My Father’s War: Memories from Our Honored WWII Soldiers – Amazing Pictures From The Collection of Charley Valera

Mechanic-turned-gunner Marine Al Pinard (standing 4th l-r) flew as a gunner in a SBD dive-bomber in the South Pacific. He and his pilot would "search for targets of opportunities" from Rabaul throughout the Solomon Islands.

– War History Online thanks Charley Valera  for sharing his some of his amazing photos with us in this exclusive Guest Blog. Be sure to check out his Facebook page to find out more.

 

“My Father’s War: Memories from Our Honored WWII Soldiers” is a combination between The Greatest Generation and Saving Private Ryan. It is a book about their war and how it changed their lives forever—and ours.

 

Pvt 1st Class Santo DiSalvo (right) earned a Purple Heart during the battle of San Pietro in Italy and a Distinguished Service Cross. "When his squad was pinned down by heavy enemy fire, Private First Class DiSalvo, by rising, drew all enemy fire upon himself, enabling his men to withdraw to cover. Then, although a target for enemy machine gun fire, he single-handedly captured the enemy emplacement," reads his certification.
Pvt 1st Class Santo DiSalvo (right) earned a Purple Heart during the battle of San Pietro in Italy and a Distinguished Service Cross. “When his squad was pinned down by heavy enemy fire, Private First Class DiSalvo, by rising, drew all enemy fire upon himself, enabling his men to withdraw to cover. Then, although a target for enemy machine gun fire, he single-handedly captured the enemy emplacement,” reads his certification.

It took me over two years to interview dozens of WWII veterans for this project. I set up a video camera, organized their stories uniformly, selected the veterans’ stories to use, organized their photos, and then wrote up their words and memoirs as they recalled them.

John Casey considered himself "just a welder, not a hero." However, he welded angle irons on hundreds of jeeps to protect the drivers from the decapitation wires strung across the streets by the Germans. Casey also welded extra sections on tanks to explode any close mines thereby protecting the foot soldiers.
John Casey considered himself “just a welder, not a hero.” However, he welded angle irons on hundreds of jeeps to protect the drivers from the decapitation wires strung across the streets by the Germans. Casey also welded extra sections on tanks to explode any close mines thereby protecting the foot soldiers.
Pilot Charles Rogers was known as a "Grasshopper pilot." He'd fly this Piper Cub at treetop levels, unarmed, to map out where the German armies were located. He was constantly under fire, explaining he "Never flew the same way back, zig-zagging, climbing and descending all the way back to base."
Pilot Charles Rogers was known as a “Grasshopper pilot.” He’d fly this Piper Cub at treetop levels, unarmed, to map out where the German armies were located. He was constantly under fire, explaining he “Never flew the same way back, zig-zagging, climbing and descending all the way back to base.”

Like many of us, my father was a soldier during WWII. He would only say he “was in England for 13 months and was a cook.” My three brothers and I assumed that was it and we didn’t ask anymore, we didn’t ask what it was really like to go off to a world war as a young man—or how did he get there, what they ate, what were the missions and battles like? Why didn’t we ask? Like many of us, we thought it was too late; that we’d never get to hear what the average soldier’s life was like. So I spent more than two years interviewing dozens of WWII veterans to accurately chronicle their incredible stories.

Lt. Joseph Chiminiello, (kneeling second r-l) explains that to be a good lower ball turret gunner in a B-17 or B-24, "the trick was to keep moving the turret. Keep moving it all around so they'd know you weren't asleep."
Lt. Joseph Chiminiello, (kneeling second r-l) explains that to be a good lower ball turret gunner in a B-17 or B-24, “the trick was to keep moving the turret. Keep moving it all around so they’d know you weren’t asleep.”

 

Freshly minted as a medic, Erwin Markowitz learning his new lifestyle.
Freshly minted as a medic, Erwin Markowitz learning his new lifestyle.

After seventy years, the WWII veterans within this compilation have finally shared what life was really like during the largest and most brutal war in history. It depicts how they returned home to raise us as their children and grandchildren. From small towns, these ordinary young men gave up their early years and, in some cases their lives, for the very freedom we take for granted today.

It is a testament by our fellow neighbors who gave so much, endured such incredulous conditions and fought battle-toughened enemies. To these soldiers, life wasn’t the short black and white movie clips we comfortably watch on the history channels. Day-to-day, it was a matter of life and death.

B-17 bombing missed targets over Germany. "We hit the fields," said Captain Bill Purple.
B-17 bombing missed targets over Germany. “We hit the fields,” said Captain Bill Purple.

In this unique collection, you’ll read their words, as they fought for our everlasting freedom during World War ll. A host of original photographs and letters—of which most have never been shared—are also included. Some are disturbing. Others are awe-inspiring beyond our everyday comprehension—memories that have been locked away for decades.

First Lt. Thomas McDonald was a navigator, his bombers had it tough. Once ditching (crashing) into the English Channel and shortly thereafter being shot down over enemy territory. McDonald was a German POW and listed as MIA but his stories live on.
First Lt. Thomas McDonald was a navigator, his bombers had it tough. Once ditching (crashing) into the English Channel and shortly thereafter being shot down over enemy territory. McDonald was a German POW and listed as MIA but his stories live on.

 

T-S/Sgt Charles Sanderson used this "gun" during his battles. He also was on the shores of Normandy when the enemy was pushed back only a couple miles. Read about how he crossed the deadly waters (he couldn't swim) in an LST and how he was ordered to almost tipping it over in deep waters.
T-S/Sgt Charles Sanderson used this “gun” during his battles. He also was on the shores of Normandy when the enemy was pushed back only a couple miles. Read about how he crossed the deadly waters (he couldn’t swim) in an LST and how he was ordered to almost tipping it over in deep waters.

These true stories embody love, war, family, and religion—all rolled into each soldier you’ll meet. You will join them on a journey from 30,000 feet in a B-17 over Germany, to liberating the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald; you’ll march with them through the Siegfried Line and watch as they hold their ground at the Battle of the Bulge.

From missing their sweethearts to eating great food with a bottle of Scotch, you’ll experience it all right by their side, laughing at their stories and crazy antics.

Sergeant George Pelletier was a gunner during some of WWII's most brutal battles. Carrying not only his gear, but half the gunnery needed, he fought bravely in the Battle of the Bulge.
Sergeant George Pelletier was a gunner during some of WWII’s most brutal battles. Carrying not only his gear, but half the gunnery needed, he fought bravely in the Battle of the Bulge.
Just a young man, Anthony Hmura was a gunner in a B-17. "Tony" was part of the deadly well documented Kassel raid. Hmura would also smile at his flights with actor Jimmy Stewart to have dinner with him and Clark Gable and a crew.
Just a young man, Anthony Hmura was a gunner in a B-17. “Tony” was part of the deadly well documented Kassel raid. Hmura would also smile at his flights with actor Jimmy Stewart to have dinner with him and Clark Gable and a crew.

My Father’s War: Memories from Our Honored WWII Soldiers
by Charley Valera

All photos provided by the author.