinois, Dr. Armstrong. He died. Dr. Schotts, he must be dead by now too. Never heard from him. Dr. Jones, the dentist, he must be passed away too. They’ve all got to be in their nineties.

But it was a good group of men to work with.

Oh, beautiful group. Beautiful group.

Did you develop any close friendships with any of the men that you worked with?

Oh, yeah. At the beginning, after the war when everybody was home, we would send each other Christmas cards and stuff like that. But then it stopped.

As time went on?

As time went on they passed on.

Okay, are there any other memories you’d like to share with us today? Any other thoughts on your service?


Thank you very much for sharing your memories with us. Thank you.

It was a pleasure.

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