In our Army there were the 34th, 36th, 45th Divisions and, of course, my 3rd Division. I said that the breakout was a battle as bad as or worse than the Normandy landings. The first steps across the barbed wire had hand-to-hand combat and vicious mortar and artillery fire, coupled with the mines and booby traps. Vividly in my mind is the scene of the first wave strewn on the barbed wire. I recognized one of the GIs as the one who taught us ‘dirty fighting’. I recognized his curly black hair. His helmet was blown off. All that remained was his upper torso, nude, lying across the concertina wire with his guts strewn over the wire. He must have gotten a direct hit. His squad was also killed by that blast or several blasts, and equally mutilated. I came through in a second or third wave carrying a radio, which went to “E” company, which lost its communication. I saw wounded GIs and one especially sticks in my memory. He was sniveling and bent over, huddled and heaving under the wing of a downed aircraft. He could have been faking a wound out of fright–I didn’t question it. Later I decided to eat a can of meat and beans and sat down near a couple of dead German soldiers in a ditch. It was safest to hide in ditches and trenches. One sight, which is indelibly etched in my memory bank, is that the top of one dead German soldier’s head was opened like a cantaloupe. There was hardly any blood and his brain specimen was only inches from the vacant skull. The top was still hinged. It was as though it was a saw cut. I am still amazed at myself even wanting to write about it. At this writing, I can hardly imagine myself eating while staring at those brains. I guess finally I became grizzled. I never ever cried for a dead German. It’s strange that didn’t cry for a GI either, but I felt awful sad inside.
Once at a reunion in St. Louis, Captain Wardlaw and the group at the table were telling ‘stories’ and the Captain told about the most hideous sights he had ever seen. He told about the same scene I mentioned about the ‘brains’. He was there ‘chewing my ass out’ for taking the time out to eat a can of meat and beans! (Mainly because I had three German Pistols strapped on my belt).
On the front lines an officer hates to be saluted. I understand. I had a spoon in one hand and a can of beans in the other. I stood up and you just have to put your pride aside and take the shit from the company commander. He just didn’t know what duty I had just performed. Company E’s radio went out and I just gotten through delivering a new one to them under fire and was scrunched down in one of the old German foxholes. I think it was Anderson who went with me. When I handed the new radio over to Company E’s radioman I told Andy to get his ass back to safety. He did that gladly. I went on with Company E. Then I decided it wasn’t prudent for me to follow just for experience sake, so I ducked into a German dugout wherein was a stash of fine weaponry. I glommed onto three P38s and strapped them on my belt. I then scurried back to find my platoon. I was very weary and needed the comfort of a can of beans and that’s when the commander happened along with some other brass. He spotted the three P38’s on my belt and ordered me to get rid of them. I just uttered and re-uttered “Yes sir, Yes sir” at every other command. When they left me there, I hurried myself to find my platoon. Mac and a few others were immediately jealous of my loot. I gave one of the P38’s to Mac and another to a Lieutenant who later was killed by our own planes in a strafing the next day!!
ABOUT MAY 23 NEXT DAY
It was in the middle of the night after ‘H-Hour’ plus a day or so after we broke through the strongest German defenses. They were as strong as the Siegfreid Line or Normandy, I’ll bet. The Jerries were retreating, leaving heavy rear guards in a sacrificial attempt to slow us down. It was a mean defense to say the least. They were using 20mm flak cannons over our heads. It is very demoralizing to hear the snap of the 20mm round. This weapon has an explosive bullet. You could see the tracers only a few feet above our heads–evidently they were misjudging our position because the rounds would crash in some obstacle a few hundred feet behind us. Those rounds were equipped with delayed fuses to cause aerial bursts.
At this time we were near our loaded ammo truck. Sgt. Donald Bacchus of Vashon Island was in charge of its’ cargo. It was heavily loaded down from the bed up to over the racks with all kinds of ammo including Bangalore torpedoes and even Molotov cocktails. There was enough ammo to keep the 2nd Battalion in business for a few days. Less ammo would be used now that we were in a full-court pressure. Part of the time most of us were perched on top of the explosives as the truck kept up to the movement. No sense in walking. You can’t rest while walking, but you can catch a catnap on top of the ammo cases–that is if the noise would only die down and the goose bumps would allow a nap.
Out of the night from the North came a squadron of German bombers. They dropped flares right over our truck and began dropping bombs to delay us. We jumped off the truck and ran away as soon as we discovered they were actually German bombers. If the truck had been hit and exploded, it would have been “curtains” for all of us! If we were not far enough away from the explosion, we’d become vapor .I saw an ammo truck get hit on another occasion. There was nothing left to identify it whatsoever! Yes, we would have been vaporized. That’s the only way to describe it. There would have been a hole in the ground about 10 feet deep and 20 feet across–just as if a ‘blockbuster’ bomb had hit us. There might have been ten tons of ammo on the 6×6 truck. I ran away from the truck in the dark not even thinking of the minefield we might be crossing. If you have ever ran across an open area at night you will know how it feels when you hit a lower spot in the ground–it feels as if you are floating. You almost stumble when you make ground contact again. I felt far enough away from the truck. I hit the dirt face down. The flares continued to illuminate our area. They were red flares, which signal target area for the following bombers. It felt as though there were at least twenty bombers emptying their bomb bays on us.
I was shaking –more than a tremble–like a maple leaf–actually more as if I was going through my malaria symptoms again! I was trying to remember the prayers that were given to me to remember by Father Hanley back on Anzio in the early days of the Anzio beachhead–when I began to seriously be concerned about my ‘afterlife’ possibilities–this might be “it”. I remember I was on my belly crawling further away from the truck feeling the ground in front of me for a lower place–an inch lower might save my ass from being blown off! I had goose bumps all over my body. I shivered as if it was a cold winter night with a foot of snow on the ground–in a polar region! Let me tell you I was one frightened person. No one in my family has ever been in this position in his or her life and they could never understand why I couldn’t tell about some of the things without putting myself in a hypnotic recall and busting out and bawling. The fact really is that not many could stand to listen to my ‘stories’ for only a few seconds, so shit! I’ve never been able to ‘unload’ which I felt I needed to do to be normalized. A GI with the ‘syndrome’ has to have a listener, and one that doesn’t gaze around while you talk. There was no end to the other noises after the bombers passed over. You could hear them make a circle back. Our air defenses were minimal at this point. I don’t remember any ‘ack-ack’. It would have given away our position anyway.
We again boarded the truck and cruised a bit further. I remember that Gidio Ciavaglia (not Guido) was nearly decapitated by a low telephone wire under which the truck had to pass. It caught him under the chin and somehow he was able to duck under it as the truck crawled along in low gear. The 20mm cannon worked on us till it was knocked out the next day. We were approaching a small village. In this case “WE TOOK a VILLAGE”! (pun intended) The name was unknown to me then and still is now. At this point we weren’t daring to ride the truck now because it was left in the rear, some distance away, for logistic reasons.
BACK TO FOOT SLOGGING
The truck ride was a short distance but welcome. From then, we plodded along on foot in the warm day and we were in a very thirsty mood. We would chance to drink water from wells but usually water was supplied from GI cans. They were never always handy. We looked for running water in a drinking fountain or farmyard. We saw a big door into nowhere and behind it was a stairway down into a cool wine cellar. It was a giant wine cellar with great big casks of several hundred gallons each. The giant, fermenting kegs had a supply of not yet ready wine. Each keg had a tap. There was no caretaker around so we took “samples” of the cool fuzzy wine which ‘hit the spot’ because of our thirst. It gave me the giggles, as does champagne. I must be a ‘sissy’ when it comes to alcohol. This stuff had a ‘fizzy’ taste–like hard cider when it is fermenting. I liked the fizz. It was like drinking grape soda. There was enough alcohol though to make a person ‘giddy’ in a short time. Oh well! That’s just one of the rewards of being a
soldier. Being there first in line and on line–the Front. It was one of the “spoils of war” and you could carry it in your stomach and not in your pack. Everything felt lighter and less dismal that afternoon. The cellar was a safe place for a while. After that it was back to marching along under the fire of the 20MM cannon which was finally knocked out.
I remember one of the nights; most likely the first night after crossing the barbed wire entanglements and a railroad track, we hiked over an open farmland. We were sweating all the while and very thirsty. In front of us in the darkness loomed a farmhouse. We entered to find a lone Italian who was inebriated. He had a jug of wine there for himself celebrating his liberation. He was one of many Italians who were forced to help dig trenches. Now he was FREE. He passed the jug around. Each of us took a swig off the ugly-tasting stuff but we did it out of joy for him. We had several GIs in our platoon who could converse fluently in Italian. There was Abruzzi and Gideo Ciavaglia, both from South Philly, and Garritano. The other Italians in our platoon named ITALIANO and PALERMO were killed in the house when it was shelled. In all my stay in Italy, I have only seen this one Italian who was actually drunk. He was in his own home and that’s where drinking to that extent was customary–not on the streets.
On about the next day prisoners came in droves. I took several watches of no value whatsoever off several. I also liked the straight-edge razors most of them had. I sent one home to my Dad taken on March 29th prior to the breakout because he could never afford to buy a really good straight-edge. But Daddy wouldn’t use it because of where it came from. I did take this from a dead body. I don’t blame him for not using it.