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UNITED STATES ARMY
P.F.C. MEDIC
HACKENSACK
JANUARY 30, 1924 TO MAY 10,1943
LIFE IN THE FIRST WARD
FAMILY-CHURCH-BASEBALL

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MAY 11, 1943

WORLD WAR II
DECEMBER 16, 1945

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HACKENSACK
DECEMBER 17, 1945 TILL NOW JANUARY 2009
LIFE IN THE FIRST WARD
FAMILY-CHURCH-BASEBAL
L

This is an interview I did [Bob Meli 52 years old] with Louis known as Lee D'Arminio who is 83 years old at the time of the interview. He lived in the First Ward in Hackensack his whole life. When growing up he lived by my Grandparents house. My grandfather Ben Meli, in the 1930's owned a candy factory on South Main Street where my Dad said the kids would always try to sneak in and grab candy. My Dad, Tom Meli, would say “when I was young I thought everybody liked me because I was such a nice guy until I was old enough to realize it was the candy they wanted.” Lee D'Arminio when he was in elementary school would walk my father's sister Philomena known as Phil to school every day. In recalling those days he said “Phil and I went to school together from Kindergarten all the way through State Street School . I lived across the street from her and I would pick her up every day to go to school. She was my girl growing up we were like brother and sister. When we got to High School we got kind of separated different interests and stuff, she was a beautiful girl such a nice girl great memories.” Fred Cerbo senior who grew up with Lee said Phil could hit a baseball better then most of the guys in the neighborhood. In High School he would go to the CYO at Saint Francis Church which was where they would have activities for kids during the year and that's where he met a girl named Jenny who he went out with during high school.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Babe Ruth could be seen in Hackensack at a local tavern or spending time with kids in the hospital or orphanage in town according to Lee D'Arminio. The kids from the First Ward in the 1930's and 1940's, loved to play baseball and Lee D'Arminio was no different. He loved the Yankees and his hero was Joe Dimaggio. Talking about Joe Dimaggio Lee said “Joe D. used to go to Costa's store on Hudson Street all the time. He used to get a haircut at Tony the barber all the time to. I saw him play one game in 1938 and he hit 3 triples and started the second game off with a triple. They would have been homers anywhere else but Yankee Stadium then, it was 453 in left center and 463 to dead center. It was my brother Angelo's 16 th birthday and we bought center field bleacher seats for 50cents.We had first row seats in center field and were far away from the action but Joe Dimaggio was right smack in front of us. I never met him going to Costa's store but in the 1970's I saw him at the Sheraton Hotel in Hasbrouck Heights. He was still in pretty good shape then so I went over to him and said Mr. Dimaggio I have to tell you I went to a game in 1938 and you hit three' and before I could finish he turns to the people he was with and says” “tell them how many triples I hit that day see this old timer remembers see.” “He was probably older then me then and he is calling me an old timer it was funny we laughed Joe D. remembered though. I was so glad I got to meet him in the Sheraton that day and shake his hand, he was my idol.”

This was growing up in the First Ward in Hackensack in the 1930s and1940s walking to school with your girl getting candy at the store going to Saint Francis Church on Sunday and playing Baseball everyday through your senior year in High School with the Yankee left fielder Charlie Keller speaking at your High school baseball team dinner and Joe Dimaggio showing up in the neighborhood to get a haircut or a meal in the back of Costa's store where the Italian men would cook there special dishes.

Only two years after High School at the age of 19 and still dating Jenny, Louis D'Arminio was drafted into the Army on May 11, 1943. Under his name in the yearbook a statement reads THE REWARD OF DUTY IS THE POWER TO FULFILL ANOTHER, He would bring these words to life as a Medic in the Army during World War II in the European Theatre for 2years 7 months and 11days of almost nothing but War until he was discharged on December 16, 1945.

I asked Lee D'Arminio how he became a Medic and his service during World War II, his son Lou had told me he became a Medic by counting to ten while standing in line and the tenth man was a Medic. Here is his story.

“The Army determines who becomes what. You have no choice. I was only 19 years old when I was drafted. The Army says the first 400 guys does this the next 100 does that, you don't have a choice when you are drafted. I had worked in construction I didn't know anything about being a medic. I went to Medic School at camp Picket in Blackstone Virginia .

I went through basic training and within 6 months I was overseas. I left for England on the Queen Mary, Oh what a big beautiful ship, on a Monday November 16 1943 and five days later we landed in England on a Friday November 20, 1943. When we first arrived I went to a place called a Repo Depot center. This is where the Army assigns you to replace injured or whatever soldiers. Those Depot places were tough I was glad to get out of there. After a couple days I was assigned to the First Infantry Division as a Medic.

There was about 22 Medics and we trained from November 1943 till May 1944 in England right up until the invasion. They trained us great, we would walk, walk, and walk, one day 5 miles the next day 7 miles we would practice carrying people treating injured men, the training was very good. A week before the invasion they took all our clothes and they gave us all new clothes. Then they gave us two dollars and they called it invasion money. What were we going to do with two dollars, anyway we are in a staging area by Liverpool in England and everything we had, wallets combs anything, we had to get rid of or send home. We all had to get our heads shaved bald in case we got hit in the head. Then we were put into tents and they put us under guard. Every thing we did we had to do as a group. We couldn't write letters for the week before the invasion. They started briefing us and then we new we were going into trouble. They were telling us you are going to land here and you go to this hedge row, everyday they went over the plan. They told the Medics hit the beach and go straight in don't stop for the wounded the Navy would take care of them later.

They say the invasion was the LONGEST DAY, well it was my LONGEST DAY I'll tell you that. I was up at 5:30 then you heard the depth charges going off as you got on deck of the ship. We were supposed to go in on D plus 8 or 10 hours which would have landed us at about 3or 4 in the afternoon. Something got messed up the Germans were holding us back on the beach and our landing boats may have been sunk, otherwise my group would have gotten in there at 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Then while we were waiting Ak , Ak , guns started shooting and shrapnel started hitting the ship so we had to get off the deck and go down below. The water was really rough to and we waited and the afternoon came and went and 11:30 at night we are still waiting. Then 5 or 6 a.m. the next day they get us up and about 8 or 9 a. m. there was a landing boat to take us in. We lined up on deck and then you climbed down these rope ladders nets to get in the boat. Going over the side and down the ladder is difficult because I'm loaded with all this equipment Morphine, bandages, whatever we could carry and then I had to get down this rope it was tough.

I landed on Omaha Beach the next morning we were lucky we didn't land on that first day they got hit hard. When the landing craft landed it didn't get in close enough to just walk in because of mines and stuff in the water so when I stepped out I started to sink and fortunately a sergeant comes up behind me and grabs the back of my belt and drags me into shore. When we get to shore he told me follow the footsteps because there will be less chance of hitting a mine. I never forgot that and then I said to myself I'll do one better and follow him first until we get into the beach a ways. I didn't know anything about battle when I landed guys are screaming get down get down when I get down I'm laying on top of a dead soldier, bullets are flying, bombs are going off all around you. As you got more experience you got more afraid because you understood you could get yourself killed not paying attention. It was no picnic that's for sure. The Germans were still defending the beach the second day but they had been pushed back a ways. The beach was just covered with dead soldiers as far as the eye could see. We had a lot of casualties 2,000 or so I don't know for sure. The Germans were shelling the beach, it was scary I must have dug three holes that day. {In the book written by Eisenhower Crusade in Europe he gives exactly the same account} We would dig a hole and setup the aid station then we would move and do it again. After 4 or 5 days I would go with the infantry and bring the wounded men back to the station. As we moved inland we saw the poor paratroopers as we walked through the countryside still hanging from the trees all shot up they got hit hard.

July 25, 1944 was our big break through. Saint Lo France was our jumping point. During this time I don't know if you know the story but our bombers started bombing our lines by mistake. I was in the first Army first Infantry Division, we are all lined up to brake through and our flying fortresses are bombing us. We shot flares and they stopped but they put a real scare in us. Then Patton's Army got involved and lead the brake through to Paris .

We fought at Aachen for 11or 12 days. It was the first major city in Germany to be taken. It was like fighting here {as he looks at the neighborhood houses and yards} a guy shooting over there in that house another over there, wounded guys call and you are not sure where to go. You are trying to drag wounded men out of the street while tanks are coming. The Germans don't care if you're a Medic you are with the infantry so there shooting at you mortar shell are going off.

Our division fought in the Hurtgen Forest that was a tough battle we took a beaten there. The Germans would shoot the tops of the trees day and night and the trees would come down and {he paused} it was bad. I got shrapnel in my shoulder during this battle.

I met my oldest brother Carmen at the battle of the Hurtgen Forest during battle of the Bulge. He was in a tank next to me and I was in the infantry with another group next to him. We said hello and shook hands. {I am unable to convey the depth of emotion he showed when he spoke of this moment and it was not with tears but with a depth of joy} Oh what a moment I hadn't seen him in 3 years and there he is in the tank next to me in the battle of the Bulge. We couldn't really talk but what a moment I'll never forget. My brother Carmen joined the service with George Sellarole in 1941 and was put in the First Army tank Division. He served through the African Sicily and the D Day campaigns. You have to look it up to understand it all.

I met Angelo my other older brother who graduated in 1940 from H.H.S. in the Niece Riviera in April or May in 1945 the War just ended I was reclassified I had a bad foot then and I'm sitting around as a Medic with the 9 th Air Force in a airport helping the wounded there. There was no bombing no shooting I slept in a bed there, other guys are complaining, not me it was heaven, I slept like a baby. Then they gave me a furlough and I went to Nice Riviera. I see Angelo and I try to sneak up on him but he sees me.

I ended up in Germany at the end of the War and they went by a point system to go home and I was sent home in November , 1945 and was discharged on December 16, 1945. When I got Home I worked in a Machine shop for a couple of years and then all of us worked in the family construction business. In 1951 we started Little League Baseball in Hackensack . I was one of the first managers that year. We had 6 teams 15 guys we had a ball. We got Leo Durocher to come and speak to the teams at the end of the season, a county judge we new was friends with him. We had the Dinner at the Y.M.C.A. and we had hamburgers and French fries. Leo Durocher comes and he brings this young rookie kid with him Willie Mays. Durocher says we could ask questions and one of the kids asks Mays why he ran into the right fielder and knocked the ball out of his hand. I'm thinking kid don't embarrass the rookie and Durocher says ‘I'll answer that the kid covers so much ground, believe me when I tell you he is going to be the next Joe DiMaggio.' Durocher new he was going to be great. I have a picture of Durocher and Mays on that day. I didn't have sense enough to get Willie Mays's autograph.

Lee D'Arminio married his High school sweet heart Jenny after the War and raised a family with her of four children and 9 grandchildren and they are still married today living in the same house in the First Ward. He received the Bronze Star at Aachen and the Purple Heart for his injuries in the Hurtgen Forest . On his Discharge papers it has listed the Silver Star. The only person on this Wall Unit I know who received the Silver Star was Hoagland Lapham who was killed on the Island of Pelilou in the Pacific trying to save another soldier. Being a Medic as you move on in the battle you constantly confront the cost of the battle. Louis D'Arminio appreciated those men who gave up all there tomorrows so we can enjoy our freedoms today like no one else can. He has lived his life according to that statement under his name in the Hackensack High School Yearbook, “THE REWARD OF DUTY IS THE POWER TO FULLFILL ANOTHER.”

Let us never forget the soldiers sacrifice.

Written by:
Bob Meli
June 2007

 

Background Image of troops and Supplies entering Normandy obtained from:
http://www.ducksters.com/history/world_war_ii/d-day_invasion_of_normandy.php

 

Interview with
Louis D'Arminio