These are excerpts from the book I am writing about my family during WWII.
As Dennis Day’s song concluded, the comedy team launched into more fun antics including slipping a reference to Jell-O into another Jekyll and Hyde skit. However, as the Phil Harris Orchestra played their number, the news commentator broke in with a war bulletin stating that the Japanese had taken over the American Shanghai Power and Light Company and that the Japanese News Agency reported that the Japanese prime minister had delivered a reply for peace in the Pacific. He then casually mentioned that the news came hours after the bombing of Honolulu. Suddenly, all noise ceased and a cold draft filled the previously warm rooms.
The short, abrupt messages fell like a bomb on the ears of the family who hadn’t heard any news of the attack. Like the Japanese pilots that dropped their payload and flew quickly away, the news announcer dropped a few devastating statements and then as fast as he had interrupted, he was gone and regular programming returned – no explanation offered, no details provided, and no mention of what was expected to happen next.
California Here We Come:
As he squeezed into the small 1930’s Ford, Howard was all smiles. He was heading off on an adventure with four other young men to the great state of California – home of the Pacific Ocean and the promise of good jobs. San Diego, their final destination, was supposed to be full to the brim with military-related jobs in factories and shipyards. Howard hoped to secure a job in aircraft manufacturing and he figured that his training at the American Aeronautical Institute would give him an advantage over the average untrained worker. The job would provide welcomed cash and working for an aircraft manufacturer would more or less automatically qualify him for a short-term deferment.
Although Nellie wasn’t the type to be dishonest, she wasn’t the type to tell the government things that she felt were none of their business. Who really was going to rush out to tell the rationing board that they had more sugar than the board thought they should have? It seemed the government thought people would be honest out of fear that their neighbors would gossip about their sugar stash and word would get to the rationing board, which was serious about sugar hoarding. To put a little scare in people, the government threatened a fine up to $10,000 and 10 years in prison for anyone that didn’t come forward with information about excess sugar in their possession. It was hard to imagine anyone doing hard time for having too much sugar, but the world was changing. Things weren’t the way they used to be.
The start of the war in Europe:
Not a big fan of politics, Nellie tried to tune out the President and focus on her task at hand. She would know how the speech went based on the look on Joe’s face and his grumbling about FDR’s latest words of “wisdom.” Besides she could read everything she wanted to know about the speech in the newspaper. Still, the chatter of the radio kept grabbing her attention.
“My fellow Americans and my friends . . . “ President Roosevelt began. FDR was a master of acting like he was everyone’s best friend and that he would personally look out for each person. Tonight was no different. FDR was talking about the war in Europe, which had officially started earlier in the day when Great Britain and France had declared war on Germany. The declaration of war was only a formality as tension in Europe had been rising since the day Hitler started invading countries. Roosevelt mentioned all the words that Americans wanted to hear – neutrality, peace, and the safety of Americans. The President emphasized that he “had hoped against hope that some miracle” would occur to prevent war. However, he was already calling it a “great war,” cautioning people to carefully distinguish between fact and rumor, calling for national unity, warning that he could not predict the future, and saying that America’s peace was in danger.
Before the war hit the United States:
Freedom of speech was also quickly going by the wayside. Right now, it wasn’t that people couldn’t speak up or that it was illegal for newspapers to write articles that disagreed with the government, instead it was an environment where there was a lot of pressure to echo with the administration’s perspective of the world. Roosevelt argued that disagreement showed a lack of unity - a weakness - that could and would be attacked by those who wanted America to fall. He was convinced that enemies were trying to infiltrate the United States to destroy the country from within. Therefore, he alerted citizens to watch for groups that spread discord through false slogans and emotional appeals, which could create skepticism and panic to undermine the country’s unity. If FDR had his way, no one would speak a single word contrary to his policies and ideas. Nellie knew that Joe was afraid that he might be labeled as anti-American if he openly shared his opinions of Roosevelt and Roosevelt’s approach to the domestic and world problems. The reality was that Joe supported the country one hundred percent. He believed strongly in the foundation of the country – a foundation that Joe didn’t think Roosevelt respected.
After Howard’s first foray into combat:
Howard felt that the soldiers in his regiment had earned their pay during the two-week campaign as they had struggled up and down the rugged hillsides, advancing over fifteen miles. They had fought their way up the hills and through the valleys with the constant threat of land mines. He declared, “The outfit I am with are a swell bunch of guys and darn good soldiers.”
In Italy, before the Fall 1944 campaign:
In preparation for the attack, the soldiers worked problems, marched, had foot inspections, cleaned equipment, and honed the skills needed for their assigned job. Howard trained for his new job as an assistant bazooka man. The bazooka was new to the Army with the first ones rolling out of the factory in 1942. The Army so desired this anti-tank weapon that they had handed over the concept to General Electric with the stipulation that the company finalize the design and manufacture 5,000 bazookas within thirty days. Workers committed to the government’s priority project, working night and day and taking extraordinary steps to obtain materials and produce the weapon. The design, prototyping, and testing phases used all but 8 days of the interval. Miraculously, General Electric’s staff completed the 5,000th bazooka 89 minutes before the deadline.
Being on a bazooka team could have been considered an honor or just outright crazy. Perfect shots that hit the target the first time were imperative since the bazooka, which required a clear shot, couldn’t always be fired from a well protected position and the back blast gave away the team’s position every time. Howard’s partner was in charge of aiming the bazooka while Howard loaded it and attached the firing wire. Then he signaled the bazooka man that the weapon was ready to fire before scurrying out of the way of the back blast. Howard also traded his rifle for a carbine, a lighter short-distance weapon so that he could carry bazooka ammunition in addition to his weapon.
Fall 1944 at Greenville Army Air Base in South Carolina:
The day was quiet on the maintenance line, but Dewey still kept busy. In the morning, he attended the regular weekly lecture. Afterward, the officers called quite a few of the guys were in to discuss their experience driving cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Dewey thought that must have been looking for men that could be reassigned as drivers. And, he figured that whoever got reassigned was headed for an assignment overseas. In the evening, Dewey listened to a required talk about the Articles of War, which defined the regulations of the military and associated discipline procedures. The Army must have been making the rounds ensuring that every soldier had a refreshed about the regulations because, although separated by the Atlantic Ocean, within a week’s time both Dewey and Howard attended a class on the Articles of War.
A few days later, Dewey switched from working production line maintenance during the daytime to being in charge of five planes on the night shift. The maintenance routine had been altered requiring all the engine changes and other maintenance line work to take place during the day. Since no flying had occurred for a couple of days, Dewey had little work to do. However, he had to stay on duty until at least midnight. On September 11, he passed the time until the witching hour by sitting in a plane writing letters. At midnight, Dewey planned to draw straws with his men to see who the lucky fellow would be who got the privilege of staying on duty to baby-sit the planes for the remainder of the shift. He hoped he would get lucky and get the night off.
During the Fall 1944 Campaign in the Apennine Mountains:
On September 29, the weather was again a major factor in the battle with rain, fog, and mud dominating the landscape. Despite hand-to-hand combat conditions, foxholes half-full of water, and weapons rendered useless after becoming mud-clogged, “M. Battaglia was ordered to be held at all cost.” The 88th dedicated the entire 350th to holding Mt. Battaglia and the surrounding ridges. During the day, replacements filtered in to all three battalions to offset some of the losses in the recent struggle. However, the units had no time to train the replacements, acclimate them to the battle conditions, or integrate them into the unit like they would have done under normal circumstance. Instead, the commanders, knowing they had no other choice, plunked the replacements directly into the middle of the mayhem.
The days and nights melted into one another with hardly a break for the weary troops. No matter what the 350th threw at the Germans, they kept coming back for more – an indication of how important this peak was to preventing a collapse of the entire Gothic Line. Each counterattack resulted in heavy losses to both the American and the German forces. As the battle progressed, the Germans used flame throwers to temporarily force the soldiers of the 350th out of the castle atop Monte Battaglia. Not to be deterred, the 350th fought back. The enemy was so close that the soldiers could have smelled them if not for the dank odor of days in the same clothes, gun powder, and dead bodies.
The 350th primarily relied on flame throwers, hand grenades, and small arms fire in their effort to take back the mountain. The men of the 350th requested more ammunition ordering it by the “mule” as in send up three “mules” of grenades. Despite the firepower of the two armies, when ammunition ran low, mud clogged their rifles, or machine guns refused to fire, the men improvised firing a weapon of one of the fallen or throwing a grenade that they happened to find nearby. The soldiers even relied on schoolyard brawling methods, sending big rocks rolling down the mountainside toward enemy troops and throwing smaller rocks in the enemy’s direction. The American’s actions gave a new meaning to the phrase “a stones throw away.”
As Howard entered battle during the Spring Campaign:
Under the cover of darkness, the well-rested men of the 350th began their quest of Monterumici Hill, their first major objective of Operation Craftsman. The men moved north toward Monterumici with less than 15 air miles and undetermined days, weeks, or months of fighting time separating them from Bologna. Howard’s battalion advanced along a trail to La Tombe to create a diversion while the third battalion, followed by the second battalion, came from behind and attacked Many men had already died in this area; many more now risked their lives!
No matter what direction they turned, the soldiers approaching Monterumici, Mt. Adone and Furcoli Ridge encountered landmines while tanks exploded on roads that the engineers thought they had cleared of mines. The engineers switched from using mine detectors that could not detect non-metallic mines and had difficulty detecting Schu-mines to using probes to look for the landmines, working their way along ever so slowly. When the Americans thought they had the process down for finding the landmines, they encountered a new German trick. The Germans had placed a group of landmines 4 to 6 feet underground and had used a long piece of wood to transfer the weight of vehicles to the mines. By clustering the mines deep in the ground, the Germans had hidden the mines from typical detection methods and created a great explosion. So, the Americans started over again using different methods to probe for mines. In the next few hours, 71 clusters of four to six tellermines each were found. Inch by inch the landmines that were wrecking havoc on the American forces, were cleared.
Sources available upon request.
Copyright L. Thomson 2016 - All Rights Reserved