The Stamford Historical Society Presents
Pride and Patriotism: Stamford’s Role in World War II
Peter Canzano joined the Coast Guard in 1942. He was assigned to the Army in late 1942 because troops were needed for the North African invasion. He was attached to the 36th Engineers in charge of securing the beaches. After participating in the invasion of Sicily, he was sent to the Pacific. He was assigned to the USS Leonard Wood and spent his entire career on the ship rising in rank from Apprentice Seaman to Acting Chief in the engine room.
I was working in Rochester, New York. I had just graduated high school in June of 1941 and worked as a trucker for Eastman Kodak. I enlisted right after Pearl Harbor in the Coast Guard, which became part of the Navy, they were backed up with enlistments so I didn’t get in until March of 1942. I was sent to Manhattan Beach, New York, it was a Coast Guard training station. I didn’t learn much there because they didn’t have any provisions for us, no equipment, combat gear or anything, I wore civilian clothes. They shipped us out after three weeks, they sent me out on an attack transport. I was on the USS Leonard Wood. From 1942 till 1945 in September I was on the Leonard Wood, I finally got off with enough points in ‘45.
When I first went aboard they needed people for landing parties. We were getting ready for the North African campaign. I was assigned to the Army, which I didn’t want, I was Coast Guard after all. I trained with Army until the invasion of North Africa. I trained with Army in Chesapeake Bay. They took me off the ship and I was with the Army four to five months. I was trained in demolition and blowing up stuff. I was in a beach landing party. I went in with the 36th Engineers of the 5th Army and went ashore with them. We were under attack by German planes and so forth. The first two nights we were there, the German U-boats sunk five of our transports, it was called torpedo junction (North Africa). Our ships pulled away and they told us to stay with the Army. They finally came back and picked us up later. Our job on the beach was to keep it clear for any units that were coming ashore. We were under air attack most of the time. The Germans had control, this was at Fedala in North Africa, just off of Casablanca and the French Vichy were there. When we invaded, the French changed sides and became part of our operation...it was great. We were there for a while, I came back aboard ship and from there returned to the States, where I trained for the invasion of Sicily. Then I went to Scabliti…we invaded and I went ashore. Later I returned to the ship and manned a 20mm gun. I stayed aboard the ship. After that invasion I returned to the States again and had a three day leave in August 1943. I got married in the US. Then I went back to the ship I didn’t have a real honeymoon. Then out to Pacific for year and half. I got married here in Stamford… I got a telegram to report back to ship…
Before I went to North Africa I was trained in demolition… with the Army we would also have 30 mile and 20 mile hikes. We hiked on sand beaches, that’s what we were preparing for…we would do drills landing on the beach working with Higgins boats...practicing landing with LSTs. It was always hot, sandy, and we had to hit the beach and dig in again and again. We were also taught to blow up anything interfering with the landing of other units. We were the second wave.
Our job was to keep the beach clear…it was tough job because in North Africa the Germans were still shelling us. Some of our boats got hit, capsized, we had to blow them up. We took the 20mm guns off them to use them against the German aircraft.
We crossed to North Africa in a massive convoy…The Leonard Wood had the Commodore aboard was a lead ship. In North Africa on the beaches we made a perimeter to maintain for oncoming wave. We made sure the beach was clear of obstacles. We got C-rations coming in, then we got a load of shoes, a pile 10 feet high…we dumped them on the beach...anyone needing new shoes could go over to the pile. The transports got sunk due to mistake made at beginning of the war, the U-boats were off of Fedala as all the transports were disembarking troops. Well, at that time the boats would unload the troops then drop anchor so u-boats could come up and know where the transport would be, Thereafter ships would disembark troops, then move and rendezvous at different points so as never be in one spot again. Big invasion like that took hundreds of ships,
In North Africa the French were under a German regime at that time. Germans had impregnated all the women. When we took control the French people got back at the Germans. Some of the German snipers were women. When the French found some of the women were German sympathizers they had a ritual, they would make women march down street naked and beat them with sticks…they had their own justice.
We took prisoners. They were arrogant, they didn’t believe we were there. The German propaganda machine was outstanding. The Germans told us we shouldn’t be there…Germans told us that Mussolini and Hitler were riding triumphantly through New York and Boston.
In North Africa we were on the beach whole time, half mile in…we were shooting at Germans…some German troops were imbedded there…we were firing on them and at German planes… We didn’t take many planes down there though we did in the Pacific…that’s how we got a citation…
I was in North Africa from the 8 to the 13th about a week… Once we invaded, the French turned quiet on beach but planes were bombing and strafing us and we were dug in foxholes. We took some guns off the boats that were mobile to use to fire on planes.
Once the Army was in far enough we were pulled off…then went back to the US…late 1942…After we trained more…we returned to Africa, we went back to Oran, North Africa then from there invaded Sicily
During the winter of 42/43 we had had more training, the same thing …Higgins boats. We carried 32 Higgins boats on the Leonard Wood…we were one of the lead boats and we trained other ships that were doing that…we were the flagship…
It was July 43 when we went to Sicily…and landed…we were fighting the kings troops, Mussolini put those up front, kept his troops in the back. The King’s soldiers surrendered right away…some of our guys spoke Italian…they loved Franco-American Spaghetti they told us in interrogation.
In Sicily…there were air transports carrying paratroopers, A great tragedy was our fleet shot down 32 of our own planes...they flew over a red area…
When we went to the Pacific we had Jimmy Roosevelt on board. The first landing we made on the Gilbert Islands, Tarawa. The last battles were at Leyte and Luzon ...we were in Leyte when MacArthur came ashore.
In the Pacific our first landing with Higgins boats was at Tarawa, troops were let out because the coral reef came out too far and the boats couldn’t get over them. Troops had to wade ashore with guns over their heads. Higgins boats bottoms got ripped up. The Japs had pillboxes reinforced…I got to go ashore and see them, 30-foot thick walls…they were well prepared on islands. We had to burn them out.
1943-44 Back in North Carolina
1944 Marshall Islands…
Before going to the islands we had trained again off of Hawaiian Islands. too …different landings.
We were attached to the 4th Marines, and later to the 2nd Marines whoever we were carrying…500-600 crew and 2000 troops. We were still considered Navy… I was a Machinist Mate on throttle watch in engine room, boiler room …In the Pacific I was no longer landing on beaches… but I was still aboard ship and it was not secure, because there were constant air attacks. In engine room 30-40 feet below decks it was a touchy situation…You never knew what was going on, sub, air attack…we used to get the call that we were under general quarters…my GQ post on a 20mm gun till I got rated, then my job was down in engine room or fire room… I started as apprentice Seaman and went up in rank-rating…came off ship as 1st Class Machinist Mate, if I’d stayed I would have been Chief…1945.
I was Acting Chief when I came off, I went into the reserves in the 60s, they gave me Chief ranking.
In the Pacific we were part of the Navy…we had the same responsibilities at each island we took. In February in the Marshall Islands (Battle of Eniwetok) … we disembarked troops, prepared to take injured on board, etc. We had some outstanding doctors on board. Our job was to stand by take in injured…we did not carry munitions but LSTs…we carried 3000+ troops in waves. The troops stayed on the Island till they were secure and we moved on. We would pick troops up once job was done and take them to R&R or to Pearl Harbor for hospitals…
During an invasion, we landed troops then hung in the harbor. We picked troops up on different islands. We were a combat ship… 5 inch guns, 40mm, 20mm, 3 inch guns…We would shell the shore...but the big ships did real pounding…we were an attack transport. Our guns opened up nearer to shore. Once troops were on the beach we would wait for orders...like a sitting duck, that’s why we were under constant air and sub attacks. Destroyer patrols were around transports...they fought subs. Germans would target troop transports, they were number target after aircraft carriers… We kept moving around each island, each ship had its own course…we were a Flagship, we set bearings and the other ships took their readings off us. We took replacement troops each time Pearl Harbor, made cargo runs to New Guinea...etc.
We crossed the equator 22 times and clocked 250,000 miles at sea.
The Marianas…were like the others all operations were the same. Every battle was like every other. In the Philippines the Japanese were trying to make their last stand…under constant air attack, bombing etc. We never got hit…one bomb went off bow…there were Kamikazes, too… Antiaircraft guns, when planes were hit planes would try to dive into ships…
North Africa stands out as the memorable battle since I was mostly assigned with the Army and went ashore…first time too…all the rest were similar…we thought we were lucky, named our boat lucky…
Beyond the battles, life in the Pacific was hard. There was malaria, insects…it was always hot…being in engine room 120 to 130 degrees, we would get a terrible heat rash, arms all pus, infected, only cure calamine lotion, burns like hell and they tell you to keep cool, how?? Couldn’t get relief… We had shifts, 4 hours on / 8 off at sea, 6/6 on land. We had different divisions, I was in 5th division…there were a number of men about 100 dealt with fire rooms and boiler rooms, etc. It was like a city
For sleeping, we had no hammocks…we were in bunks 5 over and it was very hot. With better rank conditions improved, Chief had his own quarters…Acting Chief had his own little quarters…We never knew where we were to go until we were out at sea.
Early ‘45 I came back and was transferred to Manhattan Beach New York…
After Luzon...we brought injured back to Pearl Harbor...they would fumigate the ships when we came back from Islands, there were all kinds of bugs etc. They would put the crew in sub base… We finally shipped to San Francisco then troop train back to New York Coty. Boat always in convoy.
The memory that sticks with me is from North Africa. Guys had been burned in oil fires.
The doctors put us to work with a guy that had oil burns… we had to pull oil burns off the wounded, could smell the burned flesh…after Casablanca and Oran were secured we took them to hospital there.
Operation Torch and the Invasion North Africa
Operation Husky (Invasion of Sicily)
Stamford Service Rolls