Long before Mel Brooks gave us an iconic image of soldiers conducting a fruitless task, he was eighteen-year-old Melvin Kaminsky, who followed his brothers into the US Army. Enlisting in the Army Specialized Training Program, he was sent to the Virginia Military Institute for training, a long way from his Brooklyn home. After learning skills of relatively little applicable value in World War II, he attended basic training at Fort Sill before shipping to Europe to join the 1104th Engineer Combat Battalion in France in early 1945.

From facing air raids to artillery rounds bursting in the trees to demining toilets and pickle jars, Mel Brooks witnessed large-scale combat operations from the ground as a combat engineer. In this episode of The Spear, Mel shares stories of his training, deployment, combat, and the end of the war in Europe. He also talks about the role entertainment played in returning to some sense of normalcy after VE Day.

You can listen to the full story below. If you aren’t subscribed to The Spear, be sure to find it wherever you get your podcasts—Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotifyTuneIn, or your favorite app. While you’re there, please take a moment to give the podcast a rating or leave a review.

Note: This episode’s title is an homage to History of the World (Part I), and was approved by Brooks. There is no Part I.

Image credit: US Army Engineer School Historian