WWII Veterans Spotlight: Al Wainscott
BY ERNIE SMOTHERS
McKENZIE — Drafted by the Army in the spring of 1944, Al Wainscott graduated high school from Gleason on one night and departed the next morning by bus for Camp Shelby, Mississippi.
Following induction, Al was transferred to Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia and trained at Ft. Mead as an infantry signal corp. observer.
Al said, “We were scheduled to train for 16 weeks but our training was reduced to 12 weeks because we were needed to replace soldiers killed or wounded in battle. A train wreck had wiped out a whole division of soldiers of the 28th Infantry Division (Pennsylvania National Guard) and I was part of a group of men brought in to replace them.”
From Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, Al and his company embarked by ship from New York Harbor for a six-day trip to France. However, the six-day trip stretched into 22 days as the ship zigzagged to avoid German U-boats at sea before finally landing in the southern part of France.
Hitting the ground fighting, the 28th Infantry advanced north toward Bosnia en route to the Siegfried Line.
He recalled, “Bosnia was really torn up. The church steeple was blown off and buildings were blown up – lots of destruction everywhere.”
In his first mission to the front line, the jeep Al was driving while returning from a threeday observation patrol hit a land mine and exploded. Three men were killed in the blast. Al was the lone survivor.
He said, “The next day, the Army provided me with a new jeep and more men and we went right back to the front line to observe.”
As part of the Army signal corp., Al was responsible for running telephone line from the front line to the rear artillery unit.
He said, “We ran telephone lines back to the rear artillery to tell our soldiers where the enemy was so they could fire on them.”
He said, “The Germans got wise to what we were doing and started driving pins in our telephone lines. Instead of searching the lines for the pins, we would run new wire. I’d grab a spool and crawl on my belly from the front line to the rear. We had to do that two or three times.”
He said, “The first thing the signal corp. did when we got into a town was to try and capture the tallest building. We would go in and kill the Germans occupying the building. After that, we would place the switchboard on the top floor of the tower. The operator was placed on a lower floor. We would then run telephone lines out to the artillery unit.”
Advancing to the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, the 28th suffered devastating losses.
The longest battle fought on German ground and the longest single battle ever fought by the U.S. Army, the Battle of Hurtgen Forest raged from September 14, 1944 until February 10, 1945.
In the Battle of Hurtgen, the United States suffered 24,000 casualties. Another 9,000 soldiers succumbed to trench foot, respiratory disease or combat fatigue.
He added, “A lot of our soldiers died during the war as a result of stepping on land mines. We didn’t have the technology back then to detect them.”
Advancing, the 28th waged close, hand-to-hand combat at Ardennes in the bloody Battle of the Bulge.
Al said, “It was cold and messy during that time. The American and German soldiers fought in real close proximity-too close for bullets, really. I got captured by the Germans three times in one day.”
Determined, American and Allied military forces repelled the German advance and eliminated the bulge.
Moving forward, the 28th liberated some German-controlled Jewish concentration camps.
Al recalled, “The concentration camps were terrible. The smell was awful. The Germans were forcing Jewish people by the hundreds into furnaces and burning them up. We saved the people still living in the camps and killed the Germans running the camps.”
The 28th was cheered by the people as it drove through Paris after liberating it from German forces.
He said, “We were the first division to roll into Paris during its liberation. We couldn’t stop, though. The people had made signs and were thanking us for freeing them.”
Returning home for leave, Al was preparing to depart for deployment to Japan when the war ended.
He was later assigned to Camp Swift, Texas.
At Camp Swift, Al played running back position on the division’s artillery football team. After a scrimmage between the Army squad and the University of Texas, Al was offered an opportunity to attend the University.
Upon receiving his honorable discharge from the Army, Al enrolled at the University of Texas and played football for the Longhorn’s while earning a degree in electrical engineering.
Al also played three years of semi-pro football and two years professionally for the New York Titans in the newly-formed American Football League.
Following a career as a production manager for ITT and plant manager for Westinghouse, Al stepped into Danville, New Jersey’s political arena. He was appointed recreation commissioner, elected to the town council and appointed to fill the mayoral seat vacated via the death of the town mayor.
Al met and later married second wife, Mary Catherine after a 1986 Labor Day visit to McKenzie.
Retiring from Zep Manufacturing after a highly-successful career as an award-winning top salesman, Al managed the McKenzie VFW for two years.
Al now resides at McKenzie Healthcare.