CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Ralph Trudel was born and raised in the Bronx Borough of New York City. He was attending City College in New York City planning to earn a degree in Mechanical Engineering when World War II broke out. Trudel and his father were listening to the New York Giants football game on the radio when the news of the Pearl Harbor attack broke through, interrupting the game. City College was filled with men in uniform after that, as it had one of the largest ROTC programs in the country. Years after the war, Colin Powell was a notable graduate of the City College ROTC.
Since he was in school, Trudel was able to avoid being drafted for a while. He was called up in the fall of 1942, but allowed to complete his fall semester before attending basic training. His brother-in-law was also drafted and able to complete his final semester, yet not attend his graduation ceremony, so Trudel retrieved the diploma for him. He did his basic and advanced training at Camp McCain, Mississippi. Trudel described it as being “very tough” due to the stress of the training and the unheated barracks. On the conclusion of his training, he was promoted to corporal, due to his advanced education.
Trudel was assigned to the 1167th Combat Engineer Battalion’s Headquarters Company as a clerk. Combat Engineers perform construction and demolition duties under combat conditions. He traveled around the country to attend classes at various colleges, including Clemson University, which, with many other institutions of higher learning, had been taken over by the military for use as a training facility during the war. Trudel remembered that, after visiting his family, he had to take a train to Atlanta and then to Greenville, South Carolina, since Clemson did not have its own train station. He then had to take a 2:00 AM bus to Clemson, but luckily did not have to pay full fare since he was in the army. Trudel took tests at these schools and complete his testing in New Hampshire, where he passed his Advanced Skills Test (AST).
Trudel and his company then were sent to Virginia, where the unit was split up and assigned to separate outfits. He was placed in a Combat Engineer Battalion stationed in Wisconsin. Then Trudel went to Fort Campbell, which confused him since it was on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, and he didn’t know which state he was in! Before finally deploying to Germany, he was assigned to a post in Virginia for three months.
In Virginia, just before Christmas 1944, Trudel was issued all the equipment he would need before going overseas. He remembered the soldiers’ mood being upbeat, as the war was almost over, and everyone was excited to go to Germany. The ship convoy that Trudel left on crossed the Atlantic at a fast pace, averaging 14 knots an hour, arriving at Camp Lucky Stripe in France in the spring of 1945. He spent six months in France and Germany, most of which in his battalion headquarters. Their tasks included inspecting rail cars, construction sites and junkyards. They would also perform tests on chemicals such as fertilizer. Trudel was able to speak some German, which proved useful. He described his time abroad as a “scenic tour of the continent” since he saw no combat. Trudel was only shot at once during the six months he was there, when a bullet went through a glass wall near him on his first night in Germany.
Despite seeing little action, Trudel experienced a lot while he was in Germany. Once the war in Europe was over, a German corporal who was a civil engineer helped the Americans add ramps to bridges for their vehicles. Trudel also had to rescue a 12-year-old boy who was stuck inside an abandoned army truck; he and the boy’s friend had to lift the truck to make sure he was still alive, and then they called an ambulance. Trudel also enjoyed peach ice cream which was made with canned peaches and ice cream mix.
Trudel received his orders to leave Europe in 1946. He left Germany in June, and traveled for eleven weeks! Before Trudel left, he had his teeth fixed by a Japanese doctor. Trudel was worried that they were going to the Pacific. An announcement came that they were headed to Texas instead of to Panama, which relieved everyone on board. He was honorably discharged in February, and was given the option to stay in the service. Trudel refused the offer, as the military was not for him; he preferred living at home. He later became a financial officer for his veterans group; but, he had to resign after breaking his neck. Ralph Trudel earned the Good Conduct Medal for his service as well as numerous shooting awards, including the Expert Rifleman Award.