A father opposed to war didn’t want him to go
His father didn’t want him to go.
But the draft, and a dose of patriotism, drove Richard Scalise into service in the U.S. Army during World War II.
The Warren County native, born in April 1922, graduated from Warren Area High School in 1940.
After graduation, Scalise said his father suggested he go to college. But he said he was “in need (of) a little money” and went to work at the Youngsville Furniture Factory for 30 cents an hour.
“I was single, living home free,” he said. “Then I decided I better get my further education. (I) ended up going into the army instead.”
Scalise then got a job at the New Process company in correspondence. Scalise said he “punched a typewriter all day,” crafting letters regarding items such as exchanges and complaints.
But as the war effort grew, Scalise said there was an effort “to build up patriotism, to buy war bonds. I got swept up in the thing.”
Then his draft letter came. “I didn’t want to show my dad. His position was not a popular one.”
“My father is almost like a Quaker, didn’t believe in war,” Scalise said of his father Anthony. He said his father served, and was wounded in World War I, concluding that “war doesn’t settle anything. He did not want me to go bear arms against killing someone. He was strong on that.”
So strong that he asked Richard to try to avoid a combat role. But the speed of the war effort prevented that.
“Before I knew, I had a rifle in my hand,” he said. “I didn’t want to kill anyone, which I never did anyways.”
“It bothered my dad when he found out I had to carry a gun,” he added. “He always felt bad.”
But Scalise wasn’t the only member of his family to serve. His brother, James, enlisted. “Dad worried about him getting hurt or killed,” he said.
James served as a Motor Machinists Mate First Class on the LST 1016, a tank landing ship, in the U.S. Navy.
After being inducted to the service at New Cumberland, where many Warren County men started their service, Scalise was assigned to the Tank Destroyers and sent to Camp Hood, now Fort Hood, Texas for advanced training.
“Originally, the war wasn’t (going) good for us,” he said, citing the success of German General Erwin Rommel in North Africa. “We were trained to go and fight him.”
Scalise explained that as a tank battalion, a key element of his training was learning how to drive tanks as well as various other armored vehicles. “A guy named ‘Cookie’ taught he how to drive them,” he said. “I learned it until I became sergeant, staff sergeant, then I didn’t have to do the driving.”
With the basic elements of their training in hand, Scalise and the 819th progressed to maneuvers.
“We called them bivouacs,” Scalise said, noting that in addition to Camp Hood his unit participated in maneuvers in California before shipping out and during their time overseas. He said their intent was “to keep you ripe for combat duty and train you.” While one would assume that means work with tanks, that was not always the case. Scalise said one time they were given a raw potato and simply told to make dinner out of it and an another time they were told to enter formation dressed a certain way and then immediately told to change into different clothing.
And there were marches.
With a laugh, Scalise said there were “lots of them.” He especially remembered the ones that were 25 miles in length while they were given one small canteen of water. Those routes included, of course, steep hills.
“(It was) all done to train you to take adversity… toughen you up mentally and physically,’ he said. “Most of them was a lot of crap.”
But with Rommel and the Germans neutralized in North Africa by the time their training was complete, the destination of the 819th was changed from Europe to the Pacific.
After a period of additional training in California, the 819th left the states, arriving in Hawaii on March 24, 1944. Scalise said they knew they were headed to the Pacific but “they don’t tell you. I didn’t tell my parents. They’d worry about it… If you try to find out what island we’re on, they don’t tell you.”
The unit continued training in Hawaii for “probably six or seven months,” Scalise estimated, before pushing further west, arriving on the island of Peleliu in the South Pacific in February 1945. Peleliu was the site of a fierce battle just a few months before, from September through November, 1944, that produced 10,000 Allied casualties. He said it was possible to observe, months later, that the island had been the center of a fierce battle.
“I was not in full-scale combat,” Scalise said. “What we did, we went to seven to eight islands, Guam, Saipan… some don’t have a name they’re so small. When the island of Peleliu was considered secure – secure means all organized resistance has been controlled – they allowed us to go around the island and check for a few straggles, a sort of a mopping up operation.”
Scalise and the 819th would remain on Peleliu through the end of hostilities.
Asked what a typical day was like on Peleliu, Scalise said that, once he was promoted to Staff Sergeant in charge of a platoon of eight to ten men, he would first get orders, which could mean training, touring the island in the continued search for stragglers, or defending the air strip that was a driving force behind the original Allied invasion of the island.
“The Seabees built it,” he said. “It wasn’t a big one.”
“Very seldom did you sit on your butt and do nothing,” he said, with the exception to that rule being Sunday afternoon when “you’re on your own (and) could goof off a little bit.”
Also, as a member of Reconnaissance Company, “I did map work,” he said. “You’re not looking at no hero. (I) picked up a few Japs (but) was not in the middle of the battle.”
And while he was overseas, he always kept an eye out for his brother.
“I’d say, (for) almost for a year and a half, I’m looking for his ship in the Pacific, which is stupid, (it) was a hell of a big body of water, but I knew the number, 1016. I kept looking for it but I never found it, ” he said. “We corresponded with each other but in those days you couldn’t tell him where you were at. They censored it. So I never did run into him.”
Away from the front lines, the 819th avoided many of the casualties many other units suffered. Only one member of the 819th died while the unit was west of Hawaii.
“Earl from Iowa,” Scalise said. “(We were) teaching him how to swim.” PFC Early Buenderf was reported missing and presumed drowned on March 18, 1945.
That wasn’t the only death that affected the unit. Scalise remembers when they were informed that President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed away.
“(I) wondered what is going to happen with Truman,” he said. “The general feeling that I can recall was sorry. He was handicapped. We always admired him.”
But from there, the news in the coming months got considerably better.
August 14, 1945.
Victory over Japan (V-J) Day.
“You won’t believe what I was doing. I was in charge of eight to ten men… We had to go to this tent and collect cans of goods that were there too long,” he said of his duty on the day the war ended. “You could tell the cans were looking like they were ready to explode. (We) put them in an army truck (and) dumped them in the ocean. That’s what we were doing when the war ended, sounds dumb but that’s what we were doing, puncturing cans so they would sink.”
“Being a platoon sergeant, I was frequently at CW, change of quarters, where the brains of our outfit, that’s where I went, (I) found out from guys that were whispering and yelling,” he said. “Wonderful. It was sort of a joyous, a happy day.”
“I recall, boys were leaving right away,” he said.
But the point system that determined when men were discharged left Scalise in the Pacific for an additional month and a half.
Scalise said that the 819th moved to Saipan and Guam but “the war was really over. When we went to Guam, they took us to the edge of a cliff. (You could) see the sea with rocks. Many Japanese would (commit) suicide by jumping off the cliff. (It) made me sick but that’s the way the war is.”
He was in Guam “doing typing and paperwork for recruiting people that wanted to join” when he found out it was his turn to go home.
When he made it back to the States, and went to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, for his discharge, Scalise was asked whether he wanted to stay in the service.
“I wanted to go to civilian life; most of us did,” he said. “I was 23 when I got out and discharged. I wanted to get out and go home.”
“I never had a bullet fired at me, which I’m thankful,” he added. “There’s a saying in the army, ‘I’m glad I had the experience but I never want to go through it again.'”
He was discharged just days before Christmas, 1945.
Scalise and four other men from Warren County were discharged from Atterbury at about the same time, but they couldn’t get seats on a train home. So they went together, for $25 each, and paid a man to drive them to Pittsburgh. “We gladly paid,” he said.
From Pittsburgh, “we went to the bus station. (The) bus took us to Warren. When I got to Warren, I ran into a friend of mine, a cab driver. He took me right to my door. Tears were flowing.”
But his dad had a question for him.
“The first thing he asked me when I got discharged (was) ‘Son, I hope you didn’t kill anyone,'” he said. “I didn’t.”
While he made it home for Christmas, it was a challenging time for Scalise.
“Christmas is a joyous time with friends and family. It wasn’t that way,” he explained. “(I) couldn’t get my mind where it should be.
“Even though I didn’t have any dangerous assignments or serious combat experiences, I couldn’t get adjusted to being home, getting up when I want to, eating when I want to… Then I got used to civilian life. It takes a while to get used to it.”
He estimated an adjusting period of a few weeks.
“Now if I had been in battles it would have taken longer,” he said. “So I talked myself out of it. ‘Come on, snap out of it. You’re home. You’re free. You didn’t get hurt. At those times they had what they called a 52/20 club.”
The club, part of the GI Bill, allowed soldiers to collect $20 a week for 52 weeks while re-adjusting to civilian life.
But he struggled to accept the help.
“I didn’t want to go,” he said. “Mom said it’s money they’re giving out… I got stubborn, so I didn’t go. I don’t know what got into my head. I just did not want to go so I did not go.”
So in February 1946, after being home for just over a month, Scalise went back to work at New Process.
There he met a girl.
“I saw this girl that I took a shine to,” he said of his wife, Alice. “I was bashful. I didn’t know how to ask her out.” But a first, double date grew into much more and the couple was married on Feb. 7, 1948 at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church.
Scalise said that when he left for the service, many people “went down to the railroad station to say goodbye. My wife was there to see her brother. She didn’t know me and I didn’t know her.”
“She had a sixth grade education,” he said, explaining her father died early in her life, forcing her to enter the workforce. “She worked hard and became a food dietician for a nursing home. I was so proud of her for what little education she had.”
The couple lived in Warren for nearly their entire married life, raising a family that included one son and three daughters.
“I have a wonderful family,” he said.
After 20 years at New Process, Scalise worked at Levinson Brothers for 27 additional years as a manager.
They lived in Pleasant Township until Alice’s health deteriorated and she moved to the Rouse Home.
“That’s why I’m here,” Scalise said of living at the Route Suites, where he has been for over four years. “My family wanted me to be near her.”
She passed away in 2011 when they had been married for 64 years.
“She’s Catholic, I wasn’t,” he said. “She was Republican. I was Democrat… I remember when we had a reception one of my relatives said ‘this marriage won’t last. They’re too different.'”
“Well it lasted, it lasted.”
And today, at the age of 92, he expressed contentment.
“I have no complaints,” he said. “I’ve been spoiled long enough.” Of his family, he said he “want(s) to enjoy them while I can. I’ve been lucky so far. I can’t complain.”