Father Miele holds a photo of his three friends who died in France. Dorothy K. LaMantia photo
Father Miele holds a photo of his three friends who died in France. Dorothy K. LaMantia photo
" I am humbled by the sacrifice my buddies made. I never realized their lives would be lost in World War II. I pray for them consciously and subconsciously. "

When Joseph Miele graduated from West Catholic Boys High School, Philadelphia, on June 6, 1943, he had no idea that exactly one year later he would participate in the Allied invasion of Normandy Beach.

Anticipating his 18th birthday that August in a world at war, he asked his father, a veteran of World War I, for advice about enlisting.

“He told me, ‘Join the Navy – at least you’ll have a bunk to sleep in and three meals a day,’” remembered Father Miele, now a retired priest of the Diocese of Trenton. “I said, ‘Navy? I can’t swim for love or money!’” His father, who remembered scrounging for food in the trenches, stood his ground.

Young Joseph, son of John and Anna Miele, went off with five buddies to enlist. After undergoing physicals, he was the only one accepted. 

 At naval boot camp, he was assigned to study shipboard engineering at Boston’s Wentworth Institute, where he “had six weeks to learn fast.”

By Christmas, he was stationed aboard the USS Augusta – flagship headquarters of Gen. Omar Bradley for the Normandy invasion – and assigned to its electrical division for boiler room training.

“I was frustrated,” Father Miele admitted. “The other guys would be on deck seeing battle, and my position was down in the belly of the ship in the generator room watching meters.”

Eventually he realized his job’s importance. “I had to make sure we didn’t lose power, or nothing would work. If we lost power, we were dead in the water.”

One honor made possible by his assignment came from Princess Elizabeth, who visited Gen. Bradley with her father, King George VI, before the invasion.

While touring the ship, “She commented to me, admiring the mirror-like shine on my shoes. I had plenty of time while watching engines for spit and polish,” he explained.

Back in Philadelphia, the neighborhood bonded together in support of their boys. “My dad put up a flagpole in concrete in front of our house and flew the flag daily. He was so proud of my serving.” 

As the war worsened and more troops were needed, the medical reasons for his friends weren’t accepted. His five buddies were drafted and sent to fight in France. 

“Four of them died, and one came back emotionally broken, changed forever,” said Father Miele, as a  quiet sadness overtook his eye.

“I am humbled by the sacrifice my buddies made,” he said. “I never realized their lives would be lost in World War II. I don’t think of them often enough, but I do think of them. I pray for them consciously and subconsciously. I am thankful I accomplished what I did safe and sound.”

Father Miele said his years of service broadened his outlook. “It took me beyond my Italian Catholic neighborhood.”

He remained on the USS Augusta until the end of the war, when the ship carried President Harry S. Truman to the Potsdam Conference, a reorganization and peace conference in then-occupied Germany. He admitted his assignment shielded him from horrors occurring topside, the ship which he heard about from his shipmates on deck.  He thanked God for having survived unharmed.

After the war, through the GI Bill, he entered LaSalle College, Philadelphia, where a professor mentioned many that veterans were entering seminary. “It rung a bell,” Father Miele said, reminding him, as a boy in a devout Catholic home, that he had considered the priesthood. He began his studies for the priesthood in St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Wynnewood, Pa., and completed his studies in Our Lady of the Angels Seminary, Niagara Falls, N.Y. He was ordained a priest for the Trenton Diocese in 1956 by Bishop George W. Ahr in St. Anthony Church, Hamilton. His numerous parish assignments included serving three as pastor – St. Anselm, Tinton Falls, of which he was the founding pastor; Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Seaside Heights, which is now part of St. Junipero Parish, Seaside Park, and St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Red Bank.

In the late 1980s, Father Miele received a call from long-lost fellow shipmates attempting to reconnect. He enjoyed telling how the caller cried out, “Yay! We found him!” when he identified himself as Joe Miele. Until recently, the group enjoyed a yearly reunion to celebrate their brotherhood at arms. “Now there are few of us left,” he mused.

Reflecting on Veterans Day Nov. 11, Father Miele said, “We should celebrate it because the world we live in was made possible by servicemen and women who overcame forces of great evil and Hitler’s grandiose designs.

 “We must show gratitude to those who made such sacrifice,” he said. “I am proud to have been part of it.”