Preparing a 19 year old for war takes more than boot camp and a back pack filled with K-rations, chocolate bars, and some cigarettes. In the case of this one young American, Augie took on the responsibilities with a kind heart. But how do you prepare someone to make the ultimate sacrifice or take a life.
This happened as his platoon was combing the hillside in Nice France for enemy soldiers which, of course, they did encounter. Two German soldiers were captured and made to empty their pockets. Augie noticed the one soldier was just as young as him and just as scared. Alw ays the gentle of heart, he put two fingers to his lips and made the international sign language for a cigarette and the young soldier nodded yes. As the young American offered one of his “Lucky Strikes” opposing soldiers came over the hill and seeing the scene before them they opened fire. Augie was hit in the thigh and was on the ground when they were overrun. The enemy then marched the now captured US soldiers around a brick wall of a ruined structure and proceeding with the policy of “no prisoners”. They then returned to the one wounded American. When another enemy soldier put a gun to Augie's head the young soldier he had tried to help protested and stopped the execution. He gave the injured American some cigarettes, some water and a bit of food then he and the troops left.
Stranded on the field alone, wondering, praying and slipping in and out of consciousness, Augie struggled to eat what little was left him and dress his wound with sulfur powder from his pack. At one point he woke to find a bull snorting over him. After three days laying in a ditch, pretty much helpless, he heard voices. They were speaking English so it was a good chance they were Americans. However, he waited until they were closer and when he saw their uniforms he called for help. Finally, by the grace of God, his kind action towards the young enemy soldier was repaid.
Days later Augie found himself on a medical ship for transport back to the states. He wanted to know where they were going but it was against the rules to reveal the destination. That however did not stop him from asking every chance he could. As it so happened there was a custodian in his ward who had a favorite song. As he mopped the floor and changed the beds he constantly sang “Georgia on my mind”. It was not until they made port that Augie realized the song was more than a favorite; it was a message for him. They were now in Georgia.
As he lay in the hospital Augie recalled his drill sergeant's advice who told the recruits never to write home and tell their families that they were sick. His logic was by the time the family got your letter you would be just fine and making your family worry for nothing.
Following the advise he received in boot camp, Augie decided after three months it was safe to call home. When his sister Lizzie answered the phone he said “Hi Liz” only to have her drop the phone and run off screaming. His father Giuseppe picked up the phone to address the caller. Augie said “It’s me Pops” to which his father thought it was not funny for someone to call and claim to be his son. So his response was “You son of a Batch”. He could not say a certain swear word; it always came out as “batch”. Finally his sister Anne got on the phone and found out that it was indeed Augie who was calling. She told him to call back after she calmed the family down. Augie was unaware that the family had received a letter from the State of West Virginia Department of Assistance revealing that the office had “ learned with regret that their son had given his life in the service of his country.”
Needless to say joy soon over took the family and they thanked God for Augie's safe return. With their youngest child in a hospital in Georgia, Giuseppe and Angela made one of the few trips outside their small town of Triadelphia WV to be with their son, the platoons sole survivor.
As Augie lay in a ward of wounded vets he heard the door burst open and a familiar voice came booming through the ward “Where isa my son?” Now his parents were with him. His father’s first reaction was to flip back blankets and say “You gotta you legs?” Once he was satisfied that his son was safe and whole he went off to entertain the remaining troops in the ward.
Augie eventually returned to Triadelphia, family and friends. Without the compassion he showed on the battlefield, I would not be here to tell you this story. My Dad, Augie Montalbano, was a wonderful man, and we have many stories of his love and compassion and some just plain orneriness as a child.
Happy Veterans Day!
Jan Montalbano O'Kane