STRANGE SIGHT

STRANGE SIGHT

In that graveyard on the hill in CORI there was another strange thing. In the center I saw a cistern sort of structure.  Over a fulcrum was a pole and it was attached to a lid over the cistern. I was inquisitive. I put my weight on the pole and moved the lid.  I stared in to the deep pit, which was probably 20-feet deep, to see naked, dead bodies. I didn’t survey the situation long enough to estimate how deep the pile might be, but vivid in my mind are those white, bleached bodies– naked. I am guessing that this was truly a “pauper’s grave” or maybe their way to bury those who died in an epidemic.  Why would I remember a grisly scene like that?

THE TRUCK

Now to tell more about the truck we wanted to acquire.  We saw many stripped-down 1941 Mercury cars with just the tank and wheels and engine, but they were usually knocked out. We did finally spot a Studebaker one and a half-ton truck. The right rear tires were shot out but we switched one tire to the other side.  It started and we loaded it up. It had NOTHING for brakes–all the lines were ruptured and the fluid was gone. There is more regarding the truck and me!!

After we took several towns including CORI, we realized it was a ‘rout’ of the German army. They retreated strategically inch by inch (that’s an exaggeration to make a point). There were no trenches but there were some dugouts the Jerries made for themselves for safety and comfort.

FLEAS

Mac and I found a likely looking dugout which had a few food supplies and candles abandoned. We entered cautiously, worried about booby traps.  It was a makeshift cellar that would protect you from shrapnel but not a direct hit. The German soldiers used available material for rain protection and the door was flimsily hinged.  Inside was a bedspring with no mattress and a small table and facilities to make this a ‘home away from home’, I imagined. It was a ‘rear echelon’ position for a lucky couple of German soldiers.
Almost immediately upon entering we had to start scratching here and there on all parts of our bodies.  We were in den of ‘cooties’! Those lousy fleas were ever so present over in Europe! They are hard to see and they can jump away before you can swat them. You can hardly kill one. It takes a hammer on an anvil to actually smash one out of commission. And jump?  My good friend Jim Graves described it best after the war when we were comparing notes. He said. “Those fleas can jump flat-footed over a house.” No kidding! They can flip out of sight and onto another person before you can catch them or even see it!  The fleas presented a problem for us, so we had to remedy the situation. In our kits we had a small can of DDT powder.  The can was about the size of a pepper can. I stood guard at the door while McLean undressed and powdered every inch of his clothes inside and out. When he was dressed it was his turn to stand guard outside the flimsy door. I expected Mac to ‘pull’ one of his ‘fast ones’ on me when I was naked by faking an alert. By golly, he graciously allowed me to dust all my clothes and powder my body in all the likely places where fleas would hide (use your imagination). That’s more than your armpits! DDT was banned for us farmers to use on crops, but I am thankful we had it to use for fleas in WW2.

YUMMMMM—CHERRIES!

Somewhere after Cori we came upon a farm area. There were cherry trees here and there. We were told that some of our ‘innocent’ GIs had never seen a cherry tree in their lives. One of them was Gidio Ciavaglia from South Philly (that’s what they called their town). He was so elated that he volunteered to climb the tree and pick a helmet full of cherries for me! They were a treat for kings! In my life as a farmer, I knew that there is a small fly which lays eggs on the cherries and a worm develops and screws his way inside to mature. To heck with that! Let the worms look out for themselves! It couldn’t have been any worse than the “C” rations to eat real live high-protein worms inside such delicious cherries. Carne con cherries! No one got sick but fresh cherries always do alter a diet to the extent of loose bowels! Like winter-fed cows being turned out to fresh grass!

THE TRUCK

Now more about that Studebaker I mentioned. It was a 1937 model of all things with a four-speed transmission and all. The rear tires on one side were shot out so we switched tires and put a good one on each side. It was fueled up with German petrol–an artificial gas which smelled terrible.  Mac elected himself to be the driver of this shot-up rig. Its’ brakes were shot out, too. The hydraulic lines were ruptured. Caution was the order of the moment! At one time I was driving heading back to the rear through “freed territory”. I wasn’t going at a great rate when I came to a rock-strewn bridge across a deep ravine. I instinctively ‘hit’ the brakes–there were none as I said–I tried shifting down but these older trucks didn’t have synchromesh in those days. It was downhill to the bridge. The bridge was built in Roman days, I surmised, and narrow enough for a war chariot. The walls were shot out and the rocks from the walls were strewn into the road. That made it difficult to avoid at the rate of speed I gathered as we went down the incline to the bridge. I managed to steer the truck across without toppling off the edge into the ravine! The debris from the walls was bigger than bowling balls and could have deflected the front wheels so easily! I think that was the end of the Studebaker truck. It was more dangerous than the war itself. Gee! To think I could have ended up in the bottom of that ravine ending my war story right there! What sort of wording would be in the telegram to the folks?

ROME JUNE 4TH, 44

It took us about 10 to 11 days to make it to Rome. We marched over hill and through canyon and more hills and canyons. I remember passing a colony of cave dwellers in a brushy canyon. I suppose they were those evacuated from Anzio or other war zones. The caves were quite deep and quite elaborately furnished for civilized life.  At one point we came to an elaborate villa way out in the middle of nowhere.  It was in the brush and there were African-looking straw teepees around it. In one of them there was a burrow beneath the floor with a staircase. German shells and ‘screaming meemies’ were dropping around us from time to time and the holes came in handy. It was always prudent to remember where you saw a hole to jump into when the ‘screaming meemies’ were coming in.  We stayed overnight in one of these places. I picked out a German machine gun emplacement to stay in. It was a hole in the ground and I was too tired to dig another hole so I just tossed myself into the hole, but it was dug for standing only. I fell asleep with my legs in the air against the walls of the hole. When I woke up, my legs were asleep and I was absolutely trapped in my own grave! I yelled for help. I was pulled out by some of my buddies, but I can’t remember who they were now. I’ll bet they’ll be telling the story time after time about the GI who slept upside down in a hole and had to be helped out!

 ROAD TO ROME

The “Road to Rome” took us through some really ancient towns. Valmontone was one. It was a great shame that these old historic castle-like buildings had to be damaged and mutilated. They with stood all these years from Roman times and probably earlier only to be marred by a dumb war.  We stopped somewhere in the courtyard of a beautiful villa. I can remember palm trees and rock walls as if it were Spanish. We jumped off our jeep for a few moments to rest our butts and for the other body functions. Most of all, we also had a can of rations. I had a pack full of my loot from Anzio. I denuded a few prisoners of some of their insignias, watches and razors. The watches I took were terrible! I should have known then that we could win this war by seeing the decrepit watches these German prisoners had! Their razors were the best steel though!  In my bag was my Elgin watch which was a battle casualty in the Jeep trailer.  The balance staff was broken. I made up another watch from some German watches that matched. I remember and still have a watch that has the brand name of “RECORD”. I used my wireman’s pocketknife as a tool to switch balance wheels and escapement parts from one to another while on Anzio. I had lots of watch parts. I sent some home just for the hell of it. All of a sudden the orders were to mount up-“Move ’em out! “
When I got to Rome I missed my big bag! I left it there beside the jeep!! My Elgin watch! I moaned and groaned about that.  I remember that the road into Rome was lined with palms. We rode a jeep now. No walking for a change. We had the German forces in a rout.  We crossed a huge set of railroad tracks and there is where I saw the last dead German along the tracks. Rome had been declared an “OPEN CITY”. Even Hitler respected the Vatican. He must have! It’s hard to believe that such a scoundrel as Hitler would have respect for Rome because of the Vatican. Maybe Hitler felt guilty in his quest for domination of the world–or at least Europe. It’s too bad he committed suicide. That prevented us from interrogating him to learn from him his intents. He would have been serving the fate of Rudolph Hess at least. We passed the Coliseum and entered the most beautiful sight of the war–it was like entering a big birthday cake! I remember the balconied apartments and high-rises with pastel colors and the cheering crowds waving and shouting. One woman yelled. “STOP! I CAN SPEAK ENGLISH!” I heard another ask in English, “When will the trucks arrive with the flour?” Evidently our propaganda promised them food if they offered resistance to the German army. I think they eventually did get food.

 NEAR TRAGEDY

In a throng of people, with the shouting and cheering going on, the jeep driver had to make a quick turn to the right to avoid a collision with civilians. I was sitting on the right over the rear wheel. I lost my balance in the sudden swerve. I reached out to support myself and my hand found the pistol grip of a mounted 30-caliber machine gun! It was battle ready! I accidentally pulled the trigger! I fired a burst of about five rounds, which struck a building in a pattern about a foot apart beneath the windowsill where about four persons were waving and cheering! They pulled back horrified!! I saw the bullets hit and chew up the plaster! If they had hit only one foot higher I would have been some sort of killer. Machine guns placed on Jeeps were for a purpose! They were killing machines, loaded and at ready! I would have been a very sorry guy if I had accidentally killed those innocent people! As it is, I will never forget that incident!

GYPO TAXI DRIVER

Our bivouac was in an Italian soldier’s barracks. One of the first things that happened was a visit by a taxi driver who presented to us an obvious hoax. It was a requisition handwritten in pencil for five gallons of fuel for his taxi. He tried to make it look official as if from a military government agency, but we weren’t fooled at all. Mac and Thome and I knew it was a hoax. When he  promised to come back at about 4 o’clock to take us for a ride about town and show us a “good time”, girls maybe –we said to each other, “Shit, let’s  give him a can of gas!” So we took a can of gas off a jeep and he poured it in his big old gas hog Packard! Yes a big old Packard! He left us there waiting the great time we would have on the town! But that didn’t happen! We went in the town of Bella Roma on our own! Who needed a “pass”? Not us! I carried my P38 Pistol –loaded too! And was gonna shoot at the SOB Packard taxi driver if we saw it or him again.

BOOZE!

The first thing to do, Mac and P.I. declared, was to get something alcoholic to drink (imbibe is the word). Some guys have the ‘nose’ for liquor stores. We found one but there was nothing to buy except champagne. I was the guy who had the money because I never gambled. We bought six bottles of champagne. It was only necessary to get one, because it wasn’t long till I had the ‘giggles’. Mac was slobbering and Thome was yelling “Viva Mussolini!” right on the streets of Rome! Old ‘Pee -Eyed’ Thome climbed a statue partway (numerous in Rome) and tossed his helmet down. It actually cracked! He continued to yell “Viva Mussolini” so much that we attracted a crowd. I was the ‘virgin’ in the threesome. I just giggled and laughed at these goofballs as they did their drunken act (not an act). An Italian came up to me and spoke in very good American English and said, “You should take your buddies back to the barracks because it is very uncouth to see a drunk on the streets of Rome.” Heck. I really had no control over these goofy guys. I just giggled. I had my stash of champagne in my shirt. I had only a nip or two and it gave me the giggles! I didn’t need anymore. Why did I buy so much? I guess I thought it was a sort of soda pop! My first taste of champagne in my life!! YES!
Somehow we split up. Mac and Thome went one way and I became lost! I had my trusty, unused P38 in my hand from then on. I was nearly alone on the streets. The civilians obeyed the curfew, but I didn’t know there was one.
From a distance I heard a sound. It became louder and then I recognized a trill of bagpipes! Up the cobblestones came a drill team of Scots with the bagpipes probably playing a traditional victory tune. Maybe “GARY OWEN”. I guess they thought they ‘took’ Rome first. Hell, we were there first–at least in my area, we were first! The day wore on into nightfall. It became very dark. The streets were unlit.
I had only my instincts now to go on to find my way back to our barracks. I remember coming to a giant brick wall. It was dark now. There were no lights at all anywhere except the stars. I needed to ‘go’ pretty bad and so I did what any animal would do. Need I say more?
I found the giant gate through the ancient brick wall and kept on following my instincts. I passed what I think was the ancient spas of the Romans. I could hear the water trickling and gurgling in the pools. Maybe I was passing a park.
Finally I found a familiar landmark building and I was back at my barracks. Thome and McLean were not there. They were more than lost in Rome somewhere. They were drunk and didn’t give a damn about anything. They met a couple senoritas later, they told me. One of them bragged about how he got a “BJ” for only a dime! “A lone USA dime?” I asked? “Yep”, he said with great braggadocio!  I was kinda jealous, but I was on a NOVENA at the time and I thought it was better not to seek that cheap entertainment.