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World War II Experiences of Staff Sergeant Albert R. Panebianco

I was an infantryman with Company "K" , 157th Regiment, 45th Infantry Division. Uncle Sam sent greetings to me, March 1943. After completing 13 weeks of basic training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, I was sent to Camp Kilmer, NJ, a port of embarkation. My basic training consisted of 4 weeks of close order drill, learning weapons, etc. While most trainees went through an infiltration course, for some reason or other, I did not. In fact, my first experience with an infiltration course was after the war. Nine weeks of basic training was spent in Clerk's and Stenographers school at Camp Wheeler. I was trained for duties as a company clerk, or any other field clerical position. After spending three months at Camp Kilmer, port of embarkation headquarters, typing and performing clerical duties, I was transferred to another port of embarkation at Camp Shenango, Sharon, Pennsylvania. Once again after three months of clerical duties, orders came down to ship out. One could not remain at a port of embarkation longer then three months unless you were permanent cadre. The next move was to Newport News, Virginia, where I boarded USS General Horace A. Mann on 1/31/44 headed for Casablanca. This was a troop ship carrying about 5,000 men. It was built in Kearney, New Jersey. I was on the second trip over for this ship.  The first trip brought fresh troops to Africa and returned with wounded. After 9 days, the USS General Mann docked at Casablanca on 2/8/44 . It was an unescorted trip. This ship was much too fast for an escort. After spending a week or two in Casablanca, orders were issued to board the 40 and 8 railroad cars headed for Oran, Africa. This was a miserable trip as there was standing room only. From Oran, we boarded an LST and headed for Naples, Italy. The visit in Naples was short and before we knew it, we were on another LST whose destination was Anzio.  This was our first experience with shelling. An LST, beside us was hit. There was no one to meet, advise, or instruct us. We carried our duffel bags for awhile until they became unbearable. We threw them on the sides of the road. Little did we know what the future held for us. 

On 2/22/44, about 1:30 in the morning, names were being called and men were being assigned to different companies. I was assigned to Company "K" weapons platoon, 60 M.M. Mortars. Remember, I was trained as a company clerk, with 4 weeks of basic training, and 9 weeks of clerical school. In fact, I didn't know what a mortar looked like. I brought this to the attention of the platoon sergeant. He thought I looked healthy enough to carry ammo until I learned the 60 M.M. Mortar. It didn't take long to learn this gun, and how to fire it. 

At this particular time, the division was at a stalemate. Middle February, 1944, the Germans made a drive to push the American and British off the beachhead. There were many casualities, and the need for replacements was paramount, regardless of your previous training or MOS. They needed replacements to fill the companies that were understrength. I was one of those replacements. 

Through March and April, 1944, things on Anzio remained unchanged. Living in a covered foxhole for 45 consecutive days was quite an experience. Most of us became infested with lice and had to be "deloused" . The hair on our heads was shaven off completely, and we were taken back for a shower, and issued used clean underwear and OD's .Our clothes were sprayed with DDT Powder. This was the very first time, that I heard there was a shortage of new clothing for the U.S. Troops. It was my understanding that the used clothing came from wounded and
deceased G.I.'s . 

May 23, 1944 was push off day at Anzio. It reminded me of a movie. Artillery was sounding off, plane's flying above, tank's on the roll, mortars, machine guns, rifles, all adding to the excitement of the big "pushoff". The German artillery took it's toll on the men of the 45th. I can recall jumping in a ravine with two other buddies. I was in the middle. After things quieted down, I looked around and my two buddies were dead. I stood there without a scratch. One of these fellows is buried in the American Cemetery in Netunno, Italy. After reaching the outskirts of Rome, and spending a few days there, new plans were being made for the 45th. 

Next on the agenda was the invasion of southern France which took place 8/15/44. We landed at St. Maxime and St. Tropez. We encountered hardly any resistance while other outfits ran into stiff resistance. We moved through France rather quickly for about 45 days until we reached Rambervillers. The Germans had prepared their defenses and the going got tougher. The most difficult time was in the hills of the Alsace area. 

When Hitler realized that his attack through the Ardennes, Battle of the Bulge, was not successful he launched "Operation Nordwind" , also known as the "Second Battle of the Bulge" . For those who are interested, Charles Whiting wrote a book titled "The Other Battle of the Bulge - Operation Northwind" . In the introduction of the book, the author points out that the history of the Second Battle of the Bulge, in the winter 1944/1945 has never been recorded, in spite of the fact that it lasted a month longer then the original Battle of the Bulge and cost the Americans some 16,000 casualties. It also cost perhaps twice that number of French soldiers serving under the American command. Operation Northwind began 2350 hours, 12/31/44 in the Alsace region of France. After the shifting of American Troops from Alsace to the Ardennes, the 84 mile line in Alsace was to be defended by 6 divisions. This line was thin and it wouldn't take much for the Germans to penetrate it. The 45th division was one of the 6 chosen to defend this line. The 45th was a veteran division that made the invasion of Sicily and fought its way in Italy up to Rome. It also made the invasion of Southern France, on 8/15/44 and moved swiftly through France. By November we were in the Alsace area. 

In early January 1945, the German army launched an attack toward the Alsatian plains with the objective of breaking through to disrupt the allied attack. The 45th division was in Germany in an exposed position and the division was ordered to withdraw. On 1/13/45 the 157th Regiment of the 45th Division withdrew to positions around Reipertswiller, France to counter the German penetration. The following day, 1/14/45, the 1st and 3rd batallions of the 157th jumped off and reached their objectives by mid-afternoon. From this point on, everything went downhill.  We were fighting the 6th SS Mountain Division from Finland, nicknamed "NORD" . This was a division well trained for mountain fighting. On 1/15/45, I was hit. After getting a shot of morphine, sulfa, and dressing on my wound, I was asked if I was able to walk 23 German prisoners from our position to our CP in Reipertswiller. I carried out the request. From the medical clearing station, I was sent back to a hospital in Epinal, France. After being in fox holes for nearly 12 months, it was a great feeling to be indoors and in a hospital bed between two clean sheets. When I left the company, the weather was freezing and snow covered our positions. While in the hospital, I could hear the wind howling. Little did I know what was in store for the men I left behind. After fierce fighting, and trying to cope with the snow and cold, the men of 6 American Infantry companies were either killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. They were Companies K, L, I, C, G, and M. Most of the Artillery Forward Observers assigned to each rifle company were killed or missing in action. Every effort was made to get these men out but it was in vain. This all happened on 1/20/45. Out of 600 men trapped on the hill, only 2 managed to get back to division lines. On 1/21/45 the 157th Regiment was ordered off the line leaving 6 companies cut off. This was the dismal experience that the 157th Regiment had with "Operation Northwind" . In 1986 (41years later) , the remains and dog tags of 2 American soldiers were found in fox holes in the hills at Reipertswiller, by a French gentlemen named Rene Sald. There remains were sent home for burial.  Today, there are approximately 100 men of the 157th living who experienced this encounter at Reipertswiller. 

After a month in the hospital, I was discharged and reassigned to Company "K" on 2/15/45 . The 157th was in the process of reorganization. At this point in time, there was a shortage of men . Rear echelon groups had to release 10% of their personnel and send them up to the infantry companies. Officers and NCO's were being pulled from other divisions to rebuild the 157. By 3/15/45, the 157 was once again ready for combat. The regiment advanced quickly and the Germans retreated to the Siegfried line. Within 11 days we went through the Siegfried line and across the Rhine River. In the reorganization of the 157, a major change was made. 60MM Mortars were replaced by bazookas. 

Our next major encounter took place at Aschaffenberg, Germany. Company "K" was selected to spearhead the attack on the barracks that were being used to train future German officers. The barracks housed 600 potential German officers. Major von Lambert was the commanding officer of the barracks. On this attack, company "K" was pinned down from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. Once again, there were many casualities. The bazooka did not prove successful in this operation. As soon as one of our men would raise his head, to fire into the barracks, he was picked off by snipers from behind. From a squad of 9 men, only 3 of us survived. Finally, at 3:30 PM, our
tanks arrived and the barracks were taken. This town fell on the morning of April 9th 1945. This was another dismal day. At this point, I was beginning to wonder if my time was running out. 

Our next stop was Nurenberg. By 4/20/45 organized resistance ceased. Despite the fact that snipers were still firing, the 157th celebrated Hitler's birthday with a parade. 

We then looked forward to taking Camp Dachau . On 4/25/45 we crossed the Danube and on 4/28/45 the 157th received notice that when Dachau is taken, nothing was to be disturbed. The following day, we received another order that upon the capture of Dachau, guards were to be posted and no one would be allowed to enter or leave the camp. On 4/29/45, Company "I" of the 157th was the first company to see the horrors of Dachau. Despite anything you may read or see on television, it was Company "I" of the 157th that liberated Camp Dachau. There are no words that can describe the sites we saw. 

From Dachau to Munich is about 20 kilometers. The First and Second Battalions of the 157 covered the distance on 4/29/45 against light and scattered resistance. The Third Battalion, of which I was part, remained at Dachau to guard the camp. Word that the official shooting was over came to Munich on the evening of 5/8/45 . 

After the war, the point system, played an important part. I was one of those, who did not have enough points to be sent home. On the other hand, I had enough points to remain in Europe and had to be transferred from the 45th to the 9th Infantry Division. The 45th was Pacific bound, via the US. When they reached the US, the war in the Pacific ended. My few months with the 9th were rather pleasant. I arrived back in the states on 10/18/45 and was separated from the military at Fort George G. Meade , Maryland on 10/23/45 . 

When I first joined Company "K" on Anzio, the question that ran through my mind was, "Why me God , why me" . After the war, I was asking my self the same question. Why was I spared while so many others paid the supreme sacrifice. I saw Company "K" turn over many, many times. 

After the war, I considered every day a bonus day. My wife and I were blessed with three wonderful children and 8 grandchildren. 

In 1984 and 1989 we revisited Italy, France, and Germany. We travelled the same route that we covered during WWII. We visited several American cemeteries and one British cemetery. While standing in the cemetery, one has to ask the question, WHY, and has the human race learned anything from war and the atrocities that go with it ? . I wonder ???.

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