Biography of Mike Piazza

CCCMan, Company 1291, Centreville, New York

MM1/c, LST 957, USN

   I joined the CCCs on April 2 1939 at the Armory in my home town of Jamestown, New York. After signing up I had to wait three days to be shipped to my camp. Some boys were shipped all the way across the country to camps out west when they joined the CCCs, but I only went to another county in New York, to a Camp in Centerville, New York called Camp Lost Nation. Later when walking and hitchhiking to camp from home I would learn there was a Company nearer Jamestown, but it was a colored company and the CCCs were segregated as the military was then.

   At Centerville I joined CCC Company 1291. This Camp was beautiful. The buildings were made of creosoted wood, so they were a dark brown. The trim of the doors and windows was painted white. The main street was a small trail through the camp that led into the woods, and along either side of it was a white sidewalk and in the center of the camp was a white flag pole. The right hand side of the camp, looking up the road, was the barracks which were on a hillside. The left hand side was the headquarters and administration buildings. Towards the middle was a big recreation hall. I have recently purchased a book with photos of CCC camps across the country and none of them were as pretty as our camp.

   When I joined the camp I learned that our work would be varied. Our company would work in the forests mainly. We would clear brush to lessen the chance of forest fires spreading quickly. We would also build fire trails so that trucks and firefighting crews would be able to get to fires quickly. We also worked to replace forest where it had been lost by planting many trees. We worked under civilian foreman, although in camp we were under Army rule under the command of an Army Lieutenant who was in charge of the camp.

   After a time I was able to start taking a class to become a truck driver. When we went to work, or anywhere, we would travel in the back of stake trucks. We had several of these Chevy Stae trucks which were painted a dark green, like the color of a park bench. These would also supply us in the field. The men who drive the trucks were CCC Enrollees. I was going to be one of them. But first I had to take a weeks class in the garage, learning how to take care of the trucks. However I wound up being put to work restoring one of the damaged vehicles, a 1937 Reo Dump Truck. This truck had been banged up in an accident, its front end was smashed. Well it turned out that when I finally got her repaired I was assigned to drive this dump truck instead. The dump trucks, we had several Reos and a beautiful 1939 Ford, were used to haul material for our jobs.

   The job I most remember when I was driving the dump truck was one we did to prevent soil erosion along the river banks. We would build wooden retaining walls along the bank. To fill in behind them and to help retain the earthen bank we would dump stones, large rocks really, behind the wooden wall which was built. These stones were obtained locally and is where the dump truck came into play. Every farmer in this area had a rock pile of rocks which they had dug up and dragged out of their fields so they could plow. They were happy to be rid of them and gave them to us for free. But we had to go get them. The little ones were okay, one man could carry one and put it in the dump truck. But the larger ones were really large. We didn't have back hoes or anything like that. We just had to get as many men as we could around the rock and lift them by hand into the truck. Once we had a truckload they could be brought to the work site.

   I only stayed in the CCCs for one enlistment, a six month period. Afterwards I worked for a while then in 1942 I joined the Navy.

   After initial training I was sent to Diesel Mechanics School. After training I was put in charge of a drsft of men traveling by train up the East Coast to assignment. Then I was assigned to LST 957. We wer ein the Pacific, we went all over. Ulithi, Espirito Santos were two spots. Espirito Santos was very pretty. On Ulithi we mostly stopped there to get some time off the ship and to have a beer. On the island called Mog Mog there were natives. I saw one put up a thatch hut once, very interesting. Otherwise there was just a pile of beer, in green cans, and what we called Bazookas. Bazookas were pipes in the ground with a funnel on top, which served as a public restroom. You would just look up and down the beach and see guys with a beer in one hand standing in front of Bazookas. There just wasn't anything to do. Well there was a baseball diamond, but it was too hot, nobody used it.

   I was a Diesel Mechanic and a Machinist Mechanics Mate First Class. Our ship was rated to have two Chief Machinist Mates on board, but we didn't have even one. Because of this I was acting Chief andin charge of the the Engineering Department. This meant I oversaw all of the electricians and engineering people.

   We were at the landings at Okinawa. That was the only actual first wave assault we were at. We were at other landings, while there were still enemy around. But not in the initial landings.

   We also sailed to parts of the northern solomons and then to the Phillipines. We spent a lot of time in the Philipines area.

   I got a letter from my girlfriend back home telling me that she had come back from seeing my Mom in the hospital. Well I didn't know anything about her going to the hospital. The family wanted to spare me the stress of that. Well I wrote back asking what had happened, but didn't get a reply. It would take a long time for mail to catch up with a ship when it was moving around in the Pacific and you would get half a bag of mail when it finally caught up. So we didn't get mail after that and I worried.

   We were at Letye when I saw another LST with a "homeward bound" pennant. This was a long long pennant, like a fot for each guy on board I think they were, very conspicuous. Well I went to my CO and asked him if I could go home, told him how I was worried about what was going on at home. He negotiated with the other ship to get me a swap so I could go home. It finally was arranged that a MM1/c would switch with me. He of course wanted to go home too, so we had to add some things to the deal. Some pounds of welding rod and more pounds of butter I think it was. But I was going home. I could write a book about that trip home.

   My new LST had been in the Pacific for a long time, I think it was one of the first ones out there. It was a relic. A real piece of junk. Worse, the tank deck was filled with 500 pound rockets and bombs. All of it had been declared UNSAFE! This means it was presumed unstable or unusable in some way. Not a great thing to have on board.

   We tried to get permission to dump this dangerous cargo into the gulf. But we did not get that permission and so we had to sail when our orders came with it still in the hold. We finally did get the permission radioed to us, but we were already at sea. There was no way we were going to try swinging that stuff out of the hold in a moving sea! So we took it with us.

  The real problem with this ship turned out to be the crew. It was a motley assortment or hodge podge of men who had been on other duties but who had accumulated enough time that they were being sent home. Our navigator wasn't a navigator, but a Gunnery Officer. Our Radio Technician wasn't a radio technician either. Soon enough we were lost and had no radio to find out where we were.

  We sailed East. Soon the seas were rough and the weather cold. This ship had no heat so we suffered from the weather, more so due to our recent stint in the tropics. Worse the seas were heavy, and the LST did not handle them well. The LST is made to beach herself and so has a flat bottom. With each rise this bottom would come up and then crash again into the sea. The flatness of it made this a thunderous blow and shook the ship. Before the trip was out our galley grill, a piece of cast iron almost the width of the ship in size, was shattered. The cargo was little better. The hold looked as though the Unsafe Ammunition had been dumped in there from a dumptruck!

   North America is a big place so we did eventually find it. The bow lookout called out one night "Land Ho!", a full two days and two nights prior to when our "Navigator" thought we would make landfall. There was a lighthouse but no one could find out which lighthouse it was. Lighthouses blink according to a certain pattern, no two alike in pattern and appearance. This lighthouse was not on our list. Later we would find out it was no lighthouse at all but an airfield beacon. But for now it was of no information to us so we knew only that we had found land but not where. Without a radio we could only blunder on. By guess or some inclination, we turned to the South along the shore.

   The seas were still heavy when we finally met another ship, a Coast Guard Lightship. We could only communicate by blinker and this was difficult, in one moment the shio would be lost from view behind the waves and the next she would be towering high overhead as though on a mountain top. It was that rough. But our signalmen thankfully were skilled in their duties and we soon found out where we were. This was Puget Sound, and we were given a steer to Seattle.

   We soon docked. But it was not long before the dock officials learned of the nature of our cargo. They were not pleased and we were sent away quickly. We landed nearby, I think it was at Bremerton, to offload our unsafe cargo in a less populated area.

   The dock personnel who unloaded our ship were african american sailors, the military was still segregated at the time. These men msut have been doing this work for a long time. They were swinging this unsafe cargo off the ship and clowning around while doing it! I was glad when it was finished.

   After I finally got orders for home I was sent east. But I had to leave many of my belongings behind as I was put in charge of a draft of 200 men, who I would travel with in a train across country. I would have to carry boxes and boxes of their orders and records, leaving no room for my own things. It was not a fun trip.

   I was discharged in New York and got home finally.

   After the war I did not use my Diesel training oddly enough. The only diesel work in my area was in the local bus company. The men there made only 70 cents an hour and I was able to get a job at Cryscraft making 75 cents an hour I think it was. And I loved the work. I was in the engine installation section and it was a good job, best I ever had.

   Eventually I changed jobs though, and worked for the a company making pattern forms for furniture and other items for 23 years after that. I did a lot of nice work too.

----- Mike Piazza


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