Ernest W. Rossi — World War II Army Combat Veteran 1941-1945


Ernest Rossi’s Story,

From his notes and conversations in his 89th and 90th years to a Vietnam veteran…

I was 17 and working as an outside Bank Messenger in New York City in 1941. We all knew that the war in Europe was not going well, especially for the Brits. I wanted to join and serve so I stopped in at the Royal Canadian Bank in New York and got an application. I wanted to be a part of a bomber crew that ferried planes to England, but my mother tore up my application and told me that I could lose my citizenship if I joined at my age. I wanted to anyway. December 8, 1941 found me standing in line to join the U.S. Navy. Of course there was a line to enlist—that being the day after the Pearl Harbor attack. I was told by the recruiter that I needed parental consent to join. I filled the enlistment papers and my mother promptly destroyed them as well.

When my brother Jack was drafted in January of 1942, I saw him off and enlisted in the Army. Although enlistments at that time were “frozen” they took me as a draftee with a “V” prefacing my Service Number. I went to Boot Camp in Upton, Long Island, NY. I and others were processed and shipped out to Camp Swift in Austin, TX. After Boot Camp and many months of intense training as a combat engineer, I went to Louisiana for additional training before shipping out to Newport News, VA, where I boarded a Liberty Ship. We were part of a convoy cutting through rough Atlantic waves and constantly on alert for Nazi subs travelling in “wolf packs”. Troop ships such as the one I was on, along with supply ships, were hunted as easy prey to the German subs.

We never knew before we embarked where we were headed, but learned at sea that we were headed for the North Africa coast. Our original destination had been India, so when we arrived at Oran, we had no weapons, equipment or supplies. It seemed that we were sent at last minute as backup for action on the North Africa coast, but when we arrived in December, with no coats, we all froze. We had nothing to offer as backup to anyone, and had to march 35 miles to a rifle range to get weapons and some supplies. Our Supply Sergeant had already been sent to India. What a screwed-up scenario!

After more training I was shipped out again to a staging area for what would be the D-Day invasion of Europe. I can hardly say that I “stormed the beach” at Normandy, but the fact is that I and my battalion had a widespread case of the “Hershey Squirts”, or diarrhea in layman’s terms. We did, however, land on Omaha Beach on D-Day plus 4 (D-4) and that was neither a pretty site nor a safe place to be even then. I was involved in engineer tasks such as finding and clearing mines, and fought Germans beyond the beach and far inland. My combat in Europe took me to Africa, France, Holland and Luxembourg, Germany, ending when that war did in 1945.

I was transferred to the 38th Amphibious Unit which was designated as “essential troops” in Europe with the task of clearing German mine fields. When our unit lost men and replacement personnel were sent to help, we discovered that these fresh troops had not been trained at all to disarm mines! We engineers had to remove the land mines and we then told the new guys to take them out of the field. One of us checked on these guys and discovered that they were stacking them one on top of the other. Anyone trained as we were knew that at 300 pounds of pressure the mines would explode. Now that the mine plates were stacked, they would also explode if you unstacked them due to pressure release. We detonated them when we were ready to leave the area. Fortunately no one got blown up due to the replacements’ lack of training.

During this period I was a Corporal and Acting Platoon Sergeant. I returned to the “Zone of Interior” in December of 1945, and discharged at Fort Dix, NJ.

My military career did not end with WWII. I enlisted in the NY Army National Guard and was assigned to a missile site on Long Island. In 1973 all the sites were closed and I was then sent to an ordinance battalion in New York City and Long Island. I had been First Sargent in the Missile Unit but was reduced to Technical Sargent with the assignment as Motor Sergeant. After 35 years, 8 months and 8 days of combined military service, I took my final discharge in 1980.

Of all those years, two of many memories remain significant to me. One significant experience was wartime and one later during peacetime. The first took place in Heereen, Holland, 1945. There I met two teenage girls—18 and 14—who had their bicycles stolen by retreating Germans. I could see that they were in great need for food and all else, so I found a live calf and offered it to the family to eat. The father refused to kill it but wanted it to start a herd. So I found another one, killed it, and the family then accepted that one to eat.

After the war and while still in that area of Heereen, I returned to see how those girls and family were doing. I was told by the parish priest that I should not see them because the girls would be punished and their heads shaved. I asked why, and was told to see the sign that stated “Save Us from Our Liberators.” I then learned that some allied troops that came after us had raped and looted in that town.

The second and unique peacetime memory occurred while in in El Paso Texas at Fort Bliss. I had to go there once a year to fire 3 missiles at radio controlled aerial targets. I had gone to High Altitude Missile School for a year to train as an electronic technician in order to do that, and firing those missiles was quite an experience!

Note: June, 2014–Ernest Walter Rossi “Ernie,” is today a vibrant, active 90 year-old who has two sons, James Ernest and Kyle Lynne. He is an avid country music fan who drives from his Florida home to Nashville to attend annual fan events and to meet his favorite artists Sylvia Hutton, Donna Fargo, Becky Hobbs, and especially Lane Brody. While he is a fan to all them, they too are obviously big fans of Ernie. During his busy week in Nashville I again had the honor and privilege of meeting him again to finalize his story for the WWII archives.