William Schneider in Italy

Oral Historian: William Schneider

Interview Date: 5 May 2007

Interviewer: Steven Knepper

During WWII, William Schneider served as a tank mechanic in the 10th Battalion, U.S. Army, and attained the rank of sergeant. Before the war, he lived in the Bronx, NY, and worked in the U.S. mail service. He was among the first soldiers drafted - even before the U.S. entered WWII in 1941. Schneider's initial training was at Camp Dix, New Jersey. The camp was a virtual mud hole where soldiers had to walk between tents on planks. Next Schneider transferred to Ft. Knox, Tennessee, where he received training as a tank mechanic. After Ft. Knox, he transferred to Camp Bowie, Texas, for more training. Schneider said that at Camp Bowie, he met most of the men that he would eventually serve with in Europe. Later Schneider transferred to Ft. Benning, Georgia. He had a friend there, whom he worked crossword puzzles together throughout his time in the Army; the crosswords would be sent to them via V-mail.

William Schneider at Fort Dix, NJ, in 1941.
William Schneider at Fort Dix, NJ, in 1941. He was issued this old World War I uniform
when he enlisted as the U.S. slowly outfitted a large war effort.
(Photo from the William Schneider Collection)

At Ft. Benning, one of my friends was going out on a date. So I said to him, "You can't go out and visit a girl and leave your three buddies here. See if she's got three girl friends, and we'll all go." So he called and checked, and she said she'd arrange to have three girl friends come. So one of them turned out to be my wife. She was the tallest girl and said, "I get the tallest guy." And that happened to be me. So we just had that one date.

Where did you go on that date - did you go out on the town?

We went to a restaurant, and we visited a diorama that they have in Atlanta. The restaurant that we went to was called 'Mammy's Shanty' - they were noted for their chicken pot pie. I remember we had that.

After you met your future wife, did you correspond with her throughout the war?

Before we left to come to Camp Pickett, Virginia, which was shortly after that, I intended to visit her again. I got in a crap game to get a few more bucks to go, and instead I lost. So I never got to visit her again. So we just had that one date, and we V-mailed each other all through my service.

You were from New York - did you think you were pretty good in a crap game? Did you play back there?

Oh, there were a couple of sharpies there! There's more to that story of the eventual second date with my future wife, but I'll tell you about that later on.

You made it to Virginia. What was the purpose of you being in camp there?

That was just in preparation for us to go overseas. That was our last training, and we weren't there very long - no more than a week or so. Then we went by train to Staten Island and boarded the John Erickson, which was the former Swedish liner. We boarded that to go overseas.

When you went back to Staten Island, did you get to see any of your family?

No, because we never got leave.

All during your training, do you remember hearing news from the front?

Well, I was at Ft. Knox in tank mechanic school on December 7th, 1941. Then my one-year service was extended to the duration of the war plus 6 months. For me that one-year turned out to be 4 years and 2 months.

When you got the news about Pearl Harbor, what did you think?

We were very unhappy to say the least.

During you service, what did you think of your instructors?

They were very capable. I know in tech mechanic school, they had metal pans where we would be working on the engines, and if you dropped a tool, it would land on that thing and go 'clunk!' That meant you had to clean up that day after the rest of the guys went back to the barracks.

Were they pretty hard on you?

They were very exacting.

When you left New York on the ship, where did you go?

We went to Casablanca. On the way, we got two meals a day on the ship. A lot of the guys were so seasick that they couldn't eat. I wasn't seasick, and so I'd get their meal tickets and eat more than two meals a day. I wouldn't say the food was good, but it was adequate.

Map of North Africa, 1942
Map of North Africa in 1942. Mr. Schneider's unit landed at Casablanca and moved to Port Lyautey and Rabat before embarking from Oran, Algeria, for the voyage to the Italy campaign.

What did you think of Casablanca?

It was an interesting place. Casablanca is aptly named - as you approached Casablanca, all you saw were those white houses and red roofs. It had several different cultures: Arabs and the French.

Did you get any leave time?

We'd get some leave. We'd go into town and find someplace where we could get some libation. We weren't in Casablanca too long before we moved on up to Port Lyautey. But while we were in Casablanca, we were inspected by General Patton. He said that we were the sloppiest outfit that he'd ever seen, but I think that was his usual comment about every outfit he ever inspected. I didn't see him, but one of our guys was on guard duty when Patton came. Patton asked him, "Where's your CO?" The guard was James Murphy from Chicago, and he said, "What the HELL is a CO?" Patton wasn't happy about that answer, and that's when Patton said we were the sloppiest outfit he'd ever seen.

In Africa at one point, we were bivouacked in a cork forest. At night in Africa, even though its hot during the day, it gets quite cold at night. During the night, soldiers might have to get up at night to relieve themselves. Being in a cork forest, we just found the nearest cork tree and relieved ourselves there. We always swore that we would never open a corked bottle again with our teeth when we got home.

One of the strangest things we saw in Africa was a team plowing, and it was a mixed team of a donkey and a camel pulling a plow. I don't know how it worked, but it was a funny thing to see.

When did you go to the front?

After we left Africa. When we left Port Lyautey, we went to Rabat, which was the capitol of French Morocco. We were there training for several months, and then we drove our equipment from Rabat to Oran, Algeria, to be loaded on ships headed for Italy. I was driving a ten-ton truck, which was the last vehicle in the convoy. When we left Rabat to go to Oran, we had a latrine - a four-holer. As we were pulling out, we saw 4 Arabs with their heads stuck in each of the 4 holes, running off with the latrine. That was fair game for them - we had left it behind. And wood was scarce there.

But I didn't see any action in Africa. In fact they took all of our tanks to be used by other organizations there in Africa.

When you got to Italy - what did you think of that?

We landed just south of Naples and bivouacked in Naples. And here is a photo taken outside the botanical gardens right on the street in Naples - this is a double urinal.

Public urinal in Naples, Italy, 1942
Public urinal outside the botannical gardens, Naples, Italy, 1942.
(Photo from the William Schneider Collection)

Did you see combat in Italy?

Oh, yes, our outfit was in combat just about the whole time. I actually wasn't in combat, but we had to go out to retrieve disabled tanks. We did most of our work at night --obviously because we didn't want to be observed. We used to say that we lived on caffeine and nicotine. We had a vehicle called a 'tank retriever,' which was what used to be an M3 tank but it was converted into a towing vehicle. It had a 60 ton-winch and a boom on the back, and we carried spare parts, track blocks, and bogey wheels. We would go out at night and if a tank had thrown a track or hit a mine and blown off some of the track blocks, we'd replace them. If we couldn't get the tank running, we would tow it back to where we were stationed.

Was that a very dangerous job?

When we were working on the tanks, the tank crews would be buttoned up in their tank, but we would be outside. So if there was any shelling, we'd be exposed to it, but the crews wouldn't.

Were there many casualties in your unit?

Oh yes, very many. But the only casualty from our maintenance platoon was our Captain, who happened also to be from New York. His name was Captain Gratz, and before he'd let his crew out to repair a tank, he'd go out to observe it to make sure it was safe to be worked on. On one of those occasions, he went out during the day to observe a tank, and a shell came in and killed him.

Did you get to see any captured German tanks, and which was more powerful: the German tank or the American tank?

Oh, yes. The German tanks were more powerful. The German Tiger tanks had a more powerful gun - an 88 mm gun. Our tanks only had a 76 mm gun.

Where specifically were you in Italy?

The fiercest fighting happened just before we got to Monte Cassino, and that's where most of our casualties happened. We were there when they captured it. Cassino was a mountain and up high. The Germans had better positions - they were dug in and our tanks had a lot to contend with. We lost a lot of tanks there and had many casualties. When Monte Cassino was captured, we were very glad it was done.

Schneider's tent near Monte Casino, Italy Artillery shell impact behind Schneider's tent near Monte Casino
1944 photos showing William Schneider's tent near Monte Cassino, Italy.   Photo at right shows the impact of a Germany artillery shell directly beside his tent. (Photos from the William Schneider Collection)
Ruins of Cassino, 1944
Ruins of the Town of Cassino, Italy, April 1944. The Battle of Monte Cassino (also known as the Battle for Rome and the Battle for Cassino) was a costly series of four WWII battles fought by the Allies between January 17, 1944 and May 19, 1944. The Allies intent was to break through German lines and seize Rome. These operations resulted in casualties of over 54,000 Allied and 20,000 German soldiers and destroyed the historic abbey of Monte Cassino and the town below.(Source: U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum, Ft. Lee, VA; http://www.qmmuseum.lee.army.mil)

How did you stay in touch with your family when you were at the front?

By V-mail - it was pretty reliable and there was no restriction on how often we could send and receive letters.

What was the food like on the front?

It wasn't the greatest. We used to swear that it was all goat. And we couldn't stand those powdered eggs….those GREEN powdered eggs. I don't know where they got the food, but it always seemed like slumgullion. We used to say that they only had one recipe - "when it's smokin', it's cookin', and when it's black, it's done."

Until the invasion of France from England, we got good supplies in Italy. After that time, we had to go scrounging for them.

As a tank mechanic, did you always have the parts you needed?

Most of the time. Sometimes we had to go 'moonlight requisitioning.' Go back and steal parts from disabled vehicles.

How did you have a good time - how did people entertain themselves?

Our maintenance battalion liberated a still. We used to trade 5 gallons of gasoline to an Italian farmer for 5 gallons of wine. Then we would run the wine through the still and get 5 gallons of grappa, which is an Italian gin. The Captain would get one quart, and the rest of the platoon would put it in grapefruit juice that we got in cans and drink it that way. That was one of our joys.

Schneider and friends outside his tent near Cassino, Italy
William Schneider (in shorts) and friends stand outside
his tent near Cassino, Italy, 1944.

(Photo from the William Schneider Collection)

We also got ahold of an ice cream machine and were able to make ice cream on occasions. It was a big machine.

Were there any entertainers that came to your battalion?

I don't know if they came right to our battalion, but we did get to see some USO shows. In Italy, we went to La Scala one time to an opera. I don't remember what it was, but my buddy was an opera fan. We were right up in the top balcony. When we were at the opera house, I met a fellow from my hometown.

Once we were on a pass and we arranged to go to Capri. While we were at Capri - we did the usual: looking for places to get something to drink. We got so involved that we missed our boat back to the mainland. We had to figure someway to get back to the mainland so we wouldn't be missing the next morning. So we saw a group marching toward one of the docks, and we joined in with them. We asked if we could get a lift back with them to the shore. We got up to the beginning of the group and discovered it was General Mark Clark and his group that gave us a lift back to shore. Then we thumbed our way back to camp.

Pompeii, Italy, 1944 Pompeii, Italy, 1944
Scenes From Pompeii, Italy, 1944. (Photos from the William Schneider Collection)

What did you think of your officers and fellow soldiers.

I thought they were very capable. I know our Captain - we thought the world of him. In fact his mother used to write letters addressed to him as "Capt but it looked like 'Cpl'. So we used to call him Corporal and he got a kick out of that. If we'd go out and get soaking wet, he'd give us his own socks and stuff.

You were still with your crossword buddy this whole time?

Oh, yes. I visited him just one time after the war. We had an association, but he was not part of it. But this association met every year and go to different towns. A guy from that town would host it.

Did you keep a diary while you were at the front?

No. I wish I had.

Do you recall the day your service ended?

Very much. I was on furlough from Italy. The Captain, when he found out that I was about to go home on furlough, he wouldn't let me go on any missions. He told me I was going to stay right there in camp. Before that I was stricken with jaundice and spent several weeks in the hospital in Pisa. I was flown there as a stretcher case. When we got to the hospital, we walked about four miles until they finally found a place where we could be treated. After that, I went back to my outfit and was picked to go home on furlough.

Do you remember what day that was roughly?

It was sometime in April 1945. We went back to the States on an unescorted troop ship, the A.P. Richardson. On the way over with the Ericcson, we were in a convoy and were escorted by warships … by cruisers and destroyers. Going home, the A.P. Richardson was unescorted, but we made it all right.

What did you do in the days and weeks after you got back to the States?

When we started out, the furlough was for 30 days. As soon as we landed at a fort somewhere near Boston, they extended the furlough to 45 days. During that 45 days, I went down to Atlanta and visited this girl. We agreed then to become engaged even though there was no engagement ring at that time. After I visited her, I came back to New York and enjoyed the leave with my family and friends. I visited another friend, a Marine, in the Boston area. Then when my furlough ended on May 8th, which happened to be VE day, I reported to Ft. Dix. On May 10th they announced the point system for discharge. I had enough points, and on May 12th I was a civilian. The Army was trying to let the nation know how efficient they were at getting the troops discharged after the war. So they had a time slot on the Mutual Broadcasting System, WOAR, in New York, and they were doing a voice-over while the Colonel was calling out the names of those soldiers discharge - calling them up to get their discharge certificates . The time slot happened to be the same time slot when my group was being called - I was the thirteenth group of 25. He called the names, and we'd go up and get discharged. The station was doing a voice over, telling everyone what was happened. So after I got my discharge, I went home and called up this gal. I said, "I've got some good news." She said, "I know, you've been discharged." I asked, "How did you know?" She said, "I heard your name being called on that radio broadcast they were doing." That was amazing!

After that, did you go back to work?

No, after that I went down to Atlanta and visited her. Then she came up, and on June 30th, we were married. When we were married, I didn't have a job or a place to live. Within a week, I had a job as a mechanic at the Woodlawn Cemetery in New York. I subleased a place right in the same town from this woman and her husband - her husband was doing war work and was being transferred. So we subleased their place. Within a week, I had both a job and an apartment.

How did you end up in Scottsville?

My oldest son came down here to go to University. He had gotten his bachelor's degree at Amherst, Massachusetts, and wanted to take a course in architecture which they didn't have at Amherst. And in visiting him, we liked the area. He was living at the time in the old Methodist parsonage just up the road here in Scottsville. While we were in New York, he arranged for us to purchase a piece of land. Which we did - and came down here in 1982. My wife had surgery for cancer, and she was undergoing chemotherapy all the while she was here. In December 1986, she died. We never did build. In 1988, while attending an Elder Hostel, I met this woman, and we went to several Elder Hostels together. She came down and visited here and we got married. Then we build where my son had arranged for me to purchase the property. So we built in 1989.

Did you stay working at the cemetery for your whole career?

Yes, and I've been retired since 1982.

Did your military experience influence your thinking about the war and the military in general?

I never gave it much thought. To me, it was just a chore. I wouldn't want to have missed that experience, but I wouldn't want to redo it. The guys serving now seem to be very unhappy that they have a 1-year overseas. When I got home, I was over two years and didn't have e-mail or anything to communicate. I think we had it pretty rough considering.

William Paul Schneider

Daily Progress, Charlottesville, VA, 09 Oct. 2015

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - William Paul Schneider, 97, passed away on Wednesday, October 7, 2015, at his residence at Our Lady of Peace in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Bill was born in 1918, in the Bronx, New York, the only child of the late William Schneider and Anna Cirofici Schneider.  He attended Evander Childs High School in the Bronx and worked for Consolidated Edison prior to enlisting in the U.S. Army early in 1941. 

When war broke out, he served as a mechanic in the 760th Tank Battalion in campaigns in North Africa and Italy.  He met his bride-to-be, Lina (Bobbie) while in basic training in Georgia, and their correspondence throughout the war sustained them both.  They married shortly after the war at his home church, St. Luke's Methodist Church in Woodlawn, the Bronx.

Following the war, Bill found employment at The Woodlawn Cemetery as an auto mechanic, and spent the next 37 years there in several capacities, ultimately rising to the position of cemetery General Manager.  He served for a number of years as the president of the New York Metropolitan Cemetery Association.  He and Bobbie made their first home together in Woodlawn, where sons Fred and Jim were born.  When the family moved to nearby Yonkers, New York, Bill served as Cubmaster in the local Cub Scouts troop and continued to be active at St. Luke's.

After his retirement from Woodlawn in 1982, he and Bobbie moved to Scottsville, Virginia, where they participated in many local activities.  They were both members of Scottsville United Methodist Church, with Bill also serving in the Scottsville Lion's Club, the Scottsville Rescue Squad, and the Horseshoe Bend Players.  He helped build and on several occasions crew a Scottsville batteau, the Edward Scott, in the James River Batteau Festival.  In 2012, Bill moved to Our Lady of Peace, where he continued to enjoy community activities. 

Bill was preceded in death by his wife of 41 years, Lina Louise Schneider.  He is survived by his two sons, Frederick W. Schneider and his wife, Irene Dorrier, of Charlottesville, and James R. Schneider and his partner, Edward Strickler, of Scottsville; his granddaughter, Lina B. Schneider, of State College, Pennsylvania; and many other relatives and friends. 

Funeral services will be held at Scottsville United Methodist Church on Sunday, October 11, 2015, at 3 p.m. with the Rev. Bruce Lugn officiating.  Burial will follow at the Scottsville Cemetery.  The family will receive friends at Thacker Brothers Scottsville Funeral Home on Saturday Evening, October 10, 2015, from 6:30 until 8 p.m.  The family request that in lieu of flowers, consideration be made of a contribution to The Scottsville Rescue Squad or The Scottsville United Methodist Church.  Family and friends may share memories and photos at www.thackerbrothers.com.