World War II Oral History interview
Date: October 20, 2010
Veteran: Saul “Paul” Stern
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Leah McGonigle
Saul “Paul” Stern was born in December 1923 in Czechoslovakia (in today’s Slovakia) and emigrated to the United States with his family at the age of 13. He acquired enough proficiency in English to communicate reasonably well within three months of his arrival, adding that skill to his existing ability to speak fluent German and Slovak and some French. The Stern family spoke German at home.
(Paul Stern volunteer in Sea Girt cleaning weapons.)
In the late 1930s, the Sterns lived in Jersey City, New Jersey, where Stern’s father worked in a factory making uniforms for a salary of $50 a week. Saul became very anxious on hearing of the December 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor and was “stuck” to the radio day and night listening to the latest news of the attack. The war brought some rapid changes to the Stern household, as his mother, who had not worked prior to Pearl Harbor, soon got a job working for a chandelier manufacturer, as more and more men left the labor market for military service.
In January 1942, at the age of nineteen, Stern received a draft notice. He was inducted into the army on March 16, and sent to Camp Croft, South Carolina, where he received thirteen weeks of basic and advanced infantry training, before leaving for North Africa on a Liberty Ship from Brooklyn, New York. Although Stern’s family was unhappy that he was leaving, he was very excited to ship out to the war zone.
Stern landed in North Africa in July 1943, and then moved on to Sicily, where he was assigned as a replacement to Company L of the 30th Infantry Regiment in the Third Infantry Division. He first saw action in the Salerno campaign, which he recalled as a well-organized effort, although the Salerno beachhead met heavy German opposition. The second beachhead, at Anzio, was even more precarious.
Stern recalled that his unit occasionally had to ration ammunition distribution in the heavy fighting at Salerno and Anzio. If a frontline unit ran out of ammunition during a battle, cooks and kitchen personnel were assigned to a resupply mission. He recalled that the Germans threw a lot of grenades, some of the conventional “potato masher” fragmentation design, but also concussion grenades.
Stern’s unit participated in action against the German “Winter Line” in December, 1943, and was assigned to attack Mount Rotundo. Soon after the capture of the mountain, his friend, who had advanced next to him up the slope, was shot and killed. Stern was slightly wounded in the neck by shrapnel himself during the battle, but was not seriously injured, and initially didn’t even realize he was wounded. He recalled that even in the heaviest action, he rarely actually saw the enemy, and that it was very cold in Italy that winter, but with little snow.
(3rd Division )
Stern believed that many of the German weapons were superior to those issued to the Americans. His unit campaigned in Italy for about a year, and he remembered that they moved mostly on foot, rarely boarding trucks. The 3rd Division was involved in the liberation of Rome, which Stern recalled took place at the same time as the Normandy invasion. The 3rd Division then returned to Naples to prepare for an invasion of southern France. The landing in France was uneventful, and his unit moved inland rapidly, capturing Aixen and driving north towards Germany, linking up with General George Patton’s 3rd Army in Belfort, France.
The division moved into Alsace and took part in the fighting in the Colmar Pocket in late 1944. In Alsace Stern suffered a second bout of frostbite in his feet, and was evacuated to the 15th General Field Hospital, and then sent back to the United States aboard the USS Mariposa, which took him to Boston in December, 1944. He was then transferred to Mayo General Hospital in Galesburg Illinois for treatment, and he was honorably discharged from there on December 11, 1945.
When Stern returned home, a 22-year-old combat veteran, three months after the war had ended, he felt like a stranger and found it difficult to discuss his time in the army with his family. Stern used the GI Bill to go to college at Seton Hall, but left after a year and a half to start his own business in Newark, New Jersey.
Saul Stern was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star Medal, Good Conduct Medal, ETO Campaign Medal and Distinguished Unit Badge. He was credited with participating in the following campaigns: Naples-Foggia, Rome-Arno, Southern France and Germany.