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Interview with Joseph L. Bieber [12/31/2002]

Stephen P. Simonds:

Joe, give us the basic identifying information -in terms of the branch of the service you served in , and where you served.

Joseph L. Bieber:

I was drafted when I was 18, just out of high school and we went to Ft. Dix NJ and basic training at Ft. Wheeling in Georgia. Our Sergeant would tell us, "in 3 months you will be overseas." We used to laugh at him, but he was right. What year was that?

Joseph L. Bieber:

1943, that's when I entered service

Stephen P. Simonds:

Since we're at the outset, give your branch, identifying information, division, etc.

[Interviewer notes the following: Joseph Bieber's specialty was Rifleman 745 and qualified as Combat Infantryman]

Joseph L. Bieber:

OK, the whole group of us went overseas to N. Africa and we joined the 34th infantry division and we were assigned to Company B, 133 rd Infantry Regiment. We were replacements - we didn't do any fighting in North Africa -just training , 2 or 3 months before we went on. We came in at Casablanca where we landed then went across to Sidi-Bel-Abbes, Algeria, which was the home of the French Foreign Legion, which was something to see and that area is where we did our training for an amphibious landing. That was no good.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Were you a Corporal at the time?

Joseph L. Bieber:

No, I was a Corporal after I got there. We were in the service for only 4 months. Just 4 months in the service before we were in the fighting. We were all green. We knew nothing from nothing - let's face it. Same for all of us. We were a group that took basic training together.

Stephen P. Simonds:

You mentioned that his was an Iowa group. How did you happen to get with them?

Joseph L. Bieber:

It was the Iowa National Guard. They were there already. They needed replacements and they would take what they could get. They were getting ready to invade Italy and Sicily. They had lost quite a few on landing in North Africa. We were their replacements and green as grass. Well we didn't have to go to Sicily - we went to Italy. We didn't come in on the original invasion -the 36th Division was in front of us. They were ahead and we followed them in. from then on, the Germans were retreating. They'd retreat for a while, stop and shoot at us. As soon as we got close, they would shoot at us again and move out. This was the way it was all the way up the boot of Italy.

Stephen P. Simonds:

So the 36th went in at Salerno?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yep. They got clobbered there. They were a Texas division. They were a new division. They weren't used to combat. They weren't used to anything. I doubt if anybody ever gets used to combat. But that's what we did, marching up.

Stephen P. Simonds:

From where did you embark from North Africa? 2

Joseph L. Bieber:

I can't remember. I told you there's a lot I can't remember.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Then you went straight to Salerno?

Stephen P. Simonds:

On what kind of craft

Joseph L. Bieber:

On regular landing craft - LSTs It wasn't that far across to Italy. We didn't go on ships. In the Mediterranean Sea - it wasn't that far.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Where were you wounded?

Joseph L. Bieber:

On a place called Rapido River. It was a river crossing. River crossings were murder. That's where the 36th got killed on the Salerno River. Guys on the other side would set up ambushes and all of sudden you get hit. Same thing happened to us at the Rapido River.* I got hit by a mortar shell the first time. I was carrying a BAR. They pick the tallest guy to carry the BAR. My munitions carrier was my best buddy. He was from South Philadelphia. We were real good friends and he lost a leg there. He got hit. A shell dropped between us and it broke in his direction. I got hit in the back of my leg. Same leg I got wounded with later. If you're going to have a bad leg you might as well only have one.

Stephen P. Simonds:

You once mentioned an 88.

Joseph L. Bieber:

That was the second time. That was off the Anzio beachhead. That was worse yet.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Did you go ashore at Anzio?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yeah. I was back in the hospital. I was there for a couple or 3 months I guess. They needed people so they stitched me up and because they were going to go to Anzio they called us back and we went back to the same division, luckily - the same 11 guys, the same platoon. We went from Naples to Anzio on a ship, climbed down the side, dropped into a landing craft. The trouble there was the Anzio beachhead is flat for spas and big fancy hotels and everything - not that we got to see any of them. As we went in, the Germans were behind the beachhead in the hills, all dug in there. They had these big railroad guns. They would push them out, shoot a shell, pull them back in again. Shells would go for miles and miles. Once we got up to the front lines, it wasn't so bad because they were shooting back at the beachhead. While we were landing they were dropping them in.

Stephen P. Simonds:

So when you went ashore the Germans were still covering the beach?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Oh yeah. They'd shoot at everything coming in. Supplies came in the same time we did. The original group had only been there about a month before I got back to them.

Stephen P. Simonds:

So you rejoined them. Was there another division that went in first?

Joseph L. Bieber:

The 34 was in there. I am trying to think who else was in there. There was a bunch of people there because there were Rangers on one side of us and we had Singhalese troops - young guys. They used to go around checking out fox holes. If you had the wrong kind of helmet on you'd have your throat cut. They used to do it too. They were some fighters. The 2" Battalion was pulled out to serve as honor guard for Clark or one of the Generals over there so we got the Japanese-Americans as our 2nd Battalion and they were a great bunch of guys. They were really out to prove something.

Stephen P. Simonds:

So eventually the 34th broke out and started......

Joseph L. Bieber:

While I was in the hospital they broke out and went to Monte Casino. That's one of the places the 34th went. That's where Ernie Pyle hung out with them for a while. That was another thing - there was so much mud.. The only way to get supplies up the mountain was with mules. That was all they had. They couldn't use any trucks, they couldn't use anything there was so much mud. and rain - it was awful. The one thing I remember about Italy - that's walking in the mud up over your ankles. All the other guys were just riding through and us poor infantry just walking.

Stephen P. Simonds:

How did you feel about that?

Joseph L. Bieber:

What you going to do? You got from here to there. You'd get a ride once in a while. It was just the trucks made such a mess by the time we got there it was sloppy and the roads up the mountains were in bad shape and treacherous.

Stephen P. Simonds:

That's the kind of scene bill Mauldin used to draw.

Joseph L. Bieber:

Oh Yeah , you had to be there and see that to know what was going on

Stephen P. Simonds:

So, from Anzio, where did you go?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Back to the hospital - laughter - we were on Anzio for about three and a half months. Then I guess and they said, "ok, we're going to go. We're starting out." We were the B lead company and our platoon was at the head of it, which is to say, 'here we are fellows, shoot at us and then we'll know where all your guns are.' They tried with planes to get them but they couldn't because they'd shoot and get back in (to the mountainside). We had 35-millimeter canons with us - like having a popgun - and a smoke screen ahead of us which is good until the wind comes up and blows all the smoke away and there we are. We're out in the middle of a field with about three quarters of our company killed or wounded. Awful. I believe to this day we were put out there just to draw fire. They knew damn well what was going to happen and they knew where everything was.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Say again what your company and battalion were.

Joseph L. Bieber:

Company B 133 Infantry Battalion.

Stephen P. Simonds:

So your company was the lead company and your platoon was the lead platoon?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yeah,

Stephen P. Simonds:

And it was an 88 that hit you?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yeah, I assume it was an 88. they also had tanks dug in up in the hills.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Then you went back to the hospital?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Two days later - three days later. I was laying out there - we went out in the morning early and nobody got me - our medic patched me up as much as he could. I laid there till after dark -I don't remember exactly what time. They got out there after dark and got us - what was left of us.

Stephen P. Simonds:

So you must have had a few friends —

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yeah, the squad and then the platoon - they're always all together. We were practically wiped out. What happened there - a piece of shell hit me. I'm assuming - it sounded like an 88 when the shell exploded not too far away. When the shell blew up it sent a piece sideways through my leg and must have hit the bone, turned over on the way through and pulled out a piece of flesh, bone and muscle as big as your fist. I didn't see it then because I was in shock and don't remember too much about it. When I got to the hospital I had to lie on my stomach for 6 to 7 weeks for that to fill in. They did a good job with a bone graft. They did the best they could. I remember one doctor, a major, he wanted to cut my leg off. I said, "you're not going to cut my leg off - no way!" Another doctor there, I forget what his last name was, he was a Captain, he said I think I can save that leg - and he did.

Stephen P. Simonds:

What did he do?

Joseph L. Bieber:

He had me lay on my stomach - opened things up, got all the fragments out or most of what he could get out. It was just a case of having to go back in. I had to lay on my stomach because it (the shell fragment) went in this side and came out inside right in the fleshly part. Luckily it missed my knee or they would have done something. If it had hit my knee it would have been finished. After that I went back to New York at Halloran General Hospital on Staten Island. Which was a children's hospital for mentally disturbed kids. The Army took it over and they did a bone graft there. They took a bone from the shin and moved it up to fill in. It was a long haul. I spent more time in a hospital than anywhere else.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Did your ammunition carrier survive?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yes. That was the first time - at Salerno - Rapido River.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Did you have any contact with your family during this period?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yeah, the mail catches up with you. I still have the telegram they sent the family - "your son had been wounded " My mother saved all that stuff. She had all the letters I wrote - all the V-Mail - remember?

Stephen P. Simonds:

Yes. Do you still have them?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yeah, a lot of it, yes. I forgot about that. They're (military archives) asking about such things but that's about all I have. I have the telegrams. I'll have to scrounge around to see if I can find them. Do you want some of those?

Stephen P. Simonds:

Yes, the archives people would love to have them.

Joseph L. Bieber:

Ok I'll have to scrounge around. Nobody else is going to want them.

Stephen P. Simonds:

I don't know about that. Hard to tell. The next generations in the family might want them.

Stephen P. Simonds:

What about living conditions?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Living was in fox holes with only what you carried on our backs. But every once in a while we'd get sent back for a rest.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Any entertainment along the way?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Only after we got back to the states.

Stephen P. Simonds:

You first went from Georgia to Newport News Virginia and left from Norfolk?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yeah, on a ship that used to go between Hawaii and California. Talk about living conditions, it was living like rats. Awful. I ended up sleeping on deck - up four decks. By the time you got back down to eat everybody was sick.

Stephen P. Simonds:

That was from Norfolk to where?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Casablanca, Morocco. One thing I remember about that - from 5 miles off shore, you could smell the place. It stunk! Amazing. There a lot of tough places in the U.S. but you never saw anything like it there - people living like that.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Where were you living when you were drafted/?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Highland Mills, New York. - a little north of WestPoint. In fact we used to play the Plebes at basketball and soccer at Harriman State Park. That was 1943.1 graduated in '42.

Stephen P. Simonds:

So did I.

Joseph L. Bieber:

I got drafted right after that. And in February we were on our way.

Stephen P. Simonds:

So you didn't have much choice - whether Army, Navy or whatever?

Joseph L. Bieber:

That was during and just after the African campaign. They needed people. They didn't care what you wanted or what you wanted to do. Maybe some of the enlisted people had choices but I think at that time most of people were shoved right in to the Army and right after the African Campaign and right into the infantry. That's where all the infantry losses were. - except for the tank corps - they got clobbered over there at El Alemaine.

Stephen P. Simonds:

So you went across North Africa. Was there any fighting along the way?

Joseph L. Bieber:

We went from Casablanca to -1 really can't remember where we embarked. It was a short distance to Italy.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Tunisia is closest to Sicily - maybe there?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yeah. The campaign in Sicily was nearly over though they were still cleaning up there. We didn't have to go there.

Stephen P. Simonds:

So after getting wounded you got in the hospital then out again for more combat?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yes, about 2 months in hospital the first time - they took us to the field hospital first and then - where did we go - oh yes, a place on the coast on the Mediterranean Sea - a re-conditioning place where you were bad enough to be bedridden and could get around with crutches. At that time I couldn't walk. It took about 3 months to heal up.

Stephen P. Simonds:

You did your convalescing where?

Joseph L. Bieber:

In Africa.

Stephen P. Simonds:

They sent you back to Africa?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yes, the first time, somewhere on the Mediterranean - maybe Tunis. I remember a beautiful beach -1 can't remember the name of it. I had all that stuff in a little booklet but can't locate it -and my memory isn't that great. I don't know whether I shut a lot of it out or what. The second time I was in Naples in a hospital where they wanted to cut my leg off. We were put on a hospital ship and I ended up in New York. I remembered being on a train and ended up somewhere in the south.

Stephen P. Simonds:

When you first went over was there any talk of German submarines?

Joseph L. Bieber:

We weren't in a convoy - we were by ourselves - no escort. There might have been something around us that I didn't know about it. That ship was loaded. There were two ships -former cruise ships, one from San Francisco and one from Mariposa. I would have remembered if there was a submarine scare. I don't think we were that far up in the North Atlantic. I remembered seeing the Southern Cross. We went to Casablanca that is on the western tip of Africa - right? I remember how people lived there - goats and chickens all lived in the house. All the kids -they're always trying to sell you something - or steal it.

Stephen P. Simonds:

So you had a chance to go on - what we in the Navy called, liberty, right?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Just a couple of times. We were training most of the time. I remember sitting in a bus on the way to Sidi-Bel-Abbes. The French Foreign Legion soldiers were there. They had the biggest red-light district in all of Africa. We never got to see it. Not sure I wanted to see it.

Stephen P. Simonds:

You said you got intensive training all along. What kind of training was it?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Regular stuff - crawling under barbed wire, hand-to-hand fighting etc. We didn't get a lot of basic training like street-to-street, house-to-house. That was all over when we got there. We got invasion training, coming down cargo nets into landing craft.

Stephen P. Simonds:

What time of the year was it when you were in Salerno?

Joseph L. Bieber:

It must have been summer time. It wasn't cold. In the winter all it did was rain.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Then how much later were you in Anzio - 3 months?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Well, about 3 or 4 months later. Our division had just come from Mt. Casino Same old thing. They lost a lot people there. Stupidest thing I ever saw. Why they ever did that I don't know. They could have gone past it and left it there. I wonder sometimes. What were those generals thinking of.

Stephen P. Simonds:

At the time the public understood that they couldn't get by Monte Casino.

Joseph L. Bieber:

Ha! 'Couldn't get by it.' They couldn't take it - that's for sure - not by foot (soldiers) They got bogged down. I understand they rebuilt that.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Yes, my wife and I saw it from the highway.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Where were you discharged? [Joe searches records] By the way, you got your 2 bronze stars for action in Salerno and Anzio?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yeah, the campaigns are mentioned here: Naples-Foggia and Rome-Arno. I didn't get to Arno, that's where we were aiming for. It was about 50 miles away and it about broke my heart that we didn't get to Rome.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Did the unit still go on?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yes, they pulled them out and they went to southern France. - 34th division. By that time I don't know if there was anybody left in it. I don't think they had any heavy fighting after that. They knew it wouldn't be anything like the beachheads (Salerno & Anzio). When they landed there were no Germans there at all. They found that out later.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Have you kept up with any of your - you lost so many of your soldier friends -

Joseph L. Bieber:

I lost all the names and everything else I had. The only guys I knew any more were the guys who came back to the states I met in Halloran Hospital and I lost track of those guys.

Stephen P. Simonds:

What did you do after you were discharged?

Joseph L. Bieber:

My brother-in-law got me a job with Addressograph, Multigraph Company, an inside job, in New York City. They needed someone to work in the shop on printing machines. The home office was in Chicago. They're probably out of business now and in to computers.

Joseph L. Bieber:

Did you utilize the GI Bill?

Stephen P. Simonds:

The only thing I used it for was my first house.

Joseph L. Bieber:

4 percent mortgage I think it was. I never used any of the medical things. I didn't want to go to any more Army hospitals. But I got a pension and used that money for my needs - but if I'd had anything really bad I probably would have to go. If I break my leg again or something like that I'd probably have to go. But they had given me a pension and why should I.....I just didn't feel right about running to the hospital with every little thing I had. Besides I wanted to have my own doctor.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Did you join any of the veterans organizations?

Joseph L. Bieber:

The Disabled American Veterans. I just got a letter from them - looking for money. I do what I can for them. They do a lot of good. And I belong to the Catholic War Veterans. That was in New Jersey. But I didn't join up here.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Looking back on it did your experience have any impact on your life - what you chose to do or chose not to do - career-wise or otherwise?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Oh ... not really. I probably would have liked to have gone to college. I probably could have but by that time I was married and I had a fairly decent job. I worked for 40 years and retired from that. But I liked it. It was a good job. More or less on your own - figuring things out - what you want to do - how can I take this, how can I take that to solve a problem. Our salesmen would come in and they'd say "can you make anything to run tea tickets," They were good times, working there.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Then you were married shortly after getting out?

Joseph L. Bieber:

We were married in 1947. Lorraine was a telephone operator in the hospital.

Stephen P. Simonds:

That was when you were in the hospital - in 1947.

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yes, I was in the Army for 4 years - '43 to '47.

Stephen P. Simonds:

For a couple of those years, 1945 on, you were convalescing?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yes, those were the years I was in Halloran Hospital. I had two operations there, skin grafts and bone graft.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Looks like they did a good job on you - considering.

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yeah

Stephen P. Simonds:

What do you think of the present day situation?

Joseph L. Bieber:

I don't know what's going to happen. I kind of feel we can't be stepped on. There's no way you're going to please these terrorists; you've got to do something with them. What are you going to do with them? They have no love for people. People are nothing to them and that's not right. Bothers me no end. In the same way I hate to see that our GIs have to go fighting in these hot regions. Making peace in Bosnia was another mess. You can't take care of the whole world but you have to do something but how much can you do if you don't get any help from anybody.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Do you remember what your attitude was at the start of World War II? I remember mine--I couldn't wait to get in.

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yeah - everybody was gung ho. You had something to fight for. You knew you had to do this for your country because after Pearl Harbor you couldn't help feel patriotic, but this Viet Nam thing - those poor guys got such a screwing. They thought they were doing something for their country and those that were in there were told it was the right thing - but when they got back the country spit on them. There were a whole bunch of guys that were screwed up - messed up. I feel sorry for them I really do. People look at them like they are garbage, you know.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Some different than after the Second World War.

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yeah. We should never have been in Viet Nam anyway.

Stephen P. Simonds:

I agree

Joseph L. Bieber:

When I think about it, I wonder - what did we gain? We didn't gain anything with that. And we lost a lot good people. And it didn't stop the spread of communism. And the Korean thing, that was a mess. I don't know.

Stephen P. Simonds:

It was fascinating career you had with the U.S. army from 1943 to 1947. You were still in the Army in 1947!

Joseph L. Bieber:

Yes, for a total of 4 years and.......Let's see. They figure your "pay-time." For pay purpose, mine was 4 years, 2 months, 25 days. I got $300 mustering out pay, a $100 of that a "bonus" or whatever they called it, $60 in "soldiers' deposit" and $5.70 for travel. I sent it all home to my 10 mother. After I got home and got married, she gave it all to me, plus what I had sent home - a total of $1,500. She, "here, you need furniture." Really!

Joseph L. Bieber:

I'm looking at this "ruptured duck," [discharge pin] a little button. Ha!

Stephen P. Simonds:

I remember that.

Joseph L. Bieber:

I haven't looked at this stuff for a long time. At least I know when I got my typhus shot. -Typhoid, tetanus, smallpox - 1943. Do you think mine is still good?

Stephen P. Simonds:

I wonder. Your tetanus wouldn't be. You need a booster.

Joseph L. Bieber:

I've had a couple boosters since then - Tilton General Hospital, Fort Dix, New Jersey, where I was separated from active duty. I do have some stuff from Halloran Hospital - what it was like - some pictures but I'm sure they're not much interested in that.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Do you have any observations on the whole situation and your experiences or advice for the next generation?

Joseph L. Bieber:

Don't do it! (laughter) I hate to see this Iraqi thing coming about. And all these jerky little countries like North Korea - they have bombs now . some of these stupid people are going to let loose with something and all this nerve gas - its awful.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Is there anything else that occurs to you that might be good to have in this record of your experience?

Joseph L. Bieber:

It was an interesting experience, all in all. I saw places I probably would never have seen -how people live - you realize how lucky you are to be in America, I'll tell you that when you see how other people live. It's strange. You go back and have running water and think nothing of it. You have heat in your house. You look over there and you see people living in squalor and unfortunately there are people living like that today. And in places like Appalachia there are probably people living like that in our own country. We've got money for everything else but nothing for neediest of people. But - this is America. You've got to take the good with the bad. Things can't always be perfect.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Thank you Joe. This has been an interesting conversation. If you do have other materials such as the letters you mentioned it would be nice to include them.

Joseph L. Bieber:

I'll have to scrounge a little for them. Here's the honorable discharge information.

Stephen P. Simonds:

Quoting: "Honorably discharged Army of the United States military service at the Tilton General Hospital-----

Joseph L. Bieber:

We just sat and ate there for a few days. I guess that was where they took everybody who were getting honorable medical discharges.

Stephen P. Simonds:

OK Joe! Thanks again!

[Conclusion of Interview]

[Interviewer's note: See "Bloody River: Tragedy at Rapido River, Italy;" by Martin Blumenson, 1970.]

 
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