Chester Rutigliano-Interviewee Date of interview: 03-27-2004 Address: 801 W. 9th Street Del Rio, TX 78840 Oral interview: World War II American History Project
I’ve known Mr. Rutigliano for more than 20 years. Before this interview took place, I mentioned that I would be asking him questions about his experience in World War II starting from the time he joined the service until the end of the war.
CR: I was in school back in 1943. There was five of us guys decided we want to join the Army but you had to have A, B average so Jimmy Dejolts, he had a C average. So we talked to our professor and told him we wanted to go to the service, volunteer for the service and all that. He said “well, I’m sorry but you can go but Jimmy, you can’t, you have a C average in History.” I said well, can’t you just let him go? He said, “I tell you what, come back here tomorrow afternoon at 3 o’clock. I’ll give him an oral test of History and if he pass he can go, if he don’t, he’ll have to stay.” We said “ok”. So next day at 3 o’clock we all went over there, we said, “Jimmy, you better pass or we’ll beat the pants off of you”. He said, “oh, don’t worry, don’t worry.” Walked in and we see the professor tell him “were ready”. Jimmy’s ready to take the test “ok” Jimmy said. “Who crossed the Delaware River in 1776?” he said “George Washington.” “Good, you passed it, get out of here.” So we’ll all took off, we went down, we all volunteered.
AC: How old were you?
CR: I was 18 or 19 when we volunteered you know, we didn’t say nothing, we kept our mouths shut. Here come the paper, my father looked at it and said, “hey, you can’t go to the Army now because you’re in school. So you can go and tell them you’re in school.” So I said Pop, you better sit down. I have something to tell you. He said “what?” I said, well me and four other guys, we volunteered and he jumped up grabbed me slapped me against the wall. I thought he was gonna kill me. “Stupid kid, you don’t know what war is” he said. “ I was in World War in Italian army, and if you want to know what it is you would never sign up”. I said, well it’s too late but we have to go to Erie and take our physical, if we pass we go and if we don’t, I’ll come home. He said, “ok, I hope you flunk.” So we go to Erie and we had our physical, we all sat around said “this is the following guys that qualify for the Navy” read my name off I said hey, wait a minute, I didn’t volunteer for the Navy, I volunteered for the Army. He said, “well you qualify, we need you”. I said I don’t want to go the Navy. One of the kids said, “hey, wait a minute, I don’t want to go to the Army, I want to go to the Navy, can we switch?” So he joined the Navy and I go to the Army. Then we go down to Camp Cave, Mississippi. There’s where I had my first training up and down there.
See back in 1943, the white and black did not get along real good there and everybody was told that when you go downtown there’s a line to the main street, one side for the white, one side for the black. “We don’t wanna catch any of you guys going the other side, if we get in trouble, you’re in trouble because you’re gonna pay for the damage and stuff like that so stay on this side”. And yet we used to go downtown and all the blacks on one side, the white on the other. We looked at each other, they couldn’t do anything. Well it did bother me because where I’m from Pennsylvania, we had black people, and we got along real good, down that side we could you see. We stayed down Camp Cave, Mississippi for roughly a year and then we got transferred to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and there was the same way there too. They had this white line to main street all over they had watch what you did, all that, so we stayed there and we got our orders we were gonna go oversees fine. So we all got on the Queen Elizabeth and that hold 18,000 guys and it took us three days to cross the ocean to England.
We land in England. We get there and we had a little bit more training about six weeks of training then we got orders to go to France and fight. That’s where we had our first battle down Mitz, France, see and Satangelo, do you want me to tell that story? We was there fighting see, and we was getting running low in ammo (ammunition) so that’s when I told Satangelo, I said Satangelo, you go back there and get the ammo because if you don’t we’ll be in a lot of trouble. He said, “ok Rudy.” They couldn’t pronounce my last name Rutigliano so they gave me my nickname Rudy and I’m used to that name Rudy. So he took off and we was there fighting and waiting and waiting and no ammo. So I sent another guy. I said, you go back there and see if you can find Satangelo and tell him to get up here right away. We need him plus the ammo. He said, “ok” so he took off. Waited around till he came back. I said Where’s Satangelo? He said, “I didn’t see him.” I said ok, did you get the ammo? He said, “Oh yea, we got all the ammo.” I said ok, so we stayed there for a while till we got orders we have to go to battle in Bastogne, Belgium. So we all got on the truck. It took us three days and two nights to get there just sitting in the truck, we couldn’t do nothing. The only time we got out the truck when the truck to load down. We take the truck on the side of the road, get another truck got on and load. We would have to get on and off fast; we kept going, going till we get up to Bastonge, Belgium. We all got off, before we got off the German were shooting at us with 88, “you out of here,” screaming and hauling, jumping off the truck and we had like a million needles running up your legs because you sat there for three days. So after we got off, settled down and then we get orders we was gonna go up the front line. When we get up there we ordered to dig moving up moving up we never hit ground. Digging a foxhole all that dug was deep, deep, deep, it was all snow, that’s how much snow was there. So we stayed in the foxhole, and snow, but it wasn’t bad.
After we fought there for a while, we come to a place they call it Goldbrick Hill. He wants to take that hill, so I told, the captain told me said, “you get your tune up machine gun ready and goes company help up in the hill. Attack going up on the hill and get up there. Once you get up there on top of the hill, set up your machine gun.” So I said ok. I went back and I called the guys and said we got orders to attack up in the hill and we’re ready to go. And Sergeant Wanco, he come up and said, “Rudy, can I stay behind?” I said why? He said, “you know last night something told me that I’ll get on top of the hill but I’ll never get off.” I said, oh come on, get out of here. He said, “please let me stay behind, I don’t wanna go.” I said, why, were short in men we have to go. He said, “ok, than you do me a favor.” I said what’s that? He said, “after the war is over, when you get back to the states, if I get killed up there like I said, I want you to take all of these letters (he showed me the letters) and give them back to my girlfriend, and when you do, tell them what happened to me.” I said, oh, come on. He said, “please, you gotta promise me you’ll do it.” I said ok just to get it off my back I said yea, I’ll do it, don’t worry about it. Now we get up top of the hill, quickly we dig up a foxhole, set up the gun, and Germans are shooting at us 88 the tree birds type because the shells they get up in the air and explode and all the shrapnel come down, well he got shot in the neck and that killed him. I went up and I look at him and I took up the letters and stuck them in my pocket. I said, I promised, I promised and I took his doc tag. See, we always took one doc tag and put it in his mouth, the other doc tag, we give to the old man (the captain) then he report killing or missing or wounded, see. So yeah, after the war was over, I was stationed in a town in Pennsylvania in my discharge. I said well since I got these letters I better take them down in Philadelphia to his girlfriend. Got on a train, got off and get a taxi, got to the house, knocked at the door, there was this beautiful girl standing she said, “what do you want?” I said my name is Rudy. “Rudy” she jumped and hugged and kissed me and everything and I said no, wait, wait a minute. “Oh, my boyfriend would always do is talk about you and everything. Why are you here?” I said well I promised your boyfriend that I would bring these letters back to you and I handed to her. “What’s this for?” Your boyfriend got killed. “No he didn’t.” I said, what are you talking about? “well, we got a telegram stating he’s missing in action.” I said no, he’s dead because why should I come up here and hand you these letters if he was alive but he’s dead, he got killed and he was shot in the neck in a foxhole. And then she started to cry and said, “well, can we go and tell his mother and father about it?” I said ok, so we go to the house and she said “this is Rudy, your son’s sergeant” and he said, “why is he here for?” He’s gonna tell you what happened to your boy.” “Oh, we got a telegram here look, here it is, missing in action. You know when they say missing in action, they always show up, he’ll be home.” I said, no your son is never gonna come home. He said, “why?” because he got killed. “No he didn’t.” He started hollering, get out of the house!” They just threw me right out of the house. I had to come up. I said (to the girlfriend) do me a favor. Please tell them what happened, he’ll never come back, I said what used to happen a lot of times, they’re in a foxhole and the people come up civilian people come up and see it, instead of taking them up, they cover them up bury in the ground. I said if I take you to Belgium, I can take you to the hill they call it Goldbrick Hill. I’ll show where he’s buried see. And she said, “well ok, I’ll keep an eye on it.” Well I never heard from her. I don’t know what happened but eventually they had to make up their mind he’ll never come back. I have to give you an experience about a lieutenant .
See they asked me the first time to be a lieutenant I said I don’t wanna be a lieutenant, give it to somebody else. Well the other guy gets it and gets killed so the old man called me up and said, “Rudy, we’re gonna make you a 2nd lieutenant if you like it or don’t like it. I don’t want the damn thing. He said, “well, I tell you what, you go back to your men, give us a day or two and we’ll see what you can do for us.” I said ok, so I go back to the rest of the guys. While I’m standing there around there, here comes the chief and stopped. “Soldier.” I said, yeah. “What do you mean yeah? Can’t you see I’m a lieutenant, why don’t you say sir?” I said you do not say sir, we do not salute on the front line because you’re the first guys that’s gonna get shot because there’s German, there are snipers around they will shoot you. “I’m a lieutenant and you’re gonna salute.” I said no I’m not. “You come with me, I wanna see your commander.” I said ok, so we went down and there was the captain standing right there. I said there’s the captain. He goes up, 2nd lieutenant report to duty and that captain threw him on the ground and put his foot on his chest and said, “don’t you ever, ever salute on the front line, I don’t want you ever to call me sir, you understand?” “Yeah, yeah, ok, ok.” So the old man said, “ok Rudy, you have met your lieutenant.” I said ok. Well two days later we got orders to attack. Ana you ought to see him. He come up there his helmet is shiny, and he put gold bars. His uniform, he didn’t have combat, he put on his uniform pants was pleaded, his boots was shined. I said lieutenant, where do you think you’re going? “Don’t talk to me, I’m a lieutenant.” I said I know you’re a lieutenant but we’re going to the front line and fight. You don’t go like that.