James R. Safrit, Jr
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The Journal of
James R Safrit
After a few days in a rest center at Piedmonte de Alife, we boarded LSTs and set sail for Anzio in a so-called leap frog operation, around 60 miles behind enemy lines. We moved in toward the harbor without any trouble. The Jerries seemed to be taken completely by surprise. We figured, "Hell, maybe we're finally getting a break." An invasion without any opposition; that would really be something for the old 45th, but we should have known better, because from out of the sun came a flight of FW-190s. Those big bombs straddled our LST with near misses. The next thing I knew, I was bobbing up and down in my "Mae West" swallowing gobs of salt water. One bomb landed on one side of the boat and another on the other side and it rocked violently like a cork, and a few of us on deck went flying into the water. There were three Kraut planes, but luckily for us, they made only one pass at our convoy and sped back to their lines.
179th Infantry Regiment
along Mussolini canal
Almost immediately, a torpedo boat fished us out of the water, scared, but unhurt. As far as I know, we didn't lose a man. We moved along the Mussolini Canal and dug in. The Germans brought in reinforcements and thing started getting rough. It was just about the time that Col. Bill Darby and his 1st and 4th Ranger Battalions of around 900 men were literally wiped out. Only a handful managed to escape the trap the Krauts sprang on them. After Col. Darby's Rangers were annihilated, he was given command of our regiment, the 179th Infantry. He was a fine soldier and loved and respected by all of us.
The Germans shelled the beachhead continuously with a 210-mm railroad gun. Those giant shells dropped on hospitals, ships in the harbor-there wasn't a spot on this six-mile deep perimeter that didn't feel the effects of this giant weapon that we dubbed "Whistling Willie." It was a bastard.
During the daylight hours, we enjoyed air superiority, but at night the Jerries came over all night dropping "butterfly" bombs that floated down and exploded a few feet off the ground, showering everything underneath them with shrapnel.
The enemy were very alert to our patrols, and only a few times were we able to return from one without losing men. One of those combat patrols stands out in my mind. There were 18 or 20 of us who were sent out to determine just how strong an enemy position was, and to pick up prisoners, if possible, for questioning.
The terrain we had to move over was as flat as a pool table and we had to crawl most of the way on our bellies. After what seemed like a very long time, we heard the sound of digging and we saw a large group of figures moving around. We opened fire on them. Some of them returned the fire, but our surprise attack caused a lot of confusion among them and they took off. We moved into their positions and I suddenly stumbled into a foxhole, right on top of a "Squarehead" sergeant who was huddled face down like an ostrich. Frankly, it scared me as much as it did him. He started yelling, "Komerade! Komerade!" I stuck the barrel of my rifle in his ear, and he climbed out very meekly, with his hands on his head.
By this time, the German lines opened up all along the front, so we regrouped and started back the way we had come. The prisoner began to scream, "Nein! Nein!", so one of our guys who spoke German asked him what the hell was wrong. He answered that we had crawled through one of their minefields. That was what they were doing when we opened fire on them. They were a mine laying detail. How fifteen GIs (we had dropped off four or five on the way up to act as a listening post to guard our return route so the Germans wouldn't cut us off) could have crawled through those mines without setting off at least one will always be a mystery to me. Only the "Good Guy Upstairs" could have guided us through without mishap. Believe me, we were thankful.
Just as we expected, the enemy tried to swing around and cut us off, but our listening post prevented them from doing so. All in all, we were lucky. We lost one man. A burst of machine pistol slugs killed him. Two others were wounded, none of them seriously. We brought all of them back with us. We had no stretchers, so we carried them on our backs, and with a two-man hand carry, the dead GI, too.
The manner that we used to carry the dead soldier-two of us held hands and the corpse sat on our hands. To keep the body upright, so that he would not fall off, we were forced to lay his arms around our necks. His head hung limply forward on his chest. After a while, his arms became stiff and rigid. We took turns carrying him. It was an ordeal I'll never forget.
We relieved the 504th paratroops along the Mussolini canal. It was about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. As we approached the road running parallel to the canal, we saw this trooper riding a "liberated" horse, which a local farmer owned, up and down the road. Strangely enough, the Krauts never fired at him even once. Yet their artillery was firing steadily at a crossroads only a half-mile down the road. They must have enjoyed the trooper's antics with the horse. But when he got off that horse to leave with his unit, the Germans threw everything they had at that trooper, his unit, and at us. What a war!
Doodle Bug also known as Goliath
Today, the Germans sprang their secret weapon at us. It was a "Doodle Bug" tank; a small, unmanned tank filled with high explosives which was guided electronically. We spotted the damn things and opened fire with everything we had. The explosions were terrific when they blew up. Scratch one secret weapon. We didn't see any more of those things.
On January 29, 1944, Ruben Burns and I were detailed to stay at Platoon CP to act as runners. Our job was to carry messages back and forth to Company CP. There were many messages that we didn't dare send over the radio or telephone, because the Krauts would cut in on our lines and listen in on our conversations. Each night, around 6 PM, we were sent to pick up the password and countersign for the night. Usually, when we got to CP, they would be gathered around the radio listening to "Berlin Sally", and everyone would be amazed to hear the bitch say sweetly, "Don't forget your pass word, boys." Then she would tell us what it was, so help me. Their spy system was pretty good. We had to be alert when we challenged someone at night, because we never knew if it was a GI or a Kraut who gave us the right password or countersign. We had to ask questions like how many homers Babe Ruth hit, or something like that. Strangely enough, we could tell a Kraut right off as soon as he opened his mouth, even though they spoke better English than we did. Perhaps they spoke too good. Anyway, they fooled very, very few of our guys.
Burns and I liked to float around, sort of freelance like. It was better than staying put in one place, like in a slit trench on the line. But it got pretty hot when we had to go out during a barrage to carry a message to Company CP.
Last night, a Kraut patrol slipped into our 1st Platoon positions. An arrogant voice demanded to know where the CP was and ordered the occupant of the first slit trench to call the Platoon leader. Luckily, the guy he collared was no greenhorn. He caught on at once and ran like hell across the Mussolini Canal yelling, "Krauts! Krauts!" He ran right past the Platoon CP, where we grabbed him. By that time, firing had broken out and a couple of grenades had been thrown. But when Burns, the lieutenant, radioman, and I got there, the Jerries had slipped back into the fog and disappeared. We had two wounded and we found a dead Kraut in the morning.We lost our jobs as runners and went back to the squad on line because of those brazen bastards. After that, we were a little more alert.
About 0530, we caught a terrific artillery barrage on our line and clear back to Company CP 200 yards back. It was so accurate that we figured they had to have an observer right inside our lines. They blew the roof off the house the CP was in and wounded some GIs.
One of the guys in our squad was buried in a dugout he had built in the bank of the canal. When we dug him out, he was dead, poor devil. He worked like a slave to build it and it killed him. Perhaps if he had stayed in his slit trench, it would not have happened. But, hell, who knows? His number just came up.
We used hay stacks as well
After daylight, things were pretty quiet. They sent us a new sniper rifle and an improved scope. The lieutenant was trying it out on a haystack about 300 yards away located on a knoll that overlooked our lines. He fired a few tracers into it and they bounced off, which was rather odd, since bullets don't just bounce off haystacks. So the lieutenant called "Divarty", and pretty soon shells started exploding around the "stack". Almost immediately, it started moving back toward enemy lines. We then finally realized that the haystack was a Mark IV Panther tank camouflaged to look like a haystack. The shells followed it all the way out of sight, but never did hit it. At any rate, we knew how they had been able to hit us with such pin point accuracy. They had been looking down our throats from that knoll all the time. Those Krautheads were pretty smart.
We had been in our new positions in front of the "factory" in the town of Aprilia, a real German stronghold.The British First Division had been practically wiped out here earlier in January about the same time Col. Darby's Rangers had been destroyed.
Anyway, we had been penned in our holes all day. We couldn't move because "Jerry" could see every move we made, and if we raised our heads, a sniper's slug would "part our wigs." We were pretty miserable. The holes filled with water. About two feet deep was about as far as we could dig. So we lay there and shivered from our cold and the storm of shells that came in regularly.
When darkness came, we posted guards. One man slept, or tried to, while his buddy pulled guard duty-two hours on and two hours off. I had drifted off to sleep when Burns shook me and whispered, "Wake up. Krauts!" All he had to say was "Krauts" and I was wide awake. We sat in our hole trying to see in the pitch-dark night.
We heard German voices singing at the tops of their lungs. As they came closer, we could tell they were as drunk as skunks. By this time, the whole platoon was listening and waiting. Those crazy bastards were really living it up. We were almost ashamed to do what we did when they came in front of our holes. We opened fire and the singing became a rattle. Then everything was quiet. Eventually, after we were sure there were no more coming, the medics came up and carried them off to Graves Registration.
After we kicked it around the platoon a while, we came to the conclusion that they had drunkenly taken the wrong direction and staggered into our lines instead of their own, where they had no doubt intended to go. But, as some guy cracked, "That was high priced Schnapps they were drinking."
We didn't look at the bodies, so I don't know what they looked like-if they were old or young. We were relieved that we couldn't see them because of the dark. We felt bad enough just knowing what had happened, much less having to see what we had done, because no one, no matter how hard or cruel likes to see death. Strange things like this have happened to many different infantrymen throughout the war on many different fronts. Weird things happen in combat.
We were ordered to move to another sector of the front a couple of days later. Burns and I were digging our slit trench into the creek bank. We had just finished it and we were arranging our gear in the bottom. Turner Brown had come over and was "shooting the breeze." He sat on top of the bank far enough down that his head didn't show over the edge. There was the ever-present rumble of artillery, but there was none falling anywhere near us and we were feeling pretty good. We were fairly sure that we would be in this defensive position for a couple of days and we hoped to get a little rest.
Brown was there twirling a piece of rope watching us work when suddenly a stack of mortar shells landed right on top of us. One shell landed squarely in our hole (we later found 6 holes where the shells hit from a Nebelwerfer multi-barreled mortar.) The shell seemed to send the whole spray of shrapnel in a direct line with Burn's body. The shrapnel missed me completely, but the deafening explosions knocked me silly.
After I shook off the shock, I realized that Burns was trying to tell me something, but blood kept gushing up into his throat. He kept desperately trying to speak. He slumped into my arms and rattled horribly. I was drenched with his blood by now. I was screaming for the medics, but even I could see that no one could help him now. He was dead. I knew from that moment that I would never be the same again. He was a friend like I would never have again. We had been through so much-suffered through the cold and mud of the mountains, and now the hell of Anzio. I sat there huddled in the hole with his limp body in my arms and I just broke down and cried like a baby. Finally, the stretcher-bearers came and carried him away.
All the guys came over and expressed their amazement that all three of us had not been killed. How I was spared, I'll never know. I was only a few inches from Burns. Yet, I wasn't even scratched. And Brown was sitting no more than a couple of feet away from us and in a direct line of the shell, only Burn's body had blocked the flying steel from hitting him. The rope that he had been aimlessly twirling was clipped off neatly close to his fingertips, but he wasn't scratched.
One thing that this convinced me of was that there had to be a God that could cause such a miracle on our part. Brown and I realized that it just wasn't our time to go. Unfortunately for Brown, his time was not long in coming. He was killed in action about a month later at Anzio from a direct hit from a Mark VI tank firing point blank into his foxhole.
We just found out that we have been fighting Hitler's crack Commando Regiment [German Infantry Lehr regiment, that did demonstrations at the German Infantry School] that had been sent to break through our lines. They were special troops trained for special missions. Their orders were to wipe out the 45th Division and seize the beachhead. We had already sampled some of their grisly tactics. A few nights earlier, two men in the Second Platoon were in a slit trench-one was on guard and the other was asleep. The next morning, the sleeping soldier awoke and found his partner with his throat cut. Those Krauts had slipped in and murdered one man and left the other to find him-a very demoralizing tactic. After that, we were forced to pull the pin on a grenade and sit up and hold the handle down. I guarantee no one went to sleep holding those grenades.
Those Kraut bastards were real cute. But after the big attack they launched on February 19, we nearly wiped them out. What was left of them was sent back to Germany in disgrace.
The rain came down in torrents as our squad moved into a farmhouse with the barn built into the house, as many were in Italy. We settled down to get a little rest, since we were exhausted from several days of constant combat. No one bothered to check upstairs, as the stairs were blown out and a big hole was in the roof from a shell blast. The Sarge put two of us on guard duty while the rest tried to get some sleep. I was sitting in a beat up old rocking chair trying my best to stay awake. The other guy on guard duty with me was sitting in the blown out windowsill at the other end of the room. Suddenly, I heard something hit the floor where the stairs used to be and I saw this figure climbing down a rope. I saw this long overcoat with boots dangling from it and knew it had to be a Kraut. I grabbed my rifle and started firing, but I was so excited that I missed him, naturally; but he was yelling, "Komerade! Komerade! Please no shoot!" The rest of the squad jumped up and grabbed him.
It seems that the Germans had occupied this house as an artillery observation point. They had been busy directing their artillery fire on our troops and were not aware that we had moved into the ground floor. Such are the strange things that happen in combat. Incidentally, there were two more Krauts upstairs sound asleep. We sent the prisoner up to get his buddies, who came down very quietly.
We relieved the 1st Battalion tonight about 2100. A light rain was falling and a thick fog closed in along the creek that was to become known as "Bloody Creek." Our 3rd Squad was lucky to have the protection of the deep banks, because the rest of the 1st Platoon was stretched out across the open fields known as "Campo del Mort" or "Field of Death." That is exactly what it became for hundreds of Krauts and Americans before the next three days were over.
About 200 yards to the right of my squad, the CO put up his command post in a house because we were due to attack the town of Aprilia, or the "factory" early the next morning. Needless to say, the same old feeling of fear and dread was beginning to close in around us.
My new partner, Brock, and I had just bailed the water out of our slit trench and had tried to settle down for the rest of the night as best we could. We had put our grenade booby trap out in front of or hole to warn us if "Jerry" tried to crawl in on us. It consisted of grenades wired with piano wire stretched between grenades pinned to rocks. When anyone tripped the wire, it would pull the pins and-boom!! Strangely, of all the traps I set, only one was ever set off, and, apparently, they carried what was left of him away, because we found no bodies.
Brock drew the first watch and I had just dozed off, when a runner shook me awake and told me Lieutenant "D" said for me to report to him. I growled and cursed all the way to the command post. Naturally, I shut up when I got there.
When I got into the blacked out command post-lighted only by a couple of candles-I noticed there was a dud German shell lying across the giant rafters in the ceiling. It was an armor piercing shell that had slammed through a wall and smashed a hole in the ceiling, coming to rest across the rafters. Everyone was ignoring it as if it wasn't there, so I tried to, too.
I soon found out that I had "volunteered" to go on patrol with five other guys. It seems that a lot of activity had been noticed across the field, so we were to go over and find out what it was. The captain told us to avoid contact with the enemy if at all possible, and to just listen and observe and be able to describe everything we saw, and especially to note the sound of tank motors. So off we went, following the creek as near Aprilia as possible.
The sergeant stopped us still in the creek about 100 yards from the square. He told us to just lay still. We had started around a Jerry strong point. It sounded like it might be a machine-gun crew by the sound of their voices. We didn't drop in to count them.
We could see far in the fog, but it sounded like the whole Panzer army was moving in. There was a solid roar of tank and SP gun motors. There was no doubt that something big was in the wind.
I don't know how long we lay there, but suddenly our artillery started throwing harassing fire into the town, and by the flashing light of exploding shells, we could see what looked to us like hordes of German infantry running helter skelter trying to find cover from the shelling. We suddenly realized that if our "Divarty" guys hadn't fired a mission when they did, we would have been over run by the Krauts before we had known what happened. The Sarge said, "Let's get the hell out of our here!" The machine-gun crew picked us up and raked the darkness with slugs that cracked past our heads like someone was ripping coarse cloth. We were down in the creek and the bullets passed over us harmlessly. After a while, we heard someone yell the password. For a moment, I couldn't remember the countersign and I heard the click of the safety as the sentry got ready to fire on us, but the Sarge wasn't too scared to remember it, so he yelled it out. It would have been a helluva thing to have been plugged by our own guys after getting by the Krauts, but, believe me, that kind of thing happened tragically many times during the Battle of Anzio and all during the war as well.
Many guys were so trigger happy that they started firing and then yelled the password. I remember once when we were in the mountains in the Venafro sector. We were sitting around outside our holes-it was on the military side of the mountain, of course, and the Jerry artillery was quiet. All of a sudden, one of our men jumped up and yelled "Krauts!" and started banging away with his weapon. I looked up and saw this German soldier begin to buckle and fall. The poor bastard's hands were still clawing at the sky. Right behind him was an American GI who was bringing him in as a prisoner. We found out from him, after we had cussed out he guy who had killed his prisoner, that he had been on patrol with some other guys and they captured this Kraut. He had been detailed to bring the prisoner in for questioning.
After this incident was reported to our CO, "Frenchy" Lejeune, the trigger happy GI, was called to the CP and given a chewing out that I'm sure he never forgot. But he returned to the squad and that is all he got. These things unfortunately happened too many times.
After returning from our patrol, on February 21, 1944, we went to the company command post and reported everything we saw and heard. Then, about 0500, the Krauts' artillery opened up with every gun they had. The din was terrific. We lay in our holes and prayed while the ground trembled and shook. All we could do was lay there and take it. The bombardment must have lasted two hours, at least. The sun was shining brightly when we heard the engineer sergeant, who had been assigned the mission of blowing the bridge behind us in case we had to pull out. He was screaming, "God in Heaven, look at that!"
I raised up and peeped over the edge of my hole and the sight my eyes beheld defied description. The Germans were lined up about 400 yards away sweeping toward us like they were on parade. The uniforms looked clean and fresh, and the belt buckles glinted in the sun, so we knew they must be fresh troops. Our artillery had begun to zero in on them, but they came on, almost disdainful of our fire. We could see them fall, others blown to bits, but on they came.
Our machine-guns raked them unmercifully. They were dying like flies. Mortar shells were exploding all around us as they kept coming down. We heard the sound of tank motors and then, down the road known as the "Bowling Alley," and across the fields, those tanks ground their way toward our positions. Never have I felt so alone, so afraid, but I also knew that if I got up and ran, as I wanted to do, they would have cut me to pieces. My feelings of self-preservation were even stronger than my fear. So I did just like everyone else. I began to fire almost calmly. At the same time, I tried to make peace with my maker. I just knew I was going to die, so I figured, what else could I do?
The Krauts were heading for the creek. They were looking for the only protection found in that flat terrain-the creek we were in. If they could get enough men in that creek, they could cut us in two and wipe us all out. Our mortars were walking up and down along the stream, which was, by now, literally red with blood.
Darby served as Bn comander and 179th Regiment commander
Suddenly, an officer came running up the Creek bed. He stood in the water, talking to us loudly so he could be heard above the noise. He said, "I'm looking for a Kraut-killer squad and you men are elected." He said the Germans were packed in the creek and we had to wipe them out before they could attack. Our artillery had them stunned and we must hit them before they could recover.
Our sergeant had been killed, but the lieutenant from the second platoon came up and told the Lt. Colonel who had just elected us as his Kraut-killing squad that he would take us in. We followed him up the creek until we came upon what looked like a slaughterhouse. Our artillery had literally chewed what looked like a complete company of Krauts to shreds. There were some who were still alive. When these stunned SS men refused to surrender, we killed every last one of them.
When we returned to our lines, the Lt. Colonel was gone, but learned later who he was. His name was Darby, the famous Ranger commander who had lost two complete battalions in a German trap about three weeks before. He had been placed in command of our regiment, the 179th Infantry.
Our company command post had been placed far forward, as it had been planned for us to attack. But the Germans beat us to it, and now the Panzers were closing in on the battered house that served as a CP. There was a forward artillery observer sending fire orders from the attic who won a Distinguished Service Cross before the day was over.[Lt. James M. Sherrick, 160th FA, was taken POW]
Krauts were swarming around the house, and I saw our company commander running toward us in the creek. I saw this Kraut raise his machine-pistol to fire on the captain, but quickly, Cpl. Jones, the Captain's orderly, jumped out of a hole, raised his carbine and attempted to shoot the German soldier, only to have his own weapon to jam. So he threw it at the Kraut and knocked him down. Old Jones swarmed all over him. He grabbed his rifle up off the ground and beat and clubbed the SS bastard to death.
A Mark VI Tiger tank was firing at the command post. An armor piercing shell suddenly penetrated the thick cement-like walls and came to rest a few feet from our holes. Five or six GIs near my slit trench made a frantic dive for the nearest hole, which happened to be mine. We were stacked in like sardines, with me on the bottom. I didn't complain a bit. I felt safer with all those bodies on top of me. The shell was so close, we could hear the fuse spitting and smoking, but it did not explode. Finally, I heard some nut laughing like a maniac. I lay there under all those guys, drawn up like a worm, while that nut picked up that sputtering shell and walked down the creek with it cradled in his arms like a baby, all the while chuckling idiotically. We learned later that it was Sergeant Rodell. He went completely out of his mind. After all this time on the line, this thing was his breaking point. No one knows why he did such a thing. He could have been blown to bits. On the other hand, that could have been a high explosive shell as well as an armor piercing shell, and the fuse could have been good instead of defective. In that case, if the shell had stayed where it was and exploded, we would have all been blown sky high. Even though it wasn't done rationally, carrying that shell away was still the most gutsy, unselfish thing I have ever seen or heard of.
Off to my right, about 20 yards away, was one of our machine-guns, a 30 caliber water-cooled job, with a gunner, assistant gunner, and one ammo bearer. The sun had risen as hot as blazes, even though it was February. The smoke and the thick, acrid smell of cardite from the exploding shells was stifling. Brock was in the slit trench with me. Every time a shell exploded, he would cry out, "Oh, God! Oh God!" and I would echo him. We just laid there and prayed. Then there was a vicious cracking "thunk", and I saw Brock's head turn to a mass of blood and shattered bone. I screamed in sheer terror. He just fell over in the corner of the hole, jerked horribly a couple of times, and then lay still.
Almost instantly, I saw a Mark VI tank waddling toward us off to the left. I saw the long snout of the 88 turn toward us and fire a shell that exploded right in the machine-gun nest that was 20 yards away from me. Even before the 88 was fired, I heard those three men in the nest scream in terror, because they must have known they were about to die. Al three of them must have died instantly in the explosion of that shell.
Things were happening so fast by now that I was in a sort of daze, or perhaps shock, I don't know which. I was conscious of Kraut infantry moving toward my hole. I saw this giant of a German sergeant yelling and urging his squad to move faster.
Finally, I realized I wasn't all alone facing the enemy as I had felt I was. I heard several M-1s crack and that big Kraut sergeant jerked and stumbled, but on he came. I could actually see his uniform give off puffs of dust as the slugs hit him, but still he came on doggedly. His machine pistol was firing, but it was aimed at the ground. I realized this man was moving, but only by instinct. Then, as if he had become suddenly very tired, he simply sat down and very gently lay down as if he were retiring for the night. He was retiring all right, but forever. I had just witnessed another act of unusual bravery. He was a "Squarehead", but he had guts to spare.
I don't know why or how, but I found myself behind the knocked out machine-gun and I got off one burst with it before it quit cold, jammed. That one burst caught the attention of the crew of a Mark VI tank that was moving parallel to me. A bunch of Krauts were hiding behind it. I watched in horror as it turned slowly toward me, and I must have felt the same way the machine-gun crew had before they were blown away.
I wanted to get up and run like hell, but I knew if I did, they would simply cut me to pieces. I just lay down with the rest of the dead guys and began to pray fervently. I heard the first shell explode behind me. I burrowed my head in my hands. This sounds corny, but I called my Mother over and over again.
The second shell landed a few feet in front of the hole, so I knew they had me bracketed. The next one would be right on target. I never heard it, of if I did, the pain and shock of the shrapnel hitting my leg made me oblivious to the sound of the explosion. At any rate, it felt as if someone had smashed my hip and thigh with a red hot spiked club. I looked down and my pants were shredded and blood began to spurt with every heartbeat. I knew that if I didn't try to forget my fear and panic and do something quickly, I would bleed to death. All the while, I was yelling, "Medic! Medic!" I saw one climb over the creek bank heading for me when he caught a slug in the forehead and dropped like a pole-axed steer. This, on top of everything else, sobered me up and I felt like a sniveling yellow dog. I've never felt so rotten in my life. Even though he did no more for me than he had done for dozens of other guys, and he did only what was expected of him, I still felt like I murdered him! God rest his soul.
I had now snapped out of my panic and I actually hated myself for being so afraid. So I calmly took off my belt and tightened it around my thigh and slowed the spurting blood. I began to feel strangely weak and faint and sick to my stomach, like I was floating between consciousness and blackness. I poured the packet of sulfa drugs on the ragged rip in my thigh, but the blood kept washing it off. Finally, the shock began to wear off and I started to crawl back toward the platoon command post and the medics.
I crawled about 20 yards and I came face to face with this wounded Kraut. He was a very young kid. On his tunic collar was the lightening streak insignia of the SS. He had been hit in the gut bad. He had pulled his pants half way down. He must have tried to treat himself for the wound. He lay on his side, his face ashen gray, but when he recognized me as an enemy, his eyes blazed defiantly. He looked like a wounded and cornered animal. I must have looked the same to him.
To this very day, I have searched my soul as to why I did what I did, and I still don't know, but I crawled over to him. He made no motion to go after the rifle next to him. I suppose he was in too much pain to make a violent move to get it. He just lay there with hate in his eyes and groaned through clinched teeth. But I lit a cigarette and stuck it between his blue white lips, and he spat it out back at me. I felt anger flood over me and I pulled my rifle up and started to smash his face in. He was in such bad condition that I just couldn't do it, so I stuck my face into his and, with all the venom I could muster, I spat out, "You son of a bitch!" Then I crawled away.
I think the reason I offered him a smoke in the first place was because I felt that perhaps if I could show compassion and love for my fellow man, an enemy, in this time of ordeal, then perhaps God would see fit to let me survive this thing. Or maybe I just wasn't as hardened to war as that young German was. I just don't know. At any rate, I made up my mind never to show pity for another SS trooper.
I crawled painfully for what seemed an eternity, oblivious to what was going on around me. I kept passing out, coming to, until finally, my lights went out. When I came around again, there were two medics working over me. My rifle was sticking up in the ground and a bottle of blood plasma was hooked to it, and that life-giving fluid was dripping into me through a needle in my arm. I heard the medic say from a long way off, "I think we've brought this one back." I think they had about given up on me. I was just about gone.
After a while, a jeep with stretchers came up and loaded me on board, along with another stretcher case, and off we went toward the clearing station, where we were tagged, checked out, and then sent on toward the evacuation hospital. A couple of miles down the road, we started getting airbursts from an 88. Those shells exploded no more than 50 feet over our jeep. The gunner had us zeroed in almost perfectly.
Our driver pulled over to the side of the road and dove into a ditch. The bastard forgot about us strapped in our stretchers. Fortunately, the shelling stopped and the clown crawled sheepishly out of the ditch and got behind the wheel. We cursed him all the way to the 93rd Evacuation Hospital close to the beach near Anzio-Nettuno. I was out of it for a while.
There is one unusual experience that happened at Anzio during the height of the tremendous German attack to drive us off the beachhead. It must have happened a day or two before I was wounded on February 21, 1944.
Turner Brown and I were in a slit trench about 400 yards from Aprilia, a town we were trying to take. We had attacked the town three times in 24 hours and had been driven out each time. We were just marking time until we got the order to try again. We were in the trench dug into the side of Spaccasassi Creek.
Brown and I were so dog-tired that when we heard a voice yell, "Hande Hoche!" in unmistakable German, we were caught completely by surprise. When we finally realized what was happening, there were three Krauts standing behind us in the creek bed yelling for us to put our hands up. This big Kraut was holding a Schmiesser machine pistol just aching to blow us away. Needless to say, we dropped our rifles, because it would have been stupid, and fatal, to try anything else.
Just as we were climbing out of the hole, there was sudden scream and a shell landed in the creek just a few feet below us. The big German with the Schmiesser machine pistol suddenly disappeared as if by magic. The other two were mowed down by shrapnel, and there we were alone again as if nothing happened. There were the remains of three dead Germans lying in the creek, which was running red with their blood. It was just as if God had intervened and set us free. Brown, who was from Richmond, Virginia, was as shocked as I was. He said, "This is so unbelievable that no one will believe this." It dawned on us that we had been prisoners of war for a matter of seconds. These three enemy soldiers had infiltrated behind our lines during the attack and had popped up behind us. The rest of our squad was dug in along the creek bank and were not aware of what had happened, so we decided to keep quiet about being captured and miraculously rescued. We were not at all proud of the way we had been captured, even for such a short time.
God, in his infinite mercy, sure takes care of some of his poor sheep, and he sure has been good to me. We didn't even know whose shell that was when it landed when it did, one of ours or one of theirs. The next day I was wounded and finally out of it for a while. Poor Brown was killed in action at Anzio later by a direct hit from a Mark VI tank firing point blank into his foxhole.
The following experience happened in North Africa in the city of Rabat. It's certainly nothing to be proud of, but I must say there were very few GIs who can say that they pulled guard duty in a brothel as I did.
We were bivouacked in a cork forest 15 kilometers from Rabat, the walled city of Morocco, home of the Sultan Sidi Mohammed, and it was also the home of one of Gen. Patton's whorehouses, designated simply as Chateau #18. Gen. Patton opened these houses simply because it was better to keep the houses under strict supervision than to have half the army down with various forms of venereal disease. So, in his direct, no nonsense GI wisdom, he opened these houses on his own until the people back home heard about it and raised so much hell that they were all closed down. But I am getting ahead of my story.
We were training for the Sicily operation and pulling guard duty. At the time, my buddy and I had just shot an Arab for stealing from the food dump we had been guarding. Our orders were to shoot to kill, with the provision that anything we let anyone steal, we were to pay for. Needless to say, we didn't try to miss after we ordered him to halt in French, Arabic, and English and he didn't respond.
Anyway, I was feeling pretty rotten laying around in my pup tent thinking about the $80.00, plus 20 cents for two rounds of ammo I used to stop him. The $80.20 was taken out of our pay for the coffin to bury him in. It was supposedly taken out in order to keep us from shooting Arabs just for fun.
The sergeant came around and said, "I've got a detail for you that will make you forget all your problems. Get into your class A uniform and meet me at Platoon CP in one hour."
When I got there, eleven other guys were waiting, too. The sergeant made a little speech. He said, "This detail is something you 'whorehoppers' have been dreaming about since you've been in the army. Your job is to stand at the entrance of #18 and let only a certain number of guys in at a time. You will fix bayonets and, if anyone gets out of line, you use it."
As it turned out, ten men were allowed to go in at a time. They had to pay the "Madam" and she would give them little chips. Each one was for a certain length of time, like 15 minutes, and if they weren't finished, that was just too bad. They would have to buy another chip from the Madam.
Some of the guys were pretty nasty if they had only so much money and it ran out before they were satisfied. That was our unpleasant job, to put them out. I have never seen anything like this in my life and it was an experience that I will never forget.
There was a long hallway with little rooms on both sides on the hall. These girls would lie in their beds and pose in all kinds of positions, with their doors, of course, wide open, to entice the GIs, just like merchandise in show windows.
Naturally, as guards, we were not allowed to partake of what some thought of as a "sexual paradise." Frankly, I would not have touched one of those women with a ten-foot pole. God only knows how many men one of those women serviced every day. Some of them were actually very beautiful. I felt sorry for them.
The patrons had to line up to get in and had to line up to get out. No one was allowed to leave until a medical doctor gave him a prophylactic. So, even if the folks at home didn't go along with "Old blood and guts" Patton, he surely cut down on venereal disease in his army. All of this lasted for one whole week until another squad relieved us. Shortly after, the houses were closed down because of all the commotion back home. Meanwhile, I had other, more serious things to worry about.
Sgt. Lloyd White, San Antonio, Texas. Squad leader in my platoon at Ft. Meade, Maryland. Unassuming, easygoing, all around good guy. Played a guitar and sang beautifully.
Cpl. Fred (Carl Romeike)Romeiki, Cornelius, Oregon. Easy going, but with a dogged determination that was really admirable. The only GI I ever saw who never griped. Missing in Action at Anzio during the giant "Jerry" offensive of 16-19 February 1944.(Taken POW 17 February 1944)
PFC Kenneth Barry, New York City. 30th Inf., 3rd Division. Met him in 21st General Hospital, Naples, Italy. We were both court martialed and fined $10.00 for being AWOL in the city of Naples from our hospital ward while convalescing from wounds. A sniper plugged him in the right arm. A swell guy.
Cpl. Fred Anderson, Charlotte, NC. A roly-poly ex-football star at UNC. 120th Infantry, Ft. Jackson. Had a comical, congenial personality. The biggest "Rum dummy" alive.
Cpl. Roy "Johnny" Luckadoo, Harlen, Kentucky. Met him at Canestill, North Africa at 1st Replacement Depot. A very nice looking guy with a personality to match. He and I were court martialed for slugging a couple of MPs in Oran, North Africa. Fined $40.00 and restricted from Oran for 30 days.
Pvt. Mickey Parent, Salem, Massachusetts. Captured at Anzio. A likable, devil-may-care sort of guy.(LEAVITT J. PARENT JR, captured February 18th, 1944)
Pvt. Harold Siwicki, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Killed in action at Anzio. Studious, and a very serious fellow, but with a dry good humor.(I have a Frank Siwicki captured February 18th, 1944)
Pvt. Charles Spychali, Wisconsin. Killed by a direct hit from a Kraut Mark VI tank's 88.(Paul S. Spychalla, captured February 17th, 1944)
S/Sgt. John E. Olson, 37176536, Cornelius, Oregon. Wounded three times in Italy. Saved my life one night during a German night raid. He emptied his Tommy gun into a Kraut that was sneaking up behind me with a trench knife in his fist.
Cpl. Tommy Harris. Killed during a bayonet attack on Hill 769 in the Venafro Sector in Italy. A guy with a quiet but deadly personality.
Pvt. "Polock" Scizinsky, Brooklyn, NY. Killed while crossing the Volturno River under murderous crossfire from several guns. A fella with a wild, careless, and sometimes unruly personality.
Pvt. Turner Brown, Fredericksburg, Virginia. A guy with a dry, droll, witty personality; very pessimistic at times. He became one of my close friends. Killed in Action from a direct hit from a Mark VI tank.(Turner E. Brown, captured February 17th, 1944)
Pvt. Johnny Rizzo, Brooklyn, NY. Died crossing the Volturno River under fire from German machine-guns.
Cpl. John Gallagher, Denver, Colorado. Killed by shell concussion on Hill 750 near Filignano, Italy.
Pvt. "Frenchy" Lejeune, New Orleans. Killed by a Stuka Dive Bomber at Anzio.
PFC. Johnny Breckenridge, New Jersey. Run over and killed by a German heavy tank during the gigantic offensive launched by Field Marshall Kesselring to drive the Fifth Army off Anzio Beachhead February 16-20. I saw the tank run its treads into his slit trench, then make a grinding turn. Sometimes when I sleep, I can hear that choked, agonizing scream. I also saw the tank blown to hell a minute later by one of our tank destroyers.
Pvt. Eddie Currant, Little Rock, Arkansas. Killed by shell concussion at Anzio.
Pvt. Willie Carransky, Columbia, SC. Given 20 years by general court martial for deserting in the face of the enemy.
PFC Francis Reuben "Buddy"
Burns. My best friend in the army. We served together from September 1943
in Salerno, Italy until he was killed by a mortar shell while in the same
foxhole with me on February 5, 1944 at Anzio. He was 2nd Scout and I was
1st Scout. He was an eternal optimist who was convinced he would survive
the war without a scratch because his psychic Grandmother told him so.
He was the kind of guy who could make anybody laugh and could do impressions
of anybody. He kept us entertained with his imitations of movie stars.
Jim Safrit returned to the States in late 1944, having recovered from his wound and returned to combat before doing so. He was stationed in Miami, Florida for a while as an M.P. Later, he was sent to Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, very near the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. There, he served as an MP and played fast-pitch softball for the Ft. Oglethorpe team.
Jim Safrit was a very good-looking man with an athletic build and a head full of naturally curly blond hair. Many of the W.A.C's stationed at Ft.Oglethorpe apparently showed a lot of interest in him, so he never lacked for dates. One of his dates one night had a friend with her from Lewiston, Maine, Mary Jean Lachance, who showed very little interest in him. Intrigued, he decided to make an effort to win her interest. He succeeded very well, and in 1945, they were married at a Justice of the Peace's office in Chattanooga.
Eventually, they made their home in his hometown of China Grove, North Carolina. In addition to a son, Sammy, from a previous marriage, the Safrit family would consist of Michael Richard Safrit, born on May 9, 1946, and Gina Louann Safrit, born on April 10, 1957. Although neither James Safrit, nor Mary Jane Safrit, ever finished high school, all three of the Safrit Children earned college degrees. Sam Safrit graduated from Wake Forest University after finishing a tour in the 82nd Air Borne Division of the U. S. Army. He then went on to a distinguished career in business, rising to a position of vice-president in charge of research and development. Michael Richard Safrit earned Bachelor's and Master's Degrees from Appalachian State University and spent 30 years as a high school social studies teacher and was head soccer coach at his school for seven years. Gina Safrit earned her bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and then became part owner of a successful video rental business in Kannapolis, NC.
James R. Safrit worked in Cannon Mills in China Grove for many years until he suffered his first heart attack in 1963. After that, he served as a deputized gate guard for Cannon Mills Company in Kannapolis. This job necessitated his moving to Kannapolis after being a life-long resident of China Grove.
James Safrit was well known in local baseball circles because of his talent as a second baseman and clutch hitter. Had he come along twenty or so years later than he did, he probably would have gone much farther in his baseball career than he did. Safrit did not quit playing baseball until after he was 40, and then had a heart attack within a few years after he quit.
Eventually, Safrit had triple by pass heart surgery at Winston-Salem's Baptist hospital in 1977. The surgery seemed to be successful for about six years. The pain returned after the nerve at the back of the heart that surgeons routinely break when they perform the surgery (so that the patient will suffer no heart pain for the six or seven years it takes the nerve to heal) healed. By the time the heart symptoms returned, it was too late to do anything about it. He died on February 28, 1984 at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem.
Jim Safrit was an honest, hardworking man who provided for his family as best he could after his war experience. He definitely had a positive influence on his family and inspired his children to work hard, be honest in all that they did, and achieve all that their abilities and ambitions could allow them to do. None of his children ever ran afoul of the law in any way. All of them proved to be productive, honest, successful and law-abiding citizens.
The war experience never left Jim Safrit. He got frequent reminders of what he had gone through in the form of recurring nightmares, a common phenomenon among combat veterans. He also had occasional problems with the piece of shrapnel that stayed in his thigh close to his sciatic nerve for the rest of his life. Surgeons were never willing to perform risky surgery to remove it because of the risk it would pose to that nerve.
James R. Safrit, Jr. is buried in Greenlawn Cemetery near Mt. Zion United Church of Christ in China Grove.