World War II oral history interview
Date: September 7, 2001
Veteran: Gerald M. Ciampoli
US Army, European Theatre
637th Anti-Aircraft Heavy Weapons Battalion, North Africa; 100th Chemical Mortar Battalion
Interviewer: Michelle Carrara
Summarizer: Irving Bauman
Gerald Ciampoli was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in August 1916. For several years prior to the outbreak of World War II, he was employed by the American Can Company, operating and maintaining a variety of factory machinery.
When Ciampoli was drafted on September 12, 1942, he was interviewed by a Captain Riley, who learned that he could read, write and speak Italian, skills which would hold him in good stead during his time in service. His initial assignment was to the 508th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion at Camp Stewart, Georgia, where he received basic training. While at Camp Stewart, Ciampoli was trained as a .50 Caliber Browning machine gunner. He assisted in training other troops in its use after he was transferred to the 637th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion. He also performed K.P. duty and assisted the unit cooks in making doughnuts, coffeecakes and turnovers. A good cook in civilian life, Ciampoli often cooked food for himself and his buddies while on kitchen duty. On one occasion he managed to scrounge three steaks for a mini-feast.
In March 1943, following a 15 day furlough at home, Ciampoli boarded the USS Monterey and shipped out of New York for Casablanca, Morocco, with the 637th for a 16 day voyage to North Africa. The nurses of the 39th Station Hospital were also aboard the ship, and Ciampoli recognized one from Jersey City named Rose. After landing in Casablanca, he observed numerous B-17 and P-38 aircraft parked and ready to go into action. Ciampoli visited an Arab bazaar, where he bought food from merchants, bartering army issue corned beef for local fresh vegetables. While in Morocco, Ciampoli was able to put his language skills to use interpreting for Italian prisoners of war, who, he recalled, seemed glad that their own war was over, as they behaved well and cooperated with their American captors. Following a stint of duty in North Africa, Ciampoli and his unit went on to participate in the invasion of Italy.
On August 30, 1944, at La Fagianeria, Italy, the 637th was converted into the 100th Chemical Battalion, Motorized and then, on November 15, was re-designated the 100th Chemical Mortar (4.2 inch mortars) Battalion. Ciampoli told the interviewer about his experiences in Italy, including anti-aircraft gunnery, the difference in engine noise between German and American aircraft, sabotage on B-25 bombers, and the story of B-24 bombers flying from Libya to bomb German airfields. He also spoke of his army buddy digging up potatoes from a nearby field for food, and another friend who won the Silver Star for heroism. Ciampoli then showed the interviewer photos taken during his army service.
(Gerald Ciampoli (left), baker in the 100th Chemical Mortar Platoon, and friend, kidding around in Italy, winter, 1944-1945. )
While on duty with the 100th, Ciampoli formally became an army baker, attending a training course in August and September, 1944. With the end of the war in Europe, the men in his unit were alerted that they might be going to Fort Ord, California to participate in the invasion of Japan. The atomic bomb changed that scenario, and Ciampoli returned to America with the 100th and was discharged from the army on October 17, 1945. He noted to the interviewer that, in his absence, his beloved sister and her baby had died in childbirth while her husband was at sea with the navy. Ciampoli’s mother passed away in March of 1946.
On returning to civilian life, he learned that, as a veteran, he could use the GI Bill to learn a trade, and after a six months apprenticeship, he was initiated into Local #9 of the Plumbers and Steam Fitters Union.
When asked for advice for the younger generation in military service, Ciampoli suggested that they “use their heads in dealing with touchy situations,” avoid behaving like a “wise guy” and to only submit cheap clothing to the G.I. laundry, and wash better quality garments by hand, to avoid theft.
(Anna Ciampoli, Carol Fowler, Jerry Ciampoli OCT 2006)
Gerald Ciampoli’s service awards include medals for the European, North African and Middle Eastern Theater with three bronze campaign stars for the Rome/Arno, North Apennines and Po Valley campaigns, the World War II Victory and American Theater service awards and a rifle marksmanship medal. He resided in Red Bank after the war and was a member of the VFW and the Independent Fire company of Red Bank. He passed away at the age of 93 on May 23, 2010.
(Veteran participant Jerry Ciampoli OCT 2001)