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“Salome is Sicilian, not Italian,” said Michael Salome, a veteran whose own father served near Verdun during WWI. As a kid growing up in Rochester , New York , Mike sold 3 cent newspapers on the corner, earning himself a penny apiece. Later, he worked as a welder in a Rochester shipyard, and enlisted in the U.S. Army when WWII broke out. He's a busy man and not used to sitting still. He spoke to the point, and he punctuated his accounts with phrases that indicated he was ready to move on: “such is life,” “take it from there,” “that's the thing in a nutshell.” He held a pipe in his hand but never took the time to light it, and he quickly got down to business talking about his time in the Army and as a POW in Europe in WWII.
He was just 19 and fresh from basic training when he met up with the Fifth “Red Diamond” Division in Northern Ireland . The Fifth would spend nine months there before landing in Normandy on D-Day. “I shouldn't be here,” Mike said. “The guy in front of me got killed; the guy behind me got killed.
“Three P-51s came over, ‘hedge-hopping.' They shot the Germans, turned around, and strafed us.”
On the outskirts of Metz , “We were getting cut up pretty bad. Patton ran out of gas for his armor and artillery. We were walking back for a rest ? we had been walking for three hours. It was 3 a.m. when they said ‘Dig in.' We looked up from digging and there was a ‘Kraut' with a burp gun.” Mike was a prisoner. It was September 6, 1944.
“They put 75 guys in a small boxcar for five days. Everything you did, you did in your pants.” On arrival at Stalag 28, near New Brandenberg, “They took our uniforms. They gave me wooden shoes. I wore wooden shoes, homemade socks, Belgian pants, a French shirt and a goofy hat.”
In addition to American prisoners, the POWs included Poles, Italians, Russians, British, and Indians. The men lived in barracks, each heated by a single stove. They had straw for mattresses in their three-high bunks. Breakfast was a cup of coffee and three potatoes. After trimming off the mold, the men shared a single loaf of bread for dinner. “We never saw a Red Cross package,” said Mike, who lost 25 pounds. “The Germans were eating them.”
Mike said the POWs didn't really worry about dying in the camp, but they worried about when they would get out ? and in what condition. About 30 men broke out and most of them made it to the Russian lines on the Elbe River . As the Russians neared, the prisoners were released. Mike hiked back to the U.S. lines in his ersatz uniform and was greeted by a perplexed GI, “Who the hell are you?”
Not surprisingly, his POW experience had changed him. In addition to his accelerated pace for living, Mike tirelessly helps others – 30,000 hours volunteering at Veterans Administration hospitals alone. He also works with the National League of Families, an organization of the families of missing servicemen. “There are 2,015 missing in Vietnam , Laos and Cambodia ; 8,177 missing in Korea and 78,177 missing in WWII. One POW dies every seven days,” he said. “That's the whole thing in a nutshell.”
U.S. Army WWII
“Three P-51s came over…They shot the Germans, turned around and strafed us.”