Segment stub for 25211

From Basic Training to Jump School

Overseas to 101st Airborne

Jumping Into Normandy

Carentan, France

Leave in England

Jumping into Holland

Eindhoven, Holland

German Breakthrough

Four Feet of Snow

Misery After the Bulge

Honoring His Friends

Bonn Hospital

Returning Home

Annotation

Joseph Lesniewski went into the US Army Air Forces and was sent to California. He was in ten different camps while there. He was in the internment camps where the Japanese were. Whenever it rained, the water came into the barracks. They had a cot, two blankets, a straw pillow, and galoshes. Many times during the night they had put them on. Lesniewski wanted out of there. He got lucky and was transferred to Camp Stockton [Annotator's Note: Stockton Army Airfield; now Stockton Metropolitan Airport in Stockton, California]. He got on a boxing team and was in the Diamond Belt tournament. He won 17 out of 18 bouts. Max Baer [Annotator's Note: Maximillian Adelbert "Max" Baer] was his trainer. During that training, he lived at the Presidio of Monterey [Annotator's Note: Monterey, California]. He could see the Golden Gate Bridge from the window. He enjoyed himself. He was transferred to Chanute Field, Illinois [Annotator's Note: later Chanute Air Force Base in Champaign County, Illinois]. He wanted to become a pilot. He was learning how to repair planes. He asked an officer if he could take a test for Cadet training. He took the test and got a high score. He went to Hunter Field in Georgia [Annotator’s Note: Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia]. They lived in huge tents and he did not like that. Georgia has a lot of red dirt and every day you would have to take a shower. They did not have any training so he would go to Tybee Beach to swim and sunbathe. He asked for a transfer for Airborne and was accepted. He went to Camp McCall, North Carolina for training for three months. They were told they were packing up at the end of 1943.

Annotation

Joseph Lesniewski had no problems with his first jumps. He told his sister that when he made the jumps, he would take a postcard and write to her on the way down. She still has the card. He loved it. He went to Camp Shanks, New York. At McCall [Annotator's Note: Camp McCall, North Carolina], he only trained with the M1 [Annotator's Note: .30 caliber M1 semi-automatic rifle, also known as the M1 Garand]. Serious training came later. At Camp Shanks, they loaded up and headed overseas. About halfway across, they got a warning signal to hit the top deck due to u-boats [Annotator's Note: German submarine]. There were 3,000 of them on deck. It was just about dusk. While up there, they saw two boats get torpedoed. The first boat went down in about ten minutes and lost 3,000 people. The second took about an hour to sink. Everyone got off. Lesniewski arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. They went to Helen's Bay where Quonset huts [Annotator's Note: prefabricated metal building] were set-up. He wanted a shower. He bumped into someone who fell down. It was his next-door neighbor who had spent three years in Iceland. Lesniewski spoke Polish fluently. He was sent to London, and was interviewed by General Anders [Annotator's Note: Polish Army Lieutenant General Władysław Albert Anders] from Poland. There were five of them who went. They started training to jump into the southeastern part of Warsaw [Annotator's Note: Warsaw, Poland]. They learned to take weapons apart, make bombs, use German and Russian guns. The mission was cancelled and Anders asked them where they wanted to be transferred. Lesniewski wanted to go to E Company, 506th [Annotator's Note: Company E, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division]. On 12 March [Annotator's Note: 12 March 1944], he got the orders to go. When he got there, he was an outsider and not accepted. Being a boxer, he had four or five fights with guys. One was Donald Moon. Alex Penkala [Annotator's Note: Private First Class Alex M. Penkala, Jr.] and Skip Muck [Annotator's Note: Sergeant Warren H. "Skip" Muck] took him under their guardianship and took care of him. He knocked the living hell out of the guys who fought him. After that, they started making friends with him. [Annotator's Note: The interviewer has him say this over.] Penkala had a guitar and Muck had another instrument. They got together and sang Western songs up until the day they jumped into Normandy [Annotator's Note: D-Day; the Allied invasion of Normandy, France on 6 June 1944]. Meanwhile, they trained strenuously day and night.

Annotation

[Annotator's Note: Joseph Lesniewski joined Company E, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division and was training to jump into Normandy, France on D-Day, 6 June 1944.] Their training was a little bit of everything. Everything had to go into their heads and not be forgotten. They went to Upottery Airfield [Annotator's Note: RAF Upottery, East Devon, England] for one week. They first were notified to jump and they were sent back due to bad weather. The next day they started getting ready in the afternoon. About eight in the evening, they started loading the planes. It took until around 11 o'clock for all of the planes to get into formation. They just sat on the plane until they jumped. They were to drop into Sainte-Mere-Eglise [Annotator's Note: Sainte-Mère-Église, France]. They were about 40 feet above the ocean. Over France, they just waited for the green light [Annotator's Note: the signal to jump from the plane]. There was flak [Annotator's Note: antiaircraft artillery fire] everywhere. The plane to their right got shot down. All were killed. Lesniewski was in plane 70 at 450 feet. The pilot was Lepard [Annotator's Note: possibly later US Air Force Colonel Donald George Lepard] and was damn good. It was a pleasure to get out of that plane. The flak made him glad to hit the ground. His friend Ed [Annotator's Note: Private Edward J. Joint] hit just about the same time just feet away. They took their chutes off and took off. They could not find anybody for a couple of days. They finally found some of their guys. He did not know where he was. Company F [Annotator's Note: Company F, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division] guys were there and there was enemy in front of them. They set up some small mortars and then went to look for Company E. Lesniewski carried an M1 [Annotator's Note: .30 caliber M1 semi-automatic rifle, also known as the M1 Garand], eight clips, and two mortar rounds. He was not weighed down and feels lucky. A lot of the guys with heavy equipment were hurt badly on their jumps.

Annotation

Joseph Lesniewski and Ed [Annotator's Note: Private Edward J. Joint] took off and were looking for more people. It took almost a full day to find them in Carentan [Annotator's Note: Carentan, France]. They got in when a terrible fight was going on [Annotator's Note: Battle of Carentan, 10 to 14 June 1944]. Dick Winters [Annotator's Note: later US Army Major Richard Davis Winters] told them to get in with the rest of them. It was house-to-house fighting and it was bad. He hates to say it, but during the whole time he thought he was playing a game. None of it ever got to him. He was not in Carentan that long. He did see a lot of the guys wounded and killed. He saw soldiers shooting from windows. They [Annotator's Note: the Germans] were all over. After the fighting ended, they went into another area. There was a house that had a couple of snipers. Winters picked him, Bill Guarnere [Annotator's Note: Staff Sergeant William J. Guarnere], Maxwell Clark [Annotator's Note: Private First Class Maxwell W. Clark], Willy Wagner [Annotator's Note: Technician 5th Grade William H. Wagner], and Albert Blithe [Annotator's Note: Master Sergeant Albert Blithe] to go on patrol. Shots rang out and Blithe got hit. Lesniewski carried an extra t-shirt and was next to Blithe. He could stick his fist into the wound, and he stuffed the shirt in. They got back to their line. Things started getting easier. They moved quite a few times and got breaks along the way. It went on like that.

Annotation

Joseph Lesniewski liked his M1 [Annotator's Note: .30 caliber M1 semi-automatic rifle, also known as the M1 Garand]. It was a good weapon and he had it zeroed in and had no trouble hitting his target. When you hear them scream, you know they got hit. His training was working, and they did very well compared to the enemy. His guys always ended up on top. He does not recall any foxholes at night while in France. He slept mostly on the ground. Foxholes came later in Holland and Bastogne [Annotator's Note: Bastogne, Belgium]. You would hear burp guns [Annotator's Note: German MP-40, or Maschinenpistole 40, 9mm submachine gun] going off at night now and then. During the day it was the same thing until they got ordered back to Utah Beach [Annotator's Note: Utah Beach, Normandy, France, July 1944]. He had never seen anything like that in his life. There were miles and miles of every kind of equipment and food you could imagine. They got on an LST [Annotator's Note: Landing Ship, Tank] to go back to England. He went to the top deck and he was watching thousands and thousands of boats going either to France or back to England. It was a massive sight and it affected him. It was unbelievable. They landed in England [Annotator's Note: on 13 July 1944] and that was it for a while. They went to their barracks in Aldbourne. They got a seven day pass [Annotator's Note: an authorized absence for a short period of time]. Lesniewski when to Birmingham [Annotator's Note: Birmingham, England]. His neighbor back home had a sister who lived there. He called her and she sent someone to pick him up. He visited and had dinner. He stayed there another five days. He did not believe he would meet a person who was related to his neighbors who were music teachers. He was their grocery boy. He then went back to training.

Annotation

Sometime in August [Annotator's Note: August 1944], Joseph Lesniewski and his outfit [Annotator's Note: Company E, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division] were told they would be jumping again. They got to the planes and were told that Patton's [Annotator's Note: US Army Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr.] armor had overrun their field in Chartres, France. They stayed a few more days and then were told they were jumping in Tournai, Belgium. They got word again that Patton had overrun their zone. On 17 September they got word they were jumping into Holland [Annotator's Note: Operation Market Garden, Netherlands, 17 to 25 September 1944]. When they got on the ground, there were thousands of planes going into Germany to bomb. Lesniewski laid down on the ground and watched them go over. He could not believe it. They were close to the first wave that hit Holland. When the gliders started coming in that was a great sight. The Dutch had plowed their fields for them, and it was like landing on a feather. Lesniewski saw a bad accident. The C-47s [Annotator's Note: Douglas C-47 Skytrain cargo aircraft] were each pulling a glider, they would all turn in the same direction. One pilot went the other way and the two gliders hit. Everybody was killed. They were the first casualties in Holland. They came in without opposing fire. Their target was the bridge going into Zon. They captured Zon [Annotator's Note: Zon, Holland] and Eindhoven [Annotator's Note: Eindhoven, Holland], the first two liberated towns [Annotator's Note: 17 and 18 September 1944]. The Germans had blown up the bridge before they could secure it. The people of Eindhoven were cheering. Lesniewski just wanted to clean up. They all spoke English. He told a couple he would like to take a shower. Holland was more modern than the United States was. They let him use their bathtub.

Annotation

Joseph Lesniewski did not run into any resistance landing in Holland [Annotator's Note: during Operation Market Garden, Netherlands, 17 to 25 September 1944]. They took the cities of Zon [Annotator's Note: Zon, Holland] and Eindhoven [Annotator's Note: Eindhoven, Holland]. They were on their way to another town and got word there was a column of tanks trying to cut them off from the city. They turned around and went back to Eindhoven. They started getting into a lot of battles. It was called Hell's Highway due to the number of battles fought. He went on a lot of patrols, but none were very important. They could not find the enemy even though they were deep into their territory. It went like that until they got to the Waal River. They crossed the Waal and relieved the Canadian troops there. It was a good setup. He and Ed [Annotator's Note: Private Edward J. Joint] stayed in a barn. They were there for eight or nine days. Dick Winters [Annotator's Note: later US Army Major Richard Davis Winters] called on them to go on a patrol. Winters heard that there was some movement at the crossroads and the barn. He wanted them to check it out. They got there and Art Youman [Annotator's Note: Sergeant Arthur C. Youman] told Lesniewski to go up the dike and check it out. About three-quarters of the way up, he put his helmet on his rifle even with the road. He went a little higher and a flare went off and lit up the whole area. The Kraut was looking directly at Lesniewski and threw a grenade at him. It hit his helmet and bounced down. He told the men who mostly got away. Jim Alley [Annotator's Note: Staff Sergeant James "Moe" Alley, Jr.] got peppered with 32 hits. All of them got hit. Lesniewski had eight grenades. He told them to go back and he started throwing his grenades as fast as he could. He could hear crying, moaning, and screaming. He threw his last grenade and took off. He thinks he ran the fastest mile ever. His neck was bleeding but he did not know it, until Winters pointed it out. The other guys were hit worse than him. They went to the hospital in Eindhoven. He spent a week and said he wanted to go back.

Annotation

Joseph Lesniewski , Shifty Powers [Annotator's Note: Staff Sergeant Darrell C. "Shifty" Powers] and another guy were to go to a house in enemy territory at 11 o'clock at night and return by five in the morning. It was the scariest thing he had done. He could see all kinds of movement in the front. They did that for eight days. He was getting nervous on the eight day. There had been another action while he was at the hospital. They took 20 rafts to get about 140 men out, British and Polish troops who had jumped into Arnhem; A Bridge Too Far [Annotator's Note: 1977 film by Richard Attenborough based on Operation Market Garden, Netherlands, 17 to 25 September 1944]. The Germans had the area surrounded because they had been alerted. A brigade of Polish Airborne was almost all killed. The ones on the rafts were all that were left. On 28 November they left for Mourmelon-le-Grand [Annotator's Note: Mourmelon-le-Grand, France]. There was one thing that happened along the way that he was told not to talk about that he still will not talk about. They got to Mourmelon-le-Grand on 30 November. Their clothing was taken because they were going to get resupplied. Lesniewski was at a USO [Annotator's Note: United Service Organizations] show on 13 December, with Marlene Dietrich [Annotator's Note: Marie Magdalene Marlene Dietrich; German-born American actress and singer], Mickey Rooney [Annotator's Note: born Ninnian Joseph Yule, Jr.; American entertainer], and Esther Williams [Annotator's Note: Esther Jane Williams; American actress] and he met them. About ten o'clock, the lights dimmed, and they were told there was a breakthrough along the line [Annotator's Note: Battle of the Bulge or German Ardennes Counter Offensive, 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945]. They had to be ready for action within an hour. The saddest part was that their clothes had been taken from them. He managed to get a warm jacket. A lot of them did not have shoes. Lesniewski did not have boots; 300 of them did not. They tied burlap sacks to their feet. They loaded in the trucks and took off. The drivers were Black guys, the Red Ball Express [Annotator's Note: Allied forces truck convoy system].

Annotation

[Annotator's Note: Joseph Lesniewski served in the Army as a paratrooper in Company E, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division and was sent to take part in the Battle of the Battle of the Bulge or German Ardennes Counteroffensive on 16 December 1944.] Once they got there, they were witnessing something they had never seen in their lives. It was getting colder and raining. Before they went to their area, they saw what was happening. The 28th Infantry Division and the 106th Infantry Division were retreating. Some of them were in a daze. They had lost about 18,000 men. Lesniewski would take those guys' ammunition. He went in with one clip. They had no artillery. They managed to get some ammunition from the Colored [Annotator's Note: an ethnic descriptor historically used for Black people in the United States] guys who came in from the west into their pocket. The officers told them to dig fast and dig deep because a cold front was coming in. Lesniewski and two other guys dug a hole and cut trees down to put over it. They cut slits to see through. By midnight it was snowing. They ended up with four feet of snow. The German troops were dressed in white. They got within 15 to 20 feet of them. One guy saw their eyes and got word back. All they had to do was point their rifles at those eyes. They piled them up like cord wood. Lesniewski did his share. There were six full German divisions and the remnants of another 12 trying to get through. He took good care of his M1 [Annotator's Note: .30 caliber M1 semi-automatic rifle, also known as the M1 Garand] and never had any problems with it. The Germans came to McAuliffe [Annotator's Note: US Army General Anthony Clement "Nuts" McAuliffe] and told him to surrender. McAuliffe said "nuts". The men heard about that within minutes. They could not believe it.

Annotation

[Annotator's Note: Joseph Lesniewski served in the Army as a paratrooper in Company E, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division and took part in the Battle of the Bulge or German Ardennes Counteroffensive.] Once they broke out of the pocket, the misery came in. They were on the attack from 12 January until 3 May [Annotator’s Note: 12 January to 3 May 1945]. All that while they hardly had food. If they wanted water, they had to melt snow. They would go into homes and look for food. In February, the temperatures went down to about 35 below zero. They were on the attack for about three continuous days, day and night, and got no sleep. Some guys would just lay down in the snow and freeze to death. Once, he saw a German leaning against a tree. He was not moving. He was frozen to death standing up. Lesniewski was on the attack when they liberated Foy [Annotator's Note: Foy, Belgium]. Ed Joint [Annotator's Note: Private Edward J. Joint] got hit in the arm. The enemy was retreating and got to the next hill and zeroed in where they had just been. The Americans got into the German's foxholes. Lesniewski was on the right side of them to observe for stragglers. The Germans started to shell them like rain. There were many killed and wounded. Lesniewski jumped into a ditch and stayed there. A shell came his way and hit the ground by his face. He could not move his body; everything was frozen except his eyes and mouth. He started talking to that shell. He told it to explode and kill him. It was about 15 or 20 minutes until he could move away. He went down to the unit [Annotator's Note: Company E, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division]. His friends Alex Penkala [Annotator's Note: Private First Class Alex M. Penkala, Jr.] and Skip Muck [Annotator's Note: Sergeant Warren H. "Skip" Muck] had a direct hit on their fox hole; they could not find any part of their bodies. Bill Guarnere [Annotator's Note: Staff Sergeant William J. Guarnere] had his legs blown off. Others lost limbs, were blinded.

Annotation

Skip Muck [Annotator's Note: Sergeant Warren H. "Skip" Muck] and Alex Penkala [Annotator's Note: Private First Class Alex M. Penkala, Jr.] were the ones that sang Western songs with Joseph Lesniewski in England. When they jumped into Normandy [Annotator's Note: D-Day; the Allied invasion of Normandy, France on 6 June 1944], each parachute had a small chute that pulled the big one out. He cut that chute off and carried it with him. At Aldbourne [Annotator's Note: Aldbourne, England], he had them autograph it for him. He got to meet one of the families at a reunion. He showed them the parachute with his name on it. The husband of one of the girls started to cry and then they talked. He asked Lesniewski if he could have it. At the following reunion he gave it to him. They invited him to come to a picnic, but he could not make it. He is trying to go this Fourth of July [Annotator's Note: the year of this interview].

Annotation

Joseph Lesniewski kept no records about where they were going. In one battle, he got hit twice [Annotator's Note: he shows his scars to the camera]. They were on the attack from 16 December [Annotator's Note: 16 December 1944] until 3 March [Annotator's Note: 3 March 1945] with no bath, no change of underclothes. Lesniewski had to take care of his wounds himself. He had patches with sulfa powder from the time he got hit until he got to Haguenau [Annotator's Note: Haguenau, France]. He had two infections. He was sent to the University of Bonn hospital [Annotator's Note: University Hospital Bonn, Germany]. He was there for nine days and it was getting worse [Annotator's Note: prior to the hospital]. He got to a field hospital in Liege [Annotator's Note: Liège, Belgium] and it got to where he could not walk. Medics undressed him and one passed out when he looked at Lesniewski's legs. [Annotator's Note: Lesniewski gets emotional.] They worked on him right away and he was there for 78 days [Annotator's Note: in Bonn, Germany]. He had penicillin every day. They got to a point where they were going to amputate his legs. [Annotator’s Note: Lesniewski gets very emotional.] Major Meyers [Annotator's Note: unable to identify] from the 101st Airborne Division came up and told the doctors he was not going to lose his legs. He spent another ten days in the replacement depot and missed the trip to Berchtesgaden [Annotator's Note: Berchtesgaden, Germany]. They were going to send him to another outfit, and he refused to go. They drove him back to Company E [Annotator's Note: Company E, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division] and they ended up in Zell Am See [Annotator's Note: Zell Am See, Austria]. Then they went back to Mourmelon-le-Grand [Annotator's Note: Mourmelon-le-Grand, France, July 1945] for a few weeks. He then went to Antwerp [Annotator's Note: Antwerp, Belgium].

Annotation

Joseph Lesniewski got on a Liberty ship [Annotator's Note: a class of quickly produced cargo ship]. There were only 19 of them and he was the only White guy. The rest of them were Black. They were real nice guys and he got to meet with a few of them after the war. They all went their ways after six or seven years. They were moving along nice. He would sit in the bow of the ship during the day and watch the dolphins all day long. The seventh day they got hit by the tail-end of a hurricane and they took on some water. A destroyer pulled them into Boston [Annotator's Note: Boston, Massachusetts]. He went to Fort Indiantown Gap [Annotator's Note: Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania] for a week. He got his soldier's pay and travel money. He had two duffle bags and one of the MPs [Annotator's Note: military police] took him to the road. There were not any railroad or bus stations around, and he had to hitchhike home. A guy picked him up for a good portion of the trip. Lesniewski took everything out of his car when he had to get out, and the guy put a gun to his head. He took all of his money. Lesniewski got home about four or five o'clock in the morning. His mother was crying. His dad had no feeling for anybody. He had no trouble transitioning. There were such shortages, that there were no clothes available to buy. He was in his uniform for about six weeks. [Annotator's Note: Lesniewski gets up and then sits back down.] He was a PFC [Annotator's Note: Private First Class] when he jumped on D-Day [Annotator's Note: D-Day; the Allied invasion of Normandy, France on 6 June 1944]. He was number ten in the stick. [Annotator's Note: The interviewer asks if he remembers who his jumpmaster was.] That stuff was minor. He was not worried about a jump master he was worried about a Kraut [Annotator's Note: a period derogatory term for Germans] down there waiting for him.

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