I guess it wouldn’t hurt to tell about a few new officers coming in to take the place of a few other Battalion brass and some of the chicken shit stuff that happened as a result.
Major Fredrick Armstrong replaced one of the Battalion staff. He seemed to be fresh from the states. I think at this time we got a new Battalion Medical Captain. He surely wasn’t dressed in the GI fashion we were trained. He didn’t blouse his pants in his boots as we were always expected to do. His legs look kinda like bird legs. But who would go up to him and tell him? Not I or any of the platoon that’s for sure. Somehow we didn’t have a high regard for him in the very first moments of seeing him in the company area. He wasn’t there to fight or pull a trigger anyway. He was there to save us if he could and if needed to bind our wounds. Blousing the pants wasn’t that critical.
We were on one of our few rest periods in the “pines” at this time. Major Armstrong ordered a formation and when he walked in front of our platoon he saw a bunch of bedraggled unshaven ragged soldiers. The kind of picture Bill Mauldin drew in his cartoons. He was flaunting his brass insignia for sure when he ordered us to “Fall out and fall back in” in fifteen minutes SHAVEN! Holy Cow! We had no hot water and most of us had lost our razors and who had a mirror? I shaved by Braille and so did most of the others frantically trying to meet the fifteen minute time limit. Try dry shaving with a rusty dull Gillette or Gem sometime.
You’ll likely recall in reading about meeting our Lieutenant Smith who was my first platoon commander on the Casino front. He was so young and blondish that he had no visible whiskers to see and to shave. His hormones were late in coming I guess. This was damned near his waterloo.
We ‘fell ‘back into formation in time for the inspection. The Major walked up to the Lieutenant Smith and asked, “Lt. Did you shave?” and the Lt. answered “No sir, I don’t have to shave”. Wow! That didn’t come out right—the Major thought it was insubordination and proceeded to chew the Lt’s butt out right in front of us. I have to admit that although we felt sorry for Lt. Smith we giggled a little. You couldn’t giggle out loud though or the Major would have given us all hell.
Major Armstrong came before each of us nose to nose. You could see a smirk on his face. He was looking at loyal order obeying soldiers who cut their faces and moles and pimples and left part of the whiskers just to satisfy him under dire circumstances. I think he knew he had a bunch of “soldiers” even if they had stepped out of Mauldin’s cartoons.
Major Armstrong gave us his OK I guess, because no one was gigged. Then he went around the area to see what else he could find to bitch about and to ‘straighten out’. He saw Lt Krochmal near his supply tent. He ordered the Lt. To present his side arm for inspection. In training we were taught to do things “by the numbers”. One, you pulled out the pistol, two, and you held it up high, and then you released the clip and opened the slide and laid them in your hand for inspection. In this case, the clip wouldn’t eject, because it hadn’t been cleaned since dipped in sea water during the landing, so the Lt. thought he would ‘break it loose’ by firing it over head. He cocked the hammer on the .45 Colt about to pull the trigger! Major Armstrong then furiously grabbed the .45 out of Lt Krochmal’s hand. It could have blown up. Then we enjoyed in some stages of sorrow, Lt Krochmal getting his butt chewed out. We called it a “Royal chewing”.
Somehow that seems to be the last I remember of Lieutenant Smith. I hope he made it home but he might have been transferred to a rifle platoon that might easily be “curtains” for him. Not many Lieutenants made it all the way in a rifle platoon.
One of the next commanders of our platoon came from a rifle company. His name was RIFKIN. He didn’t see any action with us at all because of what happened in a training exercise while we were at rest and getting replacements. Our squad was ordered to do a demonstration with booby traps and flares so that an Infantryman might be more aware of them in battle. Lt. Rifkin ordered me to set up a flare which looked just like a “Bouncing Betty” mine. They look just like a small hydraulic jack—by golly, it was painted red too! Why? I set up the flare in an open field and attached trip wires to it just as if in combat. I then stretched the wires over the field in four directions so that they might be easily observed by troops during instruction—but not too noticeable. Lieutenant Rifkin and I were near the mine when he yelled to the troops to advance. I asked the Lieutenant if he wanted the flare (mine) to be armed just like in combat. The Lt. answered, “Just like in combat”. So I pulled the pins and it was a ‘hot mine”.
Somehow Lieutenant Rifkin became unaware of the flare. He stepped backwards a few feet and tripped the flare. It went up like a rocket ripping open his left arm as it went skyward. He looked at me as he grabbed his wounded arm and hollered, “SON OF A BITCH”! “I didn’t do it, Lieutenant!” I hollered back, “you tripped the flare, you told me to arm it just like in combat”. I thought he had gotten a million dollar wound. I didn’t see him again but I’ll write something about him later on.
The new doctor had to enter the hospital on the very first day of the break out with “battle fatigue” it was said. The number of wounded GIs over whelmed him. The history book said we lost about a 1000 casualties in the first hour of the breakout. I saw many where I crossed at h-hour plus a few minutes…
Major Armstrong proved to be a fearless soldier. I’ll tell more about his fate.
In early March of 1944, the battles to shove us off the Anzio beachhead seemed to have eased off a bit into a stalemate–some stalemate, I’d say. The artillery dueled constantly and our defenses seemed to be holding us in a fixed pattern. The movement from sector-to-sector seemed to allow us to settle into a nightly, tiresome routine of carrying supplies and laying barbed wire and mines. Of course, carrying the dead from between the lines after a “fire fight” was a regular task. Sometimes the GIs in the foxholes on the first line of defense would drag the bodies out for a closer pickup. We really thanked them for that. Most often the GIs, who were squatted in their frontline foxholes, would tell us thanks for bringing the cans of water and ammo to them. They actually felt sorry for us standing there in the night obscured only by the darkness. Now and then a sporadic Jerry machine gun would open fire. When the tracers would come nearer and nearer we’d have to crowd into their holes till the Jerry on that other side would be satisfied with himself. They seemed to not have a shortage of Machine gun ammo
Maybe what triggered the Jerry machine gunner to fire was a noise out in “No Man’s Land”, which might have been one of our patrols “scouting’ the German defenses. Our machine gunners would retaliate just to show them our ability to counter them. It was a stalemate in that sense. The same foxhole and no place to go for a crap. Think of it! There were times the helmet had to be a “thunder mug”. It also served as a wash basin. It was a very private piece of equipment. It was a brain bucket too No daytime relief at all!
I can remember the weight of the ammo on my neck. Sometimes we’d load up a stretcher and carry the load that way. The handles of a stretcher can cut into the shoulders with fierce intensity after a couple hundred yards. It was necessary to have good teamwork to keep the load balanced. As for me, however I would opt to carry my load like a jackass. I would use a tent rope and make a sling to carry several canisters of machine gun ammo over my neck and shoulders. The rope was a problem but I could survive that pain. I’d drape bandoleers of M-1 ammo over my neck and shoulder, draping it under my arms. I could then carry something else in my free hands. When machine gun tracers would come near, I could fall down under the fire in a clatter and heap, but then I could more easily get up to run a bit further before the tracers would retrace the open terrain. Often times a GI rifleman would offer to share a candy bar with us. They bore the real brunt of the war. We couldn’t out of conscience accept a candy bar from them. But at that time we were most exposed. We knew that when it came time to go on a patrol, they were the ones who we’d likely carry back to the Grave Registration point after the next skirmish.
A&P WIPED OUT March 8
On one such routine night, we retired at about 3 in the morning to our barn that we occupied. The barn was a typical farm barn attached to a two-story farmhouse. The barn-like smell was tolerated by the farm family in the house of the Italian farmer. It was a necessity of farm life on Mussolini’s land recovery programs that were in the entire Anzio area. They were complete with drainage ditches and other canals–which came in handy for us most of the time. In the “EL” of the barn and house was a parked “half- track”. It had a large antenna and a radio system to serve the artillery observers who occupied the upper story. They were spotting targets and using the radio back to the artillery positions. This wasn’t a good arrangement for us but we didn’t consider it. After a little snooze in our blankets on the cow barn floor, we’d awaken one by one. The smell of body odors and the emanating gas was a fact of life, something to laugh about and object to in a friendly way. Next to me on my left was a GI named Italiano. He showed me a Beretta pistol he was carrying in a clumsy shoulder holster. On the right was Paul I. Thome, originally from Washington State. He was a very studious person having had some college at the University of Idaho. He kept a diary and wrote letters as constantly as did I. Next to P.I. Thome was Edward Sudell from Greenwich, Connecticut. I knew just a few more of the men. Palermo, Tillie, Harrower, Cpl. Gleue (Kansas), and Chapman.
After writing letters, I had to leave the building for the usual call of nature, compelled by the dysentery. I just got plain “good and mad” at my situation and I just had to take action on my own behalf. So I decided to make a ‘sick call’.
The medics were situated in another farmhouse a hundred yards down the road. I dashed out of the barn and went through a hole in a rock wall. I crossed a narrow blacktop road and jumped into a drainage ditch that was about ten feet deep. Drain water flowed in a steady stream. I followed on down the drain and I saw several dead German soldiers. I was curious and sought souvenirs. On one of the Jerries was a small holster for a pistol, but the pistol was gone. I followed on further to cross back over the narrow road and into the medic’s station. There I was treated for my problem of dysentery. The medication was a shot glass of a drug called PAREGORIC. They said, “Down the hatch” and in one gulp cowboy fashion, I swallowed it. Then I was given huge sulfa tablets and urged to drink lots of water. Ah!! Maybe soon I’d be able to crap a hard turd. I’d be more in control. The medic said, “Come back at about 4 p.m. and I’ll give you another dose of paregoric. Meanwhile, take these sulfa pills (as big as small cookies) and drink lots of water.”
I went back up the drainage ditch to the barn. I noticed that the lieutenant was in a personal dugout on the banks of the drain ditch. The barn was across the road and could be seen from his dugout. Up to that point I had never seen the lieutenant to his face. His orders were delivered to our non-coms by Sergeant Leonard, a career soldier. He had all the stripes a sergeant could wear. He could be named SGT.GRUFF. Most all the A&P GI’s were awake and after they ate a can of rations and whatever other food–not much more than “C” rations–they mostly got out their writing kits and wrote a letter home.
No one would hardly dare to step outside except in the emergency call of nature. We had a slit trench behind a stack of hay. If you ran to the trench in the right direction, the German spotter could not detect you. The house and barn obscured their line of sight.
At about 4 p.m. Corporal Gleue from Kansas said, “Mohar came with me to the CP to deliver this mail to the mail orderly”. It was quite a bundle. I don’t refuse orders and I said, “That’s fine. It’ll coincide with my appointment with the medics”. I remembered Italiano’s desire for a small holster and I told him I’d bring the one I saw on the dead German. Italiano was thankful.
Cpl. Fred Gleue and I stepped out of the barn. A shell zipped in! It went over! Another shell came in short of the barn! Then just as we were to cross the road through the hole in the rock wall, a shell hit the black top!! Right in front of us!! We dashed through the wall and across the road and into the safety of the drainage ditch. Ah Ha! They were zeroing in! Three rounds usually does it! The German army ain’t dumb! What brought on the tank fire was the antenna on the “half-track”. The Jerries can detect a radio signal and with the signal directions from another point they can find the point of transmission by crossing a couple of lines on the map. Where the two lines cross, that’s the target! That’s the half-track that was parked on the side out of view and away from the German observers. The firing stopped after three rounds.
I had gotten my paregoric and was at the Company headquarters dugout when the tank opened up for effect. I stood there watching! I heard the ambulance siren wail and it begin backing out of its dug-in position. Then I saw a puff of colored dust rise from the barn and another. Lord Almighty! A direct hit! How about my buddies I thought? They were nearly eliminated! The first shells missed the barn and several guys ran out. Chapman ran out and got a large leg wound. He ran back in the barn as the shell hit the house and was killed. We lost 8 dead and 11 wounded. It was a wipeout of my platoon.
I went over to the medics to see just who was wounded. One of them was Paul I. Thome. He asked if I could run to the house and get his musette bag, which contained his personal possessions- and mostly the diary and writing kit. I ran back to the barn and found the kit. Before he could leave for the hospital, I gave it to him. Then I heard other stories about their miraculous escape. Both Sudell and Thome were close to one small window which led to the ‘EL’ where the half-track was parked. I don’t know which one went out the window first but, Sudell and Thome escaped most of the shrapnel from the shell which hit in the opposite corner, making a complete shambles of the place. Cpl. Harrower was using the phone to the medics when Chapman ran in with his leg wound. The Cpl. was wrapped up in telephone cord when I saw him dead there. Others were strewn about in what had to be a frantic moment.