FAST FORWARD

FAST FORWARD

 

Before I forget– I have to flash forward to the training area of Pozzuoli. It has to do with a six-holer outhouse–called a latrine.  It was screened in using mosquito netting. There was a door. The occupant was faintly visible in silhouette. Each GI had to ‘pull’ Latrine duty from time to time. His job was to ‘police’ the area–that is to keep the area clean as possible. This included using insecticides and swatting flies. We had a “BUG BOMB”. It was a black pressurized can containing some sort of insecticide, which was the forerunner of our modern bug killers available off the shelf in most stores. Mooney (John Mullins the winner of our first Bronze star) was called upon for latrine duty. He was instructed to use a “BUG BOMB”. The instructions were not quite complete. Every GI had DDT for killing fleas and flies: All companies had to dig holes for privies to be set up in the most sanitary way you could in the field. Those black canisters looked very much like a concussion grenade.  Most GIs had used one in GI life, but it was the first time “Mooney’ had seen one. He was cautious. He heard it called a “Bug Bomb!” Bombs explode, don’t they? They make a noise, don’t they? BOOM?
Mooney opened the screen door of the latrine and pulled the pin on the Bug Bomb (actually there was a safety pin like a grenade). He tossed the bug bomb into a hole and ran away a safe distance to await the explosion, which he thought was necessary to kill the flies. The bug bomb didn’t explode as he expected, of course. We kidded Mooney about that incident till he almost cried. We ‘blew’ it out of proportion not having anything else to fill an empty non-humorous existence. It shows how innocent the soldiers were who were called upon to fight in the war.  It is patriotism at its fullest that such a person must do his duty while there were some others who were able to shirk this calling!

 

Naples, Italy

I felt a bit better on this sea voyage. We passed Sicily where our battalion did battle and had made several amphibious landings behind German lines at Sant’ Agata and Brolo. I tried to enjoy a “K”-ration to help replenish my system. I sucked on the rock-hard dextrose tablets because you would bust your teeth trying to masticate one .I liked the fruit bar and some of the highly concentrated chocolate. I don’t remember the Navy feeding us while enroute.
The LCI (landing craft infantry) slowly slithered and floated into the harbor of Napoli.  We drifted by the Isle of Capri. There were remnants of sunken ships. The harbor was quite crowded with other military transports.  Alongside came many little boats with Italians begging for rations.

I remember in one case a GI tossed down a can of “C”-rations and hit an Italian on the noggin’. He had shiny, curly hair as if it was oiled. I saw a split in the scalp. The can bounced off into the boat but he didn’t seem to care about the cut in the scalp .He dipped his hands into the sea water and splashed his wounded head as if that would stitch up the slit. They are tough people! That’s the price he had to pay for a can of “C”-rations.  The other price was when he had to eat it!! I’ll bet though that Mama Italiana stretched that can of rations with onions and garlic and pasta!
The army seems to move in snail-pace in times like these. We stood in long lines awaiting the “Go” signal to debark. Then it was high gear! We were burdened with everything imaginable.  Why not? We marched through the village row houses on the edge of the harbor. I’ll never forget the aroma de Napoli!  We were marching at dusk and it was suppertime for the Italians.  Wafting through the air was the aroma of Mamma cooking with onions! Ah! The aroma of Ma’s cookin’ back home.  I was starving from the LCI trip and my sickness. I could have surely eaten a big plate-load of whatever Mamma Italiana was cookin’.

The hike was a long, tedious one to finally arrive at what was once Mussolini’s racetrack.  The Army had a replacement camp situated there.  It was dusky and then darkness fell upon us. We counted off in our line up to determine who would be our pup-tent mate. I never remembered my tent mate’s name.  We set up the tent. I guess everyone knows that each GI has in his pack a shelter half-and pegs-which is just half a tent. That part buttons up with another half making a full pup tent.

I was really hungry. It was a Friday, but I didn’t realize the date.  I went to the chow line to get my chow.  In the dark, the goop that the KP slopped on my mess kit looked like macaroni and cheese. I dared to ask for another scoop.  He did just that. I went to an area where we ate standing up. Our table was 2×6 boards on posts. I tasted the first forkful of GOOP and to my bitter surprise it was STEWED SALMON–my arch enemy food! I was sickened on salmon when I was a kid–food poisoned-and I just hated the stuff. I knew that it was nourishment, so I ate all I could of it. In the past just a taste gave me the shudders.
I went back to the tent and I got the urge to go to the latrine.  Mmm boy!! It hit me hard! I sat there on the nine-holer and got worse and worse-I urped in one hole and I tried to fill the other.  Soon they’d have to dig another latrine, I thought! I’d have to go looking for my anus, which surely was gone by now!
Back to the tent I went where I got the severe chills, which called for another pair of long johns in my pack. I donned my ODs and my suntans and then went into the sweats–I peeled off, then back again and under all the blankets we had. The tent mate had a case of overflowing hormones and he had dashed AWOL to the big town of Napoli.  He came back late at night to find me moaning and groaning. He called the medics and I was taken by ambulance to the hospital. I had malaria for cryin’ out loud!!  Malaria? In Italy? I thought that only happened at the Panama Canal Zone!  I must have been bitten by the mosquitoes in Africa.  That’s where I had the first symptoms.

Fate was playing its game with me.   When I found out I had malaria, I wrote a very-threatening letter back to the Sergeant and Lieutenant at the replacement camp in Bizerte. That’s where I was punished by having to walk at attention with full field pack in the company area, come up to the billboard and present arms–for 24 hours!
I spent a long time in the malaria ward being given quinine. I don’t know what other drugs they had for malaria. During the stay there we were in nightly air raids by the German bombers. The hospital was safely marked with the big Red Cross, but one night bombs did fall. I heard one hit the building that housed nurses, but I didn’t hear of any nurse casualties.
I remember being on the latrine many-a-time with the bombers going overhead to bomb the port of Naples.  Our ack- ack blazed away, making more racket.  There was no place to hide. When I recovered enough, they moved me to a convalescent tent. I can remember it well because I turned 21 that day, November 11, 1943! I told the nurse I was 21 and she simply said,” Congratulations”.

One day when I was feeling well enough, I put on my ODs over my pajamas and sneaked out of the hospital.  I went back to the replacement camp where I was able to recover some of my personal effects.  They took all the clothing and other GI stuff out of my barracks bag for re-use. My fountain pen and writing kit were my most important possession.  I found the rest of the bag in the corner of the medic tent!!
While in the convalescent tents, my eye began to hurt as if someone was in my head trying to gouge out my eye! I went on sick call next morning and the lieutenant at the tent flap asked me what was my problem and I simply said, “My eye hurts”. “Ah, Ha”, he seemed to think. Here’s another hypochondriac. He said mockingly, “My eye hurts too”. I muttered expletives under my breath and did a “to the rear march” out of there. I heard him hollering, “Hey! I was only kidding”, but I went back to my tent.
I decided my woolen long johns needed to be washed. I found a tub in the junk pile next to a mill where they made insulation out of straw. The 2×4 foot sheets made good kindling when broken up. I boiled my woolen long johns. Here’s where I lacked expertise–it was an absolutely a “NO-NO” to boil woolens. They shrunk down to a size that would fit a four-year old!!

NOVEMBER 1943

The smoke from the fire worsened my eye-ache. I hated to face that lieutenant again but next morning, by golly, I went up to try to get on “sick-call’. He apologetically gave me a pass and I went to the clinic, located, in some of the old World Fair buildings. There was a lineup of hypochondriacs about a half-mile long waiting to be treated. I walked right on by everyone and stood in front of the Captain’s desk. He wore a heavy beard, which was unusual in the army. I blurted out, “Captain, I can’t stand it any longer” and I told him the trouble. He ordered a ward boy to escort me to a “clinic”, which was just a place partitioned off with GI blankets. There were some barber chairs for his patients. He ordered me to take a chair even while he was working on another individual. He had me look at the ceiling as he stuck a swab up my nostril with some sort of drug–I think it was codeine and there was absolutely miraculous relief! I was healed I thought with just one dab! I took a seat where I could see him working on another patient with my same problem. I saw him stick a metal thing like a nut picker up the GI’s nose. Then he reached over to the instrument table and grabbed a little hammer. I saw him actually smite that metal thing up that GI’s nose. I am guessing that it was to make an aperture for the sinus canals to drain. That was my trouble. I had infected sinuses. It wasn’t going to get better ‘down the road’. He sent me right back to the big hospital where they doped me up on morphine, I guess. I was on “Cloud Nine” and not in pain. After a few days they moved me to another clinic where I was still doped up. I could not wake up. I heard someone over me say, “Hey soldier, y’ want some turkey”? It was Thanksgiving Day. I couldn’t answer. I heard an orderly say, “Let him sleep”. So now you know how and where I spent Thanksgiving in 1943. My 21st B’day was spent in the hospital and now Thanksgiving. All this was some sort of fate. I didn’t ask for this. It was plain fate. The UP side of all this was that while I was here in the safety of a hospital, my unit on the Casino front was taking huge losses in the battles to cross the Volturno River. How much luckier could I get? Instead of sinuses, it might have been shrapnel or an 8mm bullet and or possibly the end of this story.