GARRISON OF ROME—A PLUM
The Commander had us in formation one day after we all spruced up in new uniforms. He told us,—these are his exact words–“Gentlemen, you have a ‘plum’-we will be in garrison of Rome from now on”. The words “now on” meant for a couple weeks perhaps because we were earmarked for the invasion of South France or Jugoslavia. In the days in Rome, I found a romance of some sort. Why did I pick on such a virtuous damsel? She must be a NUN today! Mac and I were dating two senoritas who were sisters. Mac’s was Titina and mine was named Anna Maria. I was lonely and now ‘free’ since the “Dear John” letter on Anzio came. I wasn’t ‘obligated’ to my promise. Anna Maria was a nice Italian girl. I bought a guitar and she taught me a song I’ll always remember. My wife today doesn’t mind me saying this (not too much). She knows all this is a long time in the past. The song was called “Ma l’Amore No”. It’s a very melodious song for a forlorn lover. I sang it over and over to our GIs with the guitar that I tossed in the cook’s trailer when we left any particular place. It had only 5 strings now from the manhandling it got. I spent most of my time in Rome visiting the home of Anna Maria. I begged for some coffee from the cook who gave it to me actually as a reward for finding his GI watch. The coffee was really a contraband item. None was available in Rome at that time. But it didn’t buy me any favors that my love-starved body seemed to require at the time. As I said, she must be a NUN at this time.
GUNS AND FIDDLE
I met an Italian who showed me his stash of automatic weapons he had in a drawer in his hotel room. He offered them to me, but I declined. He then gave me a fairly nice violin that I was glad to get. I wish now that I would have sent it home. I brought it back to the barracks, which had been the headquarters of some of Mussolini’s troops. I played the fiddle in the stairway for better acoustics. I was able to play the “Hungarian Dance Number 5”. Other violinists were attracted and we took turns to play to our heart’s content.
In a room in this Mussolini’s headquarters was a pile of Italian medals and other paraphernalia for decorating their Fascist army personnel. I grabbed up a bunch of medals made of metal, which later came in handy when I sent my P38 home in a box. I broke down the P38 into parts and then I surrounded the parts with the metal medals to obscure the outline of the pistol parts if the box was x-rayed. I then wrapped the box with telephone wire and listed the items inside. I told a white lie about the contents–I wrote that I had a 105 howitzer enclosed–. You know that a 105 howitzer is a cannon! Don’t you? It might have made the censor laugh enough to pass inspection. I wrote home and asked if the “pooshka” came yet. At a later time probably when we were in FRANCE, I was told by letter that the “pooshka” came in tact and that my brother-in-aw was able to assemble it! Hurray! Here’s that very pistol
GARRISON OF ROME DREAM ENDS
We were dismayed when the Colonel again held us in formation to tell us that we were leaving ROME. How terrible! We thought our war was over, but there was more to come! Back to the old grind of slit trenches and tents and mess kits and chow lines! We were moved out of Rome going south towards Naples. Our first stop was in a grove of trees. It was there that I first met Ed Viscount, a redheaded Italian– maybe Swiss-Italian. He and I buddied up because he loved to sing and we sure did that. I sang to him the song Anna Maria taught me. I bought a songbook in Rome too, which helped me with remembering the words.
I heard that a truck was going back into Rome on some sort of errand. I begged to go along and the driver said, “Then Hurry up”! So I grabbed my shoes and socks and donned them while riding on the back of the truck. He dropped me off at a fountain near the monument to Vittorio Emmanuel and promised to be there to pick me up at a given time. I dashed up the stairways to the home of Anna Maria and spent the time agonizing having to leave her there maybe forever! Oh. Woe is me! The life of a soldier. Always having to leave someone ‘dear’ behind! The truck driver and I met on time and my absence was undetected back at the grove of trees.
In that grove of trees, I found an “EVERSHARP” fountain pen in the leaves and debris on the ground! There was no way I could find the original owner so I kept it and still have it in my souvenirs. It became my pen of choice and was worn out from use.
We were moved to a location to board a railroad train. It wasn’t a luxury liner either. It was the kind they called “40 and 8s”–I think these had seats though. We crossed the land on which we fought our way to Rome. We didn’t have any idea of our destination. We only knew that we were going south.
We ended up in the same area where we took training for ANZIO. Pozzuoli. It is situated about 12 miles inland from the bay at Naples. We found out the distance the hard way–marching to and from every other day. We marched through the hills and down to the sea many times. On one day’s training, I remember climbing a trail through dense brush. Someone said.” Last one through close the gate. Pass it on.” So you’d yell back the same message to the GI who was following you! Heck! There was no gate! Some smart aleck started that up ahead.
We came upon several coast artillery pieces. It was a huge cannon pointing out to the bay. I noticed the logo of “BETHLEHEM STEEL” in the breech. It made me wonder about the world a bit. USA made gun in Italy!
Often times we’d get aboard a ship, drift out to sea, unload on Higgins boats and head for the shore to make a fake landing. Some smart aleck had to spoil it for me every time by lighting up a cigar! Diesel oil smell and a cigar stink make me ill and on a HIGGINS boat it’s a certainty. “Urppy” is a good homemade word to describe it.
On occasion my platoon was detailed to simulate opposition from the beach. We’d ride in on an assault boat then fire our weapons and make a fake opposition. This would doom us to a hike late at night back to the tents that were 12 miles away!
Once a 6×6 truck stopped and the lieutenant ordered us on board. We were nose-to-nose with “standing room only” on the bed of the truck. It had no canvas canopy. It was dark as a night can get. The truck driver was flying blind. In Italy a road can come to a ninety-degree turn any time. It takes a sports car to maneuver those roads. All of a sudden the truck driver slammed on the brakes and we all fell forward against each other. We were so crowded that we had to have our M1s held at our bellies with the front sight about nose high. At least that’s where I had mine. I fell against the sight of my rifle. It bounced off the other guy’s helmet and I gouged my face. I bled quite profusely. Others maybe would have gotten a Purple Heart for that. I wouldn’t have dared to pull such a stunt. I healed up okay. The lieutenant ordered us off the truck. When we got off we saw the reason for the sudden stop. The truck driver saved us all from going over the brink into the sea! The only thing was a rock wall barrier to prevent maybe a jackass from plunging hundreds of feet into the sea below! We walked, hiked, marched and straggled back. They graciously had chow waiting for us.
On other training we were instructed in the use of Bangalore torpedoes. They were like a three-inch stovepipe loaded with TNT. They would connect to each other and were slid under barbed wire entanglements and ignited. The person would pull the igniter and have time enough to try to get out of the way. Then the blast would peel the barbed wire out of the way so troops could cross the wire. In other demonstrations they showed another method of getting across barbed wire–the hard way! The first GI threw himself on the barbed wire kinda like the India trick of lying on a bed of nails. Then the next GI would run over the first GI’s body using him as a bridge. If the wire entanglement was wider it took more than one GI’s body on the wire. It’s one way to get your back massaged quite vigorously.
MAKING A FAKE LANDING
One day we were marched down to the same docks and loaded onto LCIs. We had no idea if this was a fake landing exercise or the real thing. I estimated, by the seat of my pants, that we were going in a northerly direction in a flotilla. Then we were instructed that we would be landing back on Italian shores in an area that would resemble the terrain where we eventually would land in a real invasion. We were told with great emphasis NOT to take even one step out of the taped off area which was combed for mines by the engineers. We were told that this area was the anchor for the Herman GOERING line and had been heavily-mined in all directions. I took that instruction to heart. All of us did! At least those who listened took the advice.
We hit the beach and waded ashore following the taped-off trail. We were supposed to see a railroad and we did. These were the rails we rode on down from Rome. We got on the railroad track. I was following GUYER, who was my first buddy on the Cassino front. I was about 30 feet behind him. Behind me, down the tracks about a hundred feet, was Captain HORAN with his bodyguard Ed Viscount. Captain Horan yelled at the top of his voice, “GET THE HELL OFF THE GODDAMNED RAILROAD TRACKS–YOU WOULDN’T DO THAT IN COMBAT”! So as instructed, GUYER found a likely path off the tracks. He stepped on a mine right in front of me!! I was still on the tracks when he was blown to bits. Parts of his body stuck to my helmet, which was blown sideways. A muscle from his leg was on a rail. His legs were shredded up to above and past his knees–gone–and his arm bones broken and stripped of flesh! He was blown to the right of the hole, which was about four feet across. In the bottom of the hole, still smoldering, was a new 1000 lire invasion money bill. It had blown out of his billfold. GUYER made a hideous noise. Not describable. I hollered for medics who were not far behind. Captain Horan was there by then and Viscount and I watched as the medics gave Guyer several shots of Morphine in the neck. GUYER gave out one last hideous noise and expired. I, yes ME, would have been the man if Guyer had just stepped over the mine. I was following him. We were told to walk in marked paths ONLY! It was an obvious place for a mine–in a pathway! I’ve read a GI’s “Murphy’s Law” –“If the path is easy it’ll be mined”.
We heard another blast or two but I didn’t know of any other casualties. In a telephone conversation with Ed Viscount, he told me he lost all his respect for the Captain after that. But I can’t blame the Captain one iota because his instructions were for our betterment in combat. Maybe he did neglect hearing or heeding the instructions of the engineers to walk on designated paths only. I’d like to find Guyer’s next of kin and tell them what happened. I think they’d like to know. I don’t remember from which state he originated.
We came back to the Naples area on a train to resume our training for the landing, which was still in question.
CALLED TO HEADQUARTERS FOR INTERROGATION
While in training I was summoned to report to 3rd Division Headquarters. A jeep was to pick me up. I wondered what the heck was going on! What did I do now that was requiring a trip to Division Headquarters? Maybe I’d get transferred to special service—oh boy! The USO maybe! Ha!
The headquarters were located in a posh walled-in villa. We drove in through the gates and I jumped out of the jeep, which pulled away and just left me! Soon a man my size came up to me and greeted me in the Croatian language for crying out loud! What the heck! How did he recognize my ethnicity? So I answered him in Croat. He then asked me how I said “mountain” in Croat and I answered him in Croat as best as could I remember. He asked if I could ask for bread and I said yes I could. Then he asked if I thought I could survive if I was parachuted into the hills in Croatia to join the Partisans. WOOEE!! This was getting exciting! My answer was that I could survive all right if I made a successful jump–. I told him I wasn’t instructed in ‘jumping’ ever and kinda was scared shitless thinking about it. The interrogation went along the lines that there was a possibility we would land in Jugoslavia. That was the hope of TITO and of Churchill. FDR sided with Stalin in the decision not to invade Jugoslavia.
I was visiting my Dad’s country in 1984 and was told by shirttail relatives that TITO got pissed off at the USA because we didn’t land in his country to help liberate his country from German forces. I was told that Jugoslavia was betwixt and between Russia and the USA because of our not landing to help his partisans. Who knows for sure but I think Jugoslavia would not be in the turmoil of today if FDR would have sided with Churchill instead of with “good old Joe’.
Needless to say, my Croatian language ability was not needed. It was one assignment I would have been very willing to undertake. Imagine me landing in my Dad’s country of birth–by parachute yet!
The next few days were spent packing. We were moving out! After striking tents and cleaning up our training area. Another march to the docks to load up on Landing craft (LCIs) for an unknown (to us) destination. Jugoslavia? France?
Somewhere in this line up might be me. I should have written the name, if there was one. I think the Navy went ‘by the numbers’ inscribed on each ship. I might have been able to remember the number but it just didn’t seem important at that time All LCI’s looked the same especially too, we weren’t supposed to write anything which might fall into enemy hands.
The days at this time were pleasingly hot. We didn’t realize we’d land on France’s Riviera beaches. I’ll tell about swimming to shore when we reached Corsica in the next episode. We were still uninformed at this point in time whether we’d see the Beaches of Jugoslavia.
Here it comes!