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Italy

October 22, 1943

I am getting your mail, I am safe, but have no time to write now. All our mutual friends that I have contact with are fine also.

November 5, 1943

Every thing over here is topsy turvy. The people usually retire to some point behind the German lines, and as we advance they come back through the lines during the lulls and trudge along the roads back to their homes. The women carry big loads on their heads, some packages about four feet in diameter of household goods and it often takes two strong men to lift the load on to a woman’s head. Once the load is there she will go down the road with it as though it was no load at all, slushing along the road in her bare feet feeling with her toes for a grip in the slippery mud, while her old man comes along behind carrying a slightly smaller bundle. The parade goes on for ever.

When they arrive finally to their former home they frequently find it is not there. They then start digging among the rocks and stones for clothing and other valuables, which they load on top of the already over-loaded woman and trudge on to other places hoping to find a cousin or aunt to take them in. I have seen eight families in a two or three room house.

The houses over here are mostly built of stone. The stone is soft and light and can be cut easily with a knife. The stone is shaped and the houses look solid as rock, and are just that, but not all the rock is solid. I watched a man cutting a new door in his house through a two foot stone wall, and he had the entire job finished in little less than a day. These houses furnish little protection against air raids or artillery and the people are at the mercy of who ever is shooting at the moment.

You would think that they would be scared of guns and things, but the biggest problem we have is chasing the kids out of the barrels before we fire the guns. They are very curious and watch every thing we do.

They are real industrious too, watching them work you would think they make their living taking in washing. I had one do some work for me once and he said he wanted a dollar. The interpreter said that is to much, you only get 20 cent a day, he said "Yes but Americans should pay American's scale."

The price on everything goes up as soon as we move into the neighborhood. I went down to price a pair of rubbers, they were $6.00 but they did not have my size. I went back the next day and they were $10.00 and the third time I went in that store they had my size but were $18.00 but I did not take them at such a price.

November 24, 1943

I sent a box of things packed in a "German Teller Mine Case", for all the families for Christmas, and hope it arrives safely. This mine case contains one teller mine; the Germans ship them to the field, plant the mine, then throw the case away and we collect lots of them for suitcases and other carrying equipment.

I am hoping when we do return home we don't go by way of the Pacific, which is not very pacific at this time. After we get Germany beat down to size, I hope to come home and find you on the dock in New York Harbor. There are just two ladies I want to see, the Statue of Liberty, and YOU, both holding a torch for me.

Yesterday evening we got a Chaplain assigned to us, he is the first Chaplain we have seen in two months. In anticipation of his arrival we started a many sided argument on religion, and the argument lasted for six hours. The Chaplain arrived this morning and we started heckling him, but he seems like a nice sort of fellow.

December 27, 1943

The olive groves at this time of year are beautiful. The leaves look silvery against the dark sky of early evening and thick among the leaves are the dark olives waiting to be picked.

Olive oil is a staple of the diet of the Italians, and they are going to need every olive because I understand the Germans are destroying the crops further north. It seems peculiar to see olive trees being picked in plain sight of snow capped mountains, but the scenery here is as varied as California, except there is no desert, decidedly no desert. Rain I guess is a lot more noticeable when you are living out of doors.

January 1, 1944

Breakfast is getting to be my favorite meal. It is much better than it used to be. We have cereal nearly every morning, and I am getting so I like canned milk on it, and it is the only kind of milk we get, and so seldom that it is quite a treat. Of course there is always the G. I., coffee. I often wonder where they get the stuff. Our mess sergeant brags that he can get more coffee out of 100 pounds than any one else, and that when he is through the grounds are white. I don't doubt him, but at least it is warm and black.

He really did himself proud today, and I want you to remember the recipe. Take 14 turkeys, 100 loaves of bread, 2 pounds kitchen bouquet, parboil the turkeys, mix the bread and bouquet together, moisten with water the turkeys were boiled in, stuff them and bake. This serves 240 hungry persons and I mean it is really good.

We had a visitor from another unit who called the mess boy out to ask how he made our toast. The mess boy said "take five gallons of milk, vanilla and flour". The visitor asked how much flour and vanilla, he replied "Be damned if I know."

January 7, 1944

The second week of January and colder than it has any right to be. It is not the enemy that worries us or makes war hell, but the weather. Oh, how I hate cold weather. This will make my second winter under canvas and with nothing but body heat. Yesterday it was so cold I decided to change to woolen underwear. I went to a delousing station where they have one of those portable shower baths, really one of the most wonderful things that the Government has provided for the comfort of the soldier, and got stripped down to the skin in a heated tent, soaped and showered for about twenty minutes, in a heated trailer, with hot running water, then they gave me clean underwear that had been treated with an evil smelling disinfectant and I left to come home feeling kinda funny in my first pair of long handled underwear. I was really not as much warmer as I expected, in fact I felt colder. Everybody makes insinuating remarks about it being no wonder I felt cooler because I had doubtless removed a thicker layer of dirt than I had added in wool.

The only thing interesting that has happened I can tell about - I got a five day pass, stayed at an expensive hotel, dressed in dress uniforms and enjoyed some real champagne. You only get one of those passes in about two years and I was glad to get mine.

January 23, 1944

We have had an UNUSUAL amount of activity for some time now, that I can't tell you about.

Some time back I was billeted for official purposes in a house. It was really a very interesting assignment from beginning to end. In the first place when I went to make arrangements for the billet I took an interpreter along. My Italian has to much French to depend on it. The home had troops, and an old Italian with his wife and four children living on the second floor. All the children were girls, and the family had only three rooms. We selected the room the four girls slept in because it was larger, and he moved them into their bedroom. They turned out to be nice friendly people, but we could never talk to them much. We never did learn to talk much, but the kids picked up a few American expressions.

One of the boys taught one of the girls 5 words, "shut up and get out". One day a boy came in with some laundry and she said "shut up and get out", the poor G. I., turned kinda red and said "I will pay you a dollar to do the laundry” and she repeated the sentence. The old man could not figure why the boys stopped bringing their laundry.

Before we moved out more relatives moved in and it was 12 women and still the one man for the head of the house. The women do all the work, one when moving in carried a bureau on her head. The old man asked if our boys would mind setting it upstairs, and it took three of them to carry it.

One night some shells landed close to the house. The old man was scared to death, but the girls were just interested. Of course the old man had been through the last war.

January 30, 1944

Today is my birthday and I am fine and alive and as happy as could be so far from home. I even had a rare sense of humor, other peoples humor. The boys in survey center have amused themselves today by cutting out pictures from magazines and pasting them together so as to give an effect never intended by the original painter or photographer. The prize to my estimation is from a picture of a beautiful girl strolling down Park Avenue with a large dog. The large dog is now sporting the head of a soldier, while the girl also carried a large silver spoon in her other hand.

The food is getting better, I hope that means that shipping is getting more plentiful, and so on because it is shipping that will win the war. If we could get about twenty percent of the army out of the states into Germany the war would soon be over.

February 10, 1944

It has rained for two days straight and the road through our area is standing, or running about one foot of water, while all the trenches, and gun pits are level full of water. Luckily I am sleeping in the office right now, so have a dry bed. This is the worse stretch of weather that we have had this winter, and I am hoping it marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring rains, the sooner they come, the quicker we will have summer.

February 20, 1944

The other day the Colonel was out to visit one of our units, and he went so far forward he was in sight or about a mile out of a town that is still held by the enemy. He was sure that he must have passed the unit that he was looking for so he stopped to ask a soldier if he knew the whereabouts of this unit. The soldier replied "Well, No. I don't know where it is, you see they always live in the rear area, and I never know where any of the combat units are." The Colonel thought that was quite a joke on himself because he thought that he was already too far forward.

It has been pretty dry around here for quite a while. I guess the spring rains will be along shortly, but right now its cold and dry. I could stand a little more heat, no rain though.

The other day I was visiting a French outfit, and just as I reached for my third piece of beef steak the French Colonel asked how I liked the beef steak. I says Tray Bone. Everybody laughed and I thought they were laughing because the way I pronounced it, but after we were through the interpreter said they were laughing because the beef steak was the remains of a pack mule that had been killed the day before during a shelling. Most delicious steak what ever it was.

February 24, 1944

One day four of us were riding all day in a car. In preparation for the trip we had bought one hundred eggs and boiled 72 of them, and the raw ones we scrambled for lunch. It was an outstanding day. This was some time back and the price of eggs have gone to 15 cent a piece now or 45 cent each at a restaurant.

You remember the fellow in our unit who talked to much, and the Major was always saying so, every conversation between him and the Major would finish with the statement "you talk too much." The other day the Major got a letter from him that had been censored. The only thing left was the salutation and the signature. The salutation was "its the boy who talked too much", and his name. Everything else had been cut out and that was underscored. We sure will kid him about it when we see him.

March 16, 1944

The key that I sent to Patricia Christmas, was from the dungeon of the Fort at Messina, beyond that there is no particular interest, but I liked it when I found it, and thought it a nice keep sake.

March 24, 1944

Recently I had the pleasure of taking part in and preparing a recording for a broadcast from B. B. C. I doubt if you hear it because it was intended for consumption in South Africa, and will doubtless be broadcast before you get this letter. In fact I doubt if I get to hear it myself, as I don't know for sure when it is to be played, and we have no radio on which I can listen continuously. I thought my voice was fairly good, but my spacing was poor.

I have checked up and find that I can tell you that I took part in landing in SICILY, that after that I took part in landing the British on ITALY, crossing the MESSINA STRAIT. Then I took part in the landing at SALERNO, and the crossing of the VOLTURNE and have been in the battle of CASSINO up to the last date that I am permitted to tell about. As you can see that puts me in the Seventh Army, British First Army and Fifth Army, and that is all I can tell at present.

April 11, 1944

Easter Sunday, Lieutenant and myself received written invitation to attend a festival to mark the end of Lent; the invitation was from our landlord. I dressed up in my best dress uniform hoping to outshine every one else but in the end we were all dressed alike and I must say we sure looked pretty from our usual dress.

It was really pitiful the way they tried to entertain us with the little they had. The meal was in six courses but three of the courses were for the guests only, and we were among the invited guests. The first course was macaroni and corned beef, second ham and mashed potatoes. They were mashed with butter grapes and something else, were delicious. 3rd course roast lamb, 4th native cheese from goats milk, 5th fruits and the 6th was pie. It was all good and I was able to talk to the older Italian people very well for the evening.

May 31, 1944

I have been fairly well, but just feel worn out. The Dr. said it was a combination of spring fever, natural ornerynous aggravated by overwork and that there was nothing he could do about it until the C. O. authorized some more rest trips. In the meantime, I really have not been working any harder I guess than in the drive in Africa, and the one in Sicily, but for some reason it gets me worse.

Of course I have been gone for some time from the billet that I was bragging about. It was sure nice. Almost like being at home, but you can't fight a war that way. The Germans keep running from us and it keeps us running to catch them. I have not had my suitcase with me for a long time, we are moving so fast.

As we move along I am carefully watching the fruit trees. When we started the grapes were just little bunches, they are getting much bigger now and we have found some ripe mulberries and the ripe figs are not bad.

June 5, 1944

THE RADIO IS BOOMING INVASION NEWS, for some time now and excitement is gradually boiling up in me so that I can hardly collect my thoughts. I have moved out under the shade of a tree from the excitement to get a letter off to you dear.

One of my boys was out riding when he decided he was getting too close to the front, and was not quite sure where he was. He looked back and saw a Jeep following him with a full Colonel in it, so decided he must be back quite a ways yet, and rode on for a few more miles, and still did not see anything familiar or any friendly troops, however when he looked back the Colonel was still there. Finally he decided best find out where he was, so he stopped the Colonel, and asked him if he knew where the line were. The Colonel was quite angry "Don't you know where you are going? I have been following you!", they both turned around and came back at top speed.

Of course things happen some times, our kitchen truck got lost from the convoy one day, while we were 50 miles from a certain town we were supposed to take. When we got back in camp he claimed to have gotten to within sight of the town before he knew he was on the wrong road. He brought a road sign back to prove it saying 3 K. to T--- to prove his story. The kitchen truck is our biggest headache. On the last move I put it well forward in the convoy so it would not get into trouble. We were stopped about three miles from our area by a runner with the news that they were shelling the road pretty bad about half way in, so we would leave that point at one minute intervals, and maintain 15 miles an hour through the shelled portion of the road. The kitchen truck proceeded to upset its trailer through the shelled portion of the road, and no one knew at the despatching end and we kept dispatching vehicles every minute and the line up on the road stopped all through the danger area while the kitchen personnel got themselves out of the ditch and going again. I was just a little scared at being lined up right in the shelling section, but nobody got hurt.

June 12, 1944

To give you as much of an idea as I legally can about where I was during the fall of Rome, I was with the French. You will have to read the newspaper for the rest of it. Anyhow Rome fell, and of course we were all very anxious to see the city. Some wanted to see it because of its old historical appeal, just simple tourists you know. Some wanted to see it to see if the immediate objective was worth the fight, some got drunk and some said they wanted to see the girls. But what ever the reason those who did not want to go to Rome were rather rare individuals. The civilians had to be protected from the ravages of even a friendly army, so naturally there were restrictions and you had to wait your turn. Finally my day came. Two of us and his driver got one of the leaves entitling us to be absent from our unit for a period of eight hours and to enter the city of Rome. First we went to St. Peters Cathedral. As we entered the building we met a Chaplain who was at one time in our unit, and he told us that the Pope would see us for a few minutes. At that time he was holding mass in the north wing of the Cathedral.

The Pope took us in and there were about 200 of us and after a short wait he spoke. First in French and then in English. I was really thrilled to be there and see the traditional old Swiss guards in all their feudal splendor. They wore uniforms which I believe had red base with blue and gold streamers about three inches wide so arranged as to almost cover them from head to foot. They were armed with an ancient battle axe and spear combination and the officers carried short swords. Their drill I believe was ancient German, and the commands were given in a language that I could not understand, but I was told it was Swiss. When he, the Pope, finished speaking he had a cardinal give each of us a rosary and a picture of the Pope.

From there I took the tourist view of the Cathedral, going all through the place, even in the dome. I found my knowledge of Italian very useful and I saw many of the beauties. An Italian gentlemen showed me some of the ancient sights and from the dome he pointed out many places of interest. After having gone through St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, I was extremely anxious to see through the one in Rome.

Then we hired a guide and went to see an old historical building, which I gathered from his explanation was one of the castles of the Pope. It has a protected walkway from the Vatican and special rooms for the Pope. They told us it has not been used in over 300 years or more. Old boxes that used to be used for storage of the gold of the church, and a museum of weapons that were used for defense of the castle and its surroundings was covered by a net. The older weapons were rather ingenious. Old spear slingers with boots of steel, rock slingers and cross bows of steel, early gunpowder cannon that used rocks instead of steel cannon balls like now.

From there to view some of the ancient ruins. We saw Cicero's forum and the Coliseum where presumably the old gladiator fights took place between prisoners and beasts. It was said that a prisoner who lived through it was set free.

While at the Coliseum we met some Italian civilians who knew a place to get good meals, so we had dinner with them. They told us quite a few interesting things about civilian life during the war. For one thing they had not had macaroni for a period of four months till that day because it was scarce and expensive. They also said the fall of Rome had caused prices of food and clothing to drop about three fourths of its former value. It cost a person about 1000 lire a day to get enough to eat, and a lot of other information that sounded exaggerated.

I am hoping to go back to Rome on a longer pass, but if we keep driving forward at this pace, I probably will never see it again. Besides a soldier should learn never to look back because there are larger cities, such as Berlin, ahead.


June 22, 1944

Were you ever scared? I should not write like this, but fear is a terrible thing, and no man knows how when or why it will strike him. You lay in camp, and watch a town to your rear being literally blown off the map. You look over the hill and see the results of a cold scientific job of road interdiction where they can see the road and shoot at every vehicle that goes over the road. Then it is your turn. You have got to go down that road and do a job of work. You talk to yourself "It takes a direct hit to stop you and they have not scored one yet today." Yeah! Some of them were mighty close, suppose a fragment gets the driver, and you would look mighty pretty at the bottom of that cliff. Away you go. You get past the observed stretch, on up front but under cover. It sure feels good to know they can't see you, and fortunately he has not got the ammunition to spray the country side. An occasional shell hasn't got but about one chance in ten thousand to get to you, then you finish the work. The debate starts again, shall I go back along the road the way I came up and run the gauntlet again, or try to work along a trail that you have heard of through the mountains and maybe get lost. Maybe get into a pocket of snipers that they haven't cleaned out yet, or should you wait until dark when the observation won't be so good. Common sense wins because you don't want to miss supper and back you go along the road. Some how you feel safer on the way back, because you are going away from the guns.


June 30, 1944

We are going through a beautiful country now. It looks like a rich country and I only hope that there is as much fruit and things where we are going as there is here. I sit and look at the cherries, which are not ripe and wish that they were ready to eat, and the peaches, and apples, grapes and all the other good things that are grown here, but nothing is ripe yet, maybe from the fruit standpoint we made the drive to early.

The people here are more like the people back home, more so than we have run into yet, or am I just getting use to them. Most of the well-to-do people have regular mansions which have usually a small cape in connection with them. Living quarters are usually on the second floor even in the most palatial houses and the ground floor is given over to all stock. The place where I am quartered now is really palatial. It hasn’t been hurt any by the war. The windows have luxurious curtains and the beds have inner-spring mattresses. It is seldom that we stay more than one night at a place, but we are trying to hang on here as long as possible.

July 7, 1944

One Officer had a funny thing happen to him. He thought his wife knew that he would not want any clothing, and certainly no cottons. So he wrote a request out, thinking she would catch on and send him some whisky. The package arrived and we were all hanging around like wolves waiting for him to open the package, and it turned out to be Cotton Clothing.

July 21, 1944

I don't think its permissible to discuss the developments in Germany but it is the thing that is uppermost in all our minds. Of course you have read it in the papers and know as much about it as I do. I am hoping that it is the beginning of the end, but I am afraid to really let my hopes get up. It would be really wonderful if I could be home by Christmas.

A few night ago an Officer who used to be in our outfit, and is now in one of the higher headquarters paid us a visit. He brought a W. A. C. Lt., with him, and we had a very interesting evening. He had promised her that we would tell some outstanding war stories being combat troops and so on, ones with a lot of harrowing experiences to relate, and we tried to do our best. Of course all were sitting around with eyes popping out while the pretty Lt. sat primly on our only chair, and waiting to hear our war stories. Unfortunately I can't repeat them, maybe soon in person.

We are just now commencing to see a little of the things that the magazines would lead you to believe we get a lot of - e. g., red cross girls with doughnuts and U. S. O. shows and such like. I had come to the conclusion they were only stories, but some came very close here recently and we are to be served next time. The war is looking up.

July 26, 1944

Since writing you last nothing outstanding has happened except the Negro U. S. O., came by here. It was just fair considering the stage and all. They had a tap dance, singer, few musicians, and some jokes.

Tonight I stopped on my way home to do some business with another outfit. This was about an hour’s ride from home, and when I got there they were having ice cream, and fried chicken for supper so I got an invitation and stayed. Patting myself on the back about the good fortune that I had such grand eats, because fried chicken is really something I never expected to see until I got home, and I had not seen any ice cream since I left Sicily. When I got home I was just there in time to receive the good-byes and thanks and so on from two trucks of Red Cross girls who had brought doughnuts and coffee to the boys in my absence. They have really gotten around in the last few days, but I have been in the service here a long time before I saw one of them.

August 11, 1944

The Officers club here is a rather nice homey place. It is run by the British in an old Italian night club, and frequently mostly French Officers including the nurses. Then there is English language mostly but a sprinkling of all the Allied Nations drop in there. However the waiters and the floor show is Italian, and one of the girls sings with chewing gum in her mouth all the time. Her male partner has a real loud voice and he doesn't sing into the mike, but she does and he still drowns her out.

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