Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Sam Modugno and his son Ron in Sam’s well appointed Awesometown condominium. Our conversation was delightful as we pored over his memorabilia and cobbled together his history beginning almost 92 years ago.
Sam was born April 22, 1925 in Sylmar, California where he grew up and attended San Fernando High School until he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Sam was able to finish high school after he returned to Sylmar when World War II ended receiving his diploma January 25, 1946. During high school Sam played varsity football but he still made time to work for a nearby farmer picking figs and grapes. Imagine that for a minute, a high school student picking fruit. Sam was drafted into the United States Army March 31, 1944 entering at Fort MacArthur, California. He was quickly ordered to Camp Roberts near Paso Robles, California, for Basic Training and Advanced Infantry Training. It’s noted that Camp Roberts was named after World War I Medal of Honor recipient, U.S. Army Corporal Harold W. Roberts. Following training, Sam was granted a 10 day leave of absence to visit his family and then it was back to Camp Roberts for a very long train ride to New York City.
Battle of Hürtgen Forest
Sam and his fellow young combat riflemen boarded a troop ship in New York bound for Scotland where they joined Bravo Company of the 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division known as The Big Red One. Soon they arrived in France and fought into Germany conquering the first German city of the war, Aachen. The 26th was nicknamed “Blue Spaders”, taken from the spade-like device on the regiment’s distinctive unit insignia. Before Aachen fell, the longest battle on German ground during World War II was fought by The Blue Spaders in the Hürtgen Forest from September 19, 1944, to February 10, 1945. It remains the longest single battle the U.S. Army has ever fought. The Battle of Hürtgen Forest cost the The Big Red One at least 33,000 killed and wounded, including both combat and non-combat losses; German casualties were 28,000.
Wounded by German Mortar Fire
During the month’s long fierce battle, Sam on an 8 man patrol spearheaded their unit’s advance thru the Hürtgen Forest and aided in destroying a German machine gun nest. German soldiers retaliated with small arms fire and mortars. Sam was hit above his left eye by enemy mortar shrapnel and one of his buddies took shrapnel to the stomach. As the dust settled a medic bandaged them and loaded his buddy on the hood of a jeep to evacuate the area to a rear medical tent hospital. Though Sam was slightly wounded, it was his terrible case of trench foot that required medical attention as soon as possible. Soon, Sam was flown to the 160th Station Hospital in England where he was treated for two months. While there, his older brother Ralph, an Army medic, received a letter from home informing him that Sam had been wounded. That led to Ralph surprising Sam when he visited the hospital on a 48 hour leave of absence which greatly lifted Sam’s spirits as they had not seen each other in two years.
After two months of hospitalization in England, Sam was shipped to Boston and then by train to Mitchell Convalescent Hospital at Camp Lockett east of San Diego, California. After recovery, Sam was Honorably Discharged July 16, 1945. Sam’s military awards include the Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern Ribbon with 2 Bronze Battle Stars. I believe it was an unfortunate oversight that Sam did not receive the Combat Infantryman Badge as he clearly earned it. While at Camp Lockett, Sam thought it was rather strange when he noticed German prisoners of war assisting medical personnel with wounded U.S. soldiers. I’m guessing those POW’s thought they really had it made. Once Sam returned to Sylmar, he sought support from the Veterans Administration where he was guided to becoming an electrician via the Frank Wiggins Trade School, later to become the Metropolitan Polytechnic High School and then Metropolitan College. Sam became a journeyman electrician in the IBEW in 1948 and he had a satisfying 40 year career retiring at age 68 in 1988.
Nose to the Grindstone
After departing the Army, Sam’s sister Angeleena introduced him to Pearline Ditomaso who lived nearby; it seemed to be a family arraigned affair due to both families’ strong Italian heritage. Sam and Pearl were married in St. Ferdinand Catholic Church in April 1947. After moving into a two bedroom, one bath San Fernando home they had three sons who shared one bedroom. Throughout Sam’s career, he kept his nose to the grindstone by purchasing, refurbishing and selling rental homes which he ultimately parlayed into owning two apartment buildings. Sadly, Sam and Pearl divorced January 13, 1971. These days, Sam’s #3 son Ron manages his rental property while Sam focusing on riding his bicycle and his daily exercises. Sam prides himself on his military service, his independence and achieving the American Dream. Ron said, “Dad is very capable and he loves watching National Football League (NFL) games every weekend and he really loves taking his family to dinner twice every week”.
Bill Reynolds is one of the “Boys of ‘67,” Charlie Company, 4th/47th, 9th Infantry Division and director of veterans affairs for The Signal.