REPLY BY ENDORSEMENT - JANUARY 1942
a patient presented me with a copy of her husband's orders. It was to confirm
his transfer of assignment from Ft. Benning and establish her eligibility for
CHAMPUS (Civilian Health Medical Program Uniformed Services). Listed at the bottom
left under the heading, "Distribution:" were 17 different departments,
headquarters and individuals for which copies (totaling 138 in number) were to
Government bureaucracy, and especially armed service bureaucracy,
has long had a love affair with paperwork in order to cover every possible contingency,
plug every loophole and diffuse responsibility. Contemplating the inordinate amount
of secretarial work, time and paper consumed in providing just this one individual
transfer order recalled an initial shattering experience with the paperwork of
a Line of Duty board in the Army thirty years ago.
In January 1942, after
four months in the Army assigned to the old Station Hospital at Benning, I was
just becoming adjusted to the duties of a 1st Lt. In the Medical Corps. Out of
the blue one day came notification (in triplicate) of my assignment as medical
officer on a three-man Line of Duty board. By mistake, since my date of rank was
the most recent of the three, I was listed as the Presiding Officer. The other
two members, 1st Lt. Evans (Infantry) and 2nd Lt. Hellman (Signal Corps), turned
out to be novices also.
In panic, I sought out a knowledgeable army surgeon,
Capt. Max Rulney (3 years of doctoring in the C.C.C. and 3 years in the army),
whose expertise in paperwork far exceeded that in medicine. The obvious irregularity
in assigning me as presiding officer upset Max greatly, but, as a practical man
well versed in the devious ways of the military, he recommended not attempting
to straighten out the mistake about date of rank. The paperwork, he said, might
become so involved that it would be easier for the board to meet as constituted,
turn in its report, and have done with it. Besides, as the senior presiding officer,
I would be merely a figurehead, and the actual work would fall to the lowly 2nd
Lt. Hellman, who, automatically, was the recording secretary.
scale Louisiana maneuvers had ended in the fall, and, as part of the exercise,
the evacuation channels for casualties were being tested. The Station Hospital
at Benning had been designated as a base hospital outside of the combat zone to
which wounded were shipped for definitive treatment and rehabilitation. When recovered,
the evacuee would either be returned to his original unit, reassigned elsewhere,
reclassified or retired, as the case demanded. The particular job of our Line
of Duty board was to investigate the broken leg injury of a maneuver casualty
and establish a Yes or No answer to the simple question of whether the injury
had occurred "in line of duty."
Before convening the board
for its first meeting, I thought it wise to visit the Orthopedic wards across
the road in the cantonement area to find and interview our casualty. Landry, Jules
A. Pfc. was a pleasant, non-complaining draftee with his left leg encased in a
walking cast. His name and unmistakable Cajun accent indicated he was Louisiana
lowland native. He was cooperative and happy to talk with a fellow Louisianan,
and gave a detailed, straightforward account of his earlier accident.
Landry had moved with his infantry unit from Camp Blanding in Florida to Louisiana
for the maneuvers. Early one Sunday morning, after a strenuous week of simulated
combat, his company was out of action and in reserve, bivouacked in a spot less
than a mile from his home. The thought of Sunday dinner and some of Mama Landry's
crawfish bisque was too much for Jules. So, with nothing to do, and being afraid
to awaken his sleeping platoon sergeant to ask for permission, he took off down
the familiar road and spent the day with his admiring family. After lunch, he
took Alcide, a 4-year-old younger brother, for a ride on the family mule. Returning
home, the mule balked, Jules was thrown and snapped both bones in his lower leg.
The family took him to old Dr. St. Amant in the nearby town, who splinted the
leg, loaded Jules in a car and delivered him back to his company area. Unfortunately,
by this time, Landry had been listed as AWOL on the daybook, and the report had
gone too far through channels to be retrieved.
This, essentially, was
the bare story of Landry, Jules A., Pfc. and his broken leg. Our board held a
meeting and decided, in view of the locale of the accident and Landry's being
officially AWOL, that the injury obviously had not occurred "in line of duty."
Lt. Hellman prepared the report consisting of our decision along with 20 pages
of statements, X-ray findings and true copies of medical and other reports (all
in quintuplicate). With much relief we all signed and sent it off through channels.
Two weeks later the report was back on my desk with an added front sheet
marked "Urgent" and something called a "1st Wrapper Endorsement."
It had apparently gotten no farther than the Station Hospital's own administration
office and had been returned for "revision and correction."
Again seeking help, I approached the redoubtable Capt. Rulney who was sympathetic
but not at all surprised. Max pointed out some glaring errors in phraseology,
the absence of certification on a number of true copies, and, worst of all, that
the inexperienced Hellman had typed using half-inch margins instead of the required
one and a half. From his files, he supplied a standardized Line of Duty proceedings
report to be used as an example, and, certainly, by comparison, ours was definitely
the work of amateurs.
Armed with the original report and the example,
I went across post to the Signal Corps area, only to find that 2nd Lt. Hellman
had been transferred to Alaska two days before. Lt. Evans was easier to find,
but, unfortunately, he was leaving immediately on a ten-day field exercise. He
did promise to take over as recording secretary as soon as he got back.
Discouraged (and worried about that "Urgent", 1st Wrapper Endorsement)
I prepared the second report myself, paying careful attention to word sequence,
terminology and margins. Evans signed when he got back, and the new, revised report
(in quintuplicate) along with the original report and its Wrapper Endorsement
was sent on its way again.
This time it got as far as the Main Post Headquarters.
When it reappeared on my desk 3 weeks later there was another "Urgent"
and a 3rd Wrapper Endorsement (what had happened to the 2nd Wrapper was never
explained). It was sent back for "completion" this time, and apparently
needed a statement (and 5 true copies) from the civilian physician who had originally
treated Pfc. Landry. This required some doing since old Dr. St. Amant was not
a letter writer by nature, nor had he yet been paid for his efforts. When finally
his grudging reply did come, copies were made and certified, and a complete new
third version of the board proceedings was retyped. In the interval, however,
Lt. Evans had been transferred to a port of embarkation and was not available
for signing. So true copies of his orders had to be obtained, along with a certified
statement from his former commanding officer, and sent along with the report.
While Evans' departure simplified matters in regard to calling board meetings,
it left me wary, and, as the new report along with the previous two went off,
I had no doubt that I would be seeing them all again before long.
got to Corps Headquarters this time and it was 5 weeks before they reappeared.
Marked "Urgent" again and sporting innumerable new Wrapper Endorsements,
another signed statement from Pfc. Landry was needed now. A quick trip to the
Orthopedic wards confirmed the certainty that Landry, Jules A., Pfc. had long
since departed and been returned to his unit in Florida. From other sources, it
was learned that Landry's Division was already in transport overseas. Nothing
was left at Ft. Benning but a harried Presiding Officer and the growing stacks
of papers and Wrapper Endorsements. There was nothing to do except to add a statement
from the Orthopedic ward officer and a summarizing acid appraisal of my own and,
all in quintuplicate, the new report and the three old ones were packaged up and
sent off again.
Before the calculated time for its next reappearance - it
must have reached Washington on this trip, since it was gone more than 5 weeks
- orders came through transferring me to the 45th Division at Ft. Devens, Mass.
The final outcome of Pfc. Landry's Line of Duty board remains in limbo.
I was haunted during the entire time of combat in Italy by a fear that the next
runner coming up the rocky path to the Aid Station in the mountains above Cassino
would be carrying a manila-wrapped package bulging with those familiar papers,
requesting that I reply by endorsement. And even now, thirty years later, there
is a feeling of unease on seeing any suitably sized, official looking package
that measures more than two feet in depth.
(c) The Bulletin of the
Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", Jan
1972, Vol. XIX No.1, p.8
William H. Schaefer, U. S. Army, Ret.
Last month we attended a pleasant gathering at White's Bookstore where retired
Colonel William H. Schaefer was autographing his newly published book on economics,
Shares. It is a small and interesting volume written in parable form. It explains
in painstakingly simple and logical fashion the monetary system and its fallacies,
and at the end offers some of Colonel Schaefer's uncluttered thinking on what
should be done about this mess.
We have been an admirer of the Colonel
for many years. His unfortunate capture early in the Mediterranean campaign of
World War II, and his subsequent long incarceration as a German prisoner of war,
interrupted an outstanding military career and deprived the Army and the country
of a personality that would have been one of its top General Officers. Colonel
Schaefer might best be described in the words of Dr. William Bean, who spoke of
an eighteenth century English physician as a man who ". . . has lived a life
of quiet rebellion against some of the organized assininities of contemporary
existence." From our own past experience, we can vouch for Colonel Willie's
rebelliousness, his integrity and intellect, and his direct, forceful approach
45th Infantry Division was the first Unit to train at Camp Edwards.
the summer of 1942, as a Battalion Surgeon with Colonel Schaefer's 500 man special
force, we accompanied this first unit to undergo training at the newly established
Army Commando Training Center on the south shore of Cape Cod. The installation
was so new that we spent the first week clearing brush, digging latrines, building
facilities and making the area habitable. Along with a rigorous training program
we were supposed to be learning the amphibious techniques of shore to shore landings.
As so often happens in military planning, the initial confusion was great.
Landing craft were scarce in those days - and the one or two dozen needed to float
our embryonic commandos had to be obtained from four different commands - the
Coast Guard, the Navy, the Marines and the Army Engineers. There was inter-service
rivalry, and each command seemed reluctant to part with any of its hoarded craft.
Coordination of the boat activities was a continuous nightmare. Then
an unexpected medical catastrophe occurred when three hundred of our men turned
up one day at sick call with the typical rash of a contact dermatitis. Emergency
gallons of calamine lotion were rushed to us from the hospital at nearby Camp
Edwards, but for three days all training was disrupted. We soon discovered that
the hand to hand combat course had been laid out in a pure stand of poison ivy.
Adding to the confusion, and to the frustration of Colonel Schaefer and his itchy,
pink-colored commandos, was the fact that the permanent training command staff
in charge of the center were not only inexperienced in basic knowledge of infantry
tactics, but also unbelievably bumbling and incompetent.
At the halfway
mark Colonel Schaefer could stand it no longer. He called a special meeting of
all officers, his own and all of the training command group. In his deliberate
fashion he enumerated each day by day mistake, each inefficiency, each foul-up,
and each indignity that he and his men had had to put up with. At the conclusion
of his controlled tirade, he announced with unmistakable authority (he was West
Point, and outranked the commander of the school) that henceforth, he was taking
over, and would be in charge of all activities.
The last half of our
training went off like clockwork. On completing our course we had become adequately
amphibious, and, as a final exercise, had subdued the island of Martha's Vineyard
in a joint assault with the paratroopers. On graduation we were reviewed by Secretary
of War Stimson and a cadre of Pentagon high brass, who were on hand to observe
and officially dedicate the new school. They were most impressed.
years later Colonel Schaefer told us that the Secretary of War had indeed been
so impressed, that, on his return to Washington, he ordered an immediate blanket
promotion of one grade for every man of the permanent training school command.
Even now, twenty-one years later, Colonel Schaefer still gets mad when he
thinks about it.
(c) Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's
Lounge", Dec 1963, Vol. X No.12, p.9
General John R. Kilpatrick, Port Commander, H.R.P.E., 0-167001, on Pier X, with
outgoing troops of the 45th Division, and representatives of local Red Cross serving
refreshments to the soldiers. Newport News, Va. : U.S. Army Signal Corps, Hampton
Roads Port of Embarkation, June 3, 1943.|
years ago, standing there on the open dockside under a noonday, coastal Virginia
sun that steamed the humid 96-degree atmosphere, our thoughts about War, Army
medicine, and life in the Infantry were all unprintable. There was no shelter
from the brightness, and the sweat soaked through clothing under the full combat
pack and dripped from our wrists. A scattering of wilted Red Cross ladies offering
paper cups of lemonade and melting ice did their best to spread cheer against
insurmountable odds. We had been up before dawn and, staggering under the load
of full equipment, a Valpak and two barracks bags, we had hurried and waited over
and over again on the move that took us from the swampy staging area of Camp Patrick
Henry to the embarkation docks at Hampton Roads. The large gray Navy transport
that loomed above us at the dock was the familiar U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson on which
we had trained in ship-to-shore amphibious techniques just two months before on
a then icy Chesapeake Bay.
The 45th Division, after almost three years
of training, was about to set sail finally for an overseas destination and long
awaited combat. (The 45th along with its sister unit from the Southwest, the 36th
Division, were the first two National Guard Divisions activated by President Roosevelt
on August 1, 1940 " . . . to serve in the military service of the United
States for a period of twelve consecutive months, unless sooner relieved.")
We had joined the Division over one year before at Ft. Devens, Massachusetts
on the same set of orders that included George Schuessler of Columbus, Lee Powers
of Savannah, and Bon Durham of Americus. The 45th, with two regiments from Oklahoma
and one from Colorado, was already a veteran and seasoned outfit when it was sent
from Texas to New England, and was preparing for an immediate overseas move when
we were assigned to it in May 1942. But those plans fell through, as did the next
ones in September 1942 (when General Patton arrived on the scene to deliver an
impassioned pep-talk that included us in the task force to invade North Africa),
and instead the Division had continued to train, - unendingly, it seemed to most
of the men. In the summer there had been two prolonged amphibious training exercises
in shore-to-shore work on Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard: from November to March
the Division had endured winter maneuvers in the bitter cold and snows of upper
New York State close by the Thousand Islands: and during spring, more amphibious
training with the Navy on Chesapeake Bay, and then a month of mountain training
in the wilderness of Virginia's Blue Ridge chain.
It had been a strenuous
but healthy, pleasant and unpleasant year. Our assignment as a Battalion Surgeon
with the pith (Colorado) Regiment had been quite a change from the dull routine
of hospital duty during the previous year at Ft. Benning. In medical circles,
such an assignment to field duty with an infantry battalion was generally considered
on a par with banishment to Outer Siberia. Field units had difficulty keeping
such jobs filled since immediately on assignment there was a panicky scramble
on the part of any rational medical officer to get the hell out by any means available.
- whether it be by writing a congressman, aggravating a silent ulcer; feigning
insanity, or admitting to homosexuality. Consequently, it was only when an outfit
was on the verge of overseas shipment that these positions could be filled with
unfortunates who, lifted from this post or that on sudden order were given no
time to escape. Of the six of us who were sent to the 157th as new medical officers
in May 1942. only two still remained a year later. But again the positions had
been filled in the staging area, and this time, for the four new doctors. there
was no way out.
It had been a year of medical stagnation. screening healthy
young men, giving shots. holding the endless successions of sick calls: a year
of headaches; sore feet, aching backs, coughs, colds, sore throats and loose bowels.
"Riding the sick book" was an easy war to avoid strenuous duty or an
unpleasant garbage detail, and we could always count on a full house in the Aid
Station on days when a twenty mile training march was scheduled. We learned to
deal with the psychosomatic ailments of the chronic complainers and goof-offs.
(The sick call technique of "Iodine lake" Holnitsky, the nutty medical
officer from the 3rd Battalion who sported a Groucho Marx moustache and read Plato
from a paperback, was to paint everything from a sore throat to a sore rectum
liberally with gentian violet.) The only elective surgery consisted of wart and
mole removals: an ingrown toenail was a major case. The infrequent circumcision
took on the aspect of a stomach resection, and we would draw straws for the privilege
of being an "operating surgeon" again. We inspected barracks, latrines,
shower room duckboards, mess halls, and pots, pans and garbage cans. A Boy Scout
with a merit badge in first aid could have performed most of our medical duties.
But there had been compensations. There was pleasure in discovering the
real function of the Army and participating in the activities of infantry training
and tactics. Life was seldom dull. The new world of the foot soldier, with its
incessant rousing, elemental English, and Rabelaisian humor was always interesting.
We were fortunate in having "Uncle Charlie" Anckorn as our Regimental
Commander, a stern father figure whose erect and dignified military bearing combined
firm discipline with great ability, calm wisdom, understanding, and a quiet sense
of humor. The 157th. under his guidance as National Guard Advisor to the State
of Colorado in the prewar years and under his command since its activation as
a unit, had matured into a capable regiment that functioned smoothly with a minimum
of confusion and flap. Colonel Anckorn was never flustered by the inconsistencies
of conflicting regulations or directives that emanated from Division or higher
headquarters; he merely sidestepped or ignored them. He had the respect of everyone
and the men were devoted to him and the Regiment. In that year we had discovered
the meaning of esprit de corps.
The year had passed quickly. There were
memories of long training marches and overnight field problems along the picturesque
back roads and byways through the woodlands and orchards of the beautiful, summer
and fall New England countryside. On the longer marches, after the first hours
when the joking and chatter would subside there was little joy in marching for
marching's sake alone, and the steady clomp of heavy GI shoes in monotonous cadence
had a sedative, hypnotic effect on all the senses. There were pleasant recollections
of weekend leaves spent in Boston, New York, Baltimore. Vermont and New Hampshire.
Of long walks along the isolated beaches of Cape Cod during the weeks of Commando
and amphibious training; of the coordinated, dawn landing at Oak Bluffs on Martha's
Vineyard, wading through the heavy surf and watching the hazy, pink sky fill with
the multicolored chutes of paratroopers and their equipment arriving to join us.
There was pleasure in recalling the vast expanses of clean, white snow and
drifts that blanketed Pine Camp and upper New York State through the winter months:
the crystalloid trees and the two-story long icicles that hung from the eaves
of the barracks; the poker games in the quarters that lasted for days on end during
the blizzard times when the temperature hung at a steady 30 below and training
had to be suspended. There were memories of a wintry Chesapeake Bay and scrambling
down the ice-coated, chain link nets over the sides of the transport ships into
the bobbing landing craft below, drenched by freezing spray. Of the wild, night
rides by jeep, with Father Barry, the Regimental Chaplain, dodging trees up the
rocky streambeds of the Pope and other, unnamed, peaks in the Blue Ridge. And
the vivid picture, as the mountain maneuvers ended, of a group of us squatting
around a borrowed, field kitchen burner unit on a sloping, desolate clearing at
three in the morning, - drenched by a steady drizzle, brewing K-ration coffee
in our canteen cups; too miserable to move, to wet to care, too tired to complain.
We could only stare, as if in a trance, at the flickering blue flames and wonder
if the night would ever end, or if we should ever be warm and dry again.
But all that was behind us and the last two weeks of confinement in the mosquito-infested
area at Patrick Henry, cut off from family and the outside world, and aggravated
by the endless examinations and equipment checks of the staging process, had played
havoc with morale. The men were irritable, exhausted and over trained; they were
anxious to get moving, anywhere. The long waits were frustrating, and the unbearable,
smothering heat on the embarkation dock was the final indignity.
Thomas Jefferson APA30
Moving at a snail's pace. we filed up the gangway and were checked aboard. It
was better there, but not much. The officers, on the upper decks, were crowded
eight to a small stateroom the men were crammed like sardines below decks and
into the holds that were already filled with supplies, weapons, vehicles and equipment.
When the ship pulled away from the dock, it was only to move a short way out into
the harbor where it dropped anchor. We remained there for four more days. Each
morning and each night we practiced the familiar boat drills; over the sides and
down the cargo nets with full equipment, into the waiting landing craft, around
to the other side of the ship where we scrambled up other nets back on board again.
We felt like caged monkeys. Then on the morning of June 6, 1943 we awakened to
the throb of engines and blasts of whistles. We moved slowly out of the harbor,
and the giant armada of more than 100 ships that carried the 45th Division and
all of its attached supporting units, headed out into the Atlantic.
(c) The Doctor's Lounge, Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Bulletin, Vol XX, No.
1, 1963, p20
afternoon of June 21, 1943, the convoy that carried the 45th Division overseas
passed quietly through the Strait of Gibraltar. We lined the rails of our transport,
the U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson, to view the big rock, and wondered jokingly what
had happened to the Prudential Insurance sign. It was our first sight of land
since leaving the Virginia coast thirteen days before. The trip across had been
a smooth and uneventful one. On only two occasions had there been submarine alerts,
and the destroyer escorts had sped by dutifully to drop their depth charges; if
any actual danger existed it had never materialized. Although the amateur astronomers
and navigators aboard had predicted a course toward North Africa, it was not until
we saw Gibraltar that we knew for certain our destination laid in the Mediterranean.
Our 2nd Battalion of the 157th Infantry along with its attached supporting
units constituted a complete combat team that occupied the entire transport. We
were tightly packed aboard, literally in layers, with all of our ammunition, supplies,
weapons and vehicles, ready to be unloaded over the sides into the landing craft
that would assault an enemy beach. The repetitious training had continued throughout
the voyage over. By day there were lectures, training films and calisthenics;
at night, under blackout, we practiced the boat team assembly drills. Medical
duties on board were minimal, and most of the time apart from the scheduled training
was spent in our bunks or in the wardrooms playing gin rummy. The ordered, clean
Navy life in "officer country" was an unfamiliar experience to us of
the earthy infantry, and the Navy mess with its white tablecloths, gleaming silver,
and colored mess-boys, was a world that recalled a pleasant life of pre-Army days.
Morale, which had reached its lowest point prior to sailing, had returned
with the anticipation of imminent combat. But it slumped anew when, after being
confined to the transports for four days in the harbor at Oran, we moved eastward
only a few miles along the coast to Mostagenem to make still another practice
landing. Once more it was down the landing nets into the landing craft and onto
the benches. The "enemy" opposing us was our old buddies from Cape Cod,
troops of the 36th Division. On hand also to greet us as we stumbled dispiritedly
across the sand was the flamboyant General Patton. Resplendent in polished helmet,
gleaming cavalry boots, and ivory handled pistols, he strode up and down the water's
edge, urging us to "Charge!" with flicks of his riding crop. We were
The morale was even lower by the end of eleven days
on land and more training. The dry, alkaline barrenness of French North Africa
was unpleasantly hot, water was at a premium, flies, mosquitoes and fleas surrounded
us, and small, grisly scorpions invaded our clothes, shoes and bedding. At higher
headquarters final plans and preparations were being made for "Operation
Husky", but it was not until we had loaded back on the transports, and the
convoy was under way again, that we learned we were to invade that ancient island
The three-cornered island located strategically
in the Mediterranean off the toe of Italy, had endured invasions and occupations
with monotonous regularity for more than three thousand years. The Sicels and
Sicilians, original inhabitants (and probably foreigners themselves) from the
Stone and Bronze Ages, were first invaded in recorded history by the Phoenicians
prior to 1500 B.C. Then, in succession, came the Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans,
Vandals, Ostrogoths and the Byzantine Turks. In the eighth century A.D. the Arabs
took over for 300 years until displaced by the Normans, who, in turn, lost out
to Spain and the House of Aragon in 1300. The Bourbon Dynasty and the Kingdom
of Naples displaced the Spaniards in the early 1700s, and for the next hundred
and fifty years the island was handed back and forth among the royal houses of
Austria, France and Italy. The British came as allies to the Bourbons in the fight
against Napoleon in the 1800s; and after Garibaldi, the unifier of Italy, invaded
in 1854 to end the Bourbon rule, Sicily became part of the Italian kingdom in
1861. Now the Germans in their role of Axis partner had occupied the island since
1941, and the Sicilians were looking forward once again to liberation, this time
by the Americans and British.
Shortly after midnight, on July 10th, the
USS Thomas Jefferson lay a few miles off the southern coast of Sicily wallowing
drunkenly in the heavy seas. The invasion fleet by now numbered over 2000 vessels.
Invasion hour had been put off until 2:45 AM because of an unexpected Mediterranean
storm which whipped wind and waves in uncooperative fury. We had been assembled
and waiting in the night blackness at our boat team stations along the rails of
the upper decks since midnight. Ordinarily most of us would have been seasick,
but the excitement of the moment had our stomachs knotted in controlled spasm,
and the anticipation and uncertainty of what lay ahead gripped us all.
The landing hour was again delayed, and then just before four o'clock the PA system
droned out its call to the boat teams. We had been due to disembark and go in
with the 5th wave, to land one hour after the initial assault, but the storm had
thrown all into confusion. Climbing down the wet chain-link nets we were slapped
unmercifully against the side of the transport as it rolled with the heavy swells,
but all fifteen of us who made up the boat team managed the final hazardous drop
into the tossing LCVP safely.
Getting the medical jeep and trailer into
the landing craft with us was almost disastrous. The booms would lower the vehicle
to a point above us in the boat, where it swung like a demolition ball gone crazy.
We would pull and strain at the hanging guide line that dangled from the jeep,
and then with the jeep just over our heads and almost in the boat, the sea would
fall away and the line be ripped from our grasp amid curses and shouts of "Turn
it loose!" while the transport rolled one way, the jeep swung up in another,
and our little boat plunged in still another. The next roll of the transport would
carry us up and send the jeep crashing down against our sides or bow as we scrambled
to avoid being crushed. After six or seven attempts, the impossible was finally
accomplished, and with a sputtering roar of the Diesel motor, we cast loose and
headed in the direction of shore.
In all of our practice landings on
Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Chesapeake Bay, and North Africa we had hit the right
beach only once in eight attempts. We didn't improve our average this time when
it was for real. Fortunately, however, as we approached shore the darkness began
to lighten enough that we could see surf pounding against a rocky coast and offshore
rocks. It was not at all like the sloping sand beach of the scale-relief model
we had studied so carefully on board the transport. The fearful bombardment put
on by the naval artillery and air support that had raked the beaches an hour before
had subsided into an occasional salvo that whistled high above us on its way inland.
Since there seemed to be not much activity or small arms fire on the beach itself,
we were eventually able to persuade our frightened and obstinate Navy coxswain
to swing the boat to port and run parallel to land about a half-mile off shore
until we spotted a sandy coastline that seemed more recognizable. Some of the
boats in the waves ahead of us had not been so lucky, and in the darkness had
piled head on into the offshore rocks. The Battalion lost forty-five men by drowning.
In his haste to get us ashore and get back to the safety of the transport
area, our uncooperative Navy coxswain rolled down the landing ramp at the first
grate of keel on sand. We piled over the sides as the jeep and trailer shot down
the ramp into more than three feet of water. We waded along beside the jeep, and
all went well until the waterproofing gave up in the heavy surf. Our initial surge
had covered about 30 yards only; there was still more than 100 yards ahead to
the water's edge. Hip deep in water and with the surf breaking on our backs, we
held a brief strategy meeting and decided in view of the enemy artillery bursts
sporadically peppering the shore and shallows, the jeep and trailer would have
to make it on their own.
Once on the beach we left Corporal Morrow and Red
Meier, the jeep driver, to dig in and keep an eye on the vehicles, while the rest
of us sought out the access road inland that would lead us to the Battalion assembly
point. Actually, by our maneuvering off shore, we were within a couple hundred
yards of where we should have been. Kenny Prather, the Staff Sergeant in charge
of our medical section, scouting on ahead, returned in a few minutes with six
happy Sicilian prisoners. They had been manning machine guns in a pillbox nearby,
and were overjoyed that they had a choice of surrendering to a first-aid kit and
a Red Cross armband, rather than to a trigger-happy Gl. They had been afraid that
they might have had to shoot at someone in self-defense. We turned them over to
Morrow and Meier and hiked off to find the Battalion.
By noon the Battalion
had secured its first objectives. Apart from the men lost on landing there had
been few casualties, and we treated these in our first aid station set up under
an olive tree near the battalion headquarters. With Sgt. Prather, we walked back
to the beach and found that Morrow and Meier, with the aid of the prisoners, had
manhandled the jeep and trailer onto the sandy shore. The motor had dried out
and was running again, but when they tried to reach the access road, both jeep
and trailer had bogged down hopelessly up to the tire tops in the soft sand. We
all pitched in to dig it out, cleared a path in front of it, and sought out the
engineer boys, who had landed by this time. We borrowed two long rolls of chicken
wire, jammed some under the dugout front and back wheels, and laid out the rest
in a path in front of the jeep. When all was set, we lined up on each side of
the jeep and trailer. Meier gunned the engine, and with a mighty heave and spinning
of wheels we launched the jeep onto the wire netting, It advanced three yards,
but used up all thirty feet of chicken wire, which ended up tightly wound around
both front and rear axles.
For the next two hours, while the war swirled
around us and the boats kept landing and the shells kept dropping. We took turns
under the jeep with wire clippers, snipping each strand of chicken wire individually,
and cursing the engineer geniuses. Some time later when the half-tracks rolled
ashore we were pulled out onto firmer ground. Motorized again, we roared off to
catch up with the rest of the Battalion.
Although we were ignorant of
it at the time we were landing on, fighting on and marching over a site of great
antiquity that had seen destruction and sea borne invasion many times before.
On the rocky promontory to our right, and on the fertile dunes in front of us,
the town of Camerina, founded 600 years before the birth of Christ, had been destroyed
and rebuilt five times before it was eventually abandoned. In 405 BC, at the time
when Syracuse, some eighty miles away on Sicily's eastern coast was the center
of Greek civilization and the most powerful city in all Europe, Camerina had been
wiped out by an expeditionary landing force of Carthaginians led by the first
Hannibal, grandson of Hamilcar. It was rebuilt by Timoleon, destroyed and rebuilt
twice in the interval, and finally destroyed again by the Romans in 258 BC. It
lingered on as a shell until, during 1st century BC, it gradually disappeared
The rocks that form the promontories and line the shores today are
not really rocks but fragments of composition building stone, remains of the shattered
walls and temples of five Camerinas. Our own modern bombs and explosives had done
little damage; the rubble, merely disturbed and rearranged by our shelling, returned
again to the centuries of nature once we had passed. Today all that remains of
a great Greek civilization is a small patch of archeological excavation recently
uncovered. All that remain from the brief German occupation are the empty concrete
pillboxes overlooking the vulnerable beaches. With the Russian Navy now well established
in the Mediterranean, these will probably be put to use again before the century
(c) The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical
Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", Jul 1968, Vol. XV No.7, p.9
Medicine: Summer, 1943
In mid-August, the midnight mist rolling in from the sea across one of the
few straight stretches of road on the north coast of Sicily was chilling. There
were five of us in the jeep; Meier drove and I sat in the front seat beside him;
Watkins, Caronte and Prather were crowded into the back and complaining of the
cold. Meier, peering intently ahead into the fog and blackness over the lowered,
canvas covered windshield, was doing his best to make time while dodging potholes
and shell craters along the war-torn road. The trailer behind us bounced crazily,
loudly rattling its half-load of water cans, litters, splints and plasma boxes.
"I hope the god dam Krauts are busy up ahead," grunted Watkins
between bounces. "Turn on the lights and blow the horn, Meier, maybe they
ain't heard us yet."
Beyond the battered two-story shell of rail
station on the left, we dodged a burned-out half-track partially blocking the
road. The smell of combat and death still lingered along the debris-strewn highway,
where, only two days before, the tanks and tank destroyers had fought a running
battle with the retreating Germans. Now, defending a ridge that dropped abruptly
to the sea about three miles ahead, the outnumbered Germans had stopped the advance
of Patton's entire Seventh Army as it pushed eastward toward Messina.
A half-mile farther on, a guide waving a white handkerchief mounted the road shoulder
and flagged us down. He turned us onto a dirt track leading inland toward the
dark hills and mountains.
"You guys are late. The rest of the battalion
came by over an hour ago."
"It ain't our fault, buddy," said
Caronte. "Where the hell is the assembly area?"
"About a mile
or two up this road," said the guide, pointing.
grumbled Caronte. "Cap'n, I can smell it already. Another chicken shit mission."
The broad band of rugged mountains along the entire north coast of Sicily
extends inland for more than 30 miles, rising rapidly in places to heights of
6000 to 7000 feet. There is a narrow coastal plain in spots, but, for the most
part, the main highway and the railroad beside it are chiseled into mountain rock
just above the water's edge. The infrequent roads leading southward from the coast
hairpin up the mountainsides usually to dead-end in some remotely perched town
or village high above the sea. In the mountain fastness, only narrow goat and
donkey trails, winding in and out along ravines and ridges, connect the isolated
The 157th Infantry's 1st Battalion had been engaging the Germans
for two days in a bloody and unsuccessful attempt to push them off the strategic
ridge, which met the sea below the mountain towns of Motta and Pettineo. East
of the ridge was the wide, dry bed of the Mistretta River and, beyond that, lay
the town of San Stefano di Camastra on the coast. In order to outflank the Germans
on the ridge, our 2nd Battalion had been called upon to make a forced march over
the inland mountains to the south. To aid in hauling weapons, ammunition and supplies,
the Division's company of mules and muleskinners had been brought up. About one-quarter
of the battalion, and all of its vehicles, had to remain in the rear. Initially,
only company medics and litter-bearers were to accompany the flanking foot-troops,
but, at the last minute, someone decided that a group from the aid station should
trail the battalion in with extra medical supplies and equipment. As usual (it
was early in the European campaign and combat medics had yet to be discovered
and glamorized) the orders had reached us belatedly.
By the time we reached
the blacked-out assembly area, a barren hilltop of scrub brush, gorse and cactus,
it was evident that Caronte's estimate of the situation was correct. The assembly
point was deserted except for a couple of supply men.
you a mule," said one of the supply sergeants.
"That don't look
like no god dam mule to me," said Watkins, eyeing a tiny, long eared, moth-eaten
Sicilian donkey, which, materialized out of the night mist.
hell is the pack saddle?" asked Prather.
"The heavy weapons boys
took the last one."
"How do they expect us to load all this crap?"
"That's your problem."
"Typical! Typical!" said
Watkins. "Screw the medics! Always on the short end."
a red-faced, balding cynic and semi-reformed alcoholic, had once been chief morgue
attendant at Denver General Hospital. Caronte was a short pudgy, comical Brooklyn
native who left a job in the Shirley Temple Doll Factory to join the Army. Only
Ken Prather, Staff Sergeant in charge of our medical section, was truly at home
in the outdoors. In civilian life, Ken had lived on a ranch and herded sheep in
the Colorado mountains near the Great Divide. Three years in the infantry had
reinforced his natural silence and preserved a lean hardness.
less than half the supplies we'd brought and sent Meier with the jeep and trailer
back to the rear. Using a folded GI blanket as a saddle pad, Prather fashioned
some rope slings to drape across the donkey's back. (Caronte had already christened
her Angelina; in honor, he said, of his stubborn grandmother.)
note: The author fails to mention here that his own grandmother, born not more
than 50 from miles from this very location, was Angelina Tusa, and that it was
she who loaded her own small children into a donkey cart for Palermo, and from
there by steamer to the port of New Orleans in 1892. But that's another story
- see "My Father the Doctor".]
Through the sling loops
on each side, we suspended folding litters and a couple of metal-frame leg splints.
Several rolls of broad, muslin splint-bandage fashioned into a wrap-around girth
secured this basic load. The rest of the equipment blankets, plasma boxes, miscellaneous
cartons of medical supplies and food rations was piled on top and tied to the
splints and litters with more rope, adhesive tape, muslin and gauze bandage. We
roped two 5-gallon water cans together and hung these, one on each side for balance,
across Angelina's withers. She seemed to tolerate the unholy load, but it took
strong urging to set her into motion. With Prather leading and scouting ahead,
Caronte on the halter rope, Watkins and I trailing, we set off into the darkness.
Fourteen hours later, at four in the afternoon, we were still moving,
but slowly. Through the night and through the day we had pushed on; up and down
hillsides, following ravines, gullies and dried out streambeds whenever we could;
only occasionally had we found a track or path we could use. We proceeded by guess,
by map, and Prather's compass reading. Three times, on upgrades or downgrades,
the load had slipped and we were forced to stop, unpack and reload. It was a lonely,
frustrating journey. The war, it seemed, had disappeared. Once or twice during
the day, in the distance beyond the mountain ranges between the sea and us, muffled
sounds of shooting and artillery fire reached us. Otherwise we were alone in the
dusty, deserted, sun-baked countryside, and only the sounds of Angelina's reluctant
hooves, the constant creaking of her makeshift load, and the clank of water cans
broke the silence. It became evident that we were lagging more and more behind
the battalion. We had seen none of our own men, and even the few peasant huts
we'd passed were empty. The hot Sicilian sun was merciless. By afternoon our sweat
soaked woolen uniforms were stiffly caked with fine, white dust. We had finally
reached a terrace of stunted olive and almond trees amid clumps of broadleaved,
prickly-pear cactus at the base of the Motta ridge.
"I think Angelina's
had it," said Watkins.
"That makes two of us," said Caronte.
"My feet are killing me."
"Okay, get her unloaded," said
Prather. "We'll give her a rest and cool her off with some water. And we
might as well take a chow break ourselves. Maybe in a couple of hours we can get
her moving again."
We emptied one of the water cans into our helmets
and canteen cups and doused Angelina and ourselves. She refused to eat K-ration
dog biscuits but bit off half of a hard chocolate D-bar Caronte held in his hand.
He was disgusted. "She's got a sweet tooth just like old grandma. Jeez! I
never thought I'd be playing nursemaid to a butt-headed Sicilian jackass."
"She loves you, Louie," said Watkins. He was sitting, propped against
a rock wall, spooning out a can of cold pork and beans and guzzling red wine from
one of his two canteens.
Prather and I puzzled over our one field map. "We
ought to be about here," said Prather, "and by now the battalion should
be over here almost to the coast, behind where the Germans are supposed to be
on this ridge."
"At the rate we've been going, it may take
us another 7 or 8 hours to reach them."
"Maybe more," said
Prather, watching Watkins who had been hitting the wine all day.
still looks like we've got a long climb ahead of us. If we can ever make it to
the top of this ridge we should cross a road that leads inland to Motta."
"Yep. But it runs in the wrong direction. Look," said Prather.
"There's a dotted line here which must be one of these cart paths leading
off it that loops around to the north again and passes close to the coast about
where the battalion should be."
At dusk, for the first time in several
hours, the sound of artillery fire started again. It was closer now, but still
muffled and far away near the coast. It kept on.
it," said Caronte. He waddled over and kicked at Watkins who had snoozed
peacefully through it all. "On your feet, Wat. The Krauts are coming."
"Let's pack up and get moving," said Prather.
We reached the top just past midnight, after a tortured nightmare of
scrambling. We had zigged and zagged upward, one rock terrace after another in
unending succession, some of them barely wide enough to support one row of olive
trees or a couple of rows of staked grape vines; Caronte and Prather pulling on
Angelina's halter, Watkins and I boosting from the hind end. Twice more on the
climb we'd had to stop and repack the load. The road was there on the crest, and
it was deserted. We were all exhausted.
"Somebody's gotta be nuts,"
groaned Caronte. "No god dam battalion in its right mind ever came this god
Prather had walked ahead along the road and returned within
a few minutes. He seemed relieved. "I found the cart path. Right where the
map said it was. It'll be easy going from now on."
The path took off
from the road and headed east about a quarter mile from where we were. It led
along the north slope of a ridge just below the ridge line. Once, in a spot where
the mist was thin, a sliver of moon broke through the cloud cover high above and
we caught a glimpse of the sea, far below and miles to our left. For the first
half-mile the path was smoothly graveled, but it soon changed into a cobblestone
surface just wide enough for a narrow animal cart. In places it was bordered by
a regular, raised, stone edge; in places, too, wheel ruts, worn deeply into the
stone, testified to its antiquity and once heavy use. Watkins, even though he
still nursed a wine hangover, seemed jovial. "If I had more wine, I'd drink
a toast to them god dam old Roman road-builders."
a visit to Sicily many years later, I found the road again. Actually, it predated
the Romans and once led from the large Sickle-Greek city of Halaesa, which had
flourished nearby in 500 B.C. The Romans may have improved the road during their
occupation, but Halaesa itself disappeared around 100 A.D.)
were moving comfortably now on a gentle downhill grade. The night had darkened
and the mist was heavy again. If all went well, we should be reaching the coast
in five or six hours.
We came to a stop as Caronte halted Angelina suddenly.
"What the hell is that?"
"Sounds like music," said Prather.
We listened intently. Faintly at first, then disappearing completely,
then again, waxing and waning, we could hear a thin sound of music. The eerie
melody, somewhere in the mist ahead, obviously was on the path and coming toward
us as it got progressively louder. Then, only a few yards away, emerging out of
the fog, came a peasant leading a small replica of Angelina loaded with straw
and a couple of wooden wine casks. He was playing a concertina. When he stopped,
he was almost on us; it was hard to tell who was more surprised. He was a small,
weathered man, dressed in typical peasant fashion, wearing dusty, frayed trousers,
a shapeless cap on his head, and a nondescript, dark woolen coat draped over the
shoulders of a dirty, open-necked shirt of coarse cloth.
first to react. "Speak to him in Wop, Caronte. Ask 'him what in the hell
he's doing out here on this Godforsaken mountain at two A.M. Don't he know there's
a war going on?"
After the initial surprise, our peasant friend seemed
entirely at ease. Caronte tried out his best pidgin Brooklynese Italian: the peasant
answered in an almost unrecognizable Sicilian dialect. There was a lot of hand
waving and good fellowship. I could pick up only a word or two.
don't have to kiss him, Louie", said Watkins, "What's he telling you?"
"He says his name is Giuseppe, Joe Mazzara, and he's on his way home.
He's got a cousin in Yonkers."
"Jesus," said Watkins. "They
all got cousins somewhere."
"He says the Germans pulled out yesterday."
The peasant nodded vigorously. He brushed one open palm quickly and dramatically
against the other in the direction of east: "Tedeschi, tutti scappati!"
"That's what they always say," said Prather.
said Watkins, eyeing the two wine casks, "you're a lousy intelligence corporal.
Find out if he's interested in trading us some wine for cigarettes."
The peasant grinned: "Americana? Buono."
Watkins tapped on one
of the casks, held a couple of empty canteens upside down and conveyed the message
adequately in sign language and two words: "Vino? Cigarette?"
After filling Watkins's canteens, Mazzara insisted that the rest of us take some
too. The wine was harsh and sour, but warming. After a round of drinking, the
peasant struck a small wax match and lit one of his bartered cigarettes. A few
minutes later we broke up the party. He waved goodbye and continued up the trail
with his donkey; we moved on in the opposite direction. The concertina music began
again, and, just before it faded away in the distance behind us, he must have
stopped to light another cigarette. The mist had cleared somewhat, and the reflection
of the match flare, even from a great distance, shone like a beacon.
"That's one bastard who never heard of a blackout," grumbled Watkins.
A minute later the first shell exploded near the trail about a hundred yards
to our rear. Six or seven more, all hitting on the ridge or near the cart path,
followed it. The brief warning whistles were unmistakable. "Mortars,"
yelled Prather. "Let's get off this road."
We scrambled down about
three levels onto a terraced grape vineyard and sought protection along a low
rock wall. Another barrage of mortar bursts came whistling in, exploding along
the trail we'd left. A third barrage followed, and then all was quiet.
"I knew there was something phony about that character," said Watkins.
"I bet he was a god dam German agent infiltrating the lines. He must have
had a walkie-talkie with him and spotted us for the Krauts."
so smart," said Caronte. "Why the hell didn't you challenge him?"
"With what? A 5cc syringe?"
"You could have poked around
in that straw while he was dealing out the wine."
"Yeah. And supposin'
he had a burp gun slung under that baggy coat. Where would we be?"
said Prather. "Knock it off. The shooting's over."
to abandon the path and stay put where we were for the rest of the night. Angelina
was unloaded again and we tied her halter rope to a vine stake nearby. We stretched
out on the rocky ground along the wall and went to sleep under some dusty grape
Suddenly, it was morning and broad daylight. Caronte was shaking
my arm. "Cap'n. Wake up. The donkey's gone and so is Prather."
"Still passed out under the grape vines. He
finished off the wine and a pint of grain alcohol last night before he went to
"Well, see if you can revive him. I'll heat up some water
for coffee. We'll eat breakfast and wait here for Kenny. He'll be back."
It was an hour later when we spotted Prather heading our way on the trail
above. He was leading Angelina. She had pulled loose during the night and wandered
off, dragging stake and grape vine at the end of her halter rope. Prather found
her about a half-mile away nibbling on cactus leaves. After tying her up temporarily,
he had gone ahead on the trail for a couple of miles and run into a squad from
"They were pulling out and heading toward the coast to
rejoin the battalion," said Prather.
"Did they have any casualties?"
asked Caronte, still thinking about the shelling a few hours before.
One guy had a headache and wanted some APC's."
And what the hell were
they doing last night while the Krauts were shelling the bejeesus out of us?"
Prather grimaced. "According to the way they told it,
they spotted some lights and activity on this ridge last night and blasted the
hell out of a whole company of Germans."
"Holy tomato! And I could've
stayed in Brooklyn making dolls," said Caronte. "Well, anyway, I'm glad
them heroes are a bunch of lousy mortar men."
We reloaded Angelina
and started on our way again. Within three hours we had reached the coast, still
looking for the battalion. There was traffic now on the coast road. A jeep and
trailer approaching us from the direction of the front looked familiar. Prather
was up on the road flagging it. It was Meier.
"Where have you guys been?"
he asked. "I've been up and down this road for the past two hours looking
"What's going on?" asked Prather.
now. The Germans pulled out yesterday afternoon, and they moved the rest of us
up the coast road last night," said Meier. "A couple of platoons from
G Company are already across the river and into San Stefano."
the battalion trap any Germans?"
"Naw. They were long gone before
our guys even reached the coast."
"Where's the battalion now?"
"Up ahead," said Meier, "sitting on their duffs. We been ordered
to hold. There's a big rumor that the whole division is gonna be relieved. We're
waiting for the 3rd Division to move through us this afternoon."
achin' back," said Watkins, aiming a kick at Angelina's scrawny rump.
Caronte climbed into the jeep, pulled off his shoes, and began massaging his feet:
"What a chickenshit war."
(c)The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's
Lounge", Sep 1973, Vol. XX No.9, p.11