World War II Veteran: Vince Connors (Pete)
The other choice was the Army's. They didn't give you, if you were I the hospital, because of the need for personnel. They sewed you up and got you back as fast .. and everybody wanted to get back in there anyway. You left a group of people that were continuing to fight the war, and you wanted to be with them. And that sounds like you'd want to get out of it. This is something we look at today, for the young men that are going to Iraq. They are going multiple times, and they're not complaining any. So that's the same way we were in WWII.
Do you keep in contact with some of the guys from those days?
We have military reunions every year. We have a large reunion. We have a reunion here in Shenandoah every year Company E has a reunion. The ranks are pretty small now. When we started these reunions in the early 1970's, we used to have 70 to 100 people come to the reunions. And we are now down to WWII type if we get 15 or 20 we are very lucky. Out of that 112 that left Shenandoah that night there are 9 of us left. I happen to be the only one that has a Shenandoah address now. There are some that live around close but, the ones that were left in Shenandoah either moved out or are deceased since then.
I guess one the things - probably the most tragic, or the thing that happened to us early in the war was in February, 1942. One year after we were called up. We were in North Africa. The Germans had a massive attack on the units that were on the front line. I was part of that; Company E was part of that. About two or three divisions of infantry were part of that. General Rommel burst out with armored divisions and overrun all of our positions. That time Company E was just about captured en masse. I think we had over 200 people captured in that engagement. And there were probably 300 or 400 people in the regiment that were captured at that time. I was a part of that group and I did not get captured. A couple of 3 days before the attack, they had asked for some volunteers to go to a patrol unit. And myself and 2 other soldiers decided that would be a good experience for us. So we volunteered to go on that. We would go out right after dark at night. We were not a combat patrol. We were a reconnaissance patrol meaning we were there to determine if there was enemy close by; what they were doing. So we'd go out as close as we could and maintain positions there. This particular night there was excessive action on the Germans' part that we heard and tanks moving. A lot of movement at 10, 11, 12 at night which is kind of unusual. People are resting or sleeping, whatever they can do. And we took that information back and it was passed on to the higher commanders. And at daylight the next day, we were faced with Rommel's troops that had overrun our complete position. And the main body - I was not with the main body at the time. But the main body of Company E, I'm talking about, they were all captured. It was riflemen against armor. We weren't a very good force to take care of it. That was the big moment at that time.
The way that I got out - the orders were passed down to the battalion commander that anyone that was in behind the lines, and we were about 10 or 12 miles behind the lines at that time, meaning we were 12 miles from our friendly forces, to get out the best way they could. Initially, the orders were to get out as a group. Should we run into enemy and lose control of the units, each person was given as azimuth on which to go and told you gotta be there by daylight. It was about 10 miles to walk. We started. We had people that were wounded that we carried out on liters, started to. There was a chaplain that was with them and some medics. I didn't happen to be carrying a litter at the time. The Germans opened fire on us and we got broken up from our main elements. Myself and another guy, we had the azimuth to go on. 10 miles, and we made it by daylight. That was my first heavy engagement. We looked at each other and we found out when we got back that Company E was probably not going to get back. They were either killed or captured. The immediate thing that went through our mind is the war is over for us because the company was not a company any more. Within 10 days, we were reorganized and back into combat in North Africa. So, the war was not over for us. We just received replacements and we had some people that were on leave, some people that were with the British commandos at the time that were coming back to the unit. And we started with the unit that had about 30 regular members that got organized again and we received replacements from the 3rd infantry division that was back in Oran, and filled up with them and were back in combat within 10 days. So that's the big story of the first engagements of it.
I continued with the unit through the rest of Africa. And then I was promoted up the ranks. I was platoon sergeant at the end of North Africa. And we filled up at the end of the war. And the invasion of Sicily took place with other units from the 5th army. And after Sicily, the invasion of Italy took place. We were part of that. Shortly after the invasion, the 34th division, E Company was part of that, went into Salerno, with the invasion of Italy, close to Naples at the time. Major engagements at that time: the biggest one was probably Casino area. The big monastery was up and the Germans were using it as an outpost for observation. They advised us that they were not using it. It took us about 2 or 3 months to determine that they were using it, before they dropped it. British and American aircraft went over and flatted the Casino, the monastery and whoever was in it with them. I was not on that. At that time, the invasion at Anzio was taking place. We were pulled back, went around and came in through the Mediterranean and went in on the invasion on Anzio. We fought there, stalemated for about 3 months - 2 or 3 months. We captured Rome about the same time that D-day took place. So our little attack on Rome and running the Germans out of Rome was not headline news at the time because of the invasion of Europe. All of this happened about the same time. And the effort was there - meant to be, because it was a coordinated effort. Coming into France, and going on north through Italy.
When you're in a stalemate engagement for 3 months, what's that like? You're trying to sleep at night and people are shooting at you constantly, what's going through your head?
A good idea of that was the Anzio beachhead. When the Anzio beachhead was established, we went in about two or three miles of flat ground from the ocean - Mediterranean Sea. It was flat ground, we got so far and the Germans stopped us. They had the commanding terrain around there. They were in the hills and we were in the bottom. So, it was like being in prison. You didn't move in the daytime. If you got up out of your hole or your foxhole or whatever protection you had, if you moved the Germans had observation of us. We did that for 2 or 3 months. The only time that we could move was at nighttime. Darkness came in and we did our exercising after dark. That's what we had to do and that was February, March and April when that went on. We got relieved - relief units more frequently because of the condition that we were in. The only time you could get out at night was if you were on a patrol, and you didn't go very far then.
How'd you get any rest?
You learned to. The guy next to you was awake when you were sleeping. You always picked the best buddy you could find to be in that hole next to you. People just coped with it. It was a blessing whenever the balloon went up and we made the attack to get off of the Anzio beachhead and we went through Rome and started up between Rome and Florence, Italy. That was another major engagement. So all things just put together, we did what we had to do.
Iowa Pathways: Iowa History Resources for Students and Teachers
Home ~ My Path ~ Artifacts ~ Timeline ~ Quest ~ Teacher Resources ~ Project Information ~ SponsorsIowa Pathways © 2005 - 2016 Iowa Public Television