A CONVOY INLAND
We boarded 6×6 trucks and were hauled about 20 to 30 miles inland. I thought that we might get a chance to see Bizerte and what it had to offer in the way of food. There was no chance and we wouldn’t have missed much anyway. It was a scrubby town as I viewed it from the 6×6 I rode on.
There was an established replacement camp situated in the sagebrush and occasional olive tree. This area was the scene of great battles and there was still a lot of war debris plus mine fields yet uncovered. The area also was a grazing area for the Arab farmers. Some of the brush was so dense that when you crossed the area you were walking on the branches of the brush not touching the ground. In the distance from my pup tent someone told me was Hill 616 where there was a terrible battle. I can’t confirm that.
By the way, I tasted a wild green olive just for the halibut—it was ghastly.
Harassing Hikes and Details
On another ‘field trip’ we were taken to a surplus ammo dump where I saw more .45 ammo than I ever saw before or since. In piles! I could have had a field day burning up a .45 there. But we weren’t allowed that luxury. Our detail was to stack and sort ammo. Along the trip farther inland from our camp we saw Arabs operating an old crawler tractor pulling a disk tilling the soil. His robes were flailing in the wind as the tractor plodded along. I wondered if he ever experienced getting his robe tangled in the tracks. It seemed dangerous. At the side of the road I saw a vendor hawking some sort of food item. Flies were all over the stuff. The name “Africa” must translate to FLIES. The bars he was selling were made of dates compressed into a brick about one-inch thick and four by six inches long. I’m nearly certain those Arabs compressed the dates with their hands. Those people don’t use toilet paper there y’know and “sanitation” is unknown. It is primitive, Stone Age. I wouldn’t even ‘sample’ his wares! I must have swallowed one of the bugs there though unwittingly. I was feeling differently now on terra firma but not much for the better for some reason. I met up with a lethal mosquito I guess. I was never briefed on what malaria would or could be like. I thought that it was a disease that was only in the Panama Zone.
Before my malaria attack, we were taken out ‘in the field’ for training and a refresher course in the use of various weapons. The officers had a place selected where we could fire across open land where there were clusters of sagebrush growing sporadically. Distant targets were set up and we were to “Fire at will”–I could interject a joke here, “Who na hell is WILL and what’d he do to us?”
I used a BAR (Browning automatic rifle) and fired it continuously, clip after clip, watching the erratic trajectory of the tracers. It was fun wasting ammo just for the hell of it. We also tossed some grenades. I was never able to toss a grenade like P.I. Thome. He could lob one like it was shot from a mortar! My arm was ruined once when I was pitching baseball at school–my elbow can take a notion to dislocate any time it pleases so I am reluctant to try to toss anything-I have to toss a rock like the girls do–underhanded.
We were firing for an hour or so when we saw a lone Arab crossing the line of fire herding his cows through the field of fire. He must have been thinking the firing might stop because he entered the field. But not so. I could see the Arab’s skirts flying as he was beating the cows to hurry. The cows were oblivious of what was happening, stopping to grab a mouthful of grass. Finally one of the cows fell from gunfire. It was having a heck of a time dying. A lieutenant went to the rescue and pulled out his .45. He pumped a clip full into the cow’s belly! Into the BELLY for the luv a mike! I knew about such things so I ended the cow’s misery with one shot to the head. I suppose the Arab came back for the meat after we vacated the field.
Later we fired 81mm mortars. It’s surprising that you can see the round as it leaves the barrel especially if you are standing right behind the barrel. This practice educated me in how to dodge a mortar round to some extent. If the muzzle blast is straight up, you could be in line of the target. If the muzzle blast is a few degrees to the left or right, you can’t get hit. Of course that applies to night combat.
I buddied up with a couple of goof balls. I wish I had their names now. We had a fun time together. They were a couple of clowns. It’d take too much time to describe their antics. It’d be a fun movie in itself. We were taken out on harassing hikes into the old battlefields. We had to camp out overnight in the rain without tents, often just to harass us and to make us wish we’d get to where we were finally going–to the front. I came down with some ailment or other. I had the shits and a fever. I’d sit in the four-holer and urp in one hole and poop in the other until I was inside out. Something went drastically wrong with me. I went to the medics and as usual they take your temperature and then give you a little white pill, which is most certainly a placebo. I think they considered a guy on ‘sick call” a hypochondriac. I didn’t have the fever when I’d go there but the “GI shits” was surely there. Oh well .Who cared? I couldn’t seem to explain to the medics or anyone about my fevers and chills and poops–so when it came time to go on one of those harassing hikes I took off in a different direction with my writing kit. I needed to write lots of letters just to keep my sanity
I was sitting beside a trail on a steep hillside engrossed in writing probably to the girl friend and I heard footsteps and there beside me on the trail I saw boots passing me!! The hillside was that steep! Holy cow!! Here they come!! What’ll I do? I just sat there taking all the smart remarks made by the GIs as they passed. Most wondered how come I was getting off the hike. Soon an officer came at the tail end of the troops. He sat down beside me and asked, “Soldier. How come you’re not on the hike?” and I answered, “You won’t believe me Sir”. He said, “Try me”. So I just simply said, “Sir, I got the shits so bad I can’t go anywhere too far from a latrine”. With some sympathy he said,” Give me a piece of paper” .He wrote a note to the medics stating more or less that “this soldier needs treatment”. He gave me the note signed by him and he said, “Take this to the medics right now”. I went as ordered to the medics and what do you think happened? They took my temp, which was normal at that time, and gave me a white pill and a drink of water. They told me to report to my commander. Instead I went across the road into the brush following a trail that was made by cattle over the years as long as Africa was a continent. I followed the trail to a big spreading tree that covered an encircled area of about 40 or more feet in diameter. It was like a tent from long use of animals in the past.
There under the tree were GIs who really were goofing off! Playing dice and cards etc. I sat on a rock on the perimeter and began writing again. For a few minutes all was okay. Then we heard someone shout! “Put ’em UP”.
It was a gall-danged corporal and Pfc. with rifles trained on us saying we were prisoners! They marched us into our headquarters with our hands behind our heads as you’ve seen it done in the movies. I was taken to my officer in charge along with a little Italian GI name Nardello. He was one of the goof-offs. He was a small soldier, barely making the height restriction.
Nardello came up to the makeshift desk. He snapped a salute and clicked his heels to the lieutenant behind the desk. He told his story and the lieutenant gave him his sentence-or punishment. Then I went up to his desk but did not salute. He chewed me for not saluting and asked me why I didn’t. Somehow, somewhere I learned that a prisoner loses his right to salute the colors! I said, “Sir, a prisoner loses his right to salute the colors”. He said, “You’re not a prisoner.” I answered, “Sir, I was brought in under armed guard. I consider myself a prisoner”. He didn’t argue that point but my punishment was to walk the ground in front of his desk for 24 hours with full field pack, come to the billboard, stand at attention, present arms and salute with the rifle. About face and around and around I went. Needless to say I was seething with hate and anger. Here was another unbelieving bugger who wouldn’t recognize that I was sick with something. Guess what? It was the first stages of malaria.
I went to the medics another time and this time I did have a fever. They asked, “Do you want to go to the hospital or be shipped out?” and I said, “Get me outta here”! I chose to be shipped out. I think that was a mistake now to think of it.
A bad move. I might have been reclassified and reassigned into a safer environment than where I was finally shipped. Before shipping out we were taken on more hikes. On one of those harassing marches, they took us out into an old battlefield. We tossed grenades into an old stone building, which suffered lots of damage when the German army and the British were here fighting for this acreage. Then when evening came we were told to rest in the brush.
It was so thick that when you stepped you were walking on brush hardly ever touching the ground. It began to rain and the rain turned into a tropical storm. We had no shelter at all having to hunker down under your helmet and raincoat. In Africa the nights get cold. We were all blue from the cold. Someone started scrounging for some dry wood. By golly his scouting abilities produced a flame that needed a lot of dry limbs. Each of us took turns feeding the fire with whatever branches we could find. The wood or brush was still in full leaf. The days were summer like. You know how hard it is to keep a fire going with wet green brush? We did it. We were able to dry our shoes and socks whenever the rain ceased to pour. I took catnaps whenever I could be next to the flame. Not too soon the morning sun was peeking over the horizon. The officers were somewhere around and probably just as miserable as we were. We were ordered to “move out’. We followed a trail that was probably an Arab’s camel trail. I found a lot of souvenirs from the war as we walked along. I have a few Arab coins that look like old bus tokens. I have them on a string somewhere in my souvenirs.
We were all warned not to get off the beaten path lest we would step on a mine. I adhered to the warning. So did all the others. I can’t emphasize enough how much I hated to be here. Early one morning we were ordered to strike our tents and prepare to ship out.
The Army would allow a piss call but there was NO provision for the other relief! So I had to hold it. When we got to Bizerte and unloaded, we were lined up to get aboard an LCI. At the boarding plank, I asked the officer if I could go aboard ahead of being called-I needed the latrine badly (in the Navy it’s the HEAD). He said it was okay. I locked my self in the head for as long as I needed even though the door was being almost kicked in. Later I tried eating some of the K rations to get energy back. The food packed in one of them is nutritious but unpalatable. I survived the trip to Naples on an LCI. OH – a tale of woe! It happened.