TO THE FRONT
Soon I was able to see straight and my head was normal. Guess what comes next? The orders came soon to board a truck. The war began for me. We were trucked up to the Mt. Cassino front, where I joined the A&P platoon of 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. I remember a few of those who joined the Platoon with me. One was Edward Sudell from Greenwich, Connecticut and Scott Shanks from Danville, Illinois. I think Paul I.Thome unloaded at the same time and also a GI name GUYER.
We set up pup tents in the rain on a brushy hillside. In the distant the cannons could be heard booming. The rain was making life very miserable. Italian mud is like no other in the world! We waded through it to get to the chow line and wherever we went we were muddy and wet.
I can still see Colonel Lyle Bernard standing outside his tent with a cup of something–coffee most likely–looking up the muddy aisle between tents. He was without a helmet and his curly locks of hair dangled in his face. If he had seen a GI with such a tasseled hair he’d make him do a thousand pushups! He was very GI.
Our Platoon commander was a very young “shave-tail” 2nd Looey named Smith. He was so very light -complexioned that he didn’t need to shave it seemed. I heard he was only 19 years old. How can that be? I don’t know, but he was very boyish. It was hard to accept him as a Commander.
When the platoon was taken out on “problems” I got aquatinted with GUYER. We commiserated as we sat together. He was the first ‘buddy’ I made up to. We took river crossing training making runs across the Volturno River. This very area was where the 3rd Division fought heavily while I was in the hospital in Naples with malaria! So why should I bitch about having malaria or sinuses? I might have been dead right in this area where the 3rd Division fought. It was purely fate. I didn’t design it! I KNOW how lucky I am. I’d really hang my head if I designed this fate however.
We took some training for a miserable period of time. It was hard to realize that only a few miles from me there was a giant struggle going on for the monastery on top of a hill called MONTE CASSINO. Those in the platoon told about the ruggedness of the terrain and told us to be thankful we were not there. In the army you go and you do as you are told. We were loaded on 6x6s and trucked back towards Napoli. The town’s name was Pozzuoli. We went into vigorous amphibious training. That included making the march to the sea of 12 miles, boarding a ship, unloading on a Higgins landing craft, hitting the shore. Around again we’d go till we ‘got it right’. We’d march back to camp and have supper. Then we would return to our tents to rest for another day of the same.
On one occasion the medics stepped into our tents and ordered us to strip down for an examination to analyze the effects of the vigorous training. A medic confronted me as I shyly removed my clothes. He saw on my body the many gun cleaning patches I had taped over my ulcerous sores to keep my long johns from sticking to the dime-sized ulcers. “What the hell we got here?” the medic asked. “I’ve had these sores since I was in Africa and I can’t seem to heal them. I just covered them with gun patches and tape”. Then the medic said, “Why didn’t you come to the medics with this?” “I feared that the Captain would think I’m a ‘gold brick’ if I asked him to treat me”. The medic answered,” Would you let me treat you?” and I said, “Yes”. So I went up to the medic tent. There sitting on a bench was another soldier with the same condition. We called it “African Rot”. It was drizzling rain. The medic came out followed by the Captain. I was P.O.’d at the medic right away for betraying me. He told me that HE was going to treat me! The Captain shoved his helmet away back on his head and cussed–but not at us! He said, “God Dammit! I can’t treat these soldiers here! What the hell do they think I am anyway? Write them out a ticket to the hospital!” The captain was cussin’ the commanders above him who ordered no one to be excused from the training unless he was bleeding or had a 105 fever!
So I landed again in the hospital in Naples. It was the 300th General Hospital, I believe. I was bandaged from the waist down with sulfa salve. I was ambulatory but it was difficult. I had the necessary holes for body functions. I was in relative safety, but occasionally felt guilty about not being back with the landing party to be. I did let the guilt slip off my conscience quickly–I was under the dictates of fate. I had this condition since Africa but none of the examiners of my body reported the lesions or seem to care. It was for my own good though that they didn’t. I was willing to continue training but the ‘show down ‘ inspection came up. I wasn’t griping about this little thing (little thing?) It was getting worse all right and I was treating it myself with salve and gun patches and adhesive tape. I could do that! I changed them after each of the trips we made to the beach where we loaded up on landing craft and made fake landings into the sand. The sand though would stick to the lesions and cause some pain. I could go on about the ugly sores, but why?
During my first few days in the 300th General Hospital, I was surprised one day when I met a GI, whose name I have forgotten, who was with me on the ship coming over. He was badly wounded and cried when he told me how it happened. He had several days of beard growth–maybe a week. I offered and he allowed me to shave him. I wish I could have been able to keep track of him. He was thankful. He thought I was wounded worse than he was but it wasn’t so–I had just a bunch of bandages up to my waist covering some ugly sores. He was mutilated with shrapnel.
While in the hospital, I always went where there was music. In a recreation room, there was a guy plunking on the piano and writing a song for a nurse he kinda “fell’ for. He would play bars over and over again and jot down words till he arrived at lyrics befitting the nurse and the occasion. I was humming along as he wrote and finally picked up on his melody. I read the words and then sang them. Then the nurse was beckoned over and I sang his lyrics to the nurse. And like Forest Gump, “that’s all I have to say about that”.
George Raft, the Hollywood star in gangster films, entertained. I wasn’t impressed but the others really howled when he made a few fancy dance steps. Heck! I could do that! But not with my bandages?
Gee, you’ll surely be thinking that my entire war experience was in the hospitals! Hey! Wait!
When the bandages were removed I was pronounced cured. In the meantime I grew a lump on my thyroid! I just asked the major why I would be getting a goiter. He pressed with his thumb on the obvious lump, and said something to a ward boy. Another major came to press on the lump and another ward boy was ordered to get a gurney. I was taken to the operating table and under local anesthesia I had a lumpectomy on the thyroid! Geez! What next? The stitches looked as if I had a zipper on my throat. When the stitches were removed I had a few spasms of the muscles for long time, but I couldn’t be given a reclassification to non-combatant. An impacted wisdom tooth was extracted and a few cavities were filled and I was on an LST (Landing Ship, Tank) spitting blood from the tooth cavity all the way to Anzio.