|After eliminating six men
out of a seven-man squad, he ran out of ammunition, stood up with hands
upraised, and promptly received five, 45 caliber’s across his waist. Just
like the manual said, ‘the muzzle raised from left to right’, the holes
in his body proved it. One morning I had a chance to observe his dressings
being changed. Hans was lying face down and where the bullets made their
exits were five thick thatches of skin. Each was lifted gently and medication
was applied. We had many discussions regarding the war and politics. His
parting words were ‘Matthew, Roosevelt good for you, Hitler good for me’.
He was still convinced that Germany would win the war. I wonder what his
feelings were when he returned to Hamburg after the Air Force had its way.
At the hospital, were a few U.S. merchant seamen. While we made the trip through the Mediterranean, with little trouble, other's ships were not so lucky. One quiet evening, three stretchers were brought into our tent. Each contained merchant seamen whose ship was bombed and strafed over and over again until she sank. One of the men was running when a bullet took off his left foot. He kept going and never realized it.
A small young man of about 20 suffered; moaning, softly crying and sobbing. An explosion aboard had set him on fire. Besides being horribly burned, he slid down a rope instead of jumping into the sea. His hands were burned to the bone. As he rolled in his agony, the soft voice of the third and older man kept whispering to him, ‘easy Shorty, easy, it won't last forever. Hang on, hang on, hang on’.
The third merchant seaman was in for greater trouble. A piece of jagged shrapnel entered his right abdomen, tearing his intestines. The shrapnel was about the size of a quarter. Peritonitis was setting in and tubes were draining the by-products of inflammation. Some Navy men had contempt for the merchant seamen who were being protected by the Navy armed guards and getting paid by the hour. I had a serious change of attitude, and as I lay staring at the ceiling, I wondered if anyone in Harm's way ever escaped being affected, either psychologically or physically?
One thing was certain, war is pain in many varieties, the lesson stayed with me. Later that night, I listened to the drone of enemy bombers overhead. Eventually the dull sounds of their falling bombs came.
One evening we received word that a French U.S.O was sent to the hospital to entertain the patients. Tex (36th Div) offered to push my wheelchair and help me over any little rain gullies. We started out all right when suddenly Tex thought we would get better seats if he ran. Pushing me ahead, we started at a pretty fast clip, when he happened to stumble. We had just reached the crest of a small hill and I did not know that Tex was nowhere near me. I still thought he was pushing me, and pretty damn fast at that. Faster and faster my chair rolled. Ahead, someone started to yell, pointing at me.
Men on crutches found that they did not need them as they scrambled out of my way. Tex, caught up and turned me about six feet from the side of a building. I went on crutches as soon as I could after that episode. Two weeks later, I talked the doctor into sending me back to Ferryville. Our pharmacist would change my dressings and I could hobble on my crutches there, as well as at the hospital. Tex of the 36th went on to rejoin his division. I found out later, that the 36th was completely destroyed at Casino.
The Scouts and Raiders were busy putting the finishing touches on the last group of paratroopers. I was of course, excused from these exercises and continued to mend. Two more weeks and I was completely free of any symptoms. About two months had elapsed.
Since we already had our sidearms, I felt it would not be long before we would be shipped out. To where? None of us could guess. We left Ferryville one evening and moved into barracks, again, this time in Bizerta. The harbor was completely filled with every kind of ship imaginable. Landing ship tanks were so close together we could hop from one ship to another.
On one, we ran into our former small boat officer, Ensign Burgess, from the time we were in the amphibious force. ‘Pudgie’, was a year or two older than we were and did not seem to mind the nickname. Coming from Richmond, he sported a rich southern drawl, with an easy tolerant disposition. Later, Ernie Chyz and I would be firing cover over him, keeping our fingers crossed that he would survive the long dash to the beach through a continual hail of bullets.
An LST (Landing Ship, Tank) took us to Naples, Italy. We were now, in Europe proper. The trucks carried us south along the Mediterranean coast to the smaller port of Salerno. We would often visit Naples in the future. The city suffered terribly during the war, not so much from bombings but from the loss of food, water, medicine, soap and electricity. The population was desperate. Fleas and rats were pandemic. Crowds of people were lined up to be deloused by the army. The people walked the streets looking like they each had a sack of flour dropped on them. They were happy to get relief from the itching and bites.
The army had a busy business on street corners. The people would line up and a pump with a hose would spray the insecticide dust through a short hose. The hose would be applied down the man's trousers, down his shirt at the neck and the top of his head. The women the same way. Under her dress, down the front, on top of her head and under the clothes along the back. Most were grateful, and smiling, went home to shake the excess dust off on their floors. A package of cigarettes would buy just about anything and soon traded on the black market for something essential.
The invasion of Salerno was the first intrusion of the allies on the continent of Europe after the invasion of Sicily. Our Scouts and Raiders successfully led our troops to the proper beaches only to have them run into an enemy division on maneuvers a few miles inland. This is where the Rangers, our very finest, paid such a heavy price for every foot of ground they took. The mountainous countryside of Italy was a poor place for invasion. A decision based on politics instead of military acuteness. All the enemy had to do was hold on to the high ground.
We were effectively stopped at Anzio and later at Monte Casino. The roads were under constant shelling and the countryside was a quicksand of mud for armor. A soldier's life was a sheer misery. The war in Italy had stalled. Scouts and Raiders were already in England preparing to ease the pressure in Italy and open a second front in France. This is another story of dedication and courage of which I am not qualified to speak. I heard that Captain Bucklew had a bucket of sand on his desk. He thoughtfully brought the sand back when he scouted Omaha Beach, Normandy.
Salerno, for the fighting it saw, was not heavily damaged. Our quarters were, however, a different matter. Near the southern end of the city was a sheltered cove with a few empty docks. The scouts and Raiders were housed in a building that had housed offices of the harbormaster facing the bay. Our officers were billeted in the heart of town. Our building from the front appeared undamaged. It consisted of three stories and a full basement. Our entrance was from the rear where a bomb had struck. The entire back of the building was blown away. From ground level, we could look at the upper floors, without the back wall or a roof. From the front, the building looked undamaged and whole.
Our quarters were in the warm and dry basement. Wandering the upper floors was kept to a minimum. One could easily walk off the edge or have the floor crumble beneath. Adjacent to our base was a charming beach with sand black as coal. Mount Vesuvius erupted a few years earlier and the sand was in reality ash from the volcano. The ash did not give off any dirt nor stain. Except for the color, it felt like ordinary sand. Mount Vesuvius was always smoking in the distance.
Scouts and Raiders that had previously arrived after participating in other operations, began to wander in to greet us. Some we had known from Fort Pierce, others were new to us. A comradeship born of common purpose was immediate. Ensign Rugerie, Ralph Kotch, Guy Purvis King, LaFollette, and many more became immediate friends and are fondly recalled even fifty years later. Salerno to me was devastating because of its monotony. After months of being trained, or training someone else, we had to settle for many weeks of waiting.
Ernie Chyz helped with the boredom. As a boxer, he knew the value of staying in good physical shape. In the center of town, there was a park with a boxing ring and training devices. Soon Ernie was matched with other boxers and once a week there were bouts. Ernie won all of his matches, losing to no one. I discovered I should not serve in his corner for I was too excitable and did not know what I was talking about. Boxing was an art I had not learned. Ernie won all his fights on his own, without any advice from anyone.
The 45th Division (Thunderbird), had a lightweight champ that trained at the park. His name was Carl Polombo—with a handsome face that was not scared, Carl would dance around the ring and the opponent simply could not touch him. He was as good as Sugar Ray or Willie Pep. Ernie Chyz later told me that Carl lost a leg further north. A sense of profound gloom came over us.
One memorable event I still cherish is the time Ernie and I went to Naples. Ernie was rescheduled to fight and was warming up. The Champion of the World, Joe Louis came to give an exhibition for the troops. Ernie had the job of bandaging Joe's hands and we nearly ran out of tape. Every time Ernie thought he was finished, Louis would say ‘one more roll’.
The exhibition was phenomenal. Like Polombo, Joe could not be hit. Finally, getting a little bored after 3 or 4 challengers had given up, he called for two men to fight him at one time. He slapped them until they both quit, but he never hit them in the face, only on their backsides. I can only call him a true gentleman. I was glad he didn't wind up like his German counterpart, Schmeling, a paratrooper. He truly raised morale and the men loved and respected him.
Other than the boxing events, we all took a trip to Rome and the Vatican, one visit to Pompeii and a few visits to Naples. We were restricted to Salerno and days became like weeks and the weeks like months. I felt my sharp edge becoming dull after training so hard for so long. I was very demoralized with the inactivity.
Ralph Koch remade a 12-foot pontoon from a Nazi seaplane to a roomy lightweight skiff. Somehow, he managed to acquire an outboard motor with an enormously long shaft. I think it hit about 60mph before it exploded and Ralph was getting treatment for burns. We planned to use the skiff for our scouting missions but its destruction put an end to the project.
For the first time I learned of two Scouts and Raiders that failed to return from a scouting mission before the Sicilian invasion. Both were Ensigns, both had kayaks. Both had the same mission, that of scouting the beaches prior to the invasion. It's been considered that they missed their return rendezvous and decided to paddle their kayaks to Malta. Since they never arrived, it's possible that they were strafed and were lost at sea.* Their names were Ensign Kenneth E. Howe and Ensign Carmon F. Pipro.
*Informed October 1991 that Ensigns Howe and Pipro were executed as spies when captured while scouting landing sites in Sicily. Ensign John G. Donnell was killed in a bombing raid one month later, almost to the day.
‘Pack your gear, we're moving out’, the word finally reached us. ‘Where are we going?’, ‘Don't know, just pack.’ The question always received the same answer. Italy, with so many Nazi sympathizers, many would dearly love to sell information of importance. We left by truck to the docks of Naples. Our crew consisted of Ensign William Morrisey, Joe Coveallo (coxswain), Joe Crowley (signalman), Ernie Chyz (gunner) and myself as motor-machine-gunner. We boarded an LST mid-afternoon and were given reasonably private quarters. The rest of the day we watched troops and trucks coming aboard. With its wide doors open, the LST seemed to simply swallow anything that entered it. It was an invaluable piece of support equipment.