Angelo Bernabe was born on April 25th, 1923. His first home was on First Avenue in Raritan. When he was just a baby,
his parents moved to 5 LaGrange Street in Raritan. Today he lives just 2 homes away from his childhood home
at 1 LaGrange Street. It is on the corner of Thompson Street. Growing up in Raritan during the depression, he along
with the other kids entertained themselves with various games that kids today are barely familiar with. Games such as
“kick the can”, “caddie”, and “even and old numbers”. Their favorite pastime was playing stickball.
Their baseball field was an empty lot by the train tracks where the Agway on Thompson Street is today.
One summer activity that is strictly forbidden today was swimming in the Raritan River.
The boys made the most of this activity. They often tied a rope over a riverside tree branch so that they could
swing into the water. |
Angelo attended the local Raritan Schools - starting with The Primary School which was located where the Raritan Municipal building is today. For Junior High School, it was the Washington School on First Avenue. He attended the local High School which was then Somerville High School — graduating in 1943. With World War II in progress, he joined the Army that same year - training at Camp Kilmer in New Brunswick. Camp Kilmer was located were the Livingston section of the Rutgers campus is today.
The war years were a time of uncertainty in our country. Thus before a young man went overseas into battle, he would often marry his girlfriend in order to hold onto something at home. Angelo had met his girl friend Marie in high school. They dated for a year and a half. Knowing that he was soon headed overseas, on August 14th, 1944 they married. Many of these “war time marriages” (as they were called) did not last after the man returned home from the war. However, Angelo and Marie Bernabe have now been married for 64 years! They have 5 children, 12 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren.
While Angelo was training stateside, significant events were happening in the war. The Allies (the U.S. & Britain) had begun their invasion on June 6th, 1944, (D-Day) on the beaches of Normandy, France. They moved across Europe to finish off the enemy Nazi Germany. While the going was tough, by December of 1944 it looked like the Germans were beaten. But just before Christmas of 1944, Germany surprised the U.S and Britain in what is now known as The Battle of the Bulge. The Germans were able to amount an attack that was a surprise in both the number of troops they amassed and their ability to move heavy equipment through a densly wooded landscape. While the German attack was beaten off in a few weeks and their gains reversed, one thing was for sure, the Germans still had plenty of fight left in them. The Allies final thrust toward the German capital of Berlin would not be easy. Many additional brave men would be needed. Angelo Bernabe was one of them.
Angelo was shipped overseas in January of 1945. He joined the fight as soon as he arrived - moving across Europe toward Germany with the army. He initially was assigned to an artillery section which fired heavy shells at specific targets a few miles away. They aimed for troop positions and enemy strongholds in buildings. As they moved forward, they had many difficult encounters with Germans. One was at the end of March when they first crossed the Rhine River which is near the western border of Germany. They crossed the river on special temporary makeshift bridges that were assembled by the Allied engineers. Angelo remembers they crossed at midnight under dangerous conditions as they were harassed by the German Air force. When asked today if he was scared in combat, Angelo said “if any man tells you he is not scared, he is lying.”
Then they continued across Germany toward Berlin. During the advance toward German Angelo was reassigned to ride in a tank. His position was a loader of ammunition. He had not been trained for tank duty, but he quickly assumed his new assignment. Five men were packed inside an American Sherman tank. This was dangerous duty. The enemies tank, the German Panzer, was superior to the American tank. The German Panzers had more firepower and could often withstand hits from heavy artillery. Soldiers have said that it took 2 or 3 American tanks to go up against 1 German tank. After crossing hundreds of miles over a few weeks and seeing combat along the way. They came up on the edge of the Elbe River which is close to Berlin. Around the river was where the Germans set up their strongest defenses. On April 22nd, 1945 on the edge of the Elbe River, Angelo's tank was hit. He never knew what hit him. He would wake up in the hospital in England 2 days later with no memories of the blast. He found he had head and back injuries. There was also shrapnel in his arm. He would require surgery.
Back on the home front, his new bride Marie was staying with her parents in Somerville. A telegram was sent to her from the war department. The arrival of a Western Union telegram delivery boy at your door was a dreadful site. It was never good news. The seconds it took from the time the delivery boy was seen walking up the steps to the moment that the telegram was opened seemed like hours of unknown terror. Marie was not home, her mother endured the brief moments of anxiety. The telegram said Angelo was “seriously wounded”. They were thankful he was alive, but the wording “seriously” could have many terrible meanings. It left them praying and wondering anxiously for more details. The next information would not arrive for a couple weeks. Angelo was too badly wounded to write home initially, but as soon as he could, he wrote home telling them that while he had sustained some serious injuries, he would recover. For his injuries, he was awarded The Purple Heart.
After Angelo’s injury, the Allies continued closing in on Berlin. With the American and British armies just outside the city on the West and the Russians on the East, German’s leader Hitler committed suicide on April 30th. But the surrounded Germans would still not surrender. Then Dwight Eisenhower, the commander of the Allied forces made one of the most questionable decisions of World War II. The Allies would halt their advance just outside of Berlin. They would allow the Russians to invade Berlin and finish off the Germans. The Russians invaded, forcing Germany to surrender on May 8th, 1945. Many historians today, exercising their freedom of speech that these soldiers fought for, criticize that decision, stating that we should have gone into Berlin and not left the job of finishing off the Germans to the Russians. However, many of the soldiers who fought in the battle, having seen their fellow Americans killed, have a different view. Angelo Bernabe, who was there, was asked if he thought it was the right decision to let the Russians take Berlin, Angelo said he supported Eisenhower. “It was the right decision. The Germans were already beaten. The Russians lost a lot of men in taking Berlin.”
After the war, Angelo would continue serving his country in many other capacities. He worked for Somerset County for 26 years before retiring in 1985. For 2 years he was the Raritan Fire Chief (1976-77). And today, he proudly serves as the Grand Marshall of the 2008 John Basilone Memorial Parade.