Stuck at Fort Meade

First Combat Action

Being Wounded

Battle of the Bulge

Wounded a Second Time

Battlefield Casualties

Reflections

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[Annotator's Note: Interview begins in the middle of a story.] When John Caponigro got back to his barracks at Fort Meade after training, he and the guys he was with were told to pack up their bed sheets and leave them in bags outside so they could be taken to the laundry. He and another guy helped the laundry truck driver and rode with him to the laundry. When they got back after lunch, Caponigro's entire company was gone. They had shipped out. He was all alone in the barracks at that point so he was ordered by a sergeant to clean the building. He swept, mopped and cleaned the barracks. Inspection was supposed to be later that day. The barracks passed inspection. It was said that it was the first time that particular barracks had passed. Caponigro was kept in that barracks at Fort Meade for about a month. By staying there, he lost contact with the men he had trained with. It was the second group he lost contact with after training with them.

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Out of the 135 men in John Caponigro's company [Annotator's Note: Company F, 2nd Battalion, 346th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division], only 39 came back after their first combat. The action was in the Saar Region in France near the border of Germany. The first day he reached Saarbrucken, it had been snowing. When they woke up they were covered with snow. There had been no breakfast that morning. Still, that action near Saarbrucken was the most interesting day for Caponigro. In Saarbrucken they passed a Catholic church. Caponigro was a Catholic choir singer, so he sang a Latin Catholic hymn as he passed the church. When they reached the field where they were to go into combat he was given another cloth bandolier of ammunition. As he reached the jump off point, a shell from a German 88mm gun landed near him but did not explode. The ground was soft so the shell did not explode. The unit proceeded and a young sergeant got them together. Caponigro was almost 28 at that time and was the oldest one in the unit. Shells continued to fall behind them and were going off. The sergeant told the unit that it was to advance up a hill. There was German machine gun fire coming from the left flank. As they advanced, Caponigro looked up and saw tracers coming toward them from the Germans up on the hill. He could tell that the tracers were going to hit the guys going up the hill. Moments later, he saw three of the youngest boys all go down. Caponigro learned later that the guys had been caught and killed by the German machine gun fire. Before the machine gun fire reached Caponigro he dove down in the furrows. The field had previously been plowed and he was able to squeeze himself between the rows. The machine gun bullets passed right over him. At that moment Caponigro thought he saw his angel.

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During the second day of combat, John Caponigro went into the same area [Annotator's Note: near Saarbrucken]. This time an explosion blew him up in the air and he landed on his knees. This probably affected his walking for the rest of his life. When they got back to their starting point that night after the battle there were only 39 men [Annotator's Note: 39 of the 135 men who had gone into combat the day before]. The machine gun firing was coming from a German Tiger tank. Years after the war they formed a reunion group. During one of those meetings the group was selling division history books. That is how he learned the names of the three young men who were killed on the first day of battle. Caponigro felt that the younger troops used to listen to him because he was the oldest person in the unit. That day started the buddy system for him. The reality set in that he needed someone to help him through the future action. The 39 men were broken up into units and assigned foxholes. It rained that night and the foxholes were full of water and very cold. He and his foxhole buddy tried to bail out the foxhole with their helmets but the water ran back in as fast as they got the water out because it was still raining. They were making noise bailing out the foxhole and Caponigro knew that making noise was dangerous. Caponigro was scared for the first time in his life. Afterwards, he was mesmerized by the battles. What was going to happen would happen. The next day was when he was thrown in the air by the explosion from the German shell and came down on his knees. Afterward, he could not walk. He told the medic that he did not know if he was hit. The explosion had opened up his back at the base of the spine and caused some bone problems. The medic saw blood. Caponigro laid there the whole afternoon while the battle was going on. After the battle he was brought to the aid station. He was put on a stretcher and a tag was put on his foot. He feared that he would die. He was driven to a hospital in Nancy, France in an ambulance where he stayed until after Christmas [Annotator's Note: Christmas 1944]. He had some stitches put in and saw frostbite victims there. When he was released from the hospital he was sent to a Repo Depot [Annotator's Note: a replacement depot] where the recovered American casualties were gathered for dispersal back to their individual units.

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After recovering from his wounds, John Caponigro found out that his outfit [Annotator's Note: Company F, 2nd Battalion, 346th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division] was headed to the Battle of the Bulge. He had had some stitches put in at the hospital. After three or four days, the doctors started getting Caponigro to exercise. This was during Christmas [Annotator's Note: Christmas 1944]. The day after Christmas Caponigro learned about the Battle of the Bulge. The Army was taking all types of soldiers to shore up the defenses, even medics. Caponigro was sent back into battle. There were several offensive charges he participated in and those charges were always supported by good artillery. In the hospital Caponigro spoke to medics who explained to him that they were not nurses and that if necessary they would have to go out onto the battlefield. There were female nurses there but they were in a different section of the hospital. Caponigro asked them what all the screaming was and was told that it was from guys who were suffering from frozen feet. Caponigro spent about two weeks in the hospital before returning to the 87th Infantry Division. He was glad to be back with his unit. There was no expression of fear shown during combat but everyone sensed that fear was there. Trucks were used in relays to bring the troops closer to the front. Caponigro was in combat in the Battle of the Bulge from shortly after Christmas until the Bulge ended on 28 December [Annotator's Note: the Battle of the Bulge ended on 25 January 1945]. Caponigro saw some of his unit friends there but they were dispersed. His shoes were frozen but he carried an extra pair of socks with him and made sure he wriggled his toes to keep them from freezing even though his boots were frozen. The doctors told him that they would tell soldiers going back to the front to keep wriggling their feet and change their socks whenever they could because their feet were always wet. Caponigro became close friends with his company commander, Captain Chadwick [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling]. The captain was later hit in both legs by enemy fire. One of Caponigro's close friends got hit by a bullet that went straight through his side. He was told to walk back about half a mile to the aid station for medical support even though the bullet had passed through him.

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After the Battle of the Bulge they went into combat in Germany where John Caponigro was wounded again. After being wounded, he was sent back to the same hospital in Nancy, France where he had been treated for his first wound [Annotator's Note: see segment titled Being Wounded]. He was hit by artillery in the calf. After returning to his unit from the hospital, he met the captain [Annotator's Note: Captain Chadwick was the commanding officer of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 346th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division] and his close buddy who had also been wounded. They had been treated in England because their wounds had been pretty serious. Caponigro and Captain Chadwick became friends even though Caponigro was just a squad leader. Caponigro's second wound was in his calf. The shrapnel that hit Caponigro ricocheted down his body. With no x-rays, the doctors probed his wounds repeatedly with a long needle. It took two weeks to remove the shrapnel. Every four hours for 28 days Caponigro was woken up and given a shot of penicillin. Caponigro credited penicillin for his healthy life. He had a nice nurse who gave him baths and was nice to him. He felt he was lucky all the way through the war. Caponigro felt God was with him. Caponigro felt the white shrouded figure [Annotator's Note: see segment titled First Combat Action]. Caponigro could not make out any features of the white shrouded figure. That figure was with him through the war and is still with him today.

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John Caponigro feels that the personnel who take part in war are the best human beings you can be with. There is nothing like the camaraderie that is experienced. He feels that it is still the same today. Soldiers feel close to the person next to them. They depend on each other. The relationships just happen that way. The saddest thing that Caponigro saw during the war was the body of a GI casualty that was left on the battlefield. The fallen were typically removed during the night but that GI had not been removed. Caponigro did not feel sad for the soldier whose life was over but for the mother at home who was not going to see her loved one again. A mother's feelings are something special. This was the only dead GI that Caponigro saw. All the GIs were picked up during the night so other GIs would not see the dead Americans. There had been a battle two days before so he saw many dead Germans. The German bodies were frozen with the intense cold weather. Dead bodies turn greenish with the cold and looks like a piece of ice. Tanks would run over them. That was a rough thing to see. Caponigro felt sorry for the dead Germans and for their mothers.

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John Caponigro feels war changes the attitude of humans. Unless a person has been in a war, they cannot appreciate the attitude changes. Flyers in the air have thoughts probably similar to Caponigro in the infantry. Thoughts always go back to the mothers. He rarely thought of his father but his mother was always on his mind. He could tell his mother worried about him while he was in combat. He wrote to his sister to reassure his mother that his wounds were not bad and that he would be all right. He feels that fathers are not as close to their children as the mothers are. Caponigro had a buddy named Frank Tasany [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] who was in the Chemical Corps because of his education in that field. Tasany told Caponigro that his parents did not understand that suggestion and that they wanted him to go get a job. Caponigro said it was natural that they would not understand. After the war, some of Caponigro's buddies from the 4th Army, Caponigro was in the 87th Infantry Division in the 3rd Army, told him that they knew Frank Tasany. They told him that Tasany had gone into the service as a regular soldier and got caught by mortar shellfire and was killed. Caponigro's friend was an educated man who did not take Caponigro's advice to go into the Chemical Corps to further his knowledge for the future. Instead, Tasany fell on the battlefield. Caponigro knew a lot of boys who fell and he regrets that they did not return. He has not been back to Europe and he does not want to go back. Caponigro belongs to a group of Battle of the Bulge veterans. He knows that a return to where he fought would be different as the places are all different now. Towns do not look the same and it would be hard to recognize where he would have been. He does not have the interest to return to Europe. Caponigro went to a training camp where he made a couple of buddies. He knew everyone in his platoon. When he came back to base from leave all of the guys he had trained with were gone. He was assigned to another group but they all were sent out without him too. His advice is that when confronted with a tough situation, go with it. With good leaders, people can advance and become good leaders, too. Caponigro was born in 1916 and was 95 years old at the time of the interview.

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