157th Infantry Regiment Crest , 45th Infantry Division, Second WorldWar

Dr. Peter Carl Graffagnino

157th Infantry Regiment Crest, 45th Thunderbird Division, Second WorldWar
NOTE THAT LINKS WHICH LEAD TO THIS SITE ARE BEYOND OUR CONTROL,
AND WE DO NOT ENDORSE THE WEB CONTENT OR ACTIONS OF SUCH OTHER SITES OR THEIR OPERATORS.

Introduction to the WWIIRA and 45th Infantry Division, World War II Reenactors

An explanation of who the WWIIRA and World War Two reenactors are

What you will want to know if you have an interest in working with us.

The photo gallery has historical images of the WWII, Thunderbirds and 45th ID reenacting photos.

Information about Venturing Crew 1941, Boy Scouts of America

HomeWho We AreWant to volunteerPhoto Gallery Venturing Crew

These are the World War II events that you will find the WWIIRA in attendance.

Learn about the Men and campaigns of the 45th Infantry Division in WW II.

Links to 45th related, World War 2, or community support websites

Learn about our project to help our present day Military with civilian relations

Table of Contents listing all of the pages on our WW II 45th Division and Reenacting website, including a list of Maps.
Schedule of Events Unit History Wounded Warrior Project    LinksTable of Contents


Yahoo Group replaces
message board!

We have shirts, sweatshirts, Golf Ts with Thunderbirds and regiment crestsStickers, calenders, clocks and more...Hats,Mugs, travel mugs, We'll work on customizing just ask us!
Looking for Thunderbird gifts?
Would you like to help support this website?

Please stop by and visit the Gift Shop!

 

 



The following is used with the permission of Bob Graffagnino. They were originally published in the Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, either as editorials, or in his column titled "The Doctor's Lounge". Bob, Dr. Graffagnino's son, is seeking to publish his father's writings, many of which can be found at http://graffagnino.com/doctorslounge/.


June 1941: Army Medicine and Col. Strong

 

Dr Peter Carl Graffagnino Medical School ,1938

With the passage of a quarter of a century - always a good point to indulge in reminiscence - we recall that at this time of year in 1941, we were in New York City trying to make up our mind whether to stay on in residency training or join some branch of the armed services. (This seems to be a recurrent decision each generation must face.) Unlike the interns and residents of today, most of us then were single and unattached, so the added complication of what to do about wives and families did not exist. At that time the European war was already in progress, and it seemed obvious that the remaining three to four years of training ahead were due to be interrupted. In retrospect, there was no real reason to make a hurried decision, but somehow, then, it did seem important to get things settled.

Through laziness and general disinterest in all things military, we had not had the foresight, on graduating from medical school two years before, to sign the offered application, and as a result did not hold a reserve commission. Others at the hospital talked knowingly of the advantages of the Air Corps, Navy or Army, and even of the British and Canadian Services, but we were ignorant of all. The influence that headed us finally in the direction of Army medicine was a letter from a former close friend and classmate. He was already in service and comfortably located at the Fort Benning Station Hospital, and he was looking for company. We were urged to join immediately, since the Army was still honoring requests for particular assignments. After the decision was made, we informed our chief and the hospital administrator that we would not be staying for the next year, and took the subway down to 90 Church Street, where we filled out forms, had a physical examination, and waited.

Through laziness and general disinterest in all things military, we had not had the foresight, on graduating from medical school two years before, to sign the offered application, and as a result did not hold a reserve commission. Others at the hospital talked knowingly of the advantages of the Air Corps, Navy or Army, and even of the British and Canadian Services, but we were ignorant of all. The influence that headed us finally in the direction of Army medicine was a letter from a former close friend and classmate. He was already in service and comfortably located at the Fort Benning Station Hospital, and he was looking for company. We were urged to join immediately, since the Army was still honoring requests for particular assignments. After the decision was made, we informed our chief and the hospital administrator that we would not be staying for the next year, and took the subway down to 90 Church Street, where we filled out forms, had a physical examination, and waited.

Two complications developed in short order: first, our eyesight, while apparently adequate for draft requirements, was below the required standards for commission as an officer; second, to be stationed at Benning, it would be necessary to apply through the Fourth Corps Area instead of the First. Obstacles like these, however, were only minor challenges. The eyesight problem was solved by several interviews, considerable paper work, additional examinations, and by signing some sort of disability waiver form. We counted on connections in New Orleans, our native city located in the Fourth Corps Area, to deal with the second complication.

We did not realize fully how solid the connections were until mid-June when, having left New York and returned south, we stood before the proper desk in the Federal Building on St. Charles St. Colonel Robert Strong, a friend of the family and our own former Professor of Pediatrics at Tulane, was not only the officer in charge but, by virtue of his reserve rank, also the senior medical officer in the entire Fourth Corps Area. He greeted us pleasantly and made a great show of shuffling through stacks of papers, found the right ones, made us sign one or two more forms, and assured us in an official and efficient manner that everything possible would be done to grant the commission and the assignment as requested. The papers would have to make their usual channeled movements up to Washington and back, but, in due time, he was certain, all would be in order. He rose formally, and, as we did not think a salute was yet in order, we merely shook his hand, expressed thanks, and went our way.

One hour later, at noon, we walked into the dimly lit, air-conditioned bar in the Roosevelt, and were promptly hailed by our first name from a corner alcove. The earlier visit must have terminated the morning's medical work, for there, glowing rosily in a seat against the wall, was Colonel Strong making violent motions for us to join him. His jaunty overseas cap with its silvered eagle was perched symmetrically, but transversely, across his head, running from ear to ear above the bright red of an advancing forehead. This descent from protocol was reassuring, and as the conversation progressed from drink to drink, our faith in military medicine was bolstered.

Dr. Strong (it was difficult to think of him then as "the Colonel") had always been a favorite professor. A brilliant and knowledgeable clinician, author and editor of several texts, and a top authority in his field of Pediatrics, he had retained humor and tolerance that endeared him to his students. It was rumored that he occasionally enjoyed a nip or two during working hours, and he was a familiar figure on the charity wards, making rounds all alone at odd hours, handing out pennies and candies to the small patients. One of his eccentricities was that he invariably wore white tennis shoes. That day in the bar he expounded at length about the frustrations of his new job. His troubles with the Army, if indeed there were troubles, arose only from his age and rank that unfortunately, from his viewpoint, placed him behind a desk in the corps command instead of on the road to adventure. It was a far cry from the A.E.F. and the memories of what must have been a gay, gay Paree. When we left the Colonel, this time with an exchange of brisk saluting, we were certain that our papers could have fallen into no better hands.

Colonel Strong never did get overseas. He commuted to his desk from the Gulf Coast (where he lived after his retirement from teaching) and, just prior to his retirement from the Army as a Brigadier General, he had become a great favorite of the M.P.'s there. Every evening after cocktail time, the General would appear at one or two of the busy intersections in Gulfport and spell the M.P.'s at their posts directing traffic, while they ducked out for a quick beer. In spite of an occasional traffic snarl, his regular evening appearances were looked forward to by the military as well as the civilian residents. After his death a few years later, there was talk of erecting a memorial to him on one of the corners, but somehow it never came about. It must have gotten lost in the red tape he so despised.

(c) The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", Jun 1966, Vol. XIII Vol 6, p.12

Memory Lane


The annual joint meeting of the Muscogee County Society and the staff of Martin Army Hospital was a successful one, and well attended by both groups. We made several new acquaintances, and renewed a pleasant old one with Colonel Henry W. Grady, a true officer and gentleman, now retired and living in Columbus, who in other years headed the Department of Radiology at the Benning Station Hospital. Col Grady's presence and the date reminded us that exactly 21 years ago, with red-bordered letter in hand, we were timidly mounting the pine-shaded concrete steps of the old Post Hospital reporting for active duty "on or before 1200 hours, 10 Sept., 1941."
If our attention wandered during the very excellent and learned talk on radioisotopes, it was partly because our weakening mentality has been outdistanced by the tremendous advances in this modern field, but mostly because we were lost in a flood of memories about those earlier days of military medicine at Benning.

We remembered that, perhaps instinctively preserving our civilian status as long as possible, we did not report until just before the stipulated 1200 hours on our orders. In 1941, 10 Sept. fell on a Saturday, and, as we went up the hospital steps, we were met by a horde of enlisted personnel, medical officers, civilian workers and maroon-robed patients, all heading in the opposite direction. We wandered around lost for a while, and when we finally located the proper administrative office, we were greeted by a remarkably disinterested corporal, who wearily advised us without looking up from his comic book to come back on Monday when someone would be there to tell us what to do. We were gone on weekend pass before we ever really got on duty.
In those pre-Pearl Harbor months we discovered that Army medicine was considerably less strenuous than the rigors of a $10-a-month residency at a university hospital, and that the duties of a Station Hospital ward officer required knowledge in fields apart from mere doctoring. Among other things, we learned about paperwork, requisitions, Section Eights, Line of Duty Boards, weekly inspections and property checks. In no time at all we became familiar with exactly how many bedpans (1 each) we had, and along with our chief of staff, the ward master, we could map the weekly strategy and tactics in the constant battle over hospital property, with all the brilliance of a 3-star general.

Dr Graffagnino now in Atrmy service
We were watching a polo game on the Sunday afternoon when the attack on Pearl Harbor was announced over the PA system, and, although this did not interfere with the match in progress, it was not long before we realized that total war had come to Benning. The declaration of war by Congress set into motion all of the administrative gears and mimeographing machinery of the Post simultaneously, and in grand confusion. All leaves were immediately cancelled; gas mask and air raid drills became daily occurrences; night blackouts were begun. Orders, countermanding orders, and new orders, countermanding the countermanding orders, appeared at almost hourly intervals. After a couple of weeks of frenzied military efficiency, when it became evident that no dive-bombers were materializing out of the blue Georgia skies, and that no enemy submarines had slipped up the Chattahoochee from the Gulf to sabotage the pontoon bridge, the tension eased slightly, and three-day holiday leaves were granted. Even then we were recalled from ours by an enthusiastic mimeographer, who had the countermanding orders canceling the recall ready by the time we had returned the 500 miles to the Post.
By February, in spite of the global war on two fronts, all was calm again and the hospital was back to a relaxed routine. We enjoyed an early spring on our ward among the hemorrhoids and pilonidal cysts from 8 to 4, and on the golf course after hours. We left Benning in the summer of '42 to become a foot doctor with the walking infantry, and it was another year before we finally got overseas and into combat where we could relax.
Through all the post-war years, the memories of Ft. Benning have always been pleasant ones - but we are glad those years are behind us (we hope).

(c) The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", Oct 1962, Vol. IX No.10, p.13

REPLY BY ENDORSEMENT - JANUARY 1942


Recently 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 be supplied.

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.

The large 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.

They 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

Col. 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 to problems.

The 45th Infantry Division was the first Unit to train at Camp Edwards.

In 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.

Many 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

June 1943


Brigadier 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.

Twenty-five 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.

USS 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

July 1943


On the 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 hardly inspired.

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 battleground, Sicily.

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 forever.
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 is out.

(c) The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", Jul 1968, Vol. XV No.7, p.9

Combat 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.
"Thanks," 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 villages.

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.

"We saved 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.
"Where the 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."

Watkins, 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.
We unloaded 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.)

[Editor's 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.
"It 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.
"Somebody's catching 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."
"Blow it"
"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 dam way."

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."

(On 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.)

We 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.

Watkins was 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.

"You 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.
"Caronte," 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."
"You're 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?"
"Nuts," said Prather. "Knock it off. The shooting's over."

We decided 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 vines.

Suddenly, it was morning and broad daylight. Caronte was shaking my arm. "Cap'n. Wake up. The donkey's gone and so is Prather."
"Where's Wat?"
"Still passed out under the grape vines. He finished off the wine and a pint of grain alcohol last night before he went to sleep."
"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 H Company.

"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.
"Nope. 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?" asked Watkins.
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 for you."
"What's going on?" asked Prather.
"Nothing, 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."
"Did 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."
"My 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

 

The above is used with the permission of Bob Graffagnino. They were originally published in the Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, either as editorials, or in his column titled "The Doctor's Lounge". Bob, Dr. Graffagnino's son, is seeking to publish his father's writings, many of which can be found at http://graffagnino.com/doctorslounge/.

 

GO TO PART TWO

All Contents of this website are under copyright by the World War II Recreation Association
or used with permission of original copyright holder

View My Web Statistics

last revision