following material is contained
in the autobiography of Dr. Ray McAllister, and is copyrighted.
to Dr. McAllister for giving us permission to reproduce it here.
Ray McAllister, Prof. Emeritus, Ocean Engineering, FAU, Boca Raton, Florida
Finally the day came for us to join the 45th Division at Casino or Rotunda. These
two places were death traps for hundreds of GI's. The Germans were dug in and
we were faced with a river to cross, the Rapido, in the face of crossing German
fields of fire. I was put with the Company C, 3rd Battalion, 180th Regiment, 45th
Division. It had been horribly chewed up and we were the replacements.
Now the 45th Division was a National Guard Division out of Oklahoma. The original
members, of whom there were not so many, were about half cowboys and half Cherokee
Indians. They were a rough, hard fighting, hard drinking bunch of rednecks. I
was a Yankee college boy who really didn't fit, as did not most of the other replacements.
Nevertheless, because their lives would sometimes depend on us they forced themselves
to adjust to us.
I remember facing the Tedeschi (Germans in Italian)
across the river and the heavy fire from other side. We wanted to get a tank across
to take out some of the machine gun nests. I saw a place on the river where there
was a hump in the water and asked an Italian (I could speak broken Italian) what
it was. He said there was a dam there. How wide? Apparently wide enough for a
tanks treads. I went to my CO and suggested that we station a few GI's along the
dam and send a tank across. He verbally patted me on the head and told me to get
back to my platoon. We were blooded over and over before a successful crossing
Again because I had a year of college (I had busted out), and
air raid warden training in New York City, I was tagged as a platoon medic, the
poor SOB who follows the platoon in combat, picking up or bandaging up the fallen
members with no one to pick up the medic-a very lonesome position. My career as
a bazookaman was over. Almost all the medics with the company had been killed
or wounded. I guess their life in combat was 5 or 10 seconds.
the guys telling us about a medic with a white circle and a red cross in it, painted
on his helmet, that took a bullet right in the middle of the red cross. Another
was in a deep foxhole with two wounded men, one German and one American, when
a Tiger tank came up on the hole and locked one tread and went round on the other,
grinding the wounded and the medic into pulp. Great enemies! We painted out the
red crosses on our helmets and some guys even carried weapons. When they kill
medics the rules of the Geneva Conference do not count.
I kept hearing
the story of one of our Cherokee soldiers who, in the best traditions of the old
time Indian scouts would sneak across the lines at night in the darkest clothes
he could find. He was reported to sneak into a German bivouac, cut the throats
of all but one of the Germans in the camp, cave or farmhouse, then wake the last
man and at knife point take him and show him the bleeding throats of his buddies,
then slug him with his gun butt, leaving him alive to report the terror to his
fellow soldiers. It may have been hype, but it was well within the capabilities
of several of the Cherokees in our outfit. This guy was shot by one of our own
nervous sentries one night as he came back into our lines.
We also had
Gurkha soldiers, from India, in the lines. They were sworn to draw blood if they
drew their curved knives, which our soldiers said were kept sharp enough to cut
a handkerchief dropped on the blade! One night several of our guys were drinking
with several Gurkhas. After enough vino the Gurkha was persuaded to show his knife
to the GI's. He then took off a tiny slice of the end of one finger before putting
it back in its scabbard; he drew blood. We, by the way, highly respected the Gurkhas.
It was a relief to be transferred to Battipaglia, on the coast near Salerno
and prepared for another front. We got our shots, combat gear and our orders for
the front. Since my record showed a year of college and air raid training and
I was designated a medic, they told me I had to help inoculate 1000 troops. Almost
for the first time in my life I balked and told them to shoot me if they wanted
to but I would not touch a needle. Somehow I got away with it.
precious little training as medics. I was given an aid kit and sent to my platoon.
Remember, we were in the rear at Battipaglia. From here we were loaded onto landing
craft and we put to sea. I remember being on an LCU which rendezvoused with a
bunch of other ships off some place in central Italy, where a tremendous barrage
took place before we went ashore. We landed essentially unopposed! We marched
inland along a paved road and saw the natives waving to us as they always seem
to do to the conquering armies. The beachhead was Anzio!
As we marched
between lines of civilians on the roadside, my baggy shorts were cutting me in
half. I remember getting a bayonet and reaching inside my pants and sawing my
shorts off. One old Italian man who was walking alongside us was fascinated by
my actions. I wonder what he thought I was sawing off. When I pulled out my shorts
We soon moved into blocking positions in Anzio, for that
was where we landed. Life in Anzio was, as has been recorded many times, days
of utter boredom interspersed with minutes or hours of sheer terror. Mostly we
just sat. We learned that one could tap on a half dollar with a hand grenade bottom
and slowly mush it out into a very nice man's ring, cutting out the center with
a knife. We had lots of time to do these things. I remember going to a crashed
Messerschmitt and bringing back a piece of heavy aluminum, perhaps 3/16ths thick
and carving a ring from it, with our Division insignia, the Thunderbird, on one
shoulder and the Army insignia on the other.
We got occasional hot meals
but mostly ate C-rations or K-rations. I hope never again to see Spam or chopped
pork and egg yolk! We heated the rations by cutting up a C-ration can to make
a little stove and burning the waxed box from rations, cut into little strips
fed under the C-ration can, or under a canteen cup of water, to make coffee or
tea. Somewhere along the way I traded a bunch of powdered coffee to some English
Tommies for a 5 gallon size tin of English tea. It was interesting stuff. The
tea, powdered milk and powdered sugar were all mixed in a large can and one simply
dipped out enough for a cup-o-cha.
We used our helmets for everything.
I ate out of mine when we got the occasional hot chow. When we had time to shave
I shaved from mine. We heated water in it for a bath and, yes, when we were pinned
down in a foxhole, we went to the john in it and dumped it over the side of the
foxhole during a lull in the fighting.
Life was boring and not too terrifying
while we were in the rear echelon at Anzio and for a time the Tedeschi were not
too well organized. But that soon changed. Little by little they got zeroed in
on us from the Alban heights; the mountains inland of the Anzio beachhead. I believe
that we would have taken Rome if we had had a Patton to charge ahead while the
Germans were still disorganized. There was the famous case of a jeep load of war
correspondents that went all the way into Rome immediately after the landing but
could not persuade the commanding general to try it. "Too risky, I will consolidate
our positions first." And that condemned us to a long wait, under point blank
shelling and bombing, until, months later, we drove out of Anzio with major casualties.
In various positions I was always going out to bring in casualties from the
shelling. One of my first cases was in a ditch/hedgerow where an American platoon
was badly hit. The first man I saw was bleeding and bubbling from multiple punctures
in the chest. I guessed that he had been hit in the lungs. I pulled out a morphine
syrette to relieve his pain. He was begging me to do something. I stuck the syrette
in his muscle and squeezed and nothing happened. He died in my arms in agony and
all I could do was try to comfort him. When I got back to the rear aid station
(RAS) with the less seriously wounded, I found out that one had to puncture a
metal seal on the syrette before the morphine would flow. I had done him no good.
As I said above, we got precious little training.
It became a regular
thing for me to bring wounded back to the RAS and after we had done all we could
for them, they would point to my corner and say "Go ahead medic." I'd
sit in the corner and shake for as long as it took to get myself under control
and then go back to my outfit. It was routine! I was steady as a rock while there
were wounded to be tended but shook like a leaf when it was all over. My guys
paid me the ultimate compliment when they said they KNEW that I'd always come
for them when they got hit.
Once the Jerries shot white phosphorus shells
into a patrol sneaking through a minefield in front of our position. A bunch of
guys got hurt and burned. I had to crawl through the minefield and pick phosphorus
from some of the men's bodies where it was burning into flesh.
remember a time, when we had been pulled back into a rear area in Anzio, for a
partial rest from front line action. I was unable to sleep and was out walking
around the area when a German single seat fighter got hit during the routine nightly
air raids on the twin cities of Anzio-Nettuno. He came over our area so low that
I could clearly see the pilot turning his head looking for a place to crash, I
suppose. He was barely airborne. There was a 50 caliber antiaircraft machine gun
on a tripod but I didn't even think to grab it before he was gone. I could certainly
have shot him down but I believe he made his lines a few miles away. Remembering
that I was a medic, I was exposed to being shot at but could not shoot back, and
didn't until much later, at Epinal, in the far north of France.
in the rear echelon were little help to the GI's. The officers in Anzio and Nettuno,
twin cities, had billets and batmen to do their dirty work. Several of the batmen
took the used alcoholic foot wash from the officers latrines, filtered it through
a loaf of bread and sold it to GI's on leave to the rear. Someone squealed and
a bunch of soldiers started for the billets to take care of the batmen involved!
I never heard the end of that one.
I went aboard a Liberty ship that
was carrying cargo to the beachhead and after a while talking to the seamen and
officers I was able to swap some vino, which we had found, for a white sheet which
I carried and used in my foxhole until it was too filthy to keep any longer. The
seaman told me that the Seaman's Union required them to get clean sheets every
so many days. Pissed me off for we were sleeping in mud and being shot at and
shelled. I thought they could suspend such luxuries for the duration!
Some time in here another soldier told me I could make a radio if I used a razor
blade as a crystal, wound a coil from field wire and could find a pair of headphones.
Good luck! There was a crashed German plane not too far away and I got the headphones
from it. I followed instructions and wound the coil on a discarded cardboard container
and eventually got the set to work. I do not remember the exact details but was
able to pull in Axis Sally with the set. I experimented with various sizes of
coils and remember getting some more coils from equipment in the crashed plane.
I think the different coils worked to give different frequencies of response but
cannot exactly remember.
Hell, it is probable that the original instructions
for making these radios may have come from Axis Sally herself. I do know that
I listened to and hoorahed Axis Sally. I can't believe she did any real harm to
the Allied effort. One thing bothers me though! Periodically she would tell us
the double password for the evening BEFORE we got the word from our own rear.
The password worked like this: If it was "Eagle sweat" the person challenging
would say "Eagle" and if the person challenged did not reply "Sweat",
shots were fired. I sure hope she got hung for her war efforts though. She constantly
harped on the great life they were living back in the States and how the 4F defense
workers were probably sleeping with our wives and girlfriends right at that moment.
We moved constantly in Anzio. One spot we occupied was near what
we called the Factory! I think the village was really Aprilia. We were dug in
alongside one of the drainage ditches that criss-crossed the beachhead. I had
found an old door in an abandoned farmhouse and put it over my foxhole with dirt
Periodically there were dogfights over the beachhead. The I understood
that the black pilots (Tuskeegee airmen) were the ones covering us for a time.
They never seemed to hesitate to tangle with the FWs and Messerschmits that strafed
us or the Dorniers that bombed us. On one occasion a plane, ours or theirs, got
its tail shot off and we watched it spiral down so gently that I have no doubt
everyone still alive walked away from the crash.
One night a German
bomber flew over and dropped a cluster bomb which opened as it fell and sprayed
the area with tiny mortar shell-like bomblets. Each was deadly if it hit in your
hole or close to you. As it came over I was face down in the foxhole and when
the bombing was over I had tightly clenched fists and was singing, over and over,
"I've got spurs that jingle jangle jingle; I've got spurs that jingle jangle
jingle; I've got....." Several bomblets hit within 10 feet of me but none
hit my hole. One guy had a dud hit right alongside his body, in his hole. If it
had hit him the impact would probably have killed him without it going off.
One night I accompanied Mack Clopton, a grizzled old Okie, over several stone
fences into the factory where some GI's were reported to have been hit. We crawled
into the wrecked building and found the injured GI's. One was sent back and I
found another in the dark and felt over his body for wounds. At his head my fingers
slid into brains, for a shell had apparently hid a roof tile and cut the top off
As Mack and I crawled back over the stone fences, a German
machine gun opened up on us. We lay behind a heavy stone wall watching the tracers
go whistling over our heads about four feet above us. Mack said, and I will never
forget it, "Look at that, Medic, ain't that pretty. Shines like a diamond
up a goat's ass" Can't say I knew how that diamond would have looked!
In that same position I went to the canal a few feet away to take a leak.
I heard the sound of water falling in the canal and there, only 20 feet away,
on the other side was a German, in a heavy trench coat, carrying a slung rifle,
doing just what I was going to do. My waterworks shut down completely at that
moment. That is how close we were many times.
The Germans tried to drive
us into the sea with a major counterattack from the Factory area as I remember.
I sat next to our machine gunner, on a small rise, and we fired at advancing troops
until we had boiled away all the water from our water cooled machine gun, and
all our canteen water, and (like in war stories you read) all the urine we could
muster. Boiling urine smells like hell. The barrel of the gun was beginning to
change color when the attack let up. I doubt that that machine gun was any good
There was an outfit fighting near us that was pretty special.
Remember when we rounded up all the Japanese Americans and put there in detention
camps? Well the Nisei raised a couple of units composed only of Japanese Americans.
The one I knew was the 100th Regimental Combat Team, called in Hawaiian "Um
puka puka" which translated as "One, hole, hole" or 100. They were
bound to prove that the Americans of Japanese descent were as good as or better
than the Americans of German descent or any others, and prove it they did. In
one case our guys were unable to take a hill where the Jerries had several machine
guns, well dug in and with crossing fields of fire. The 100th RCT charged straight
up the hill with bayonets fixed, amid terrible carnage, and the few that made
it to the nests bayoneted the German machine gunners in their bunkers. We never
doubted those guys and their devotion to the USA!
We often felt that
human nature was a major consideration in combat. If an officer was Regular Army
he had to excel to insure a job after the war and sometimes would send soldiers
to do the impossible, with horrible casualties, like taking the hill just above.
Many times we dogfaces felt that it was better to wait and either bypass the strong
point or wait until heavy artillery could neutralize it. We often felt that we
were simply expendable.
After the attack we were moved to the tomb of
the Italian patriot, Giuseppe Garibaldi. The ditch, Fossa Carano? ran by the tomb,
about 50 or 100 feet nearer the Germans. A major forward command post was set
up in the tomb which had massive walls. Surrounding it were some enormous pine
trees, several of which had been cut down not too long before. The stumps were
perhaps 7 feet across. One of these was on the far bank of Fossa Carano and I
chose this spot to dig in. I burrowed into the bank about 6 feet or so, then dug
and hacked my way under the stump for another 8 or 10 feet. As days went by I
begged, borrowed and stole about 200 sandbags which I piled around the hole so
it was totally impregnable. I had my favorite pinup, Lena Horne in a blue and
gold outfit, on one wall. The guys in my platoon kidded me about it, although
several would find their way into it whenever the Tedeschi shelled Garibaldi's
When it got close to the time for us to break out of Anzio, we
were told to stay low in the ditch, exposing no one, so as not to reveal that
an Allied buildup was under way. This was a direct, unmistakable order. On an
early afternoon we were shelled by the German 88's in the hills. Two guys were
hit, one almost losing his arm. I got them in my hole and was ordered NOT to take
them back to the RAS until dark cause Jerry was looking down on us from the hills.
All of a sudden I had an uncontrollable urge to get out of that hole, in
defiance of orders. I took the two wounded, with the less serious one helping
me with the guy with the severed arm, and we crouched in the ditch and had gone
about 200 feet, around a curve when we heard it. It was the Anzio Express, a 16"
railroad gun at Civitavecchia, which fired a shell weighing a ton, from about
30 miles away. It sounded like a freight train coming over the mountain sideways.
I shoved the wounded men into a convenient slit trench (shit trench) and jumped
in on top of them. The ground heaved mightily. When the roar ended and the dirt
stopped falling we got up to continue down the Fossa and a short time later we
heard the same sound again. This time we just hit the deck. After everything cleared
we made our way to the RAS.
Shortly thereafter men started trickling
in from my platoon. They were in various stages of injury and shellshock. They
told me that both shells had hit my hole and obliterated the hole and the stump!
They said that Maggie (Casimer Barnett), Tony and Bailey had gone into my hole
for safety when I left it. The late comers said they started to dig but quit when
they pulled out most of a scalp and one guy, in a hole farther up the ditch, on
the other side, found a piece of warm, wet bone, a few inches long in the entrance
to his hole. Maggie, Tony and Bailey were dead because I had made such a good
foxhole! To this day I believe some greater force made me leave when I did. The
interesting thing about the Anzio Express was that the dispersion of the shells
was so great at that range that two shells shot on the same heading would normally
land no closer than about 100 meters or so. Two shells hit my hole as fast as
they could reload, about 10 feet apart as near as we could figure. A one in a
We started the drive out of the beachhead some
time later. I can remember being shelled, mortared and machine gunned. Fortunately
the Army Air Force had deliberately bombed the no-man's-land between the lines
and left huge craters for cover and use them we did! I was always the last man
on the line of march and no one behind me to help if I got hit, a very lonely
As we pushed forward I remembered hurdling a bursting 88 mm
shell which struck right in front of me. I should have been dead but was not scratched.
An interesting thing about 88's; they are such high velocity shells that the explosion
was followed by the incoming shriek. The shell was faster than sound! Another
time we were crossing a very large open area when the 88's opened up in a rolling
barrage. A line of shells burst about 100 meters in front of us, then lifted 50
meters and another line of shells blanketed the field. We started running to the
rear and stayed just ahead of the shells. I turned my left ankle very badly but
had no option but to run like hell if I wanted to live. Near the end of the barrage
I dove into one of the bomb craters and hit the hard baked clay edge with my right
knee. It damned near tore my kneecap off. Here I was, far from any help, in a
drive out of the beachhead, the only medic nearby and with my platoon to worry
about. I tightened up my combat boot on the ankle, which swelled until it was
rigid and hobbled after the platoon when we regrouped.
As we pushed on
it was jet black except for gun and shell flashes and I walked with great difficulty,
falling often. Once I fell, hitting my face in soft mud in a ditch and did not
know I had lost my GI eyeglasses until the next shellflash showed me blurred outlines.
I did not get replacement glasses until long after the breakout.
lost our platoon lieutenant and his replacement was a 90 day wonder. Without combat
experience he was soon to destroy his whole platoon. We had taken over a German
position abandoned as we pushed forward. I was in a covered foxhole with several
wounded when he called the platoon into a football huddle to tell them what we
would do next. The Germans had the place well zeroed in, something the old hands
would have known, but by now most of our platoon was replacements. They dropped
a couple of 90mm mortar shells on to the platoon in a small patch of shell torn
trees. One mortar shell apparently hit the lieutenant on the shoulder because
his upper body was blown away. The whole platoon was hit and several were killed.
When I heard the shells and screams I raced out, too late for some but was able
to get others into the covered bunker. By the grace of God I was in the bunker
with wounded or I'd have been blown away too.
In another spot, dog tired
and overworked, ministering to both American and German wounded, I needed a drink
and a bit of food. I had a can of C-ration cheese but no water. I walked to a
nearby creek and dipped up a canteen cup of water. There was a dead German bleeding
into the water about 20 feet away and another who had been dead long enough to
be completely covered with maggots, also a few feet away. I ate the cheese with
a hand covered with dried blood, sitting on the body of yet a third dead German,
totally insensible to the carnage about me. The picture of the one dead German's
face crawling with maggots will stay with me to the grave, however as will the
vision of my hand, covered with caked blood holding a piece of cheddar cheese.
At another point in the breakout our platoon was shelled so badly that we
got separated almost completely. I headed for cover well to the rear, running
as fast as I could run on a bad leg. Ahead I could see a British Bren gun carrier,
an armored, tracked vehicle. It was sitting on the edge of a very large bomb crater.
I headed for it looking for cover. As I approached the crater I saw two Tommies
sitting in the hole brewing a pot of tea with a little Primus stove and a canteen
cup. "I say, Yank, would you like a spot of tea?" said one. I was so
glad to see live humans that I joined them in the relative safety of the bomb
crater. However, a couple more shells hit on the edge of the hole, the Tommies
casually picked particles of dirt and twigs out of the brewing tea and I had had
enough. I fled toward the rear. Anyone who poormouths the British Tommies will
have to fight me. In addition to these two I remember another with a bloody stump
of an arm walking back to the rear still carrying his rifle.
We had some
help from tanks which had trouble with the drainage ditches and hedgerows. One
such tank was set afire by Tedeschi artillery and no one got out. We could hear
them screaming inside and one of our noncoms took a machine gun and shot through
the sides of the tank between the treads until the screaming stopped. I doubt
that his bullets penetrated the armor but it was terrible to listen to men being
burned to death and not be able to help.
One tanker got badly shot up
and before being taken back gave me his tanker jacket. It had one arm badly torn
and bloody but we infantrymen cherished the warm tanker jackets and tried very
hard to get them for ourselves. This will figure in a later episode in Cherbourg,
Anyhow we eventually broke out of Anzio and slogged toward Rome.
A couple of American tanks were parked on the shoulder of the road. Combat MP's
were marching a column of captured Tedeschi back to the rear. One of the Yanks
offered the MP's $50.00 to shoot a prisoner but, of course, they didn't do it.
As we walked along, dead beat, heads down, I saw a lump in the road ahead.
When I got near I saw that it was a German soldier that had been killed on the
road and apparently run over by a bunch of tanks. No blood but a very flat human
that we stepped on to get over. War is not fun.
As I will point out a
little later, there were monsters in the German Army but there were also some
halfway decent humans.
As Ernie Pyle wrote, they were mostly fighting
for home and country, misguided but sincere. It was hard to hate a wounded German,
or a prisoner, unless he had been a sniper picking off your fellow GI's until
he ran out of ammunition. Sometimes under these conditions I'm sure we didn't
notice the white handkerchief or upraised hands until it was too late. We had
a bunch of American and German wounded in front of the lines one time and as our
medics, at that time clearly marked, went out to help them, some German commander
ordered all fire lifted and for more than an hour no shots were fired. When the
last litter of wounded soldiers of both armies was back in shelter, the Germans
opened up again.
Another interesting incident occurred when a British
unit came into our area. Totally oblivious to the pointblank presence of the German
lines, they came in, led by a bagpipe band, skirling into No Man's Land. We started
yelling at them, but strangely, not a German shot was fired, again until they
had finished the pipe band performance and had all gone to ground. Either the
Germans enjoyed the performance as much as we did, or they were dumbfounded by
the audacity of the Limies!
At one point we were stalled by stiff German
resistance. Tanks were brought up and fired at the enemy. They were buttoned up,
however, and so one of our Native American heroes, Geronimo Roach, ran out to
the tanks under heavy enemy fire, grabbed the telephone on the rear of the tank
and directed fire on the enemy positions. Geronimo was a real hero. When a German
machine gun bunker cut down one of our medics who was assisting a wounded German,
Geronimo ran straight into the machine gun fire, shooting his Thompson submachine
gun until he reached the slit in the bunker and he threw a grenade inside then
went around to the rear and shot each enemy to be sure they were dead. Geronimo
was later killed when a very large piece of a heavy shell came whirring across
a field and cut his leg off at the thigh. He had bled to death through the huge
femoral artery by the time we got to him. I believe he later got a major posthumous
Many of our Cherokee soldiers were from Tallequah and Ponca
City. They used to talk of a tough Indian lady who ran the local bar. Minnie Bearpaw
could outfight almost any man who came into her bar. Someday I may go to Tallequah
or Ponca City and see who is still alive, and meet Minnie Bearpaw!
marched through Rome and wound up in a field somewhere near Civitavecchia, the
site, by the way, of the railroad gun that devastated my foxhole near Garibaldi's
Tomb. On the way we passed a cave/hovel built into the side of a hill. I heard
a commotion and went to the cave where I saw a mother and her beautiful teen age
daughter, probably from N Italy, because she was blond. The mother had blackened
the girls face with soot and had her in old, dirty clothes. She had been hiding
her daughter from the German soldiers and was not overjoyed to have her found
by the Americans. I assured her in broken Italian that she had nothing to worry
about so long as she kept her daughter away from much social contact with the
GI's. What a fearful time the German occupation must have been, especially for
an attractive blue eyed blonde girl!
During one R & R period, back
near Rome, probably after the breakout, I hitched a ride on a military a C-47,
going to North Africa. Nobody asked me for authorization to go and I just took
space available. As we were riding in bucket seats, a major across the plane asked
me what was the matter with my left ankle. I told him "Nothing that I know
of, sir!" He told me not to wise off to him, that he was an orthopedic surgeon
and he knew a badly damaged ankle when he saw one. He made me move next to him
and take off my combat boot and expressed the idea that it was the worst ankle
he'd ever seen. Remember that it had had to heal by itself while we were still
I visited Oran for a couple of days, AWOL as hell, and caught
a ride back to Fiumechino Airport?, no worse for the three day AWOL, but much
rested in spirit. That was my second and last visit to Africa.
While in the
rear area I watched two of our Cherokee soldiers, who had made still to improve
the Italian wine, drinking moonshine. As they got thoroughly blasted they stood
on opposite sides of a narrow Italian road and shot at each other with 45 caliber
automatics. Each would take a shot, the other would whoop "Ha, missed me!"
and then he would take a shot. They must have exchanged 8 or 10 shots each before
someone got a lieutenant who, at some considerable risk, broke it up and confiscated
their 45's. It is a tribute to the accuracy of the 45 and to the drunkenness of
the soldiers that no one was even nicked.
Eventually we returned to the
staging area. There we dug in in a field and built foxholes against the night
raids by German bombers. I don't exactly remember how, but I was tagged for night
watch in the area. One night I was on duty when a jeep pulled into the bivouac
with its lights on, a serious "no no". I halted the jeep and told the
driver, who had gotten out, that he had to turn off his lights. I found myself
laying in the ditch! The driver was drunk, was the heavyweight champion of the
45th Division or of the 7th Army and had cold cocked me. I should have shot the
SOB but he had driven off by the time I picked myself up and the sergeant in charge
did not seem anxious to pursue matters.
I had another unpleasant experience
here as well. I was sharing a covered foxhole with a sergeant. One night I woke
to find him groping me. I blew out of the hole and told his superior to put him
in another foxhole or I'd blow his brains out. That time they did change his hole.
I fully believe that there is no place in the military for "queers".
We were then prepared for another invasion, this time in Southern France.
After the usual regrouping, shots, issues of missing or updated equipment, etc.,
we embarked for the new landing. I cannot remember the type of vessel we were
on but I do remember walking down to the water, from the landing ramp, to be able
to say that I got my feet wet during the invasion of Southern France. There was
no resistance there in St. Tropez, so we headed inland after assembling on the
beachhead and marched and rode up the east side of France, chasing the Bosche.
I was much better in French than in Italian, in spite of Madame Tea (Te ah),
my French teacher at Evander Childs High School, who passed me on condition that
I never take French again. Before long I was unofficial battalion interpreter.
One day they brought in a man they had found in the field under suspicious circumstances.
I interrogated him and he claimed to be a French civilian spy reporting via hidden
radio to the British. He unwound the cloth wrapped puttees that he was wearing
and showed us the code on sheets under several wraps. That was the end of my part
cause they took him back to Regimental HQ for further processing.
in here we came across a German position that had been very hastily abandoned.
There were several shallow foxholes and a medical facility, perhaps a rear aid
station. Next to one foxhole was a German Walther pistol and in the bottom was
another. This was clearly a booby trapped setup for who would leave two Walthers
clearly visible on the ground? I wanted the pistols but not at the expense of
losing a hand or my life so I carefully attached a piece of string to the one
outside the hole and got well away and pulled it from the hole. Nothing happened.
No pressure actuated mine or explosive. Then I did the same to the one in the
bottom of the hole and again, no explosion. I carefully examined both guns and
could see no boobytraps. Later I got an expert in the outfit to look at them and
disassemble them. They were clean.
I ended up with two 9mm Walthers in
my pack and a bunch of 9 mm ammunition, plus an Italian Beretta which I took from
an Italian carabinieri who had surrendered to us in Rome, and a Belgian copy of
the US Army 45 caliber automatic, but downsized to take 9 mm ammo. I was a walking
arsenal, but never used them.
The Beretta I sent home in a package one
mail day, along with a small paring knife marked "Nicht rosten", which
I had for many years after the war. I gave the Beretta to Jim Moriarty at Scripps.
The Walthers and 9mm automatic, well that's another story soon to be told!
Every Sunday, if at all possible, I would go to Mass, usually at a French
countryside church. Sometimes this meant hiking through "no-man's-land"
to get there. At times we had a chaplain say Mass for the "crossbacks"
in the company but often they had too many places to go to and we were a small
outfit, close to the Bosche and there were a lot more Catholics in bigger rear
We shoved up the valley of the local river whose name I have
forgotten, within sight of Switzerland. Should we wander across the Swiss border
and be interned for the duration? We didn't!
In one small town we entered
one end of the town while the Bosche held the other end. I found a house with
a French family that was very grateful to us for freeing them. We talked for awhile
and the lady suggested that we pool our resources and she would cook a supper
for us. She said that the baker on the other side of the long straight main street
was baking his first bread in a long time with hoarded flour to celebrate freedom.
The Bosche were camped at the far end of the town with an antitank gun pointed
down the street. They were probably 3 or 400 meters away. I decided that home
baked French bread was worth the risk so I stood in the alley getting up my courage
and dashed across the street to the alley on the other side. CRACK went the antitank
gun but a second after I was across. I made my way to the baker, who would not
let me buy bread but gave it to me, hot out of the oven. With it under my combat
jacket, I raced back across the street and we had a terrific meal of canned roast
beef, French fresh vegetables, wine and cold water from their backyard pump, tea
and coffee. It was undoubtedly one of the best meals I ever had.
riding on a 6 by 6 (2 1/2 ton) truck loaded with supplies, towing a tank trailer
full of water. The guys on the truck were mostly blasted. Every Frenchman was
throwing them bottles of wine, cognac and champagne. I rode the water trailer,
cold sober, cause I don't care for alcohol. I caught a few bottles that were bobbled
on the truck and stored them in a canvas pocket in the trailer cover. If the Jerries
had counter attacked at that time we would have been duck soup!
pit stop I asked an old Frenchman if he had something to drink, He said "Oh,
monsieur, nous avons pas de vin, pas de champagne, mais jai 'Chateau le Pump'".
With that he proceeded to a water pump in his back yard and worked the handle
up and down, drawing me a big glass of wonderful cold limestone water. I still
order "Chateau le Pump" when I go to a restaurant!
country we would buy or trade for wheels of French cheese. Then we would walk
along cutting big chunks off to eat with whatever else we could scrounge and with
the biscuits in our rations. I learned to like cheese in this part of France for
I never ate much cheese before and this real cheese sure beat the anemic pasteurized
As we worked our way north we ran into several examples of
man's inhumanity to man. As a medic I would get to see some of the horrors. The
FFI (Forces Francais de l"Interieur?) were the French guerrilla units to
whom we had dropped weapons and supplies during the drive through France. They
were much feared by the Germans because they were fighting for their homes and
families and took few prisoners. They also knew the countryside and were supported
by the locals. When the Germans caught an FFI, he was usually butchered on the
spot and, unfortunately, so were any family members or even suspected family members
who were captured. On one occasion the medics were trying to save a little 4 or
5 year old girl whose arm had been almost completely severed by a German "burp"
gun. This was a machine gun that fired so rapidly the sound was "burrrrp".
They had sawed the mothers leg off at the thigh with a burp gun and she had died.
We had parachuted every gun we could find in to the FFI as the war progressed
and they used them very effectively. I was carrying the two Walthers and the Belgian
automatic in my pack. I met an FFI who had a long barreled 45 cal revolver, a
beautiful weapon. I tried to trade him first a single Walther, and finally all
three of my guns but he would not even think about it. I even pointed out that
9mm ammo was everywhere available from overrun Germans, but no dice.
In one town I climbed into a hayloft for some shuteye. I saw a movement in the
hay and called out "Kommen sie hier; hande hoch." Out came a Jerry soldier
with his hands up, although I was not armed. I took him to the CO who was talking
to some FFI types. They searched him and found a picture of the German standing
with one foot on a young Frenchman whose motorcycle he had taken. The FFI knew
the young Frenchman and what had happened and they took the German behind the
barn, stuck a pistol in his mouth and blew his head off. He was stupid to carry
the picture but probably would have been killed anyway.
As we pushed
through the mountains in eastern France we had a terrifying experience with the
Luftwaffe. We were in a truck convoy of some ten or more 2 1/2 ton trucks laden
with troops. As we went up the mountain road two single engine German fighters
came over a rise and made strafing runs through the middle of our column. The
results were horrible. I leaped out of my truck, where I was seated at the rear
gate, and got a 13 mm slug through my pants leg, missing me. As I dashed out to
some trees, the strafing was over. I ran back to help and found that the other
medic had taken two slugs thru both legs but had run 50 feet or so before collapsing.
I sent the walking wounded to him and he bandaged them and gave them sulfa
sitting on his badly injured legs. I turned over one soldier, lying on his face,
and he had taken a cannon shell into the chest. He had nothing between the rib
cage and the groin. We patched up as many as we could but too many had been killed.
We were very leery of aircraft and aircraftlike sounds for a long time afterwards.
As we traveled north my nerves were rapidly going. At one spot I cracked
up and was put on an ambulance for the rear. I jumped off when they stopped to
pick up more casualties a little further down the road and hiked back to the platoon.
But everytime I'd hear a shell, bullet or mortar shell, down I would go. The whisper
of our pants leg one on the other would sound to me like a mortar shell whispering
down out of the sky. In combat, when one man drops, everyone goes down. I caused
many a platoon, squad or litter bearer team to hit the deck.
the outskirts of Epinal, France, in the Alsace-Lorraine area of France. I watched
from a hill with a 50 caliber air cooled machine gun team. With binoculars I saw
an ambulance drive up the road to a farmhouse and disembark a squad of armed soldiers.
Mad as hell, I grabbed the gun and started firing at the farmhouse at 1000 yds
or more. The tracers enabled me to correct fire till I was knocking roof tiles
off the house. Soon someone wrested the gun away from me. They understood why
I was pissed off but did not want to give away their position until they were
needed. That was the only time I fired at the enemy.
this time, still a few miles from the German border, we set up in the Vosges Forest.
As the Germans were shelling us we built covered holes for tree bursts were murder
on unprotected men. I had been saving cigarettes for a month or more. The "nice"
manufacturers of this deadly drug made three cigarette packs of Chelseas and Fleetwoods
available with the rations we got. How many thousands of Americans died of the
addiction to "free" cigarettes given to them by the DOD? Probably more
than were killed in the war!!
Anyhow, all the propaganda said cigarettes
calmed the nerves. So one particularly bad day in the Vosges Forest, I went out
with a litter team to help a badly wounded GI. He was real bad and I did what
I could for him, put him on the litter and took one front corner. On the way to
the rear aid station I heard the whisper of a mortar shell every few steps and
hit the deck, dropping the poor SOB onto the mud. Finally the team told me to
go on ahead and carried him in after I was out of sight. It was time to smoke
and calm my nerves! I lit and smoked cigarette after cigarette and was, if anything,
more jumpy than before. Then I remembered that I had heard that it was the soothing
rise of the curl of smoke that was so calming. Great! I lit a cigarette and stuck
it in the mud wall of my foxhole. It was so soothing to see the gentle column
of smoke! Then a treeburst occurred in the canopy overhead and shattered the smoke
column. That's it. I dumped hundreds of 3 pack cigarettes into the mud outside
my hole and have not been tempted to smoke again! Indeed, I found later that I
was extremely allergic to cigarette smoke.
Shortly thereafter I went
out on another soldier patchup job and blacked out. My mind had had all the horror
it could take and simply shut down. They called this combat fatigue (NP) or psychoneurosis.
I had sent men back because of this problem in the past but always with some doubts
whether they were faking it to get out of combat. Now I know that most of them
were not!! I remember coming to briefly in a rear aid station where they took
off my backpack and combat medical kit and put me on an ambulance to the rear.
When I next became aware I was way back in a forward hospital, in the NP
ward with the rest of us psychos! We were almost all from front line outfits.
Our position was well behind the lines but within striking distance of the German
Luftwaffe. One night we heard the thrum of Dornier diesel powered bombers, easily
distinguished by the beat as the two engines were slightly out of sync. We all
fled the hospital except one black soldier who was shaking like a leaf but the
last thing I saw was him leaping on top of a white soldier, still in a catatonic
state on his bunk, unable to get up and run. The black soldier protected him with
his body, shaking and scared witless but still with enough humanity left to help
a fellow sufferer. That memory has tempered my attitude toward black men and redneck
hatred ever since.
My next location was in a very Rear Hospital, in Marseilles
as I remember. Since I was walking wounded and had some medical experience and
college, I was put to work in their laboratory, doing blood and stools analysis.
I can remember the crocks alongside my station filled with blood and excrement
and never want to do bloodwork again.
In our ward we had several nurses
working and at least one of them propositioned several soldiers during the night
shift, often with positive results. I also remember one day I was on a ladder
changing light bulbs when I heard a German airplane outside. I dove from the ladder
and knocked a nurse into the corner and landed on top of her. No one else heard
the plane or they assumed it was Allied, and I was almost court martialed for
attacking an Officer until some of the other guys in the ward told the board that
I was so sensitive to aircraft noise that I could hear them 50 miles away!
From here, after a long rest period, I was shipped to a replacement depot
in an old textile factory somewhere in north central France. We were being held
for return to whatever unit needed us. While there I made the acquaintance of
a professional gambler who was also a replacement. In the textile factory there
were four or five floors and almost every night there was a poker game on each
floor. On the ground floor it was for 1 franc maximum. On the second floor perhaps
for 10 francs, max. On the third floor perhaps for 100 francs, etc. One day he
came to me for the loan of ten francs. He promised to pay it back that night.
He apparently worked the 1 franc game till he had enough to go to the second floor
and so on. When he returned he threw me a wad of francs. He had won several thousand
He told me all the rules he used when gambling and when
to fold, when to hold, when to advertise, etc. I guess if I liked to gamble and
took a few more lessons from him I could have made a good deal of money from the
suckers who did not know how to gamble, but gambling is not one of my things.
When the Battle of the Bulge came we hung on every radio broadcast and on
everything in the Stars & Stripes, the GI newspaper. We were all expecting
to be sent into Bastogne or some other part of the fight. I guess it was over
before they could cut orders or maybe transportation was all tied up taking supplies
in, but we didn't get the call. Instead I was sent to a rear Military Police unit
in Deauville. Here we were assigned to keep the peace in the rear, guard the supplies
on the docks and particularly to police the whorehouses which seemed to be the
main occupation of Deauville as far as we were concerned.
It was pretty
disgusting to see how cold and callous the prostitutes were and the people who
ran the cathouses. There would be lines of men on the stairs and out into the
lobby, each allowed perhaps 10 or 15 minutes with the bitch in the room upstairs.
Our job was to prevent fights. I heard some pretty awful stories about what it
was like upstairs. One of the girls, whom we called "Silver Fox" for
the fur she always affected, came up to me in a doorway and told me, in French,
that she was going to get my cherry. She never did. I like girls as much as anyone
but that way of getting them just does not appeal.
Sometime between the
replacement depot in the factory and Deauville I was attended by a shrink who
was to take away my guilt for leaving my outfit! We took long walks on the dunes
along the coast, and he told me that I was not in control. That my mind had simply
shut down, unable to take anymore horror. He reiterated that my length of service
at the front was far longer than the average, etc.,. etc. Eventually he assuaged
my guilt and I am eternally grateful for this nameless doctor.
coming off duty, several of us heard country songs sounding exactly like Hank
Williams coming from a French house on the way to the barracks. We went to the
door and knocked. The Frenchman who came to see who it was spoke no English so
I translated. I asked who was singing. He said he was. We asked if he would sing
some more for us and we sat and sang for several hours, way past curfew. He broke
out a bottle of good cognac that he had been saving for a long time and we all
had a few shots. As I said, I don't normally drink, but this was special. This
guy imitated every American country record he had almost perfectly, with no trace
of a French accent. He was Hank Williams or Roy Acuff, as needed. And I got fairly
When we got back to the barracks, the lieutenant asked why we were
late and I told him to forget it. Somehow I got away with that, too, probably
because I had never been any trouble to him before. But when the guys told me
I'd told the officer to shove it, the association between liquor and loosening
of inhibitions struck a note. I had met a young French gal, Margarite Fleurey?,
at the Deauville Casino. I wanted to ask her for a date but was afraid.
I asked some of the guys if they had any liquor? They took me to an upstairs room
and gave me a bottle of Calvados (applejack)? I drank a big slug and then water
from a canteen cup, over and over. When I had killed a good deal of the bottle,
in relatively few minutes - remember I wanted to get drunk to have the nerve to
ask Margarite out - I stood up and took about three steps to the door and found
myself on my knees in the doorway. I remember pulling myself to my feet, looking
back to see if anyone had noticed, and took 4 or 5 more steps to the head of the
stairs where I blacked out again! I awoke for a few seconds at the foot of the
stairs, on my back, looking up at a couple of worried faces, then blacked out
again and did not come to for about 36 hours. Worse yet, I was cold stone blind
for three days before I regained my sight. I guess the Calvados was real rotgut
with fusel oil and all in it, but as much as I drank, it should have killed me.
My good buddies had watched me, hoping I would get blasted. They had been trying
to get me drunk (and laid) for the entire time I was there. That basically ended
my drinking for all time. I have about a shot of hard liquor, one beer and sometimes
a very small glass of wine in a year.
Having come from a combat outfit
I was a very hard headed MP around the docks. I took to carrying a submachine
gun whenever I could get one and snuck through piles of supplies on the docks.
The Allies were using German prisoners to unload and stack the supplies. They
were doing all the damage they could and I was their nemesis.
one German who had opened a 55 gallon drum of lard and shoved his boot down into
it. I made the bastard eat lard until he was violently sick, then took him back
to HQ. Another was dumping cans of cocoa powder when I found him. He, too, ate
unsweetened cocoa powder until he was violently sick. My worst mistake was catching
a fellow MP selling tankers combat jackets just outside the docks, and when I
brought him in, they resolved to get rid of me for screwing up a good thing. It
seemed that all of the real MP's, not combat soldiers assigned there after the
hospital, were trading goods to the Frenchmen, swapping goods for services from
the local girls and generally acting like there were no guys dying a few hundred
miles away. The combat jacket thing was a big deal for me because I remembered
the guy who had given his, with one arm almost completely shot off, to me, as
his last act before being taken to the rear. It was sacrilege to steal from the
guys in the line so I went ape. I expect I'd have shot him if he had fought back.
We lived in an old factory again. Mess was downstairs in the big open area
and we had French gals serving the food. I took a GI grapefruit to one of my favorites
one day and she pulled me behind the door and put my hand on her breast. Panic!!!
I never took her another thing. Another time a sergeant invited me to a party
at his girls place outside town. When I got there, there was damn near an orgy
going on. I slipped out and the girl he had for me came out with me. I told her
I was going back to the barracks and she said goodbye, sticking her tongue in
my mouth. My first French kiss and I thought I'd been raped. I was still a virgin!
In my upstairs bunkroom we slept in bunk beds, one over the other. Across
the room was a non-com and he brought his girlfriend to sleep with him. It was
horrible. One night he went on duty and she shook me awake. She asked "Ou
est la double vay cee (?)", "Where is the watercloset"? I grabbed
a flashlight by my bed and shone it on her and she was stark naked. I told her
where it was and lay there in utter fear. She returned, told me she was cold and
tried too slip in with me. I jumped out of the wall side of the bunk and fled.
Boy did they razz me about that.
At one time I stole a 45 caliber automatic
from the armory so I would always have a weapon if I wanted to go to the docks
on my own time. I had found dozens of 5 gallon cans of fuel empty, in stacks on
the dock. Finally, by shaking down prisoners I found one with a sharpened nail
embedded in a small piece of wood. He was jamming it into the cans as he stacked
them and the flow rate was slow enough that he wasn't caught. Anyway, I wanted
a 45 so I did not have to get permission to go to the docks. When they found one
missing there was a major shakedown and when my turn came I had the gun in one
pants leg, bloused over my combat boots. I was sure it showed and I was trembling
like a leaf, but they did not find it. As soon as possible I took it to the wharf
and threw it far out into the water. That was the end of my life of crime.
My time was up. I didn't fit. I was too concerned with keeping the supplies
for the front and they transferred me to the 819th Signal Service Company (Port),
a communications unit stationed in Granville, France. There I mostly manned a
switchboard because I could speak fair first person French! The switchboard was
shared with the local French community and I was valuable. I could usually direct
the French person on the other end if I said "Parler lentement y doucement."
I do remember one officer that called and became very abusive. I connected him
with the local whorehouse and swore I knew nothing about it.
One of my
billets was in a commandeered French farmhouse. We had the barn I guess because
it was a huge room with straw at one end. The other two guys found a large double
or queen size bed somewhere and installed a couple of French gals in the bed and
barn! While I tried to sleep they made noisy and vigorous love in the bed, occasionally
inviting me to join them. I put my cot as far from them as I could to lessen the
noise and the temptation. I was still a virgin but it was hard to stay that way
in the Army in a far away country with willing lassies all around.
with the communications company the armistice in Europe was signed. What a thrill
and what a celebration. I had discovered a full can of 45 cal ammunition and managed
to take it and a 45 to the beach where I set a German Teller mine on edge on one
of the tank obstacles on the beach. It was welded out of railroad rails or H-beams
and looked like a 6 ft kids jack. I shot at is until I was exhausted, probably
200 rounds. I plowed the beach beautifully. I tore up the water behind the obstacle.
I spattered the obstacle in a dozen places. I even hit the Teller mine on the
edge in two places. As I was thinking about quitting, a sergeant I knew came by
and asked me what I was doing so I showed him. He went white! He carefully explained
that a Teller mine had a shaped charge in it which would blow a small, very powerful
blast straight up through a significant thickness of armor. He noted that I was
directly in front of the mine, and it was pointing right at me. I got the point
very quickly, whiter than he was. God apparently takes care of fools.
I admit to being worried that would be sent to the Far East. It didn't happen.
Eventually I was shipped back to the States and put in Camp Upton, on the far
end of Long Island, NY. I don't remember anything about the boat(?) trip back.
Camp Upton was my home for probably several months.