Corporal – U.S. Army
549th Ordnance Company
World War II – Philippines
Born in San Francisco’s North Beach on December 10, 1924 to an Italian immigrant family, Dominic Bramante says, “I’m Italian by blood, but 110% American.” From an early age, he was motivated towards service to others. Times were tough during the Great Depression, and Dominic, like his friends, quit school at age 16 to go to work, finding employment at an olive oil plant, then later on the docks as a stevedore in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Unlike many, Dominic’s father Carmelo, a commercial fisherman, earned enough – and brought home enough fish – to sustain the family of seven, and his mother Carmela was able to cook extra portions of her delicious fish and pasta dishes, bidding the young Dominic to take pots of food to neighborhood families who “didn’t have nothin’ to eat.”
During the leadup to the US’ entry into World War II, in 1940, Dominic’s brother-in-law Joe Sardina was drafted into the Army. Dominic remembers hearing about the war on the radio, and recalls “kids walk[ing] up and down the streets yell[ing] ‘Extra, extra, read all about it!’” He remembers parades, “salutin’ the general” and feeling proud to be an American. He believed “you go into the service and you’re gonna try the best you can that we’re gonna win this war.” So In 1941, after the U.S. was drawn into World War II by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he, a 17-year-old, and his brother Sal, 22, attempted to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard. “We knew how to run boats.”
But it was not to be. Found to be colorblind, the brothers were rejected for military service and went back to civilian work. But by the following year, 1942, the U.S. was drafting 18 year olds. Dominic was drafted into the Army and was whisked through the draft interview without so much as a physical. Sal similarly was drafted and was sent to England with the 8th Air Force. And their older brother Frank was drafted at 32 years old into the Army as a fish inspector at Fort Louis in Washington.
Dominic’s sweetheart Margaret, whom he’d met when he was 15 and she 14, and who had spent most of her life tending to an ailing mother and had just lost her mother and moved in with a sibling, suggested that they get married before he left. But Dominic declined, stating that it would “not be fair” to her if he were to be killed in the war. However, they became engaged.
After induction in Monterey, California, the young Dominic Bramante underwent basic training at Fort Ord, Wyoming, where he learned to operate his 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle. “We didn’t have the M-1 yet.” After basic training, he was assigned to the 549th Ordnance Company, Heavy Maintenance Field Army. Their job was to fix anything that needed repair – from guns to tanks – and they did it in shop trucks that were out in the field – fitted with 50-caliber machine guns mounted over the cabs. As he puts it, his job would be to “keep the wheels rolling.”
His company was attached and “de-attached” to several different divisions. At first, he trained with his company in Santa Anita, California, then shortly moved out to the Mojave Desert for maneuvers in intense heat and cold, attached to the 4th Army, 2nd Armored Corps. Returning to Santa Anita, they found no room, as the former race track was fully occupied by other troops. Thus his company was attached to the 6th Infantry Division, and headed up to San Luis Obispo on the Central Coast for 3 more months of training, learning to avoid infiltration and to recognize the sounds of different kinds of artillery going over their heads.
While in San Luis Obispo, Mr. Bramante learned that his father had been deprived of his livelihood due to his Italian nationality. He says that both his parents had been granted half citizenship when they arrived in America. And when the Second World War broke out, because Italy was an Axis power, some Italians in America were actually rounded up and put in internment camps. In his parent’s case, his father’s fishing boat was confiscated, his radio was taken away, and he was barred from Fisherman’s Wharf, which was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence.
After this disaster, Dominic’s sisters began to teach their father English so he could pass his citizenship exam. By the time Dominic was discharged, his father had become a citizen, but never got his boat back. It had been appropriated by the Navy as a net tender for the metal nets that guarded San Francisco Harbor, and had been worked so intensively that it fell apart. The elder Mr. Bramante was eventually able to fish again, but with rented or borrowed boats.
Discovering his father’s humiliation while he was still in training, Dominic appealed to his company commander to provide his father an allotment to support his family – but the “son-of-a-gun” turned him down. Even now he exhibits frustration at the injustice when he, his two brothers, and his two brothers-in-law were all valiantly fighting for the U.S.
Still motivated to help his family, Dominic waited until he was able to earn more than $50 a month. That time came when he was promoted from private first class to corporal, earning $62 a month. At that point, he began sending $50 home a month and living on $12.
When the 6th Division left San Luis Obispo, Dominic’s 549th Ordnance Company was attached to the 81st Infantry Division. Subsequent to that, his company moved to Camp Stoneman on the banks of the Sacramento River, where they were taught to disembark from ships by landing nets to get in landing crafts to be taken to shore.
During all of this training, Mr. Bramante learned the specific tasks he would need to assist in ordnance repair.
Finally it was time to embark for combat. Barges took Mr. Bramante and his cohorts to the port of San Francisco. Troop movements were highly secret, but by chance he landed at Pier 45, where he had previously worked as a civilian. While he was trying to do his job of keeping the troops on his ship away from the equipment, he was recognized by his former coworkers on the dock, who called out to him! He had to pledge them not to say a word to anyone – not even his mother – until after his ship had left.
Mr. Bramante gets a lump in his throat, recalling sailing out under the Golden Gate Bridge, where he had sailed so many times with his father. On the Jane Adams, a Liberty Ship, he experienced rough seas, which didn’t faze him, but he was both amused and sorry for his comrades who became violently ill. The ship proceeded, amongst others in a convoy, to New Caledonia, a French Island in the South Pacific, arriving in 16 or 17 days of a “zigzagging” course, to avoid Japanese submarines.
On New Caledonia, Mr. Bramante’s company was attached to the 25th Infantry Division, while being given jungle training, which involved learning how to recognize and dismantle booby traps. According to Mr. Bramante, as France had been occupied and was under a fascist (Vichy) regime, New Caledonia was also fascist-controlled. His company was bivouacked in the jungle, 30 miles away from the nearest town, Noumea. Periodically they had to return to Noumea to resupply. They were instructed never to stop, if flagged down; and if fired at, to “shoot to kill…no questions asked.” Some of his buddies were forced to do so, though he never faced that difficult challenge.
While on New Caledonia, Mr. Bramante enjoyed a coincidence. A nephew of his future brother-in-law showed up while Mr. Bramante was guarding the perimeter, and he almost shot this friend of the family. Luckily the man showed his credentials in time. And this friend from Monterey was actually employed as a fisherman to supply the troops. He offered to petition to have Mr. Bramante join his operation. But before he heard from his friend, Mr. Bramante and his company departed for their ultimate destination, the Philippines. En route, they heard broadcasts by “Tokyo Rose,” the Japanese propagandist whose broadcasts were designed to weaken American morale. He recalls the wistfulness that these broadcasts, with their dance band music from home, provoked.
In the Philippines, Mr. Bramante was attached to the 23rd “Americal” Division, serving on three different islands, Cebu, Leyte and Negros, performing recovery, driving a 10-ton wrecker with a flatbed while his navigator stood and manned the machine gun on the roof, looking for Japanese snipers. As an 18-to-19-year old, he was befriended by men in their 20′s who took him on as a “little brother;” at times, shielding him from danger. While there, he would receive a monthly batch of 30 of the daily letters that his fiancee Margaret wrote him. And because a number of his buddies did not get letters, he’d generously distribute his letters among them and they’d serially read them aloud.
The next destination was going to be Japan. The Allies were planning to invade Southern Japan and “that was gonna be a bloodbath….the odds were four to one against the Americans.” And although he was young and “full of piss and vinegar,” he admits to feeling afraid. “If anybody says they’re not afraid they’re liars.” But “you get over the fear.” As they were awaiting the transfer, President Truman ordered the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima; and then when that failed to yield a surrender, the one on Nagasaki, ending the war. Mr. Bramante and his comrades in arms were ecstatic. But his agony was not over….
While in the Philippines, Mr. Bramante contracted malaria and Dengue Fever, and was also afflicted with painful skin ulcers called “Jungle Rot” (Tropical Ulcer.) During multiple episodes of these illnesses, he’d been treated briefly in field hospitals and sent back to his company. But now at war’s end, he appeared rather sickly. His buddies told him to go to the field hospital again – and this time, the doctor put him on a rickety cargo plane, along with a number of very sick men who had been Japanese Prisoners of War – some of them “skin and bones” – and he was taken to Leyte and put on a hospital ship, the Charles S. Stafford, which took him to San Pedro in Southern California.
While on the hospital ship, he enjoyed the first milk – albeit powdered – that he’d had in years, and in general a high level of attention and care.
Arriving in San Pedro, Mr. Bramante required further treatment. Although he hoped to be placed in Letterman Hospital in San Francisco, it was full and he was instead hospitalized at Birmingham General Hospital in Van Nuys, a suburb of L.A. – too far for family or friends to visit. Spending 2 1/2 months there, again amongst former POW’s of the Japanese – many of whom died while he was there – he passed his third Christmas in the Army, still confined to a wheelchair. When celebrities came to entertain, the nurses would fight over accompanying him to the shows. When I comment on how popular he was, the ever-modest Mr. Bramante says that it was just that he was in a wheelchair, and caregiving gave them access to the shows.
Finally in February of 1946 he was well enough to go home with a supply of medication. He was sent on a bus to Camp Beale, from which he was almost not discharged, as the discharging officer couldn’t find half of his papers. But ultimately he was discharged and put on another bus to San Francisco. From the drop-off point he took a streetcar home, surprising his mother and fiancee, Margaret. “Ma, it’s me… I’m home.” He tears up at the memory.
For his service, Dominic Bramante received the Good Conduct Medal; the American Defense Medal; the American Campaign Medal; The Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal; The Victory Medal World War II; and the Philippine Liberation Medal with 1 Bronze Star and 2 Battle Stars.
Two weeks after returning, Dominic Bramante married his sweetheart, Margaret Tringale, and moved in with her brother and sister-in-law in North Beach. Working as an apprentice machinist, he was able to qualify for a G.I. home loan on a $9000 home in San Francisco’s Sunset district, by getting his foreman to claim that his income was $42 a week, [1/4 of the monthly mortgage payment,] instead of $35. Subsequently he became a journeyman machinist, lived in that home with Margaret for 30 years, and raised two daughters, Lynn and Gail. Eventually moving to Marin County neighborhoods of Terra Linda in San Rafael and later Bel Marin Keys in Novato, Mr. Bramante reluctantly left the home in the Keys a few years after his beloved Margaret died in 1985, finding the memories too painful. His daughters now live in the Russian River area of Northern California with their respective families, and this brave veteran lives in a condo in Novato, California. And just as he and his siblings used to call their parents every day, his daughters call him every day.
Mr. Bramante has kept busy. Besides tending to his dog, Bella, this almost 93-year-old veteran is active in his VFW Post 7816, and was Honoree at the dedication ceremonies of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 2004. While in the service, at times he would be “in a predicament;” he’d go to mass served by the chaplain, and he prayed to God that when he got out of the service, he’d go to church every Sunday. And he has kept his vow. He belongs to a Catholic church in the neighborhood, Our Lady of Loretto, and goes every Sunday.
And he credits his longevity to good genes.; many members of his family lived into their 90′s and his sister Mary came within weeks of achieving 100. He made it through World War II; and two hip replacements and open heart surgery later, Dominic Bramante is still going strong at nearly 93.
Interview Conducted by Leonette Morrison on April 20, 2017