CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Anthony Melchiondo, also known as Tony, was born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1921, graduating from Trenton High School in 1939. The following July, he enlisted in the New Jersey National Guard’s 112th Artillery Regiment in Trenton, but he was subsequently transferred to the Guard’s 119th Medical Regiment. Along with the rest of the National Guard, Melchiondo was called to active duty in September 1940 for a period of one year, which was subsequently extended. Then, with the advent of World War II, he remained in the army until honorably discharged in August of 1945. Melchiondo served in the North African, Mediterranean and European Theater areas of operation.
On their September 1940 entry into federal service, Melchiondo and the rest of the New Jersey Guardsmen were assigned to Fort Dix, which Melchiondo referred to as Camp Dix, although the army had formally changed the designation in 1939. Melchiondo recalled that the post was extremely run down, and in the winter months the World War I era barracks were extremely cold due to holes in their walls. The only way for the soldiers to keep warm was to gather around the coal stoves in each barracks, although the stoves did not actually work very well. Following his arrival at Fort Dix, Melchiondo was not permitted to leave for two weeks and was unable to notify his parents and family as to where he was. Following the two weeks, however, he was granted two days of leave and went home to Trenton. Melchiondo remained at Fort Dix for approximately a year.
While at Fort Dix, Melchiondo was assigned to the 119th’s supply section, and he was detailed as an assistant to the supply sergeant. He enjoyed the job because he was able to avoid going to the Carolinas to participate in massive maneuvers with the rest of the men of his regiment, in October and November of 1941. The maneuvers were intended to assess the army’s readiness in tactics, logistics and the ability of commanders to function under combat conditions. Unfortunately, the results were not encouraging. It was obvious that more training was necessary – and the time for that would be limited.
Along with the rest of his unit, Melchiondo was transferred to Camp Claiborne, near the town of Forest Hill in central Louisiana, following the outbreak of World War II in December 1941. He stated that the regiment traveled by truck convoy from New Jersey all the way to Louisiana; and he described the camp as being “out in the boondocks” surrounded by people who were unable to speak English – his take on their Cajun dialect. After his training at Camp Claiborne was complete, Melchiondo and his fellow soldiers were dispersed to different units that would serve on various war fronts. He was assigned to the 476th Medical Hospital Ship Platoon, which had a strength of forty-four enlisted men and six medical officers, including doctors, and where he served as the platoon’s acting supply sergeant.
In November 1943, Melchiondo’s unit was deployed as part of Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa designed to depose the French Vichy government (nominal Axis allies) and open a second front against Italian and German forces in the region. Although there was some initial resistance, the Vichy forces eventually conceded to the Americans, and a deal was reached. When he heard that his destination would be Africa, Melchiondo thought he would be stationed in a jungle; but, to his surprise, his ship docked at the large city of Casablanca. Melchiondo’s platoon was tasked with transporting sick and wounded soldiers back to the United States, where they could receive more extensive medical care. Since the lack of significant combat near Casablanca resulted in few casualties, Melchiondo and other soldiers were detailed to stevedore duty, helping to unload cargo on the docks outside the city for an Army Air Forces unit.
Melchiondo spent eight months near Casablanca. He recalled being issued a canvas mattress stuffed with straw for use as a bed that he would often have to share with another soldier. He was eventually appointed “a Supply Sergeant without the stripes” in the ad hoc stevedore unit, and he was issued a chart listing various unit allocations of shoes, clothes and rations. He would often draw more supplies than he actually needed, to assure that he was prepared for unexpected contingencies. Barracks were not available, and Melchiondo and his fellow soldiers used tent canvas and wood from pallets to erect makeshift huts to live in. When area commander General George Patton walked through the campground on an inspection tour, he characterized it as a “tent city.”
Melchiondo remembered that while enlisted men were constructing their crude shelters, officers were quartered in comfort in Casablanca’s hotels and would often not be seen by their men for days. He recalled that during Patton’s visit, the general ordered all the officers to attend a meeting, and became infuriated when he discovered they were not present with their men but at city hotels. Rumor had it that Patton threatened to shoot any officer who did not move back to camp. Melchiondo got to see Patton during his visit, and noticed that the war general was wearing the nickel-plated revolvers that had become his trademark. Shortly afterward, an order came down from Patton’s headquarters requesting men who could type to fill administrative slots. Melchiondo had taken typing classes in high school and was selected to work at the headquarters. He recalled that his position there gave him access to much more information about the conduct and progress of the war.
When Melchiondo’s hospital ship finally left Casablanca, it not only carried wounded American soldiers but also Italian prisoners of war from the North Africa campaign. The ship eventually docked at Boston, from where the prisoners of war were sent to POW camps located across the United States where they remained for the rest of the war. After arriving stateside, Melchiondo received thirty days of leave, during which he traveled back home to Trenton to see his family. After his leave concluded, he reported to Camp Kilmer, the large troop transit camp located near New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Melchiondo, now a sergeant, was sent from Camp Kilmer to Virginia, and then was ordered to Oran, Algeria. He traveled overseas on an LST, short for “Landing Ship, Tank.” The voyage to Oran lasted twenty-one days, during which Melchiondo was fed “English food,” which he described as “the worst.” He was later told that British soldiers stole American food because they liked it better than their own. During the trip, another LST collided with Melchiondo’s ship, damaging its motor and leaving it adrift in the sea. Melchiondo and the other soldiers on the LST were then transferred to a hospital transport ship, where he was appointed Medical Sergeant and detailed to the job of logging in and properly storing medicine. Melchiondo was chosen for the task because he was better educated and more intelligent than another sergeant considered for the job. Ironically, the other sergeant was promoted to Master Sergeant over Melchiondo, who said he was passed over for the promotion because the lieutenant in charge was a friend of the sergeant.
Angry about what he perceived as the injustice, Melchiondo refused to log in any more medicines, and he was assigned KP duty as a punishment. While on KP, he substituted powdered soap for powdered eggs in the mess hall and was almost court-martialed. A lieutenant who knew Melchiondo, however, stuck up for his integrity and ability, and he was reassigned to the ship’s PX, where items such as sodas, snacks and other items were sold. Following the invasion of Italy, Melchiondo’s hospital ship sailed from Oran to Naples, picking up wounded soldiers to transport back to the United States. After that trip, he was stationed at hospitals in Scotland and then Mallard Hills, England.
Melchiondo’s last wartime voyage came after D-Day, when his ship traveled to recover men wounded in the invasion of France. He was eventually promoted to first sergeant; and, his commanding officer Doctor Michael Fazio became a close personal friend who he would have for the rest of his life. After the war, Doctor Fazio became Melchiondo’s daughter’s godfather.
Anthony Melchiondo was discharged from the United States Army at Fort Dix, New Jersey after five years of service. He was awarded the American Defense Service Medal, the European African Middle Eastern Service Medal, the Good Conduct Medal and the American Service Medal.