United States Army
World War II Experience (1942-1946)
Frank Villani graduated from Ocean City High School. He was living at home with his family who owned and operated the Villa Nova tourist Cottages in West Ocean City. In the fall of 1941 he had taken a job on a deep sea fishing vessel named the Pisces owned by Capt. Ed Brex when World War II began. He was 17 years old. In early 1942 the German submarine fleet began sinking many merchant ships along the American east coast. The U S government immediately began commandeering many sea going vessels, including the Pisces. The U.S naval priority in 1942 was the Japanese and the Pacific Ocean. The Pisces was ordered to Norfolk to serve as a dispatch boat. It delivered supplies, personnel, and mail to salvage companies at sea that had been contracted by the government to raise and repair torpedoed ships. Capt. Brex and Frank Villani remained with their vessel which was headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia. Frank worked to qualify to sit before a US Coast Guard board for a steam engineering license. After achieving certification, he signed on to a Merchant Marine ship that was transporting military supplies to North Africa. This would have been one of the many hundreds of “liberty ships” that were being manufactured around the country, including Baltimore, MD. The cargoes were ammunition, tanks, trucks, jeeps, and food. One of his more frightening experiences of that first voyage was being in a Mediterranean Sea convoy in 1943 with German submarines sinking ships all around them. He celebrated his 18th birthday at the time. The Ship’s main port in North Africa was Oran and it would remain the main port from which it would operate. The Italian government soon surrendered to the allies. On return trips from southern France or Italy, the ship would carry German Prisoners of war back to North Africa. His ship next sailed to New York City and loaded American troops for transport to Italy. Once, when docking in Naples, Italy, and loaded with American GI’s the entire harbor came under a heavy bombing attack by German planes. They raised steam and managed to clear the harbor and get the ship to sea in order to maneuver. They were very fortunate to not take a hit or lose any of the troops on board.
One of the humorous memories of his time there happened when they were delivering military supplies to an Italian coastal town named Brindise. It did not have docking for a ship of their size and so they had to anchor off shore. During the day, barges off loaded the supplies. The only way to go ashore after the work day was to swim. They had been warned to be back before dark as after dark US Navy destroyers would periodically drop depth charges to keep German submarines away. (The concussion from a depth charge would kill a man) They had an elderly deck hand on board by the name of Callahan who had swam ashore late in the afternoon. Later that evening they heard a splashing noise and turned the search light on the source. It was Callahan. They asked him as he climbed the pilot’s ladder where he had been. He replied: “I don’t know where I’ve been, but I had a lot of fun!”
The war ended in Europe in 1945. The ship loaded a cargo of military vehicles at Leghorn, Italy, to take to the Pacific war theater. They steamed through the Suez Canal for the Leyte Gulf in the Philippine Islands. Upon arriving there they were instructed to steam for Buckner Bay at Okinawa. He knew that his brother Sam was on a navy ship there and upon locating him, he invited him aboard his ship for dinner one evening. Before Sam could come, Frank’s ship was warned by the navy that a major typhoon was headed in their direction. His ship weighed anchor and steamed for the Indian Ocean to ride out the storm. The two never got to have dinner together. Japan surrendered shortly afterwards.
After leaving Okinawa, they steamed to Yokohama, Japan and then to Nagoya, Japan where they offloaded many vehicles. From there they sailed for America, and upon arriving at Pittsburg, California they unloaded the rest of the vehicles. The ship then sailed through the Panama Canal for Mobile, Alabama where it was consigned as surplus to a “mothball fleet.” His best memory of that time was COMING HOME! It was January 1946 and he had been away for over three years.
Korean War Experience (1948-1953)
In 1948, and because he was only 23 Frank was drafted into the US Army. The army needed manpower in West Germany for the Berlin, Germany emergency airlift. He was not deployed to Germany. In 1949 while still in the army, he married his childhood sweetheart, Miss Mildred Tyndall of Berlin, MD.
The following June in 1950 the North Korean Army invaded South Korea. Frank was shipped overseas as a member of the 23rd regiment (attached tank battalion) of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division. He served in the regiment during 1950 and 1951. The 23rd regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division was strengthened into a regimental combat team (RCT) in February of 1951 during the Battle of Chipyong-ni (ni stands for village in Korean.) Fighting with the three American battalions of the 23rd regiment in that battle was a United Nations French Infantry battalion. The battle has been described by the army and historians alike as “The Gettysburg of the Korean War.” Upon learning that an entire Chinese army was approaching the 23rd’s position, the commanding general of the US Army X Corps, which the 23rd regiment was attached to, asked permission to withdraw the regiment 15 miles to the south. General Douglas MacArthur, (from headquarters in Japan,) ordered the regiment to stand and fight at Chipyong-ni. The battle would be fought in sub-zero temperatures.
It was the deepest Chinese penetration of South Korea to that point. The entire Chinese 39th Army, plus divisions of the 40th and 42nd armies (25,000 men,) completely encircled the 23rd RCT of 4500 men on February 13, 1951. For three days the battle continued with the Chinese attacking in great numbers, mostly at night when the US Air Force could not help the regiment. Several times the defensive perimeter was penetrated only to be retaken at great cost. Flares were dropped continuously by the air force. They lit up the night sky with an eerie glow. The wounded had to be tended within the encircled battle area. Ammunition ran low, and that which was dropped by air was sometimes impossible to retrieve because of intense Chinese machine gun and artillery fire. After three days of intense fighting and with mounting heavy losses the Chinese began to pull back. In the end it was considered a resounding victory for the Americans and their attached French allies. Total Chinese casualties were 5000. Total US casualties were 343. The official Chinese military critique issued later included the following phrase: “We have underestimated the enemy.”
It was during this battle that Corporal Villani was awarded one of his two Bronze Stars. It reads: “…when the platoon leader dismounted to coordinate the fire of the tank and infantry upon the enemy positions, Corporal Villani voluntarily took over the tank commander’s position and manned the .50 caliber machine gun, thus exposing himself to the enemy fire…So effective was the fire he delivered upon the enemy that the hostile forces were pinned down and the platoon was able to coordinate its fire with the other tanks and infantrymen. His courageous action in exposing himself to man the gun was an inspiration to all who observed it.”
The battle of Chipyong-ni was the first of three United Nations actions that lead to the beginning of peace negotiations in July 1951.
Upon discharge from the army in 1953 Frank and two of his brothers, [Anthony (Tony) & Sam] operated the Villani Furniture Company in west Ocean City. After more than 43 years in business the brothers closed down in 1996, sold the property, and retired. Frank’s widow, Mildred Villani and the Berlin Heritage Committee provided information for this article.
Researched and written by George M. Hurley