Biography of Oliver Louis Mazzaferri
P.F.C., 31st Medical Co. & 1st Medical Co., First Army, U.S.A.
Oliver Louis Mazzaferri enlisted in the army directly out of high school in 1943. My grandpa originally wanted to be a marine, but the marine recruiter told him that the marines were shipping out that night, which meant he couldn't go home and say goodbye to his mother first. hearing this, my grandpa opted for the army instead. later, he was recommended for officer candidate school, but a mixup in his records stated that he was a high school dropout (which he most certainly was not; he graduated at the top of his class), rendering him ineligible. before he left, my great-grandfather ( who fought for italy in ww1 in what is now the czech republic and poland) gave him just one piece of parting advice. "don't be afraid of the shells you hear," he told him. "it's the ones you don't hear that get you."
My grandpa went to boot camp at Camp Grant, Illinois, and originally his unit believed they were heading for the pacific. however, the train made it as far west as colorado, when they suddenly turned around and headed east. they knew then that they were to face hitler, not the japanese empire. He would be assigned to the 31st Medical Company and later would transfer to the 1st Medical Company. After VE day, my grandpa was slated to ship out to the pacific front, but the dropping of the atomic bomb on hiroshima made further service unneccessary.
My grandpa was shipped to scotland on the HMS Queen Mary (he was unclear on this point, stating once that it was actually the HMS Queen Elizabeth; any clarificiation would be appreciated), where he slept alongside 200 other gi's in a drained swimming pool. he was quite seasick all the way.
Just prior to the Normandy invasion, my grandpa's unit was put on a boat, the Lady Connaught, and sailed to the English channel, where they sat stationary for 2 weeks, waiting for the weather to clear so "operation: overlord" could begin. He was in the first wave of the D-day invasion on Utah beach. As the troops piled off the small shuttle that took them near the shoreline, my grandpa realized that he was in big trouble -- he couldn't swim!!!!! He said he was mmore afraid of drowning than of being shot; he also remarked on how sorry he felt for the men who were short (my grandpa was 5'9") and couldn't keep their heads above the water! Halfway to the beach, his c.o. yelled that he had forgotten something of vital importance back on the boat, and would my grandpa please go back and get it for him. My grandpa told him (and i'm sure -- knowing him -- it was in no uncertain terms) to forget it -- the only time he ever disobeyed orders. He often showed me the boots he had worn ashore on that infamous sixth of June.
After the invasion, my grandpa's unit once spent 40 straight days in the foxholes. My grandpa was an "aid man", meaning he gave first aid to those injured in the field or else placed the soldier's bayonet in the ground next to him with his helmet on top, indicating a fatality.
He told one particularly gruesome story of seeing American and British paratroopers that were tangled in the treetops, caught by the germans, and disemboweled. the germans then draped their entrails among the branches. He also remarked on how thick the hedgerows were in Normandy and how he could sometimes hear german conversation through the hedges.
Another story revolved around his unit's capture of 3 german army nurses. the nurses were filthy dirty, exhausted, and scared beyond belief; they thought the Americans were going to kill them. they also were only 21 or 22 years old -- not much older than my grandpa. my grandpa's commander loaded the 3 girls into a jeep, put a flag of truce on it, and drove them back to the german lines.
After the forty days in foxholes, my grandpa's unit had the good fortune to close in on a french town and occupy an old hotel there. my grandpa spoke of how he and his friends were jumping on the beds with glee, so happy were they to have a roof over their heads! he also spoke of watching a dogfight between an american and a german fighter plane right over his head, which ended with the german plane being shot down and going into a fiery tailspin, crashing into the woods not far from where my grandpa was standing. my grandpa also wrote the names of each place he fought inside the leather sheath of his trenchknife (a premonition that he would one day have a history buff for a granddaughter???).
My grandpa and his friend Mack (from Pittsburgh) also detained a troop train at gunpoint to return them to their lines in france from the rhineland of germany, where they had been gathering rations. the train took them from germany to fontainebleau forest, france, where a priest gave them a lift into paris. their commander was shocked to see them, thinking for sure they had been captured or killed.
As the son of italian immigrants, my grandpa was fluent in Italian; thus, he sometimes served as a translator for italian pow's. on one occasion, an italian pow asked him when the next boat to america was leaving; all he wanted to do was go to the u.s.! my grandpa told him,"shut up, you lousy so-and-so!"
My grandpa was on night guard duty on the night F.D.R. died; his c.o. approached him and asked him to lower the flag to half staff. when the surrender came, the colonel gave everyone a bottle of wine to celebrate, but my grandpa sold his to a friend for $40. He always kept his copy of the london edition of the "stars and stripes" from VE day.
My grandpa received the bronze arrowhead for his participation. In June 1997, he also received a special medal from the French government for the first-wave allied vets. When he received his medal from the french government in 1997, a french woman spoke at the ceremony. she related the story of how, when she was a young child living in a small town near normandy, she used to distribute bread and other goodies to the american soldiers there. my grandpa recognized the name of the town as one where he had spent quite a bit of time. he also remembered little children giving him goodies and wondered if perhaps the woman had been one of those little children.
The fiftieth anniversary of d-day found my grandpa, grandma, and me in europe on vacation. we did not, however, visit the landing beaches; we felt that it would be too painful an experience for my grandpa. one of the men on our trip found out that my grandpa was a d-day vet and came up to him and said "thank you for your service." my grandpa looked at him like he was crazy and said, "what are you thanking me for? those guys lying those crosses are the ones you should be thanking!" this was what my grandpa always said whenever someone commented on his military service.
My grandpa didn't really talk much about his wartime experiences until the very last years -- months even -- of his life. he lived a very typical all-american life after the war, marrying my grandmother, raising 2 little girls, and working in labor relations for the norfolk and western railroad. all his adult life, however, he had a tendency to become very deeply depressed and i wonder now if perhaps post-traumatic stress disorder was one of the main causes. certainly he saw and heard some very gruesome things at the tender age of 19.
My grandpa died on June 30, 1998, after a year's battle with colon cancer. To the end, he remained a very proud and patriotic american. He was one of the most important and influential people in my life.
If anyone has any information on my grandfather's unit or (fingers crossed) on my grandfather himself, please feel free to email me. I would be very interested in talking with you!
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