Army medic veteran remembers bell better than WWII’s ‘Battle of the Bulge’

Andrew Napolitano inspects a Bronze Star he received by mail from the Department of the Army several years ago. He served in WWII, but he has no idea why he was awarded the medal. Sun photo by Don Moore

Although he served as a private in a medical unit in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army, took part in the “Battle of the Bulge” and the Hurtgen Forest Campaign, two of the worst battles on the Western Front, what Andrew Napolitano of Venice, Fla. remembers most about World War II is a small bell he took from an English pub.

It was the winter of 1944, and he and his buddy, Bob Schatz, were making the rounds of English bars at night after daily medical training sessions. Both were private 1st class orderlies; members of the 95th Medical Gas Treatment Battalion, eventually attached to the 3rd Army in Europe as a standard medical unit.

“We were in the Brierley Hill Pub in the English Midlands. On each table was a little silver bell to summons the waitress,” the 84-year-old Napolitano recalled. “I swiped the bell and put it in my duffel bag that went all the way through Europe with me during the war.”

The two young orderlies arrived with the 95th just in time to help treat hundreds of Jews who were on a train captured by American forces in a small German town along the border in early December.

“The train was taking the Jews to a German concentration camp to be gassed. There were hundreds of them, and they were in lousy condition. Many of them died from malnutrition and other medical problems before we could treat them,” he said.

It was shortly after the train incident Patton turned the entire 3rd Army around and headed back to Belgium to blunt the massive 11th-hour counterattack in the Ardennes Forest by German forces that would be known as the Battle of the Bulge. Napolitano and the 95th went with the general to face the enemy.

Some 65 years later, the Venice resident’s memory is a bit fuzzy on the biggest battle in Western Europe during WWII. However, there are vignettes he remembers vividly.

“When I first got to Germany with my unit, I was in the operating room working as an orderly. Someone handed me the just-amputated leg of an American soldier in a piece of newspaper. I didn’t know what the hell to do with it. I learned later there was an open pit outside the operating tent I was supposed to throw the extremities into,” he said.

Napolitano and Schatz went all the way to the Elbe River with Patton. They waited with the 3rd Army for the Russian armies to move in from the east at war’s end. The two best friends eventually headed back to the U.S. to continue their lives as civilians.

Half a century later, Schatz was having a beer with Napolitano and asked, “Whatever happened to the bell you stole from the English pub?”

He didn’t have an immediate answer for his wartime buddy. So he went looking for the bell.

“When I got home from the war, I remember giving the bell to my mother. When she passed away, my sister inherited the bell. After she died, my niece inherited the bell,” Napolitano said.

He retrieved the bell from his niece. At that point he and Schatz got their heads together and decided to send it back to Doreen Bailey, the owner and manager of the Brierley Hill Pub more than six decades earlier. Several years ago, when the bell arrived in England, it caused a local sensation. A story and picture of Bailey presenting the bell to the current owner of the pub made the local paper.

Ever since then, Napolitano has corresponded with Bailey by e-mail.

Napolitano at a glance

Andrew Napolitano and his wife, Anita, moved to Venice from North Pinefield, N.J., in 1996. She passed away two years ago.

He owned a carpet store up north. Napolitano graduated from high school and was drafted into the Army in 1943.

His Army buddy, Bob Schatz, was a New York cop until he retired.

Their unit, the 95th Medical Gas Treatment Battalion, received a Meritorious Unit Commendation from the Secretary of the Army for its front line medical treatment of U.S. soldiers during the “Battle of the Bulge.” Several years ago, a Bronze Star arrived through the mail for Napolitano from the Department of the Army, but he isn’t sure why.

He lives in Venice.

This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 16, 2009 and is republished with permission.

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