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Frank Carafa, World War II veteran who rescued Lt. Dole on the battlefield in Italy.


FL: What were your first impressions of Bob Dole?

CARAFA:

Well, the very first day they brought him up to the lines and told me that he was taking over my platoon, I didn't like him. I really had no reason except that in a sense I was jealous 'cause I was acting as platoon leader for the past 14, 16 months and we were getting along very well. And I was concerned about my men, their safety and whatnot. And I didn't know anything about him. I just heard that he was a new lieutenant, and they scared me. We had a bad thought about 90 day wonders. That's more or less how long it took to become an officer at that time. But I did change my mind real fast after we were introduced and everything else. The company [RTISFO] went back to his office, his field office and I was talking to the lieutenant and I wanted to give him everything that belongs to the lieutenant. The map cases, the maps, compass, his .45, things that belong to a lieutenant. And I tried to explain to him how we were operating to give him an idea. And he turned around and he said to me, "Sergeant, you run the platoon as you have been. And if I see any changes I'll let you know. And I'll fit myself in." Well, that took me by surprise. I'd been in the army quite some time, a number of years before that, I was in the National Guards and all these new lieutenants, they wanted to make sure that you knew who was the boss. But for some strange reason he was completely the opposite and that took me by surprise.

As the days passed by we were more or less taking it easy. We had just finished a push. And we were resting to get our replacements and he was joking around, he fitted in with the fellas, he had his lunch and his breakfast and his dinner with us laying on the floor, on the ground or sitting on a log or something like that. And we would joke around and everything else. He was just one of the guys. The men took to like him. And then on April 12th, we were supposed to make a big push. But the weather was rainy. It was raining like heck and it was very, very foggy, so they postponed it. And the next day was the 13th and they postponed it. And we thought the reason they postponed it really was not because of the weather, but because President Roosevelt passing away. But it wasn't that. It was actually the weather because we were supposed to have air support, we were supposed to have artillery fire giving us support and tank support. And so we started off around 9:00 AM, it was a daylight attack. We had Hill 914 to take. And being that my platoon took the brunt of the company's casualties, and we had been always the lead platoon, we...reserved this attack. The first and third platoons were the lead platoons, and my platoon was the reserves and of course the fourth platoon was the heavy weapons. Fifty caliber machine guns and sixty millimeter mortars.

So we started going up the hill. We started going up at a very slow pace. The Jerries had that hill for a number of months and they had everything planned and prepared. They had wires from tree to tree, low to the ground, and they were hooked up to hand grenades and what you call bouncin' betties, which is a mine, when you trip a wire it bounces up off the ground about a foot and a half, then it explodes and it shatters. And it either kills or wounds the soldiers.

So we were having a hard time. We were trying to get up as fast as possible to try and avoid this stuff and they were firing artillery shells and 81 millimeter mortars. And finally, all of a sudden we came to a halt and that's bad when you have artillery fire coming toward you. So it's about a few minutes we wanted to know what's going on. There's no place to hide and finally the company runner who stays with the Captain all the time comes running back and says, "The Captain wants to see the Sergeant Carafa and Lieutenant Dole."

So we went in the front and the Captain was behind a stone wall and we couldn't imagine what the hold up was until we got there and just beyond the stone wall was like an open football field. And out in the field, no trees or anything, it was all clear and we had about 25 or 30 of our men out there that were laying in the ground. And they tripped mine fields. There was quite a few wounded and some dead. And off to the left there was this stone farmhouse and they opened up a machine gun and they were shooting the men who were already out there wounded or dead.

So the Company Commander said our platoon should try to go around the left flank and see if you can't stop some of the firing. He told me to take the squad of men and that the Lieutenant would give me covering fire. And the only reason he said that is not that he didn't have faith in the Lieutenant, but cause I'd been Acting Lieutenant for all these months and he knew the way I operated and everything else and he thought I had more experience. When we got back to the platoon and explained to our men what took place and what's happening up front, and what our mission was, the Lieutenant changed the orders and said that he would take the squad and try to knock out the machine gun that was placed in the house and I would give him covering fire. So, I told him that as soon as we got in place, and I had my men situated where they could fire on the house, once we opened fire, he should start crossing. There was a ravine off to our left, it dropped down and came up and there was a wooded area on the other side. If he could get to the wooded area he'd be able to move up very close to the house with rifle grenades, and hand grenades and things like that he may have had some luck to knock those guns out.

So I got my men in position, we started to open fire and they took off. Well, we couldn't see them from where we were. I heard a lot of firing and everything else but that was going on so I couldn't tell whether they were firing at them or still firing at the men out in the field. I don't know how much time has elapsed or anything, but all of a sudden I heard him calling my name, "Sergeant Carafa. Sergeant Carafa." Well, I just ignored him. I realized he was hit then and I was just too scared to go out there. So he kept calling me, and I don't know how long he had been calling me, but finally my men started calling me, "Hey Sarge. The Lieutenant's been hit. He's calling you." So I said to myself, "What the hell do you want me to do?" But I had to do something because if I didn't, the men would lose all respect for me.

So I crawled down close to the opening of the ravine and I looked up in the ravine and I could see the whole squad of men laying down. I don't know at the time how many was shot or anything, and I just lay there crying. Didn't know what to do. I could see the Lieutenant moving. I saw one other man move, and I just didn't know what to do. Then there was one man about ten yards away from me. He started moaning and he moved. Seeing him, I don't know, something came over me and I started crawling out to see if I could help him. When I got to him I started dragging him back. He wasn't wounded that serious, but once you start bleeding or you start to feel blood, you just don't know how bad you are and you're scared. And I brought him back and not realizing what I was doing I left him with a couple of other soldiers and I turned around and started crawling out.

The next two fellows I came to, they were dead. I kept crawling to the next person. He was wounded and I brought him back. And like I say, not knowing what the hell I was doing, I just turned around and started crawling out there again. I could hear the bullets going over my head. I kept crawling. Two more were dead. I finally reached the Lieutenant. His arm was outstretched and I grabbed his arm and I yanked him. He gave a holler and passed out. I couldn't even budge him. I was 5'5", 145 pounds. He was a six footer and close to 200. I just kept praying to God to help me. I finally got some strength and I started dragging him. And I dragged him a little ways and I couldn't drag him any more and I started to roll him down the incline which is much easier. I finally got him back and he was all shot up. His whole right side, from his shoulder down to his waist. My second in command, Sergeant Kruschek was with me at that point, and I asked if he had any morphine and he said he did. I told him he better give the Lieutenant a shot of morphine because he's in bad shape. And then I told him to stay with him. But he was bleeding so much, I says, "You're better off taking somebody with you, take a couple of men and see if you can get him down to the aid station" which was about a quarter of a mile away. Our orders were not to take anybody back, just to leave them for the first aid men, but he was bleeding so bad that I gave them a direct order to see if he could get him back to the aid station. Then I went and reported to the company commander and told him that the mission didn't work out the way we would have liked it to work out and we had too many casualties. So finally got the engineers out and they came over with bazookas and they took care of that and we just went forward.

I have never seen the Lieutenant after that. Since it was I believe, 1988. In fact I didn't even know his name was Dole. I thought his name was always Lieutenant Doyle. So I never knew that Senator Dole was my platoon leader. And right after World War II in fact, they disbanded the Tenth Mountain Division and much later, my wife got a call from Senator D'Amato asking if her husband was Frank Carafa who was with the Tenth Mountain Division, and she told him yes. And he said that on such and such a date they are reactivating the Tenth Mountain Division up in Camp Drum, New York. And to make sure I got there, but did not tell me, she was not supposed to have told me, just to make sure I got there. He also called a buddy of mine, a Burt Terranova, who since then has passed away. The same thing, to make sure he got me up there that day. He didn't say why. Just to make sure I got there.

So on the day of the, when they reactivated the Tenth Mountain Division at Camp Drum, we went there that day. And we were sitting in the grand stands and there were quite a few officers down there, in uniform. A General. And standing next to the General was this fellow in civilian clothes. So I looked at him. And I just says to my buddy next to me, "Gee that guy in civvies looks awful familiar." So he smiled a little bit and said, "Yeah, he does." But I never dreamed I knew. I just thought his face looked familiar. And the General introduces Senator Dole as being in the Tenth Mountain Division in Italy where he was wounded. And he was in command of the Second Platoon of I Company, 85th. And I turned around and said to my buddy, "He's full of crap. That was my platoon." Not realizing that the last six or seven weeks of the war, Lieutenant Dole took over the platoon. So he introduced Senator Dole. And Dole gets up to the mike and he says, "Before I speak," he says, "I'd like to introduce somebody who's in the stands, who's in the audience and if it wasn't for him I wouldn't be here today. I'd like to introduce Frank Carafa." And with that you could have blown me over.

FL: Could we go back in time? How many people were lost in that sortie.

CARAFA:

Eight. Eight out of twelve.

FL: You said you didn't think it was a particularly good idea, a good plan taking that hill.

CARAFA:

No. That was a very bad order given by the captain. What they should have done, number one, whoever gave the order to cross the open field, that was the biggest mistake. I'd been in National Guards prior to the war and in all the training they always told us, "You never cross an open field." Especially when there's wooded areas on either side. That was the first mistake. And then the second mistake was the stone house. The stone homes in Italy are built like fortresses. The walls are two feet thick for God's sakes because it's all stone and we had nothing. Well, the Lieutenant was carrying a burp gun which is like a Thompson machine gun. And the other guys had rifles but they did have rifle grenades that they could use with their rifles. And hand grenades. But those were the orders and you know, we have to carry them out. That's why I respected him so much. He knew it was a suicide mission in a sense. But if we could have even knocked out a couple of those guns it would have saved quite a few lives. And instead of me taking it, he was the platoon leader, he thought it was his responsibility so he was the one that changed the orders.

FL: Was this particular battle unusual because of the amount of men that died?

CARAFA:

Yes. Definitely. That was the first time when I was in Italy that we lost that many men at once. We'd lost men before in battles. One, maybe two. But this was like a massacre. You lose 8 men out of 12, that's 75%. You don't forget things like that. But that's the only reason I can think of, why the order was given to cross the open field, was to try to get the guys out of the woods because of the enemy mortar and artillery fire being poured on us.

FL: Did you know the men personally that died?

CARAFA:

I knew them all. They were my men. I trained five of them right here in the States, right here on Fordham Road -- all through Italy with me. And when I was active platoon leader that was my job to see that they didn't make any bad mistakes and I have to think of their safety. That's the leader's responsibility. Yeah. I notified some of the mothers and some of the wives and explained what a heroic death it was, how heroic they were. But that didn't help really.

FL: You told me that one of your friends said when he went to visit Dole in the hospital, he was initially angry with you.

CARAFA:

I never went to see Dole in the hospital.

FL: That was one of your friends.

CARAFA:

Yes. Tony Cillio. He went to see the Lieutenant when he as in the hospital. And when he got back he jokingly, so he claimed it was jokingly, he says, "Boy the Lieutenant's pissed off at you." And I said, "What's he pissed off at me for?" He said, "When you paralyzed him by pulling him." And you know even though he was joking that rested on my mind constantly all the time. And I never even wanted to look him up or anything like that, only because that was on my mind, that I was the one that paralyzed him. But then again, I didn't ever realize it was Senator Dole. I thought his name was Doyle. In fact when he ran for President before, he was in my hometown and I didn't even know it. I heard that the Senator Dole who was running for President was in town, but that didn't strike a bell.

FL: Did you ever wonder about that arm, did you think about it.

CARAFA:

Well when I [saw] it, he was in such bad shape I didn't think he was going to live in the first place. I thought he was going to lose his arm and I was surprised when I pulled him that it still stayed on. That's how bad it was. And then later on, once I found out who it was and everything else, then I bought the biography of Elizabeth and Bob Dole and I learned a lot more from the biography of how he suffered and was hospitalized for a number of years and he had the strength and the courage to fight it even though doctors said he would be helpless and he wouldn't be able to walk or do anything. And it was surprising, you know, that, hey, the only thing is he can't use that one arm. But thank God he's basically healthy otherwise. So it was really amazing. He had everything against him while he was in the hospital and everything else. He couldn't use his fingers. If you notice now, he can. But he can't move his arm. But you have to have determination and faith and doctors can just do so much.

FL: There were two men that died trying to save him. We don't hear very much about them. Who are they?

CARAFA:

Not that I know of. There was two men that took him to the aid station. That was Sergeant Kruschek and one of his men.

FL: What about the lessons of war. Did you come back changed?

CARAFA:

I was just going to say that, yeah, I was in my early twenties. And at first I was gung-ho. It was great to be in the service and everything until the first time you go into combat. And you think you're great until you see one of your buddies get hit. Then you realize it's not playing anymore. It's the real thing. I learned really to respect people. Age has nothing to do with a person. I had a bunch of younger kids because the Tenth Mountain Division was made up of well, teenagers in a sense, 18 and 19-year-old kids. That was supposed to be a playboy's division. In those years, nobody skis except the rich. So they used to all send their sons to the Tenth Mountain, and they weren't supposed to see action. But we got a gung-ho general who'd seen action before. And after the Fifth Army being pinned down for a year or two at the foot of the Apennines, they needed mountain troops to open up the enemy line. And the only way that could have been done, there was a sheer cliff and the only possible way that could have been taken is to set up fixed ropes and they'd have men climb it. And the reason they thought that would be the best way to do it, was if you have your back against the wall you know nobody could shoot you in the back and that was the idea. The Germans had a sheer cliff that they claimed was impossible to climb. They had very few troops up there. I don't think they had more than a platoon or two. And at night, especially in rainy weather, we'd be putting pitons and hooks into the mountainside and put fixed ropes. And it took us about six or seven nights to complete it. And we waited `til a big rain storm and we put the last line the night of the storm. Because with all the rain making all the noise and everything, they couldn't hear us hitting the pitons into the rock. And then we finally got the last pitons in and the men started climbing and they took the Germans by surprise. It was hardly any casualties whatsoever.

FL: You said earlier that you don't like going to Vet reunions or anything that romanticize the war.

CARAFA:

I never went to any of the reunions. I only went to one since I've been home and that was just, it wasn't a big reunion. It was just what they call the New England area. And I've got friends that live in Boston, Vermont, New Hampshire and I don't get to see them that often, but they always call me up and want to know why I don't come to the reunion. We'd like to see you. And when a bunch of men get together, it's just like a bunch of women getting together. They yackety-yack, yackety-yack.

Now you can say certain things now. Sure I can say my experience in the army was beautiful. I loved it because I'm home safe. I was wounded a couple of times myself, nothing that serious. But when you're talking to them, it brings memories. I mean just talking over the phone to some of the fellows that were in the company with me. I could just visualize certain times when we were in certain areas and at Lyon. Certain people were there and now they're not with us any more. So I don't care for reunions. I don't drink. And that's the only thing I don't like about reunions because it brings back the past. And I had a responsibility and I took it whereas anybody who got wounded or got killed in action, that was my responsibility. I just feel that way. People tell me that's not the way to look at it, but I'm a father and I got two boys. If something happened to them it's my responsibility because if they went on drugs, I didn't teach them enough about it not to go on it. That's the way I feel with my field soldiers.

I went to a reunion up in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. I was very happy to see the fellas. I hadn't seen them since World War II. But I really can't say that I honestly and truly enjoyed myself. The only thing I enjoyed was actually seeing them and talking to them and wrapping my arms around them. And thankful that they came back with me.

FL: You said there was a long period in which you never spoke about the war.

CARAFA:

I never talk about it. I still don't talk about it really. But I've never spoken to my family, my kids or anything like that. Like I said, when they reactivated the Tenth Mountain Division and Dole made that announcement and of course the papers got it. And then it was in all the papers, my hometown papers. And I'd be getting calls from my neighbors, my friends, and whatnot. And then the kids wanted to know what happened and everything else. And I just didn't want to talk about it. I don't feel it was anything great I did, it was just that God gave me the strength and the courage to do what I had to do. But I was as much a coward as any other man that ever lived.

FL: Do the memories of war ever leave you? Do they show up at odd moments?

CARAFA:

That's why I don't talk about it. I'm talking about it today, and tonight and tomorrow night, I'll go through hell. I'll have nightmares. It bothers me something terrible. It's something that you can never just say you can forget it.

FL: Why is this particularly difficult for you and for Senator Dole to talk about?

CARAFA:

You gotta understand that things aren't as open years back in our generation as they are today. So we in our generation aren't as open maybe as we should be. But I don't know, I just think it's the bringing up. The generation now, compared to the generation when I was a young kid in the army. So many things have changed. And I don't want to knock the young generation, but they can't compare with the respect that we had in our generation, they can't compare with almost any of our family upbringing. You can't blame that on the kids of today. What I feel is disturbing is that there's so many single parents today in comparison as in our generation and in our generation it was always the husband who worked, the largest percentage. Not like today where to even make ends meet you have to hold two jobs and have both parties work. And that leaves the children unattended in a sense and I think that's were the generation has changed.

FL: But what about that whole sense of being silent and strong as a man in your generation?

CARAFA:

I was brought up that once I became a man, then I had certain responsibilities. If I got married, it was my job to go out and work and support a family. Otherwise I shouldn't get married. My wife wasn't supposed to go out to work and help support or support me. I don't know. There's no one that you could blame except society itself. Society has changed. You can't say that the women are trying to take over. That's not true. They have more rights than they ever had and they should. But times themselves have changed. I had to respect the policemen. My God, if a policeman ever took me home, because I did something bad, my God, that was worse punishment than if they has sent me to jail.

FL: Can war test you and change you. Can you come out the stronger for that test? Or the weaker for that test as well.

CARAFA:

Well, you come out both ways. People that I've seen were strong, after the war what they went through, it just made them pulp. I myself. The war's helped me. I was never really a sissy, but I was more on the timid side. Until I got in the army and then I started getting gung-ho. It showed me how to respect people, I want to be respected so that means I have to respect. You know you treat others as you'd like to be treated. I learned that from the service. I learned how to take care of myself. How to make a better person of myself. How to help people. And I still help people. I wasn't able to have any children because of a war injury. But I adopted two. I became a scout master, I became a little league coach, I became a football youth tackle coach. Even after my sons were grown and beyond the age of playing youth tackle and little league, I kept with them. Because I was helping kids. And people would say to me, "Mr. Carafa, what the hell are you wasting your time with these kids for? Your kids aren't playing any more." I'll tell you what I got out of it. Years later when these kids graduated school and I totally forgot them cause I hadn't seen them. Some of them got married. And I'd be on Main Street in New Rochelle and someone would yell, "Hey Mr. Carafa!" And he'd wave. And I'd look over and I'd recognize him but I couldn't really place him. He looked very familiar. And I'd cross over, "I'm sorry you look very familiar, but I can't place you." And he'd tell me who it was, and "You were my scout master." Or, "You were my coach. " Then to holler out to you. That means I had to be good to them. Otherwise they would never even remember you.

FL: Do you feel more comfortable with men your age who have done through the war? Is there sort of an unspoken bond there?

CARAFA:

It doesn't make any difference. Because if I'm with them or if I'm just with other people my age who haven't been in service, we don't talk service. Or I don't. So it doesn't bother me. In fact it bothers me even more when they talk about service. You know, I always say that anybody who talks about his experience in the service is a lot of crap. They may have been in the back lines and stuff like that.

But you very hardly ever hear anybody who's actually seen combat, actually seen killing, and did killing himself, I mean I was in the Pacific, I did hand to hand combat with the Japanese. I don't go and tell people about that. How many Japs did you kill? How many Germans did you kill? What the hell do they think? I keep score. You know, I'm just thankful that I didn't get killed. But I can tell you how many men I lost. Those are the things you never forget.

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