Born on September 9, 1918, James Slayman, fought under General Patton and was stationed on the European Front. He saw action in Italy, Sicily and Africa. Slayman remembers fighting the Germans, visiting Pompeii, and meeting Joe Louis at a hospital in Africa.
Interviewee: James Slayman
Date of Interview: June 28, 2016
We left Africa and went to North Africa in box cars at nighttime. And we went up early and invaded Sicily. We invaded Sicily. And General Patton was a general, and he said, [to] give him thirty days to take it all, and he took it in twenty-eight days. And that’s where I lost all my boys.
A Visit to Pompeii
We went to Pompeii for one day, where the volcano had covered up the city. We walked through there and went to the end of it. We get up [in] the morning, the jeep would be full of dust from the volcano, and great big rocks like this would roll down the hill from the volcano.
A German Shell
We was on the hill down there one night, went up on this hill, when the Germans shelled us. And a lot of our boys got killed. I was on guard that night, and there was a great big hole there where I guess Americans had dropped the bomb. There was this great big hole there ,and I was up on the edge of it, had to guard that night. A shell fell in that hole right beside me. Threw mud and dirt all over me. I was really lucky.
VE Day and the Booker T. Washington
When the war was over, we were really close to Switzerland! We got in a jeep, I got in a jeep, me and a boy, another soldier, and we went up to Switzerland. We went up early, and they had a little party going on up there in a beer joint. We went up there, and they didn’t have no beer in [the army]. So we went up there for a while, and then we came back. And that’s when we got on the Booker T Washington boat to come home. [It] took us 28 days to get home. We hit a hurricane and the boat almost [sank]. Captain said like 90 degrees turning over. We come to Newport News, Virginia. It took us 28 days, and you could only do four knots. I don’t know what knots [are], but that’s all we do.
Shakes Joe Louis’s Hand
One night I got sick. A [medic] come here and looked at me. We were getting ready to go out in the jeep, ready to go out on patrol that night, and he come. I told him I was sick, and he checked me and said, “You ain’t going no place. You are going to the hospital.” So he took me to the tent. It was only a tent. And we went to the tent, and that night my jeep got blowed up. If I had been on that jeep, I would have probably got it. So the next day, you remember Joe Louis? Well, I shook hands with him in Africa. He come here in the hospital. Him and his partner, his buddy, come here in the hospital to see us. He shook hands with me. Joe Louis.
I was out one day, and we had the mortar in the jeep and all. We had the Lieutenant and the driver drive the Jeep. He was up in the front of us and he called for a shell, you know, to put off the mortar. So the lieutenant called back for us to put off this shell. So we dropped one in there, and he went too far over. The next one he gave us a range again, and it dropped right beside the guy that was in the jeep. Killed him. That hurt me worse than anything else. I dropped that shell. But It wasn’t my fault, you know. It was his fault, the lieutenant. Yup.