Faithful Signal Subscriber
I recently met Abe Nungesser thanks to a friend of his and long-time faithful Signal newspaper subscriber as we met in his quaint Valencia home to discuss his military service and life in general. At age 95, Abe is slowly losing his sight but his mind is as sharp as ever. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and Abe’s humorous personality.
High School Graduation at Age 16
Abe Nungesser was born Aug. 18, 1922, in Dalhart, Texas, where he lived with his family until 8 years of age, but due to his Dad’s being a train conductor they were relocated to Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. Then at age 13, Abe’s family relocated once again to Albuquerque, New Mexico, but settled 75 miles further south in Socorro, where he graduated from high school in 1938 at the tender age of 16. While he attended Socorro High School, Abe lettered in basketball and he ran on Socorro’s track team.
Meanwhile, Abe began noticing that many young men were enlisting in the military but he was too young. However, he managed to land a job with the Civilian Conservation Corps for a short time. During the Great Depression, the CCC was created as a public relief program designed to employ young unmarried men.
WWII Ramped Up
Because Abe earned a scholarship he attended New Mexico A & M College at Las Cruces where he studied for eight months, but as World War II heated up in the European Theater, his thoughts turned to the military. Abe’s father, Tillman Nungesser, a Spanish American War veteran, was fiercely patriotic to the degree that he encouraged his sons to volunteer for military service. Abe recalls his Dad exclaim, “No sons of mine will get drafted.” Soon, Abe left college, enlisting in the U.S. Army at age 19 on June 26, 1942, just seven months after Japan’s surprise attack at Pearl Harbor. Abe signed up at Santé Fe, New Mexico, and was promptly bussed to Fort Bliss, Texas, for one week of induction, receiving brand new olive drab fatigues, a buzz haircut, a myriad of vaccinations, and a heavy dose of irritating harassment.
Supplying Patton’s Task Force
Next Abe was sent via train to Camp Lee, Virginia, for 12 weeks of basic training and then to Camp Stoneham, near Oakland, California, where he participated in establishing a new unit named “10th Port of Embarkation, Mobile.” This unit’s mission was to supply Gen. George Patton’s task force everything needed to wage a ferocious war against Adolf Hitler’s Nazis and Benito Mussolini’s fascist military in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.
After training for 10 months driving and loading all sorts of convoy vehicles, Abe’s new unit was ready for war. In the summer of 1943, Abe’s 10th Port embarked via troop train from Oakland to Shanks, New York, detouring through Michigan for security purposes. From New York City’s harbor, Abe and his fellow soldiers shipped out via a large modified cruise ship headed to Oran, North Africa. Five hundred miles from Gibraltar, Abe’s troop ship, part of a huge convoy, suddenly developed engine trouble resulting in poking along at 5 knots, but the rest of that convoy had a significant mission to accomplish and they kept moving and leaving Abe’s ship far behind. The most significant thing on Abe’s mind was Nazi submarines lurking in the area. However, they managed to speed up to a whopping 10 knots and safely limped into Oran’s harbor.
The 10th Port supply unit spent a very short time at Oran before taking a narrow gauge train to Arzue, Morocco, where they began providing critical supplies to Patton’s task force fighting in North Africa. As Patton’s front lines kept moving across North Africa and then into Sicily and across Italy, Abe’s 10th Port constantly moved behind Patton’s army, keeping his troops fully supplied as they freed millions of people from fascism. It’s something Abe feels very proud of. Abe recalls the day that Patton, famously known for his harsh tempers, visited a dock where supplies and replacement troops unloaded. A young Air Force airman came onto the dock and Gen. Patton greeted him unceremoniously without saying a word by slapping his soft cap into the harbor simply because he wasn’t wearing a helmet. Gleefully, Abe told me that one of his duties was going aboard liberty ships to sign and take possession of supplies that were deemed critical which was mail, military awards (medals) and liquor for officers. Somehow, portions of those critical liquid supplies didn’t quite make it to their destinations.
Meeting Pope Pius XII
World War II ended in Europe in May 1945 but combat in the Pacific Theater was still raging and Abe and his boys were certain they would soon head into the South Pacific, but meanwhile there was down time. This enabled the troops to sightsee around Italy, including touring the Vatican. The day Abe and his 10 soldier buddies visited the Vatican, Pope Pius XII greeted them and gave them his blessings; a powerful and unforgettable moment for those troops. Out of the clear blue, pun intended, Emperor Hirohito unconditionally surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945, following two powerful atomic blasts in Japan, which led to millions of civilians and military personnel returning to their home lands. Soon, Abe arrived in Newport, Virginia, via troop ship and then headed to Fort Bliss aboard a train to receive his honorable discharge on Nov. 28, 1945.
Found Love Twice
Once back to his mother’s Albuquerque home, through the G.I. Bill, Abe resumed his education for 18 months at the University of New Mexico and then landed a job with the Atomic Energy Commission, where he worked for 30 years. Abe took care of his widowed mother, who died in 1950, and soon after he met the love of his life, Francis Anderson, at an American Legion event. Abe’s father had died during his deployment and it was just impossible for Abe to return home for the funeral. Abe and Francis dated until their wedding in Albuquerque’s Methodist Church in 1951 and were married 20 years until Francis died from breast cancer in 1971. Abe was devastated.
Living alone for several years, Abe finally met a beautiful woman named Virginia whose husband had died, and their chemistry was just perfect so they were married in the spring of 1976. Virginia also died a few years ago and, sadly, Abe is back to living alone but he manages to maintain a positive and cheerful attitude. Many thanks for your participation in our Signal newspaper’s veterans program, Abe, but more importantly, thank you for your outstanding dedicated service to our country in a serious time of need.