McLean and I were sent out to a bridge not far from Campo Morto to guard and to blow up, if the word came down. The engineers had explosives placed, ready to blow the bridge if the German army decided to counter-attack and make a successful penetration up to that point. Mac and I stayed in a covered foxhole with the plunger to detonate the TNT. We were ordered to blow the bridge after our last tank retreated. The big German push was anticipated. Out in the fields were large long-horned white cows (animals like Texas steers). Some were maimed terribly with legs dangling. We decided it would be a humane act if we would put those with dangling legs out of their misery by shooting them. We left the foxhole momentarily to do the job. We exposed ourselves. By walking to get close enough for a deadly shot to the head, our humane act was almost a tragedy for us. A sniper’s bullets came zinging by and we quickly retreated to the foxhole.
I wanted to scout around the bridge to check out the position of the explosives. I saw them attached to the main support of the bridge. I crossed the water, staying out of sight as much as possible. On the other side of the bridge I saw a dead GI in a foxhole. This scene was about the time the German army was deciding to make an all-out effort to shove us off the beachhead. The dead GI was on guard on the other side of the bridge .A German patrol must have ventured that far behind our lines and left him there dead. He was lying on his rifle, with the muzzle close to his ashen face. The GRO might have missed him somehow.
I was in full realization that I was in the fray for real and that I must prepare my soul for whatever hereafter there was offered. Seeing this dead GI was the deciding factor. So at the first opportunity
I visited our Chaplain Father Hanely. I asked him a lot of questions. I knew I had been baptized in the Catholic faith and I did in fact consider myself a Catholic. However, now I was quite stained and I knew I had to be clean to achieve everlasting life. It was the only thing left to cling to here on this beachhead.
Father Hanley gave me some prayer books and a small missalette to help me better understand the Mass. He gave me several basic prayers to learn by rote. I say them even today when I lay my head on my pillow and recall the foxhole. I visited Father Hanley regularly after that. He asked if I could produce baptismal documents and I wrote home for them. When he saw the document that I actually was a Catholic, he gave back the document to me. I treasured it so highly I couldn’t take the chance of keeping it with me. So, I sent it back to my family. Father Hanley sort of took me under his care. After the war he took all his catechists to be confirmed by the Archbishop of Salzburg. He had a truckload of us.
The next day or so at the bridge was another “friendly fire” incident. One lone P-40 (or P-39) airplane came up the road from the Jerry side and let his 20mm cannon pop off rounds, bouncing them off the road only a few feet from our covered foxhole. We were dug in at the very edge of the road. He fired his other weapons and scooted on. Why the heck he did that I don’t know. Could it have been an American plane piloted by a German? Not likely, but possible. I know it was a 20mm cannon round that was hitting the road, but I am unable to really confirm that the fighter was American except it did have American markings.
Rations were brought to us. Some goofball back in the rear echelon sent us a can of water in which there had been gasoline. Not the best cocktail you ever drank!
Mac and I had the time to get acquainted. We unloaded our woes on each other. I learned that Mac was a ‘Regular Army’ enlistee. He had enlisted voluntarily prior to Pearl Harbor in the early 1930’s. He was a spunky redheaded soldier with as much battle experience as any 3rd Division member could have had up to that point. He made the original landings in Africa, Sicily and saw bitter combat crossing the Volturno. Mac was one of only two of our platoon who didn’t get a Purple Heart. He was very wary of danger and acted quickly for life-preservation .A good man to watch, I thought- and I did.
That bridge duty was followed by the big push the Germans launched. I was placed further up the road with a young man from Virginia named James T. Anderson. We nicknamed him “Agreeable Andy” because you could never get an argument out of him. He’d concur rather than waste dialogue on some worthless subject that we tossed at each other as we became better acquainted. Andy remembered when we cried together as we watched the war going on around us. We were dug in alongside a road in a rear-guard type position. I had more of the usual miserable “GI shits” which required frequent ’dumps’ right out in the open in front of God and everyone, and in possible sight of the German snipers. This time slot had to have been before the paregoric cure of my dysentery.
“Andy” came to the beachhead on February 2, 1944. His first recollection of me is when we were assigned a detail to sandbag a culvert for a forward Command Post (CP) for the officers. I can’t recall that particular detail–there were so many similar nights and details. Andy smoked heavily, I thought, and I can still see his quivering hands holding a butt. He was one of the GIs in our platoon who was outstandingly loyal to duty. Of course I can say that about any one of our platoon members. Some came and went so quickly there was no chance to get better acquainted.
AIR FORCE & BOMBERS
When days were Spring-like and beautiful, the open skies brought the Air Force out in full strength. Bomber after bomber squadron flew over us from lower Italy and unloaded their bombs on the German positions. “Ack-ack” from their side was effective in many cases. As a plane was shot down we’d shout as if they could hear us yelling “JUMP, JUMP”. Then we’d count the number of parachutists who ejected from the burning bomber. We learned that the B17 had about as many as the B-24 Liberator. The B-26’s had fewer men and B-25s had about a half a crew. For those parachutists who landed in enemy territory the war was ended, except now they had to withstand all our artillery till they were taken to a prison camp in the rear. There they would face near-starvation in a German stalag (POW camp) somewhere.
I recall seeing one lone Liberator Bomber lagging behind a squadron. It entered a white cloud, which was the only cloud in the sky. I watched for it to come out of the other side. Instead it fell from the bottom of the cloud like a maple leaf, swirling in a circle as it fell. Not one of the crew jumped out! Not one! I imagined that the “G-forces” of the spinning plane kept them pinned against the fuselage or in their seat belts. Maybe the doors couldn’t open because of the “G-forces”. The B-24 Liberator is identifiable because it has a twin tail and rudders. It smashed down on its belly and exploded into smithereens. The crew must have been scattered in pieces, only to join those GIs in the “Tomb of the Unknowns”.
On that same day or the next, our Air Force sent more bombers over. You could easily see the muzzle blasts of the German “ack-ack” guns and I wondered why our guns weren’t trained on those blasts to knock ’em out. Ha! Easier said than done. The sky was blotched with puffs of exploding rounds. For the number of rounds shot, though, you’d think the Germans would hit our bombers more often. Those they did hit were enough for us to lose. One squadron of B-17s flew over the target in front of us and dropped their loads of bombs. But, one lone B-17 in the same formation went over us, circled back, and dropped its load over usinto a clump of trees where we had stashed ammo. Several tanks were in the woods hiding.
The bombs hit the dump and some of the tanks! Why? There were all kinds of colors rising from the woods as different ammo exploded. Again, “Why?” I can only think of one thing–the bomb bay’s controls malfunctioned and delayed a drop. Another “friendly fire” incident.
Those days and nights were when the German army was trying to shove us off the Anzio beachhead. There was intense exchange of all sorts of firepower. The 88’s fired at targets behind us. It was eerie, to say the least, to hear a round zing overhead. The 88 really was a large rifle. It could fire a round into your hip pocket at a distance of several miles if it was aimed directly. The trajectory was flat as a rifle bullet. The muzzle velocity was most likely above an M1 rifle. Time after time it was necessary to brave the rounds to take care of nature’s calls due to dysentery–the worst gosh-danged thing that could happen to a GI except a wound.
We slept huddled in our hole, one guy on guard and one guy resting. We had only our overcoats for outside wear. We also had long johns, ODs and wet boots.
A string of prisoners was herded by. I spotted one German soldier who had a blanket. I got out of my hole and ripped it off his arm! I still have that life-saving blanket! It had a three-corner tear, which I repaired with my GI sewing kit. Their issue blankets are made out of mohair or some other than wool. We were warmer that night. On occasions like this I would rip off the insignias from a prisoner for a souvenir. I lost all those on the way to Rome. I comforted myself with the knowledge that there would be more souvenirs later. There certainly were more opportunities.
The big German push was held back in this sector. The orders came to move somewhere else to another threatened sector. We marched all night on empty stomachs. I had to fall out of line time after time because of you know what. Somewhere near our new sector we saw a 6×6 loaded with ammo get a direct hit. It went up in smithereens. The driver couldn’t have possibly made it out of that blast.