‘E’ Co., 5th Ranger Battalion – 2012 Interview
Another Ranger Gone on to a Better Place
The following article regarding Able Company members Dustin Day, Jack Frost and Dakota Hance is being edited today (January 2nd, 2013) to present the sad news that Albert Ceccanti, a Ranger, an Artist, and above all a family man, has passed away. On December 23rd, Albert passed away at the age of 90. Although we only met him once, what a pleasure it was. We wish the wonderful family of this equally wonderful man the best in their time of grieving, and are honored to have been able to learn about Albert’s experiences in World War II and to share his story.
On Thursday September 13th, 2012, myself, Dustin Day, And Jack Frost paid a very special visit to Mr. Albert Ceccanti, a World War two veteran who served in E Company, 5th Ranger infantry Battalion and was captured during the Irsch-Zerf Campaign. Albert who is almost 90 years of age was very happy to have us interview him. And if I may say that it was a very humbling experience, from the first phone call I had made to him, to the writing of this document. Albert is unfortunately on oxygen, but the fact that we talked with him for over two hours proves the fact that he was a Ranger! All of the information here is directly from the interview. It is my pleasure to present this article to you, and I hope that you enjoy it greatly.
Albert Ceccanti was born in Italy as the only child in December of 1922. Around the time when he was eight years old he and his family immigrated to the United States of America. He grew up in Pennsylvania and went to school and learned how to read and write. With his introduction into WWII he was like almost every other young man out there; he wanted to fight for his country so when he joined the army he was placed in the 76th infantry division who trained at what was then Camp McCoy Wisconsin where they had undergone winter combat training. When the winter training was over the 76th were recalled to Northern Michigan where the division was split up and the remaining enlisted men were sent to England. Albert frequently corresponded with his Mother because she like many others in WWII was afraid of losing their children, especially her, he was an only child.
When Albert arrived in England, time was drawing dangerously close to Operation: Overlord. As he recalls; “One day I was sitting with a bunch of us from the 76th at a table eating lunch when a Ranger commander came over and said that he needed men and that he didn’t care what you had been trained to be, he needed us to be Rangers.” That commander was Colonel Maxwell Schneider. Earlier in our conversation he had told us that he could not take “full credit” for being a Ranger because the event with Schneider is when he became one. Albert would stay in England when D-Day came around while the rest of the 5th would land at Omaha beach. On D+2, June 8th, 1944 he would land in France and join up with the 5th Ranger Battalion, for the rest of the war.
The Normandy Campaign
Although Albert did not land on D-Day, he still saw plenty of action. As we were talking he would refer to a “Miller” and the first time we all heard that our immediate response to this was “Baseplate Miller?” he looked at us with a very large grin “Yeah! That’s him.” Albert spent most of his time with the mortar section of E Company, hence his friendship with Baseplate. Like a few other Rangers Albert captured a horse and used it to go to and from places while not in combat, although it was short lived as when he was riding one day, as his horse stopped before a rather large pile of manure, he said that “ The horse may have stopped but I didn’t!”. Albert often recalled his time in WWII as putting it simply “Running like crazy!” this would prove true as after the Normandy campaign he and the rest of the 5th Ranger Battalion would be ordered across France to Brest, this would be known as the Brittany Campaign.
The Brittany Campaign
This would prove to be Albert’s first large combat experience. Like many of other companies in the 5th Ranger Battalion, the job to do in Brest was bunker busting along the coast. Albert at this point had a very hard time talking about these incidents as it was not a walk in the park. “We had to charge a bunker at point blank range that had mortars and machine guns inside that fired down on us, those guns cut men to pieces.” When they got inside the bunker he recalled it having sketches of RFP’s (Registered firing points) of the whole area around the bunker. Bunker busting would continue for the majority of the Brest campaign. Afterwards the Rangers had a reform and had to replace many men as Albert stated. The rest of the 5th Battalion would take boxcars across France to Lorraine, a region of France just outside of Belgium.
The Saar Campaign
Unlike some other companies in the 5th Ranger Battalion, including Able company who were serving as armored infantry for tank destroyers near the Saar River, E company would serve as a distraction force that would keep the Germans busy during the day and night. When they arrived in a small town in Lorraine, they cleared and secured the town. On the first night there E company came across a still and distilled cider, enough for everyone, “The whole weapons platoon was drunk!” Albert said. This same event with the still would also be a night where a “New Lieutenant” would order a machine gun team to wake the Germans up at night with machine gun fire, and continue to keep them busy through the early hours of the day. The next morning however mess was served and with everyone was very moody. “One of my friends, Sgt. Nixon was having his meal put in his canteen cup, but he did not lock the handle all the way and when the cook slopped the food in the cup it spilled all over him.” Nixon who was also suffering from a hangover was not happy with this and the fact that the machine gun fire had kept him up during most of the night went to the “New Lieutenant” and yelled “You chicken shit! Why don’t you shoot at those krauts some more and waste some more ammo!” and a verbal and somewhat physical brawl ensued. The Company then moved into Belgium and they had to occupy a monastery that was a former hospital which was adorned with all sorts of Nazi paraphernalia. The Rangers of course took all of the flags, and other Nazi items down, it took them three days to clear all of it out. And then, E Company stumbled upon a cellar, and what do you think this cellar was full of? Wine! Needless to say this put most of them into very high spirits, quite literally if I may add! Belgium however was full of people which many of the Rangers would interact with them in several different ways. But while the Rangers were off having fun Albert had guard duty to attend to. “It was nighttime and it was very dark. I was guarding a side of the monastery with a large door in the wall. One of our undesired officers had told me to not let anyone in or out and he was around the corner of the monastery wall patrolling the other side when I heard a large thud. I looked over at the door and two other guys from my company were pushing a damn Willy’s jeep out, the noise I heard was a water can that had fallen out of the jeep. I said to them “What in the hell are you doing!?” they said “Shush Ceccanti c’mon let us go!” I said to them “How the hell am I going to do that he’s right around the corner?” The two guys said “Go over to the corner and make it like your guarding the side, we’ll start the jeep and speed out, and you run after us and yell “Halt!” So I did what they said and they sped out and that water can fell again and I ran after them shouting “Halt!” I turned around and there that officer was and he looked at me and said “You could be court marshaled for this you know?” I said something along the lines of I don’t care and that is just one of the times I was busted down from PFC!”
The Irsch-Zerf Campaign
In early 1945 The 5th Ranger Battalion would be given a mission to control an 11 mile gap between two German towns, Irsch and Zerf. This area had a bridge that would be ideal to get armor across and in to Germany, that is if the 5th could pull the job off. The mission was supposed to take 48 hours; it turned into two weeks of hell. Shortly into Albert’s time in this mission he and his section and all the other sections were assigned a road to defend when they got into the area of Irsch and Zerf. The battalion crossed a pontoon bridge and turns out that E Company came into a field. “We came into a big open field during the night that had a hill with ack ack, that thing opened up on all of us, we killed the Germans who were manning it but they took a few of us with them.” On the way to the road which Albert along with his machine gun section were assigned they avoided a passing tank and were fired upon by a halftrack, no casualties were taken. When they finally got to the road they were assigned they mounted their 1919A6 30. Caliber machine gun on a small berm that rose at an angle across from a field. “The Germans attacked my position at night and it was hard to see them, but they could see me. The flash from the gun was giving our position away, so I threw away the bipod on the machine gun and started moving from place to place, that’s when they captured me.” Albert’s section was overrun by Germans and all of his comrades in the section if not killed were taken prisoner.
Prisoner of war
Many of Albert’s section were taken prisoner and were made to march a very long distance to Ludwigsburg, Germany. “There was not a lot of food, it was very cold and there was only one blanket we could share and there were definitely more than fifty of us. We didn’t get much sleep and when we did it was on the cold hard ground. Sometime in February we were put on boxcars with cattle, we were crammed in there like sardines. And then the air force started strafing the train, of course they did not know we were in those cars but bullets were going through the sides and all the men were trying to get out of a window the size of a shoebox I sat in the corner and prayed that I would survive, it’s all anyone could do.”
Ludwigsburg & Escape
After surviving the train Albert finally arrived in Ludwigsburg and was in a prison camp with most of his section from Irsch-Zerf. A friend of his named Slesinski as he recalled was a “Tiny kid with not much to his person.” was a Ranger as well who had been captured. When the men would have meals they would be sitting in a large room like a cafeteria.”One day we were sitting in there and this guy hit a German over the head with a shovel, he must have had something wrong with him. They did not do anything to him though.” During meals Albert found out that the Italian prisoners there were being let go. Albert, who still spoke Italian very well, started conversing with these prisoners. The prisoners were amazed at Albert’s ability to speak Italian that well. The Italians had an extra uniform, and it fit Albert perfectly. So with that Albert would leave with the Italians carrying his American uniform in a cart the Italians had. Before leaving however he tried to convince Slesinski and the other Rangers to come with them and they declined saying it would be too risky. As Albert left he gave his blanket to Slesinski hoping to see him again, Slesinski took it and wished Albert luck.
The “Liberation” Hospital
When Albert and the Italians left Ludwigsburg they went to an allied hospital where several British soldiers were being treated. Upon arrival Albert put his American uniform back on and thanked the Italians saying he was grateful for their help. “I walked into the hospital to some Brits who looked pretty happy.” They had good reason too, “Were being liberated!” Said one of them “There flying us to Paris soon!” Albert would be flown to Paris in a matter of days; he hoped to find his friends in E Company again but did not count on it.
Paris & VE Day
When Albert arrived in Paris it was very peaceful, GI’s everywhere on leave and having a good time. Albert had been in Paris for a few days when this happened, “I’ll never forget where I was. I was walking under the Eiffel Tower on a sunny day when the church bells started ringing. I was in the street and people were hugging and kissing and I asked a man what the hell was going on and he had the biggest smile I think I had ever seen and said “The war is over!”
Camp Lucky Strike and end of the war
Albert soon would arrive at Camp Lucky strike with a vast amount of other GI’s who needed to be reorganized. He would arrive at breakfast and he got in line. “I was standing in line, waiting to get up to the table where the food was being served. I was looking all around for Rangers but did not expect to see any when I saw a little scrawny kid standing with a wool blanket, my god it was Slesinski!” When Albert reunited with Slesinski he would also be reunited with E Company. Baseplate and many others were shocked to see Albert and were all so happy that he had found his way back to them. “When an officer took roll call of E Company he did not say my name. I went up to him after and said that he did not say Ceccanti and he said I was not on the roster of the company, so I explained that I had been captured and he added my name.” Albert along with the rest of E Company and all of the 5th Ranger Battalion would be shipped home at the war’s end with VJ day and the Battalion would be deactivated.
Albert would later become a very good woodworker and make many great pieces of furniture with amazing detail. He also has a very good talent of painting different scenes in his work. He would live his life with remarkably good health even going as far as playing golf until he was 88 years old! He married a woman named Mary and would make a very good life for themselves. Albert and Mary would settle down in New York.
This interview opened up so many doors for our organization and even better yet we informed yet another 5th Ranger Battalion veteran of our unit’s existence. Albert is a shining example of how much the Greatest Generation gave up for us in WWII. I am honored to have talked with Mr. Ceccanti and also meeting Mary. They are both great people who have seen the world turn many different ways. Hopefully we will see them again sometime!
Interview by: Jack Frost, Dustin Day and Dakota Hance
Compiled and Written by: Dakota Hance