CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Carl Wiedmann was born in Newark, New Jersey in December 1916, and raised in Irvington and South Orange, New Jersey. The World War II veteran’s initial assignment after basic training was as a ground-based artillery observer, but he had a chance at transferring to a more interesting position, an aerial spotter. Wiedmann had the proper credentials, but the potential for airsickness concerned him. (Seasickness plagued his youth.) Anxious, he prepared carefully and dieted. Wiedmann told the interviewer that: “The pilots didn’t like it if there was an observer sitting behind them barfing on their necks,” he laughed. Fortunately, his fears were unfounded; and, he won the competition to become an air observer.
Aerial missions were flown in a Piper Cub (also called the L-4 Grasshopper in military service) and usually lasted an hour to an hour and a half long. Wiedmann used a coordinate map to direct artillery fire onto targets. These missions were much safer than ground ones, as typically the enemy did not attack his plane. Wiedmann made no mention of aircraft threats, presumably because of Allied air superiority; in the likely event that ground fire missed, he could direct artillery onto their revealed position. He flew 57 missions, but was attacked on just six of them. Nevertheless, Wiedmann could fly the plane if the pilot were incapacitated. In the 15-minute runs between the airfield and frontline, the pilot often let Wiedmann take control for on-the-job training.
Wiedmann displayed several pictures of his service on the Italian front. One depicted a USO visit, which he enjoyed (though he did not see any famous performers). Another showed one of his command posts, tucked into a railroad bridge culvert outside Naples. Most dramatically, Wiedmann took an aerial photo of bombed-out rail yards near Bologna.
Wiedmann also shared several anecdotes. On one occasion, he was directing 155 mm fire on a crossroads transited by German vehicles. As the guns prepared to shoot, the column finished crossing, prompting Wiedmann to call a ceasefire. The artillery crew replied, “We’ve got one gun loaded, are you sure you don’t want to shoot that one?” Wiedmann instructed them to remain alert as his plane circled overhead. Suddenly, a German motorcycle sped down the road. Wiedmann called for fire; the shell impacted about 50 meters from the target, felling the rider. That was the only German he ever knew he killed. “I often thought about it later,” Wiedmann lamented. “What his family must think of that.”
As the war’s conclusion neared and Wiedmann’s unit advanced into northern Italy, his most memorable mission of the conflict occurred. Approaching the Po River near Piacenza, he and his pilot encountered navigational difficulties. Flying higher than usual to locate the frontlines, they spotted a river barge. While closing to identify it, a new target drew their attention: a group of foxholes, located in front of some woods adjacent to the river.
The plane remained within visual range of ground command, who ordered Wiedmann to circle lower in order to identify the position. At 500 feet from the surface, a German anti-aircraft battery began firing. As shells exploded overhead, with showering shrapnel, the pilot rapidly dove the plane before levelling just above the trees. Fortunately, the plane was already pointing towards friendly lines in the circle pattern, making escape easier.
The ground commanders called on the radio, but Wiedmann was too shaken to speak. After composing himself for a couple of minutes, he finally replied. The commanders were surprised, as they believed he had been shot down. Wiedmann found their next message comical: “Can you still identi – no need for further identification! Can you adjust fire?” Thus, he returned to position and directed the entire artillery battalion, sinking the barge, setting the woods ablaze, and suppressing any enemy forces in the area. “How they ever missed us,” Wiedmann said about the enemy gunners, smiling and shaking his head. “…I never should have come home from that.”
As the war progressed, Wiedmann moved up through the ranks. He noted that he was only a sergeant for one day. It was a formality, as Wiedmann was granted two ranks, and received promotion to staff sergeant the next day. After the war, he was offered a battlefield commission as an officer. As his rotation was nearly up, Wiedmann declined, to return home.
The war ended as Wiedmann reached the Italian-Swiss border. On his final missions, he flew from an Italian Count’s airfield. (Unfortunately, Wiedmann did not stay in the Count’s nearby castle, but in a hangar.) After V-E Day, he received orders to fly to Sanremo in the Italian Riviera. Once there, Wiedmann landed at a newly-built but yet unused cemetery, where he used the mausoleum as a makeshift base. While waiting for his rotation to return home, he flew more missions to earn extra money, as part of his pay was per flight.
Three days later, Wiedmann travelled by truck to Milan, and then Naples. “I thought I was on my way home,” he said; yet, upon arriving at the reception camp, he found 30,000 other men waiting. After three weeks of waiting, Wiedmann finally departed via B-17 (with removed bomb racks for transport) to Casablanca. After four days there, he took a proper transport plane to Jacksonville, Florida, with refueling stops in Brazil and French Guiana.
Wiedmann anxiously sought to talk to his fiancée, who he had not seen for over three years. The telephone lines at the nearby USO building were busy, so he waited for his call placement. As there were civilians sitting alongside, Wiedmann discussed etiquette regarding interaction with them, explaining that he could not accept food or drink.
“We were supposed to be nice to them,” Wiedmann added. “[But] they wouldn’t understand us sometimes.” This point illustrated itself as he began a conversation with a woman next to him. “I’m gonna be out of this business in about three days,” he told her. She responded, “I don’t understand that. I’m here to say goodbye to my little boy… he knows nothing. And they’re letting you, that have all this experience, go home.” Wiedmann was angered and walked to the other side of the room. “This is how we are appreciated,” he thought.
Wiedmann travelled to Fort Dix and was discharged two days later. Two weeks later he married his fiancée. They had four children, a grandson, and great-grandson, who Wiedmann dedicated this interview to. Remembering the mission, he “should not have returned from,” he realized his descendants should hear the story, all of whom would not exist if he had not been so lucky.
Wiedmann earned a Distinguished Service Medal from the State of New Jersey for his service. Subsequently, he enjoyed an “interesting” and successful business career, became Commodore of the Manasquan River Yacht Club, and indulged in many hobbies, notably golfing. Importantly, Carl Wiedmann felt that his military career laid the foundations for a “very happy” life.
Carl M. Wiedmann passed away at his home in South Carolina on March 31, 2009, at the age of 92.