Monday, November 11, 2013

Remembering Augie

I would like to post to my blog the story of Augie.  Although posted a few years ago, to me it is a story worth telling again.


 Augie's World War II Experience


Preparing a 19 year old for war takes more than boot camp and a backpack filled with K-rations, chocolate bars, and some cigarettes.  In the case of this one young American, Augie, he took the responsibilities with a kind heart, but how do you prepare someone to make the ultimate sacrifice or take a human life.

 The story opens in Nice, France.  It happened as Augie’s platoon was combing the hillsides for enemy soldiers, and they did encounter the enemy.  The German soldiers were captured and made to empty their pockets.  Augie noticed one soldier was just as young as he was and just as scared.  Always the gentle of heart, he put two fingers to his lips and made the international sign for a cigarette and the young soldier nodded yes.  As the young American tendered one of his Lucky Strikes to the captured soldier, German soldiers came over the hill and observing the scene before them, they opened fire.  Augie took a bullet and shrapnel in the leg and thigh.  He was on the ground unable to get up as the enemy overran Augie’s unit.  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 returned to the one wounded American, as another enemy soldier put a gun to Augie's head, the young German Augie had tried to help protested and stopped the execution.  He gave the injured American some cigarettes, some water, and a bit of food as he and his troops left.

 Stranded on a battlefield alone Augie wondering, praying, slipping in and out of consciousness, Augie struggled to eat what the little food available 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 lying in a ditch, helpless, he heard voices.  They were speaking English so it was a good chance they were Americans, or at least allies.  He waited until they were closer and when he saw their American GI uniforms, he called for help.  By the grace of God, Augie was safe.

Days later Augie found himself on a medical ship for transport back to the United 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.  As it happened the custodian in the ward had a favorite song.  As he mopped the floor and changed the beds, he constantly sang “Georgia on my mind”.  When the ship landed 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 bed Augie recalled his drill sergeant's advice, never to write home and tell their families you are sick. His logic was by the time the family got the letter you would be fine resulting in your family worrying.
Augie followed the advice he received in boot camp, and after three months, he believed it was safe to call home.  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 pronounce a particular swear word; it always came out as “batch”.  Finally, his sister Anne got on the phone and found out that it was indeed Augie calling.  She told him to call back after she calmed the family.  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.”

Augie called the family again, and soon found the reason for the odd reaction he was unaware of the notification to his family.  Joy soon overtook the family 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 adopted hometown of Triadelphia WV, to be with their son, the unit’s sole survivor.
 As Augie lay in a ward of wounded vets, he heard the door burst open a familiar voice came booming through the ward.  “Where isa my son?”  His father’s first reaction was to flip back the blankets and say, “You gotta you legs?”  Now assured that his son was safe and intact he wondered off in the ward to entertain the remaining injured troops.

Augie eventually returned to Triadelphia, greeted by family and friends.  Without the compassion, he displayed on the battlefield, I would not be here to tell you the story of my dad, Augie Montalbano. 
He was one of the truly wonderful men of his generation.

Happy Veterans Day!
With Love,
Jan Montalbano O'Kane