CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Arthur Gentile was born in Jersey City, NJ, in February, 1925. He graduated from high school in June 1943 and was drafted the following month. Gentile passed his physical examination in Newark and was subsequently assigned to the army at Fort Dix, NJ. Following a thirty day leave to settle his affairs, he returned to Fort Dix and was sent from there to Camp Van Dorn, MS, for basic and advanced infantry training. He was subsequently assigned to the 83rd Infantry Division at Camp Breckinridge, NY, where he received additional training with his unit.
While at a USO dance in New York, Gentile heard an announcement ordering his company to report immediately to Camp Shanks for overseas deployment. His unit boarded a ship which was German in origin, but which had been seized by the US and renamed the George Washington. During the Atlantic crossing he worked in the kitchen under the supervision of the head company cook, preparing coffee, a task he was not initially very good at, but learned to do on the job.
After only forty-five minutes at sea, Gentile heard whistles sounding and thought they were announcing some kind of boat race. Instead, they were alerting the convoy of ships that a German submarine was in the area. The sub was sunk by American ships firing depth charges. The crossing to England took five or six days, he recalls, and he passed the time playing card games, at which he lost all of his cash, some $50. His unit landed at Liverpool, England and then moved to Wales for additional training in preparation for the invasion of Europe. During the training, they got to go out on the town occasionally, and were transported one morning back to camp by a friendly local milkman.
In early June, 1944, troops marched past them on the way to board ships to France, but Gentile and his friends were not in the first wave of the invasion. Eventually, the division boarded ships at Southhampton, and crossed the English Channel to join the invasion fleet, with only K-rations for food. The division remained on ship on June 6 and landed in the second wave. Gentile’s unit advanced inland, joining up with the 101st Airborne Division near St. Mere Eglise. During the initial fighting, he recalls that one man in his unit shoved a Bangalore torpedo into an enemy pillbox, blasting a way through the German lines.
Gentile’s unit launched a large attack alongside the 101st on June 8. During the fight his platoon, with him acting as a scout, advanced along a paved road up a hill under cover of an artillery barrage. Gentile’s platoon destroyed two enemy machine gun nests, and he helped rescue a sergeant from another platoon who was shot in the groin. His own platoon sergeant was shot in the chest and killed in front of Gentile’s eyes. The sergeant’s replacement was wounded, and then Gentile’s platoon was overrun in a German counterattack. All but three men from the platoon, including his friend George, a sergeant whose name he could not recall, and Gentile, were killed or wounded. The three survivors were surrounded and forced to surrender. As the three Americans were brought to the rear, they saw German Tiger tanks everywhere. They were interrogated by German airborne officers and then turned over to the SS. The SS interrogators took them to a farmhouse with a dugout cellar. The SS threatened to hang them or shoot them. A Wehrmacht officer happened by and noticed the shining miraculous medal hanging from Gentile’s neck and asked him if he was Catholic. Gentile replied, “Yes.” The officer approached the Germans who were ready to execute the Americans, and a fierce debate ensued. Gentile and his buddies’ lives were spared. Before they were taken away to the rear, one German exchanged his battered boots for Gentile’s.
The American prisoners were marched eastward through France and fed with pieces of rancid meat, which they swallowed whole to keep from gagging and vomiting. Nearing Germany, they were loaded aboard railroad boxcars and given buckets to use as toilets. On stopping, the buckets were washed out and then used to issue food to the prisoners. They eventually arrived at Lemburg, where they were incarcerated at Stalag 12-A. The prisoners were assigned to work details, but soldiers known to be Jews were separated from the others. At night Lemburg was subjected to bombing from the RAF. One raid created a large hole into which a nearby building fell. One of the work detail’s jobs was to retrieve the remains of the building from the hole and repair it.
As the allies advanced on Germany, Gentile and his fellow prisoners were transferred to Stalag 11-B, at Falkenheim, where some were transported by railroad daily to work in a coal mine, while others were assigned to dig holes to place telephone poles, and to repair railroad tracks by replacing ties. While working hard at these tasks, the prisoners were fed one small fist sized loaf of bread weekly. American air attacks on the German defenses of the camp in the spring of 1945 eventually caused the enemy to flee, and in May, 1945, the prisoners were liberated by US forces.
Gentile was housed in a local apartment owned by a photographer for a few days, then flown to Paris, were food was readily available. He was quartered in a railroad station for two days, then transported to Camp Lucky Strike at Le Havre, and from there to Southhampton. Following the German surrender he was shipped back to the United States aboard the Marine Fox and quartered at Camp Kilmer, NJ, from where he received leave to visit home. On arriving home he was greeted by his dog “Beauty,” mother, sisters and cousin, all of whom assembled to greet him. He was discharged from the service on December 6 at Fort Benning, GA. His brother, who had served in the artillery, was also discharged around the same time.
Following the war, Gentile studied electronics at Stevens Institute, then took a job teaching television and radio electronics for four years. During the Korean War he worked for ITT as a technical writer, then worked for Emerson Radio, Analytics Inc. in Eatontown, NJ, and finally at Fort Monmouth, where he was a technical writer for radar and night vision equipment until he retired.
Arthur Gentile stated that he would serve again if able, because of his love of his country. His advice to young people was to do for your country so it can do for you. He received the NJ Distinguished Service, POW, and Good Conduct medals as well as a citation from France to recognize the participation of US soldiers who participated in that country’s liberation. Sadly, Art passed away at the age of 79 on June 19, 2004.