179th Infantry Regiment Crest , 45th Infantry Division, Second Worldwar

Floyd Dumas

179th Infantry Regiment Crest , 45th Infantry Division, Second Worldwar
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Copyright © 2001, 2002 by Matthew A Rozell. All rights reserved

The Hudson Falls High School World War II Project

FLOYD DUMAS-ESCAPED POW

Floyd Dumas, and two compatriots

This is my story of when and how I was taken "Prisoner of War".


My first writing was about when I went in the service. I was in different camps and last was on July 10, 1943. Our division invades the Island of Sicily, at 4:25 a.m. on July 11. We captured the Comiso Airport on July 31. We were then pulled out of the line in northern Sicily, called Trabia, after twenty-two days of battle. We had a good rest!

September 10, we made a landing at Salerno, Italy. October 21, our division comes off the line after forty continuous days of combat.

Aprilla, Italy "The Factory"

Now comes the invasion of Anzio on January 22, 1944. The entire 45th Division was committed by January 29. We held our ground and on, February 16 through 19, the Germans launched a furious four-day assault to split beachhead forces along Anzio-Albano Road with 'Factory Area" as focal point. (We were at the "Factory Area".) When they attacked, the Germans hit with seven crack divisions, along with Luftwuffe support, plus dozens of heavy tanks. Their attack was to liquidate the beachhead by February 18.

On this date, my regiment (of about three hundred Americans) became prisoners of the Germans. The actual figures after seven days of the German attack are as follows: our regiment the 179th lost 55% of its men and officers --- 367 wounded; 728 missing or captured; 670 men evacuated as exhaustion or psychiatric cases.

The German tanks infantry pushed up to the Mussolini Canal, in which our company was dug in and captured us. Before they got to us, we smashed our rifles and threw our ammunition in the canal.

179th Infantry Regiment's position near the Mussolini Canal


The bad part of being taken prisoner is that the Germans moved us from our lines over to their lines which means after we are deep into their lines, we are constantly being shelled by our own artillery. (They do not know it though.) The Germans walked us about eight miles into a small Italian town and put us in a home and into a cellar like deep underground. I was wondering why way underground! I soon knew why - that night our bomber dropped shells on the whole town. When they took us out, the entire town, buildings, etc. were leveled. This day, they walked us in the direction of Rome. We were four days walking. At this time, whenever there were dead Germans by the side of the roadway, our people killed during the night raids, they made us dig graves to bury the dead. It was terrible, the work and the odors. We worked and walked with only a bit of bread (German) and water, once in awhile.


After the fourth day we arrived at what they called a transit Prison Camp. The camp was called "Chinni Chefta", an old Italian place where the Italians made movies. There was barbed wire all around and a huge gate, and guards. We were supposed to stay here for only two weeks, and they would transport us to the "Black Forest" in Germany. At about 7:00 - 8:00 in the evening, they would have a prisoner count. We lined up in a column of 5's. The guard would say "5", and we would walk into the prison camp building. At the door, a guard would hand one of the five of us a small loaf of German black bread. When we got into the building, one person would cut the loaf in five slices. This was our supper. In the morning, we were let out in the fenced-in area. They would then give us a cup full of German green tea. (They had no tin cups.) We would take the liner out of our steel helmets, and they would pour the tea in the helmet (some breakfast!). At high noon, they had a huge pot they would cook greens, or whatever they had. One day, we had a horse cooking in it. At first, there were about 500 in the camp. As the days went by, they brought in more prisoners --- Englishmen, Scotsmen, Indians, Americans, etc. They always cooked just in the one pot; so if you were at the end of the line, you generally ended up with water. I have just given you the menu for the day (everyday).

No toilet facilities in the camp. We had what they called a slip trench dug and everyone used it. Only two cold water faucets on the campgrounds. So, you could only wet your face and hands and wash out your steel helmet. This went on the same day after day - until the tenth day - something happened... This was the 28th of February 1944.

About five of us were playing cards in the prison camp when an air raid sounded. All the guards were looking up at the sky and watching our Air Force bombing near the prison camp. One of the men who was in the yard came in while we were playing cards and said two men ripped the fence and escaped. He asked if anyone else wanted to try and get out. I said, "I'll go." and an Englishmen said, "I'll go." but no one else would try. So, we went out in the yard. The fence was ripped open, a large group stood around to block the guards view and the Englishmen and I went through. Little did we know, we were still inside the prison camp. There was a high stonewall with barbwire and broken glass on top of the wall. We scouted around and found a small room with fake scenery in it. I suppose as a part of the movie industry. We hid in this room until dark; with luck it started to rain and thunder and lightning. There were guards in little buildings on the grounds but with the noise and rain, we ran across the yard and got to the top of the wall and over we went ..... running through fields of hay and Italian gardens, where we yanked up a few carrots (dirt and all) and ate them on the run. After about two hours, we came upon a farmhouse. We took a chance and rapped on the door. An Italian lady let us in. We said to her, "Americana soldati" (American soldier) and "Engleese soldati" (English soldier). The woman and her husband were the only ones in the house. They had us sit by the fireplace and dry off and gave us some bread and rigotta, which she warmed up. The old man knew a few words in English. He said, "You can stay until daylight, but then you have to leave. If you are caught by the Germans, we are guilty of hiding you." At daybreak, the Englishman and I left and found a bombed-out house where we stayed for three-four days. In the meantime, I traded by combat jacket to a sheepherder for his long black coat. We were still in uniform, so the long coat really covered me up. The Englishmen wanted to try and get back to our lines. I did not believe we should try because there were too many German soldiers around. So, the stubborn Englishman left alone one night. He got challenged by a German outpost, did not know the pass work, and got caught. It was the last I saw of him. I did hear he was shot as a spy. In the following days, I heard another soldier - an Indian was in the small town of Rustica, living there for quite some time and blended into the community as one of their own. I headed for the town of Rustica and found him. He was staying with an Italian family and learned a lot of the language. The family gave me a silk shirt and a pair of shoes, so I got rid of the rest of my uniform. I held on to my "Dog Tags" and put them in my shoe - to show I was an American GI.

The Indian and I would go to a neighbor each morning with a bucket to get some Rigotta. The Italian would also cook fresh eggs. There were a lot of Germans manning anti-aircraft guns in the area. One morning, one of the soldiers asked the Indian, "Why doesn't your friend with you ever talk?" The Indian responded, "He was in the Italian Army and a bomb fell near him, and he became deaf and dumb." The German said, "That's too bad." So this is what I did. When you don't know the language, act deaf and dumb. This is the way I got by…
After living in this little village for about a month, more and more German soldiers arrived in and around the village. I started to get a bit scared that I would get caught. Maybe one of the people would squeal on me. I asked the Indian if he could get me to Rome. He said yes. We had gotten word that the guards at the Vatican and the Italian underground were finding safe places in Rome for escaped soldier. So, in two days we left for Rome. (At this time, the Italian Army had surrendered to the allies. The Italians were not in the war anymore. All the Italian youth who were in the Army were home.)
Getting to Rome was not a picnic! We had to go through a number of German roadblocks. They did not bother us as hundreds of people went into Rome each day to bring their produce to the open market. Some walked the eighteen miles; some took buses, drove horse and cart in, or a train. We walked to the train station and got on the train. The train was always packed with people bringing in pigs, hens, vegetables, etc, for the market. When the train stopped in Rome we took a bus to Vatican City. We went up and the Indian talked to one of the guards. The guard told us there were no openings today where families could hide escaped POW, and for me to come back in three days. At the left of the gates, there is a small street stand on the right side of the street. On the other side of the street, there is a person standing reading a newspaper. When the clock strikes 12 o'clock, he will take the newspaper down from his face, fold it up, and put it in his right side pocket of his topcoat. He will then start walking across the piazza - you walk beside him and say, "I'm an American soldier, escaped." Do not say anymore and follow him. Now, you both go back to the country and remember, in three days, be here and do just as I said."

Three days later, I went back to Rome -and it happened just as I wrote. (By the way, the man I met with the newspaper was a priest. He worked with the underground.) The priest went ahead and I followed. We got on one bus (he paid the tokens), rode for a while, then transferred to another bus which was loaded as the population, of Rome was huge. Finally, after about one hour of busing, we got off and walked two blocks and came to a big building, surrounded by a high wall, with a huge iron gate with a bell on the side. The priest rang the doorbell and soon a nun came to the gate and let us in. We walked in a side entrance and opened a door that led to a small room. The small table for two was set with a loaf of bread and a bottle of Red Wine. The priest closed the door and put out his hand and said, "You did fine, and we got here OK."

The priest (I did not get his name) said tomorrow you will be introduced to a Scotsman who is here, and you will be together until Rome falls to the Allies. The Scotsman's name was Bill Robb, from Aberdeen, Scotland. He was taken prisoner in TOBRUCK, in the desert by the Germans. They piled him in a large group of prisoners on a train to send them to Germany. He tore the bars off the boxcars and jumped off the train in Italy. He broke his left leg in the jump and the Italians nursed him back to health. He was behind the lines a. long time and learned the Italian language fluently. So, we met in a convent and would stay together until the war in Italy was over.

Bill and I were to stay in the nuns convent until the priests and underground found a safe place for us in Rome. Two weeks later, they found a place in Rome on Via Vetelonia, where a woman was to hide us in her apartment on the fifth floor. Her name was Signora Capisoni. She was about forty years old and alone. Her husband was M.I.A. from the war; he was an Officer of the Italian Army. Mrs. Capisoni taught me Italian, how to play cards, and fed us. The only time we could go out in the streets was to get water from a well three blocks away - or to buy eggs on the street. (At this time, eggs were $12.00 a dozen.) Cigarettes were very hard to come by (generally through Black Market). This woman had to be paid somehow, especially, since she had to buy food and food costs money.
The priest had told US to get money or Civilian clothes we would have to go to the "Swiss Legation", which was in Rome. Being Swiss and a neutral country, they would help anyone - not only P.O.W.,s. We found the Swiss Legation and the gentlemen there asked what we wanted. Bill said we needed Italian Liras (money) some toilet articles, socks, shirt, and underwear. All we had to do was sign our name, rank and Army serial number. When we got the money, we gave the lady where we were staying some and she bought the food. I believe about four times we received money from Switzerland.

After a couple of weeks, two more escaped P.O.W.'s were brought in our house. One soldier from South Africa - his first name was Louie; I do not remember his last name. Another young American from Pennsylvania - his name was Bob Schultz. Now, there are four of us plus the woman. Bill and I got bored staying in the house all the time, so finally we told Mrs. Capisoni we were going out and look about the city of Rome. She said you will be caught in a "Round Up". As I said before, the Italians were out of the war, and there were a lot of young ex-soldiers roaming around Rome.

Now, I will explain the "Round Ups". The Germans would block off a square of streets with machine guns and some time tanks and gather up all the youths in this area and put them into trucks and drive them to the German front lines and make them dig trenches and bury their dead for three days. They would then drive them back to Rome and let them go. Bob Schultz was one who was caught in one of these round ups.

Bob Robb knew some elderly families in a small town outside Rome. These people were hard working farmers. They grew all kinds of fruits and vegetables. So, Bill and I would leave Rome in the morning, walk and take a bus to this town of Torsobianzia. They would give us vegetables, chicken, kerchofie, etc. to bring back to our apartment in Rome. This helped the woman a lot, because we would not have to pay for it. We did this on an average of once a week.
We also got to know Rome pretty well. We knew what trolleys or bus to take. We went into the wine shops and ordered bottles of Vino and sat and listened to the old Italian men talking about the American and British bombing their homes and land. One day, we went to the library and got a book in English and then returned them in ten days. We went to a carnival in Rome one weekend and watched these six-foot German soldiers riding the "Merry Go Round" and eating ice cream cones.

We were stopped by two Germans one day. Their truck broke down and one asked in Italian if we would know how to start it. Bill took a look at it and told them they were out of gas. They laughed and laughed and thanked us. These are some of the things that happened to us in Rome.

Another time, we were on a trolley going to the country and the trolley all of a sudden stopped. German S.S. troops and Italian "Black Shirts" (in Italian comechi nero) climbed aboard. In Italian, One of the comechi nero said, "Everyone show their identification cards as we approach you." (Everyone had to have an identification card in Rome -- where you lived, job you had or student, age, and a photo of you.) Bill had a false one made up by a priest who did this. (I had my photo taken but did not have my card yet, because the priest was caught and shot - so I never got one.) I said to Bill, "You have a card. There is no sense both of us getting arrested. Get away from me." There were steel bars on the windows of the trolley and I could not escape that way. Both exist were covered. I just could not get off. I thought I was doomed!

Bill stuck right by me though. The trolley was packed with people - sitting, standing like pickles in a jar. They started checking, got discouraged, and said, "Everyone hold up your card and photo over your heads." I took my wallet out and just stuck it up eye level. They looked and looked and said, "It is well, go on." Thank the Lord, I was saved! (You realize, I am an American soldier in civilian clothes, behind enemy lines - which means only one thing --- shot as a spy and no one can do anything about it. )

We lived on the fifth floor and on the bottom floor was a wine shop. Italians drink a lot of wine, like we drink water. One night things went bad in the street and someone shot a German Soldier as he went by on a motorcycle and killed him. The German High Command said if this ever happens again, they would line up twenty-five civilians and shoot them. This incident got us scared. Bill and I decided to leave Via Veteloni and move out to the countryside to a small town called Torso-Sianza. We stayed in Bill's friend's farmhouse - "Old Piedro", his wife, one 14-year-old boy, and one little girl about 5 years old. All beautiful Italian people, so happy to hide us on their property. We ate in the farmhouse, but slept in a smaller building away from the house. We slept on hay on the floor with a few blankets.

When "Old Piedro" went to Rome for provisions, he would load a small two-wheel cart with hay, and Bill and I would get under the hay to hide, as we had to go through a German roadblock. A little old donkey pulled the cart. When we went through the roadblock, the only passenger was "Old Piedro". They would just ask him where he was going, and he had to be back through the roadblock before dark, as no civilian was allowed out after it got dark.
One day we went in to Rome, as I had to get a shave and haircut. Bill is still doing all the talking in Italian, as he was excellent at it. But this day, he said, "You go in the barber shop and say to the barber... 'Son Jardno' (good day) 'Capelli regulary' (regular hair cut). That's all you have got to say." So, I tried it. I went in and said what Bill told me, but the barber kept on talking. I could not answer him. So, finally I stared at him in the mirror and gave him a big wink. He shut up immediately. The haircut and shave, as I remember came to forty cents. I gave him $1.00 in Italian Liras, and he thanked me three times. I guess he thought it was a great tip.

After Rome fell to the Allies, Bill and I returned to this barbershop. I said to the barber, "Do you remember me?" He said, "Oh, yes. But, I thought you were a German. I see now you are American." The five barbers got out the wine and cognac and had a party.

As I said earlier, the Italians were out of the War, and a lot of the Italian youth were like us - hiding from the Germans. Bill and I got together with six of the young Italians and harassed them every chance we could. Years ago, the Italians had prepared for the invasion of their country. These young men whom we were with, dug a huge cave in the side of a hill about the size of a dining room. They even planted berry bushes over the mouth of the cave, so no one else could find it. We lived in this cave for weeks. There was water, wine, bread, etc. to eat and drink.

One night we came out, and there was a group of German soldiers in an open field with a bonfire, playing music and singing "Lee, Lee, Martain" - a favorite march tune. The six of us crept up and opened fire on them and killed most of them. We also blew up some of their trucks. All of this was done in the darkness of night. We never got caught. It was dangerous and we probably should not have done this; but they were our enemies!

The Germans did a lot of bad things to the Italian people. For example: they would just come upon a farmer who had cows and help themselves to the cattle. They would bring the cattle to Rome to a slaughterhouse. They would then sell the beef to the Italian people. They also killed a few Catholic priests. Louie, the escaped soldier from South Africa and Bob Schultz from Pennsylvania also came out in the country and joined us for a month. It is now about the middle week in May 1944. Now, we moved back to "Old Piedro" farm. Still plenty of German soldiers all around. They were always coming to the farm and asking for eggs or wine. Piedro would give them eggs but would always say he did not have any wine. The Italians would dig holes in their farm and put the wine in the ground. It was hidden from the soldiers, and it also stayed cool in the ground.

When the Italian farmers cut their hay, they would stack huge piles of it throughout the fields. We were always looking for a place to hide - so at night, we would hollow out the haystacks, pulling out the hay from the front and middle and throwing it on the top of the stack. We would leave a small entrance, so we could crawl in. It made a nice cool place to hide when there were Germans around, and also a place to escape the hot sun in May and June.
We used these haystacks for some time until one day some "spit fire" airplanes started strafing the haystacks. You see, we did not know the Germans used to stack hay on top of the ammunition to hide it. One day, a plane was strafing it and the haystack blew up. So, the planes knew they saw haystacks and would strafe them, because they knew they had hid the ammo in them.

Another incident while we were in the country was …this Italian woman was spying on us. (She was a Fascist.) She was working for the Germans and a neighbor told us this. Bill, three young Italians, and I went to her house, which was poorly built and burned it down. She had a bicycle built for two, so Bill and I took that. We would ride all over Rome on it. In fact we rode one day to see the Coliseum. (Years ago, they would put people in this area and turn the lions loose to kill the people.)

Bill and I are again going back to Rome and find another house to hide in. The underground found one north of Rome. A young single girl lived with her father. The father was a conductor on one of Rome's trolleys. The girl was going with a German SS trooper just to get money out of him to buy food for us. They would be in one room and four of us escaped prisoners in the next. So, we had to be real quiet. We did not stay there very long, as it became to dangerous.
We went to another house in Rome, where the man and woman with two young daughters lived. (I cannot remember their last names.) The daughters' names were Guiseppina and Teresa, both very nice Italian girls. (In fact, I have pictures of them that I will enter in an album that I am putting together.) I
The father said to us one night, "You can stay here, but please do not get too friendly with my daughters. If you want to meet girls, I work at a Rome theatre where there are plenty of showgirls. If you want to come to the theatre tomorrow, I will have a table on the sidewalk cafe for you. I will have two girls come out and sit, talk, and have a bottle of wine on me." So, that is just what we did. Don't get me wrong; these were just friendly girls who were wild about meeting an American and Scotsman. It was lots of fun.

Bill knew a very rich Italian man and wife. He ran a huge biscuit factory in Rome. On two different Sundays, they invited us to dinner at their lovely home. He opened up a closet door one day and said to help yourself to any suit of clothes we would like. He said it was free. I picket out a gray pinstriped, single-breasted suit. He also gave me a beautiful white silk shirt. Bill also picked out a navy blue suit and a shirt of some kind. They had pictures of Primo Canera all over their house. Primo was the World Champion Boxer at that time from Rome, Italy.

He also wanted to give us money, but we refused. (I have a picture of the Biscuit Factory owner's wife and child, which I will be putting my album. You can see how rich they were by the clothes they are wearing in the photo.)

All of Rome's newspapers were telling about the Americans bombing Mt. Cassino. There was an Abbey at the top of Mt. Cassino - I do not know how many priests or monks were there at the time of the bombing. There was also a large number of German soldiers there with huge guns. Every time our soldiers tried to run the Germans off the mountain, they would mow them down. It was impossible to take the mountain by our infantry. So, we, the Americans and British, had to go over and bomb the hell out of them with planes. Finally, the fight for Mt. Cassino was won. The planes bombed and the infantry charged up and took over. They leveled the Abbey to the bare ground - killing most of the Germans. Now, our army had a good start to conquer Rome.

Bill and I are now back to the country at "Old Piedros Farm". There are about eight young Italians with us. We are living in underground tunnels and a cave in the side of a hill. Near us is the small town of Torsobianza. We would loaf around during the day and have guards out to watch for any Germans who might come around our territory. At night, we slept in the cave. This went on for a couple of weeks. Finally, one morning at 5:30, two of the young guards came in the cave and hollered, 'The Americans are here - here in the town next to us. There are dead German soldiers all over the place. Bill and I said, "Oh - go away, there are no American troops here yet. Yes, they all said as one of the guards showed a pack of Camel cigarettes. We all yelled, let's go and meet them. We cam out of the cave and sure enough, the 88th Infantry was coming through.

We talked to an American officer and told him who we were. I showed him my "dog tags" and we followed them into the City of Rome. There were German tanks burning in the streets and snipers shooting all over the place in the city. In six hours, Rome was completely taken. It is now June 4, 1944, we are free and so are the people of Rome.

We were interrogated by American officers and told them our story. They turned us over to a British outfit. I guess they were going to stay in Rome to keep things under control. The British said we had to get out of the civilian clothes. So, they gave us British uniform, shorts, knee socks, heavy shoes, shirt, and a beret.

They gave me the name of a captain who was in Naples and said I was to report to him as soon as possible. I answered, "How do I get to Naples?" They gave me a map and said, "Hitch hike"! We do not have any transportation for you." So, with my nice new British uniform on, I did just that. I hitch hiked to Naples, Italy. (Naples was already in American control.)

I found the address he gave me but took some time, as Naples is a large seaport city. The captain I was to see ran a. P.O.W. camp with hundreds of German prisoners. He asked me a lot of questions about what we did behind the lines and what we saw. He told me to get out of the British uniform and he would supply me with one of ours. He issued everything socks, shoes, complete uniform, underwear, etc. He also let me shower and sleep. He told me I would be there about a week before he could get me a plane to Algiers, Algeria, on July 21, 1944. Then from Algiers I would be put on a ship for Hamption Roads, Virginia. We were ten days getting to Virginia. I stayed in Camp Pickett, Virginia for one week, they flew three soldiers and me from the 101st Airborne to Washington, D.C. They put us up in a beautiful hotel and gave us all money from the American Red Cross. Each morning for two hours we had to talk and answer questions from high officials at a building in Washington. After that, we were on our own to do whatever we wanted - but each morning we had to go back to interrogation.

We had a great time, drank a lot of beer, and ate in nice restaurants. I was given a ten- day furlough from Washington D.C. to Malone, New York, where my family lived and also my girlfriend, Vivian LaPage, who has been my wife now for 52 years. I spent ten wonderful days with friends and family. It is now about August 1944. After my ten-day furlough, I have to report to Camp Pickett, Virginia, for four months to train new men for overseas duty.


After I was shipped to Camp Craft, South Carolina, for two months - training men in the infantry for overseas. Next I was shipped to Camp-Gordon, Georgia, in March 1945. On April 1, I got a furlough to go home to marry my sweetheart on April 3. We were married in my wife's hometown of Fort Covington, New York.

We left for Camp Gordon, Georgia, after a honeymoon to go back in the Army. We went by train to Augusta, Georgia, from Malone, New York. We found an apartment on Green Street in Augusta. I was allowed to leave Camp Gordon each night to stay with my wife in Augusta. We lived there until June 1945. My wife had to take a train home, as she was about to have our first child - Bonnie. July through October, I still trained men,-and one October 10, 1945, 1 was discharged as a Staff Sergeant.

Now, I am a civilian again, and we have a baby girl on February 15,1946. (She is now 51 years old at this writing.) I got a job in Malone in a clothing store called "Stem Clothes", that opened in April 1947. Prior to this job, I worked in a milk plant. We also have a son, Stephen, who is 39 years old, and a son, David, who is 46 years old.

On May 1, 1947, 1 received a letter from the Finance Off ice U.S. Army, St. Louis, Mississippi. The letter states:

Dear Mr. Dumas: This office has been advised by the Office of the Chief of Finance, Washington, D.C., that on 8th March 1944, while a member of the U.S Armed Forces in Italy, you received a payment of Emergency Relief, subject to payment at a later date of 2, 000 Italian Lire ($108.12 American dollars - converted at the rate of .05405) from the Swiss Legation in Rome, Italy, through Captain Leonardo Trippi, Inspector of War Prisoner Camps, which -obligation has now been transferred to the War Department for collection. While it is not the intention of this office to disturb you with collection letters, this indebtedness not withstanding your faithful service to your country during the time of War, nevertheless represents a legitimate obligation due the United States and should be repaid with the least practicable delay.
Remittance should be drawn in favor of the Treasurer of the United States and forwarded to this office.

Very truly yours,
C.F. Hathaway, Jr.
Captain, F.D.
Assistant Finance Officer




I contacted the Honorable Clarence E. Kilburn, House of Representatives, Washington DC). Mr. Kilburn was born and lived in Malone. He took care of the whole matter headlines in the Washington Evening Star on Tuesday, May 20, reads--
Army apologizes for 'DUNNING" local GI on Escape Cash. The War Department, a hasty review, revealed the demand for repayment was a- "mistake" and it was unfortunate and regretted.
I have the telegram from Washington, D.C. which was sent to a lawyer Harold W, on May 19, 1947, it states ---
Was department admits mistake in Dumas Case and apologizes.
Signed
Clarence E Kilburn

This is a true experience from Floyd J. Dumas - dated Easter Sunday, March 30, 1999

Copyright © 2001, 2002 by Matthew A Rozell. All rights reserved

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