Luis Barrera Jr came across his grandfather's two diaries from the ETO and has been painstakingly copying each page as time permits. Florentino's entries span from the day of his induction on March 25, 1943, and run through the war's end in 1945.
Florentino Pena was born a third generation American on the family ranch just outside the city of Alice, Texas, where he spent his time as a farmer and rancher before his induction into the Army. His best friends were WWII vets as well, and included Luis' paternal grandfather, Anastacio Barrera (Artillery) and his great friend, Alberto C. Nava (Infantry 1943-1946.). Growing up Luis heard a lot of amazing stories from these three men. Using the format from the University of Texas WWII Latino Memorial, he's been trying to interview Mr. Nava for over a year now, but work has kept him from visiting him in Alice.
Luis and I are delighted to share his personal memoirs with all of you, and will upload more as time permits. From a personal viewpoint, I couldn't be any more excited, for these entries will be a goldmine for my book on the VI Corps Engineers.
Here are the names as signed in my grandfather's diary:
William W. Brown - McHenry
Lyle L. Upright - Lake Ariel, PA
Melvin Beckman - 420 East State, St. O'Fallon, Illinois
Crucy C. Nolen - Rt. 5, Box 293 Ada, OK
Donald F. Kinly - Iowa
Girard Girandir - 22 Vine Street Livermore Falls, Maine
Clifford Leslie Adams - 2145 Baily St. Dearborn, MI
Elizardo Vigil - N. Mexico
Alfred M. Stasinski - 87 Halstead Ave. Buffalo, NY
Joe Evans - Hamilton, MO
Jacob Poppaport - 340 Powell St. Brooklyn NY
Antonio D. Ruiz - 4118 San Fernando street San Antonio,TX
Inez Garza -
Henry A. Martinez - San Francisco, CA
Edwardo Soliz - New York, NY
Jose T. Gomez (88th Sig. Br SP) San Francisco
Some other notes from Florentino's diary
Word Meanings in Northern Africa:
Allied – go away
Massa masel – pretty girl
Cinema – show
No compri – don't understand
Manager – good day
Alli – come here
Karmel – candy
Diego – Italian
Army slang –
Dearest one – U.S.A.
My Dearest one – I am across
Sweet one – In action
Hello Darling – Going to be transferred or was
I'm getting Dark – In northern Africa
Spaghetti – Some where in Italy
English – England or Brits
Sugar – Australian
Cold – Alaskan
My grandfather and the 39th left Fort Leonard Wood on Friday Aug 25, 1943 and by Wed. Sept. 22, my grandfather writes that he passed the coast of Spain and landed in Algiers the morning of Sat. Sept. 25, 1943.
Right now I'm on a project for my company in Oklahoma. When more time is available I will continue sharing more stories and finish scanning the diary. My grandfather also has pictures that he took while he was there of fellow soldiers, towns and bridges they built. I will scan and copy those as well. If anyone has any advise for interviewing Mr. Nava, please let me know.
I had some time today to type up some of the pages. The following excerpts are from the first couple of pages of the 2nd diary. I'm not sure if the first diary explains what a "Cracker" is, but if anyone knows, please let me know. Apparently, a cracker is something they used to secure a bridge or road, but I don't know for sure. I skipped a couple of pages, but it mentions his friend Clifford Leslie Adams taking shrapnel to the leg.
Marion's note: Here is what David Wagner - 39th Combat Engineer had to say about "crackers":
...I wrote a note to Luis Barrera, Jr. explaining what his
grandfather meant when he referred to crackers. He was
actually referring to craters in the road which were caused
either by bombs, shelling, very heavy traffic or incessant rains
or a combination of any or all of them...
Log: Florentino Pena
Saturday, March 11, 1944
Went to fill "crackers" and as soon as they (Germans) saw us working by cutting
the trees to fill the holes, they started shelling us; but we had to keep working by order of Lt. Col. Dieblen.
Sunday, March 12, 1944
Went to lay wire entanglement on the front line with 600 yards of wire, after we got working it started raining really hard. We came in early because we were all wet and had to walk to miles back to the truck.
Monday, March 13, 1944
Went to put a little more dirt on top of matting that we had laid on top of the crackers. We were shelled again and Clifford Adams got hit by a piece of shrapnel....it was not bad.
Thursday March 16, 1944
Went to finish bridge and 2 squads of third platoon worked close to us fixing drive way to bridge. The other squad was finishing putting wire where we had left that got ruined by Jerrys (Slang for Germans) small arm fire. East Co. got seven
men wounded and one killed fixing the crackers at night. I was on guard from 10pm to 2am
39th Engineers journey from Caivano to Nettuno, Italy
Tuesday, January 25, 1944
Morning pulled out of docks (Caivano/Napoli) and to sea all day. Was issued
K rations and cigarettes for a whole day. Three Companies in the boat. 2nd Bn. had tickets signed before loading boat. Night slept on deck and didn't sleep but a little because it was too windy. About 5:30 in the morning
A S.S.T. boat was hit and started on fire and it was one of our convoy boats. In the morning, Jerries (Germans) Air Raided and a shell bust on deck of our boat and wounded five of our men. Noon: another air raid, but everyone was put down dock. Stood guard on bottom of deck where equipment was to keep men from smoking. One of the injured men that had been wounded earlier died. Had an air raid about every fifteen minutes dropping bombs to our boats.
The S.S.T. that he refers to above should have been L.S.T. or Landing Ship Tank.
Thursday, Jan. 27, 1944
Early in the morning had first air raid of the day, second while we were eating chow and one plane was downed during that time. Got off boat in Netuna (Netunno) about 12am and walked about 3 miles and stopped for a rest until trucks came and took us to the company area. While there waiting, had 2 air raids by Jerries and downed about 3 planes in both raids. This town was cleared of people living in it. It was right on the harbor. At night worked in unloading trailers with equipment. Found box of candy and K rations and brought them to the tent. Middle of night had air raid and shells coming from over the nearby hill. It's really “hot” here because it has been only four days since we invaded and only a few troops have landed here.
Friday, Jan 28, 1944
Morning Air raid again and 5 planes were downed. Next raid while getting the platoon tool for company area, 3 more planes were downed. All day had raids and had to be crawling to fox hole. Noon: was cleaning rifle and ammo and had to get to fox hole every minute because of the raids. Night plane came over for reconnaissance and could see flares drop from up front.
Sat. Jan 29, 1944
Morning raid right after chow. The Friday night before the 39th had but put on alert to go to front as infantrymen, but that night the 45th division landed to help third division. Sat. noon Sgt. Chinowith came to tent to tell me I was going to be a bazooka gun assistant. Had an air raid right now while writing letters. 5pm Sat. Afternoon ran to foxhole fast because 2 bombs were dropped close to our area. At dark had another raid that lasted about 15 minutes. At 11pm had another raid after just falling asleep and at 2am a ship was blown up so we went to the foxholes again. At 3am another explosion that woke us up because the ground shook really hard. They (Germans) had been raiding this place because the ships were coming in with supplies and troops to support this front near Netuna.
Sun. Jan 30, 1944
Went to shoot bazooka, but there was no ammo. Didn't have any raids all day, but at 11pm went to work because we are working 24 hour shifts since we are on alert. Worked on road in the dark, we were working right next to the front lines. We could hear enemy guns and our guns kept firing back all night.
Mon Jan. 31, 1944
Was off from 7am to noon. Noon: shells were coming above our area and busting on our shore, which was just a few yards away. The Sunday night before, started pulling double guard because we were expecting paratroopers from Rome which had their officers captured in a fight with Rangers. B. Commandos Challenge by pass word. Words for cover of Regt. Rats – Bn. 1st, 2nd Bn. White. Co. D dog, East Co. easy, F Co. fox, weapon platoon green. Shells coming over were German 88s and on raids planes dropped rocket bombs, which were claimed to be radio bombs, which go straight to iron targets. Monday night moved up to front lines as infantry to make a defensive line so 179th division could make a push. We relieved them on the right flank by a canal.
The 179th Division referred to above was denoting the 179th Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division.
Tuesday, Feb. 1, 1944
Relieved the flank at 2am. And was put on O.P. to observe the enemy which was about 500 yards ahead. Had to crawl up the bank by a trench. Third Platoon had an attack at 5am. We didn't have a second of sleep that night because we had to observe. While crawling to the trenches, we had a hard time because we were carrying a rifle, bazooka and ammo. Noon: while I was taking a little rest, they started shelling us. 2 Jerries were captured because they gave themselves up. We could see the enemy from here since it was level ground. Night: had bullets and shells buzzing about our heads on the post guard.
Wed, Feb. 2, 1944
In observe hole. Didn't get any sleep or rest. One Lt. got hurt in first attack. Lt. Col Hanssan was said to be the one that go us on this job. Shells were landing right in front of our hole. Night was relieved by 1st Armored force of half Canadian and half American troops.
David Wagner's note regarding the 1st Armored force:
In actuality this was the first Special Service Force and was only referred to by us as the SSF. The Germans referred to them as the Black Devils. This was because when they went out on patrol at night they smeared black shoe polish on their faces. The Devil's Brigade came about in 1968 when a movie was made from a novel which was written about the SSF and entitled "Devil's Brigade." This was really one great outfit. The 39th was attached to the SSF as their nighttime reserve and we went on patrol with them...
Here is another photo of my grandfather with his friends. From reading his dairy, he was inducted into the Army in San Antonio, he then went to Fort Leonard Wood and then off to Northern Africa...So I assume that this photo was taken either in San Antonio or Fort Leonard.
I received a wonderful email from David Wagner, and he asked me what Company my grandfather was in. He was in Company D. If any one recognizes the men with my grandfather in this picture, please let me know. My grandfather is the tallest one, second from the left.
David, maybe you played ball with my grandfather? I've summed up a few days where he mentions playing ball with your Company (F) in 1944.
Wednesday, April 12, 1944
Stayed in Co. Area all day and after Supper went to Play ball with F. Co. Score 19 – 11
Sunday April 23, 1944
After Supper went to play ball with F. Co. Score 5 – 4 in favor of us.
Wednesday, April 26, 1944
Morning went back to rock quarry till noon and came back in for shots on arm and short arm inspection. After that play ball, but quit early because a rifle grenade burst close to the diamond. It was from 3rd Division troops practicing for push.
March 25, 1923 to October, 18, 1998 - Rest in Peace!