Unit: Army Infantry’s 104th Division, 114th Regiment. The 104th was nicknamed the Timberwolf Division, and its motto was, “Nothing in hell can stop the timberwolves.”
War fronts: Landed in France in September 1944 about a month after the Normandy invasion. Fought his way through Belgium and Holland and into Germany. Discharged in November 1945.
His words: He doesn’t consider the magnitude of the war or his part in it, even with all the attention World War II gets these days. Talking about the war is “like reading a history book now. I’m quite abstract about it.”
Family: Married and has two children, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Next week’s profile: A bartender and natural storyteller, Hudson's Platoon Sgt. Mike Vinich doesn't have to weave tall tales: The Marine fought in one of Wyoming's deadliest forest fires, led men in five major battles in the South Pacific and personally helped President John F. Kennedy win the Cowboy State's vote.
It might not mean anything in the larger scope of things. John Albanese just thinks it’s worth mentioning: Of the four bunkmates in the Army Specialized Training Program, two died, one was wounded and one left without a scratch.
ASTP was the Army’s effort to train academically gifted enlisted men in engineering and other fields at top universities across the country. They would be used to help rebuild war-torn Europe.
Albanese, from New Jersey, was sent to Princeton. He shared a dorm room with three other men -- another from New Jersey, one from Massachusetts and one from Maryland. They were supposed to study for a year or more. But with the invasion of Normandy looming, the Army needed soldiers. All were sent into the infantry.
Maryland was shot and killed. A German tank spotted New Jersey in a fox hole, drove over it and pounded him into the ground. Albanese was blinded in his right eye when a mortar shell exploded at his feet and shrapnel flew into his eye.
Massachusetts survived everything, even though he served as a scout and was one of the most fearless guys Albanese had known.
“Can you use that to paint an overall picture?” Albanese asked recently from his office in Casper, where he still works as an independent geologist.
“I just found it ironic.”
Albanese landed in France in September 1944. He was a gunner on a Browning Automatic Rifle team. He carried the gun; two other men carried the ammunition.
“They always expected the shortest guy to carry the biggest gun,” he said.
With the 104th Division, he fought his way through Belgium and Holland and into Germany. They were attached to the First Armored Division and rode tanks from battle to battle. Five infantry men would ride on top of the tank, day or night, whether sleeping or just jostling along.
When they came to a village, they’d fight building to building, flushing out SS soldiers.
It was hard and dangerous work.
Once, crawling through a building, the man right behind Albanese was hit with an 88-mm gun. His legs exploded with Albanese just 10 seconds in front of him.
But by 1944, most Germans just surrendered. They were deathly afraid of the Russians, ruthless invaders taking revenge for what happened to them earlier in the war.
In Halle an der Saale, Albanese once stumbled upon an amphitheater filled with German civilians, all of whom raised their hands above their heads.
Another time, a few soldiers got a hold of some motorcycles and raced them across the countryside. One soldier rode his motorcycle upon a whole company of German soldiers, about 400 men, all of whom surrendered on the spot. The soldier herded them to the first officer he could find, and then got the heck out of there. He was afraid of getting in trouble for the motorcycle.
Albanese earned a Bronze Star near Cologne, Germany. He’d been carrying around a Tommy gun because his Browning automatic had disappeared.
Someone was firing on the Americans, but they couldn’t see who. Without orders, Albanese snuck around from the side, using buildings as cover. He found six Germans and forced them to surrender.
The 104th Division charged through Germany. They stopped at the last town before Berlin, a village with a river running through it. Americans stayed on one side of the river, the Russians on the other. Russians were allowed into the American camps to mingle, but Americans weren’t allowed into the Russians'.
“We thought that was peculiar,” Albanese said.
The Americans weren’t allowed into Berlin. Allies saved it for the Russians who were intent to invade it first. The Battle of Berlin was one of the bloodiest of the war.
By August 1945, Albanese was back on leave in the states, enjoying a bit of rest before reporting to California to train for the Japanese invasion. Then the atomic bombs fell, and the war was over. Albanese was discharged that November.
Growing up in New Jersey, Albanese knew he wanted to be a geologist. So he went to the library and flipped through college catalogs. He picked five schools with good programs, and the University of Wyoming was the first to respond to his application.
He put on his soldier uniform to get on the train. So many soldiers were coming home then, the trains were full. His uniform helped him get a seat.
He arrived in Laramie at midnight in the middle of a snowstorm. He walked to the neon lights of the Johnson Hotel in the red light district and shared a room with a passed-out sheepherder.
He married a Wyoming woman and was offered a job in Casper with Atlantic Refining Company, ARCO. He enjoyed a long career as a geologist looking for oil in the Rocky Mountains. Later, he worked with archaeologists, using what he knows about geology to help tell stories about the people who lived centuries ago.
Never during the war, or much in the years after, did Albanese consider what it all meant -- what these young men actually accomplished. When he got home, his mind was on his family and his work.
And in the thick of the fighting, he was doing his job, trying not to get shot. He hadn’t yet developed the desire to ponder the larger questions.
“We were so young. I was 18 when I went in and I got out when I was 20,” he said. “Most teenagers I know aren’t too philosophical.”