Bucky Walters served with the 135th Infantry Regiment of the 34th Infantry Division in North Africa and Italy.
Edward ‘Bucky’ Waters, 7th June 2003
EW: I actually graduated I took my first graduate work in the army. I just happened to graduate college at the time and they zoomed me right in the draft.
J: I was going to ask you right from when you were born and where you were born and your parents and what your Dad did and?
EW: I was born in Newark, New Jersey, and Dad was a policeman and mother in those days was a housewife. Grew up there. This was not too far from Newark. It was a big city there. It was a lot different those days than it is now.
J: Brothers and sisters?
EW: No, just brothers. One brother. Dad was a big husky policeman. Sort of an Irish cop. And we grew up, went to school there, adjacent to the city, in the suburbs of Newark. And I went to High School there and I went also to a local college, which was a wonderful experience – probably the best four years of my life. And I was drafted in my senior year, but they allowed me to finish my education.
J: Was it a happy childhood?
EW. Very happy childhood. Wonderful parents. Lots of friends, wonderful parents, wonderful parents. And by the way it was a totally Jewish neighbourhood. And they were our dear friends. They did a lot for us. They all went on to become quite something in the film industry. A lot of friends of mine were actors and actresses.
J: Were you Catholic with your Irish?
EW: No. Part of the family is I guess. Mother wasn’t, Dad was. And we actually if I I break my thought sometimes, you’ll have to get me back on track. But I was drafted during college, the senior year. They allowed me to finish. Shipped me on graduation to Camp Cross, South Carolina, for infantry training.
J: I was reading about a journalist who wrote for the New Yorker magazine and he was writing about Camp Cross and I was reading it just yesterday in the library in New York. Incidentally, just to go back, what were you reading at college?
EW: Oh History and English in college. I went on later to but anyhow, Camp Cross was an experience and we of-course were being wooden rifles. The only thing we really had they had 37mm down there and they were supposed to be [?] but what pop guns they were. Fired one round – you see I was in the heavy weapons – one round and boy you were dead! But anyhow, got through almost, through basic training, only about three or four weeks, Pearl Harbour.
J: So you must have been drafted in 1940.
EW: I was drafted in 1941. I graduated June 1941.
J: But you were drafted before you graduated?
EW: Yes, before I graduated. June 1941. And so by September, I was down at Camp Cross.
J: And were you OK about that? Were you upset to be drafted?
EW: Oh in a way yes. Because Mother had passed away, and Dad wouldn’t remarry because he knew he couldn’t duplicate Mother for us kids – my brother and me. And I guess as I say when Pearl Harbour occurred By the way, we had wooden rifles and we didn’t know what an M1 was of-course. And we were being trained by Cadre who didn’t know any more about battle than we did. And Pearl Harbour came and bang, everything changed. And boy they interrupted the training and we were sent immediately to Fort Dix. I was with background in heavy weapons and radio there.
J: You did heavy weapons and radio at Fort Dix did you?
EW: No, I was with heavy weapons in my basic training and then they weeded some of us out and put us into the Signal Corps into radio, made radio men out of us. So we were sort of half way in between. But as soon as Pearl Harbour hit they interrupted that training and we ended up at Fort Dix. That was September/October, somewhere toward the end of the year. And we no sooner got to Fort Dix and we were put into the 34th Division. They were a Minnesota division and Iowa, I guess you’re aware of that? And so we
J: Did you feel OK about that?
EW: Well I adapted well because I made a lot of friends. I could see close friendships forming. We trained then there for a while and toward the end of the year I think it was well we boarded the Aquitania the 27th of April so it was somewhere in February or March 1942 that we shipped out from Fort Dix. They shipped us to the port and we boarded the Aquitania. Now that was April 27th. I have that date here.
J: Can you remember feeling did you ever have any sense of what the war was going to bring or did you have a sense that it was going to be a long time?
EW: I had a bit of an advantage over the boys from Minnesota who were farm boys – they were a wonderful bunch of guys – I had read a lot of war novels and I knew â€œAll quiet on the western front and all the rest of them and so forth and I had an idea what war was like. And the farm boys didn’t. And they were gung ho.
J: And you weren’t gung ho at all?
EW: No I wasn’t quite gung ho about it. But as I say I made so many friends and I knew that it had to be done. And there was no hate though yet. Hate didn’t build up till after they started killing us. We left on the Aquitania on the 27th
J: Just a minute, just to go back to your training. Did you feel that was pretty comprehensive?
EW: No, no not at all.
J: At the time did you feel under-trained?
EW: No, at the time I didn’t. Because we were quite aware of the fact that most of the Cadre and even our officers were just as we draftees and although they had a little more incentive than we did to get into action. We draftees didn’t of-course.
J: Because that’s the difference with the British Army because officers are trained one way and then you’re all moved into Regiments which are hundreds of years old, whereas you guys are all being formed up complete divisions all as one weren’t you?
EW: Yes. That was it. 34th, 135th, Heavy weapons, H Company. That was it and I stayed with that group all the way through Africa. But anyhow, we shipped out on the 13th and the voyage was pretty rough, because we were three decks below sea level. And we had I can remember leaving New York harbour and looking in the fading light and in the distance seeing just barely the sun glistening on the top of the Statue of Liberty and it was just about then we started hearing the depth charges. And from then on it was depth charges all the way over.
J: Can you remember anything about how you were you must have been sorry to say goodbye to your brother and your father?
EW: My Dad especially when I hugged him and kissed him. The last time I saw him I had a sense that I wasn’t going to see him again. And I didn’t know whether I would pass away or whether he would, but I had that feeling that I wasn’t going to see him again. And I carried his image with me all the time. And my brother of-course was very close to me. Still is. He just passed away two years ago.
J: Was he older or younger?
EW: He was about three years younger than I. And we were very close: Dad, brother and
J: Had he been drafted as well?
EW: He was drafted I tell you that’s a story. When I returned in July/August of 1944 on rotation, I was shipped to Camp Drum New York and I don’t know what happened but I somehow had an idea I knew what outfit that he had been drafted into and I found out when I reached Camp Drum that he was there! And I didn’t know it until I was on my way home. But I came back to Camp Drum and wouldn’t you know, I walked in – I got into the camp, had to sneak in – and went to the same barracks that I was shipped out of and there he was: sitting on a And so he shipped out just as I came home. And he was in the Normandy bit. He went into it was after D Day of-course and he went into the ETO around that area and he was hit – a knee injury – and of-course he had that disability most of his life. Oh gosh. Actually the feeling of loss was tremendous.
J: When you left America for the first time?
EW: Yes. The feeling of loss was tremendous. We cheered each other up though. And one salient factor was the one thing that actually As I say I was amidship and a lot of good buddies right off and on that voyage over we knew, and we heard of course some of the destroyers moving back and forth and they were after the troop ships of-course. We became rather a close-knit unit.
J: I’m sure. That Atlantic crossing is a pretty dangerous trip to make.
EW: We were three decks below water level and it was terrible down there. It was stuffy.
J: Were you in hammocks or just on the?
EW: Well there were beds anchored in, in the wall and you folded down: one two three four five six or whatever. And the air was foul. So I got up and we got out on deck whenever I could and I got into the ack ack on deck and I learned a lot about every time I could I learned a lot about the Oregon and the Bofors and so that what’s happened later on when I travelled on an English ship, troop ships.
J: But you’d already been trained in heavy armour and in heavy weapons rather?
EW: Machine guns and mortars yes, and basically I was in the anti-tank with the pop guns: 37mm. And they were pop guns. But we landed at Londonderry about May. Went to Omagh: beautiful town. Trouble is we were quartered in the poor house and it was damp and dank and the 135th, 168, 133rd were quartered in Nissan huts and it was much nicer but they were in different areas. People in Omagh were wonderful. We were bivouacked in the poor house right next to an ATS unit. They wouldn’t have anything to do with the American soldiers at all.
J: It must have been nice for you with your Irish heritage to land in Ireland, your first big trip abroad?
EW: Yes. And of-course I’d spoken to a lot of people, most of them girls, and they fully expected us to be wearing spurs and six guns! They actually did! And I have wonderful memories of Omagh, the [?] and the warm drinks I attuned myself to.
J: So you had time off to?
EW: Oh yes well we trained during the day and we were right practically in the town, so in the evenings we were allowed to roam. And as I say we had a wonderful time. We loved the people. The people loved us. In fact we had a lot of three-day passes to â€œbofast[?] I think they pronounced it the Irish girls and I happened to be there I made friends with one of the young ladies who worked there and I happened to be there at one time and the Germans didn’t usually bomb them. They usually hit their ports but they bombed the zoo. But it was fine. We helped them round up the animals. But we found out there was a tiger loose. Boy then we hid! Never forget that! While we were
J: The training was?
EW: In Omagh?
EW: In Omagh the training was vigorous and we were so happy because we all British Cadre. I forget what unit it was but they had all been I guess in Dunkirk I think but they had battle experience. They were excellent. And boy we knew it. We could sense it right away.
J: That they were better than what you’d been having back in America?
EW: Oh our Cadre
J: In what sense? Just the knowledge or?
EW: They were battle veterans. They had seen battle and tasted it. Live grenades you know. We’d be walking along in percussion and first thing you know â€œbang! and boy you could defilade and you could learn to pick your spots. And then they wanted us to they shipped a bunch of us – I think it was my Company and another Rifle Company – to Glasgow. We went to Glasgow and we were training with the Scotch Commando. I’m trying to think of a name
J: Black Watch?
EW: It was a Black Watch. It was actually I understood for some time it was a Canadian outfit but it was Black Watch, the original Black Watch, we were there with them. And we were learning Commando tactics, raids and so forth.
J: Hand to hand fighting, that sort of thing?
EW: Yes. Scaling and everything else. We somehow we were there only a matter of three weeks and we were shipped back and
J: Back to Northern Ireland?
EW: Back to Omagh and nothing more was actually that was the last time we were in Scotland and finally continued our training there with the British Cadre and we had so much confidence in them.
J: That was not just something you felt, that was the whole Regiment thinking that?
EW: Oh all of us. Common knowledge and we used to often kid about it and we used to see gee I only wish our first Sergeant at Camp Cross were here to try to
J: Were you just a Private at this stage?
EW: At this stage. The Captain – Captain Iner Lund[?] – a prize fighter, a good rugged guy, a wonderful guy. He kind of took a shine to me. I think I was a Private First Class then he made me a Corporal. And before we left England, before we left Liverpool I was a Sergeant. What I termed a â€œRecon Sergeant with a Weapons Company actually. And I had a squad though at times and the 50s and we had 50s, we had a couple of 50 calibres and the 37s.
J: Sorry to interrupt but when you were doing all your training you’re doing a I think you said you were H Company is that right?
EW: Yes, H Company.
J: Were the Company all training together with officers?
EW: Oh yes. All infantry tactics, rifle.
J: But what I mean is it wasn’t just the ranks doing it? You were there with your Lieutenants and Captains?
EW: Oh no our Lieutenants were there and Captains and everything.
J: All being trained together?
EW: They were all hungry.
J: Were the officers as under-trained as you when you got there?
EW: I would say yes. I would say yes.
J: So they were learning just as much as you were?
EW: I would say so, yes.
J: That’s so different from the British way. A British Lieutenant would join a Regiment fully trained and come in and take over and take charge.
EW: Yes, that’s quite different. Most of our Lieutenants had about the same background that I had. They were hamburger salesmen and car salesmen and what have you.
J: And why did they get picked out for officer class?
EW: During their training at Camp Claybourne I guess, and with their they were officers when we joined them at Fort Dix, and they had undergone pretty much probably the same training that we had, and it was woefully inadequate. There was no question about it. But we trained, we marched, we trained, we marched. We landed 27th and arrived at Omagh May 13th. We didn’t get to the first landings, the early landings of Torch. We left Liverpool December 20th and we landed at Oran on New Years Day. That was January 1. And they had already secured the docks and everything of course and we were shipped to
J: Were you aware of what had already happened in North Africa?
EW: No. We weren’t aware of what had taken place before us. In fact we didn’t know where we were going at all. We had no idea.
J: But suddenly the orders came through, you’re shipping out?
EW: Yes. On the trip down I always remember, again I was able to get on the gun turrets and get above deck and lots of time I sailed the ocean when I was lying on my back in the turret but it was amazing we didn’t have many aircraft problems going down. We didn’t have many we weren’t harassed much by submarines at all either. We landed fairly uneventfully – except for very rough weather – at Oran. I remember starting to get hit by the air power because the Germans of-course they controlled the air completely and there were a couple of dog fights as we landed, and I remember a couple of our planes crashing into the mountain there as we came into
J: Any kinds of feeling of apprehension then?
EW: Oh you bet. But I think it was a lot of numbness. It was so new, so different. There was a lot of numbness involved. And there again you always had your buddies with you. You could always reminisce about your boyhood back in the States you know, your growing up and Mom and Pop and so forth, and there was comfort in that.
J: And it’s easier to be in a strange place when you’ve got people around you.
EW: I wasn’t any more prepared for being torn away from family. I was just as heartbroken as anybody, and I guess I had the same feelings pretty much as all the rest of my war buddies did. We didn’t talk much about the war and we didn’t know where we were going or why. No idea.
J: But as a Sergeant did you have much to do? It was just getting people to the right place at the right time? That sort of thing?
EW: In Oran, I was with the Captain mostly on reconnaissance in San Claro[?] after we went to San Claro. And then Darby wanted a Heavy Weapons Company and so he sort of chose H Company because our Captain was gung ho and he said he wanted to get a ringside seat. So they the entire Ranger Battalion – Darby’s Rangers – was made up from 34th.. And we could have volunteered while we were in Omagh any time but we didn’t care to. And so he wanted a weapons Company to try he was training and we trained with Darby for several weeks, but we couldn’t take it. We had a lot of men in there in our outfit who were in their 40s and they couldn’t take it. And ankle bones used to go. Because we were march, march for so many hours, so many paces and what have you, march, march, march, get there on foot. Excellent training though. Darby was a task master. An unusual man. So instead of getting a ringside seat we were shipped back into 135 Weapons Company as a Weapons Company and I guess we were after January 28th I don’t remember but we were ordered to move to Tunisia, to the front, and we
J: How did you get there? In trucks?
EW: It was all truck. No train. And I was with the Captain in a jeep. We had a driver and we could always get to the gasoline tank and eat stuff with our mess kits, with a C ration can, which by the way were not camouflaged. They were shiny, bright. I don’t know how many times we were strafed by Focke Wulfs and Messerschmitts because the sun would pick up the can and glisten. Underwear was white too. Our undergarments were white too at that time. So we were woefully under-prepared. But anyhow we went by truck mostly at night. I happened to be in a jeep. Our Company together with of-course the mortars and the machine guns and we got through into the Atlas and it was very cold, and there we started to have our first test of what it was like being in the infantry. We didn’t have the proper clothing at the time. And so we suffered a bit. Slept in the snow and finally got through Pichon.
J: Must have been pretty grim wasn’t it?
EW: Yes. It was getting used to living in the dirt you know?
J: Did you struggle with ill-health and bad colds and things?
EW: Oh trenchfoot started right off. You see your shoes we had shoes. We didn’t have boots, we had shoes and leggings, the leggings came up the leg. The shoes would get soaking wet. You could never take them off. We made the mistake, when you did sack down somewhere in the damp or mess, we couldn’t you’d never remove your shoes because you had to keep them on so they would dry on you, you know. And the leggings were woefully inadequate.
J: Were they canvas or something?
EW: Yes they were a heavy canvas and they run up about to the calf, up the knee almost. They were alright when it got really filthy dirty as long as the mud didn’t get on there when you were sloshing through the mud, the mud didn’t get down into your shoes.
J: But presumably it did?
EW: Oh it did. We had a rough time getting there. It was the weather mostly.
J: I guess when you’re thinking of North Africa you don’t expect that do you?
EW: We were woefully unprepared for war. Some of this stuff here that I have written down. I’ve mentioned there the entrenching tools. Now when we got into combat at Pichon later on, a man was issued a shovel, one man a shovel, one man a pick and a third man with some sort of hatchet. And when stuff first started coming in that guy with a shovel had to fight for his life to and then the next best thing was the mess tin lid. We used mess tin lids as shovels all the time. And the Germans of-course had a beautiful [?] out there. They had a combined entrenching tool. The Germans used to keep those entrenching tools. We stole their idea. We didn’t get them until almost into Italy. They used to keep their shovels sharpened and they used them as weapons too. But here we were with the shovel and our equipment, our ration cans, as I say, as I recall, I may be wrong, I’m not wrong because the ration cans were uncamouflaged. They weren’t even olive in English, Harrogate was it? All the English rations were naturally and the Germans of-course also were Olive Drab.
J: And your C rations of food were OK was it?
EW: Well it was monotonous. Whenever we could we used to exchange with the British.
J: The British guys always say to me the Americans always had more cigarettes and more chocolate
EW: Oh we loved their rations. Of-course we picked up that habit of what we’d do is take a ration can – a C ration can – and the British guys would puncture holes around the top and there was always gasoline somewhere, and put gasoline on there and then we used to use our – if you were in the rear echelon you used the No.10 can – but we used our mess kit cups and we’d heat our coffee over the gasoline and that was a godsend. We learned a lot of tricks about surviving from the British Tommys.
J: So you had a lot of interaction with the British right from the word go did you? As soon as you got into Tunisia?
EW: Uh. We went on the line at Pichon. Actually that was about Feburary 7th. We relieved the French. We were right on line. We were getting artillery. Because the 21st Panzer was south of us. But Rommel hadn’t committed them, and we thought we were holding them at bay but Rommel I learned later had kept them there, and we were in fairly rugged ground. Before us was what looked like a huge valley plain and sandy of-course, and on our left was an escarpment that ran out. After we relieved the French we sort of passed the village of Pichon. The Captain called me one night and we were to go on a friendly patrol: the French goons were on our left but they were in the sort of a rugged escarpment and I don’t know if you’re acquainted with them – the Choumieres I think they were called but we called them the â€œgoons. And we went on a friendly patrol. Oh my God. I don’t know who was leading us. I think it was some it wasn’t a French officer but anyhow, it was pitch black and we were moving quite a way out into their territory, but the it was all high land and well defendable, and finally we could hardly see in front so we used toilet tissue (that was white too by the way) on the back of our helmets. Coming finally to a point where we were in undergrowth on both sides and it was very very rugged country. We finally made it to we looked ahead of us and we saw a flickering light and it was coming from a cave and that was our objective. We got to the cave and there was a French officer in charge. The goons were there and they had their horses. I think there were some women there too. No sign of any rifle. No sign of any pistol. Only knives. Just knives. And of-course the prize was an ear. They used the left ear, the left ear of the German and they kept them around their neck. And it was a sort of a bonus thing for them. But when we got to the cave, the French officer who spoke English, we said â€œGee we’ve had it tough. He said â€œWe know, we know. The Captain was talking to him, he said â€œWe don’t have so many men. He said â€œwe know, we know. Here, all along the trail, the goons were out in the darkness on both sides every so often. And they were feeling our boots, our shoes, and he said – the French officer said – â€œYou see it’s a good signal, that you were all wearing the same boots because they used to feel the inseam. We thought it was brush. These guys could see in the dark and feel the inseam and they knew we were allies because the Germans had a smooth boot. Unbelievable! And we got there and one Lieutenant whose name escapes me, he was very close and the Captain, Lieutenant and quite a few others – riflemen – with us, we first the guy who was the Sheikh or the leader of the goons, he happened to spy the commando knives which this one Lieutenant had which he had obtained from the commandoes when we were training with them in England. And he wanted that knife. And he offered him anything he wanted. He offered him one horse, two horses, one wife, two wives. And the Lieutenant wouldn’t. That knife by the way turned out to be sort of a jinx later on. He was wearing it when he was killed, at Fondouk by the way. He was close to me. And it was a long story.
But anyhow we had sort of understandings. Each individual soldier has a last will and testament but it’s oral. And you have one friend and your second in line, your friend number two, gets whatever you have. Anything he wants. If he didn’t take it someone else would take it. So that knife: when he was killed, went on to a Lieutenant – I happened to be with that Lieutenant when we were retreating, and when we stopped at Sbiba after we had retreated some 30 miles from Pichon, and we were on sort of stalemate positions, we were on a patrol, a jeep patrol, and this Lieutenant happened to be in front of us and he went down into a hollow and we were in the second jeep the Captain and I and Lieutenant Walsh was in the first and â€œva va voom, they hit a teller mine. And what happened when we got to the jeep, he had been wearing his chin strap, but he didn’t wear it back here. If he had have worn it back here it would have broke his neck. He wore it on his chin. We were all wearing them on our chins. It took his entire face off. So from that point on, nobody – you’d never see a Tommy or anybody in combat – wearing his chinstrap down. So we learned that way you see. He was one of the ones who inherited the Lieutenant’s knife by the way.
But Pichon, that was a terrible nightmare that retreat.
J: When did that all happen?
EW: I remember that pretty vividly. We were being shelled but let’s see (looking at notes). We were back into positions after this patrol. It was February 17th and 133rd was on our right and they got hit by 21st Panzers – that’s that unit that 21st I think and the 10th: the 10th was further south killing our 168. And so we got hit and we had tremendous artillery. We had two or three outfits that were tremendous. The artillery held the tanks off and that was when we started our retreat, and we were ordered to withdraw to Sbiba but we didn’t know where we would go. We just knew… we didn’t leave any equipment. We got out of there. We were able to salvage all our equipment. We marched for – slogged – 10 miles or 15 miles, and then our engineers had a bit of road sometime before and we were able to get back pretty much to Sbiba by truck but we were being harried by tanks all the way to Sbiba and our artillery were holding them off and they were leapfrogged backwards and they saved us so many times. 125th, 175th, whatever they were.
J: You didn’t have much of a clue what was going on at that time?
EW: All we knew is that we were attacked. We didn’t know by whom of-course and that we were in headlong retreat.
J: Were you having to do any firing yourself or was it simply a question of get out of there?
EW: No, it was all retreat. As I say the only thing that was holding the enemy from our backs Each time we trod a bit down, you could hear the tanks in the distance, our artillery would open up and hold them off for us. And we didn’t get much rest of-course and up we’d go. We didn’t take much urging.
J: Was this your first major combat experience?
EW: First combat experience. Actually pasting experience.
J: Did that affect morale particularly badly?
EW: No. It’s amazing to think about it but no, we were in fairly good spirits. We were happy to get out of there with our lives. Then of-course we were stymied at Sbiba. In fact when we got to Sbiba we had to move farther back and then of-course it was a period of patrol activity which is actually when this Lieutenant I was talking about lost his face. So fear? Not so much. Fondouk I tasted fear a lot, but it was just – I don’t know – it was a feeling of numbness more than anything. It was such a different experience from anything we had ever encountered before.
J: So after you’d retreated, the Germans were halted?
EW: They actually, well as we retreated we could see an awful lot of heavy artillery on our left and it was Kasserine Pass right to our left as we were retreating. And that was where the 168th got wiped out. The Panzers ground them into the around that area. And you could see the flashes in the distance. And for some reason I guess, when we dug in, and we were able to refit, and we the Germans had withdrawn back through Kasserine Pass. We learned that. We learned of our sister Regiment 168th getting practically wiped out. And it was there that we trained a lot and went on started patrol activity, a lot of patrol activity. And let’s see, it was a matter of digging in. We dug fox holes wherever we could. It was rainy and slushy.
J: Were you still coming under fire at all?
EW: Oh yes, there was constant artillery. But then when we made the last retreat, almost 5 miles farther I think it was, there was no more artillery. And we were there for – oh gosh let’s see March 25th I have here. We were retreating all the way up until that time, and we had bivouacked there and we went into regrouping, retraining and everything else. Any time we stopped at any place at all we were under a strict training regime.
J: Did you have a sense that you were learning the lessons and making the most of the limited experience you were gaining?
EW: All the way through. We learned about artillery mostly. We knew when we heard the report of the guns being fired, we knew about when the shells would land, and we knew which ones we had to duck for and mud or no mud we hit. The foxhole was of-course the handy thing to have. We lived in foxholes. We really lived, mud or no mud. We had some problems too, as we went back, and even into Anzio where you’d be sleeping in a foxhole and the first thing you’d know in sandy soil, specially in Africa, wake up in the morning, out of the foxhole, and the guy next to you there wouldn’t be any foxhole, the guns had just at night. So we learned not to sleep in our foxholes. We learned to
J: Where did you sleep then?
EW: Right alongside. Automatically in our sleep we sensed the artillery coming and we’d just roll into the foxholes but we never slept in our foxholes after that, not in the sandy soil. It happened
J: Because you used to get buried alive?
EW: Yep. A couple of my real close friends did. And so as I say, learning those things and learning to make the most of your rations and learning how to try to stay warm, and you know each man had a shelter half, and we didn’t have any bedrolls. We had one blanket in combat but we carried two apiece mostly. And what we used to do was sew the shelter halves together and roll together into a sort of bedroll and the bodily heat would keep you warm. We had a lot of trouble with scorpions crawling in, in the warmer climates, especially around the desert areas.
J: Did anyone ever get stung by them?
EW: Yes. They just wanted to get warm. Several bites but not poisonous. Not enough to even get you to an aid station.
J: It must be difficult when you first get out there to deal with seeing your first wounded man and dead man and friends going and stuff. Is that something that you get used to?
EW: The real awakening was, it was Fondouk.
J: When was Fondouk?
EW: All of a sudden, as I say, it seems we were in the [?]. The Germans withdrew and they withdrew back to Fondouk. And we had a period of time till March 27th anyway to change our clothes at least. No showers, no nothing during all this time. What we used to do is – if you weren’t circumcised – you used to pinch the skin and urinate and blow into a ball and urinate and cleanse your penis in that manner. But the filth and dirt, you just got used to it. And it was amazing because we hadn’t lived that way before this and it was just an utter change and a different kind of existence. But we adapted pretty well, especially the farm boys from Minnesota who were a pretty rugged bunch. They were a good bunch.
J: Also you’re still pretty young aren’t you? What were you then?
EW: I was older than the rest. I was 22. Most of the boys were in the 18-20 range I would say.
J: You’re pretty adaptable at that age I suppose?
EW: Yes. I don’t know, I suppose maybe the boy scouts helped me! Maybe camping and living out a lot. The family did it a lot too.
J: Oh camping holidays and stuff?
J: You know a thing or two about making a fire and so on?
EW: Yes. As I say we were till the 27th the Germans had withdrawn to Fondouk and we travelled by foot most of the way back over that pass – that’s some 30-40 miles. It was always at night because the I hadn’t been indoctrinated to â€œScreaming Meanies but mines we were well wary of. Mines! I could tell you! All kinds of mines. The Germans were experts at it later on and the Captain got killed but It was the teller mine of-course mostly.
J: Did you have engineers going around minesweeping for you or did you do it yourself?
EW: On the way back. Because they had to remove the mines that we had laid on the retreat. They had to remove all those mines. It was a feeling of apprehension. Not knowing what we were getting into. We had an idea by now what we were going to get into and
J: But you must have had a healthy respect for the German as a fighting army didn’t you?
EW: Oh they were expert. You see what had happened before Fondouk We didn’t have any hate for the enemy. That’s why we did such a miserable job I think at Fondouk. We didn’t hate the enemy because we hadn’t seen too many of our men being mangled and killed by them. Now when you see your buddies killed, a sense of anger develops, and anger gives sort of an impetus to sort of start hating the enemy, and once you start hating the enemy you become a better soldier. That’s what I noticed. It had to be hate. You had to develop a hate for the enemy. And at times of-course, always from then on, there was a deep hate for the enemy and we had a different outlook on combat. It gave us an entirely different outlook, especially Fondouk was a rough I can remember the first or the second. We hit Fondouk twice. The pass was in front of us. We had a job to take the right side on the first attack on Fondouk. That failed. The second attack on Fondouk: that failed of-course. I mean the second part of the first attack. And then the second attack they changed our we had a different objective and the British were with us. We had reinforcements from the British army.
J: Was that the first time you were fighting alongside the British?
EW: I remember very clearly the second battle of Fondouk, we were moving we were supposed to move out in the dark. Instead it was delayed once, delayed twice, delayed three times. We could feel that somebody who was issuing orders wasn’t doing the proper job. And finally when we did get off it was broad daylight. And here in open (this is the second battle of Fondouk) in open skirmish order. And here we are. And you know what kept us straight? Alongside of us, it was the British 6th Armoured I think. There were 12 lads[?] lined up and we were being hit pretty bad and they were there standing upright. The Germans had dug in at the base of the hills and they had 88s and they had a lot of artillery there and of-course they had the Howitzers in defilade. We were getting it from both. And they were strafing that wide open expanse. The only thing we could see was a hillock here and a hillock there and right in open skirmish order: WWI tactics. And one line skirmishes and back, another line, another line, and the Germans were throwing air bursts, and they were bursting right over the lines. They were so expert at cutting fuses. And the V8s were sweeping with raising fire. It was a failure to begin with. But anyhow we were moving along and I was watching this Lieutenant I was telling you about with the knife. I saw him go down. He stepped on a mine. He was off to my right. See we’re with the infantry, our machine guns
J: How far away from you was he?
EW: Oh I would say 20 yards to my right. He hit a mine and I saw him go. Meanwhile I hear the bagpipes! And I tell you, the British, they were in battle dress you know We tried to do what they did and this kept us going. The British. Of-course they were hardened. And I’m watching these air bursts and there was the piper in his kilt and there were two standard bearers with flags! Honest to God! And men were getting hit by small arms fire, most of it shrapnel. But air bursts are terrible things you know. When a shell hits its one thing, but when it bursts about 20 feet above the ground you know. And they were throwing air bursts at us continually, plus of-course, the raising fire we were getting and we kept going. But first thing you know: bogged down. I remember it was just: hit the dirt, and I remember seeing a hillock on my left and I had a couple of my men with me and as I say we were with the Rifle Platoons and crawled to this hillock and there happened to be foxholes there on the wrong side from the first attempt at taking Fondouk, so we crawled in the foxholes. Meanwhile the tanks had come in. It was always supposed to be the infantry first. But the infantry bogged down and this is what killed our tanks. I saw there were Grants and Leighs[?]. I know the English they had Shermans and we had some Shermans and 88s glance off we were peering out of this foxhole (luckily they were deep, they were about six feet deep) and we are in this hillock and we are watching the tanks come up and glancing blows from 88s ricocheted would spring the rivets in the tank and they were coffins. I saw so many tanks get knocked out. The 88s were devastating, and their tank crews crawling out and so forth.
J: Must have been a terrific noise wasn’t it?
EW: They were able to do things with those 88s that you wouldn’t believe. They could use them as high trajectory, like a Howitzer. They could bounce them off the sand dunes like a pool ball. They had ways of hitting the soft sand and the shell would go over end and scream around. They did all sorts of things with that 88. But our tanks took it and we lost I think 14, 15 from the tanks.
J: You saw all this happen?
EW: Yes. I saw a lot from the foxhole.
J: It must have given you a rather sickening feeling didn’t it?
EW: You couldn’t do anything about it. But then our attack bogged down and we just didn’t make it. And as I say the British came through with their armour and they actually took the pass at a cost. We had performed miserably. Our chain of command. I had nobody to tell me what to do. I had some men with me
J: Where was the Captain for instance?
EW: Well the Captain was farther off to the right. He might have been bringing up the
J: So no one had said to you beforehand â€œIf you’re left on your own this is what you’ve got to do?
EW: No. I was with the Lieutenant, and he was killed and I didn’t know what was going on. I had no idea.
J: Was he a good guy the Lieutenant?
EW: Oh he was the one, as I say, who wouldn’t part with his knife.
J: You respected him as an individual did you?
EW: He was actually you see our Lieutenants became more friends than there was that too close. That discipline
J: Do you think so?
EW: Oh yes.
J: Do you think there wasn’t enough discipline?
EW: Absolutely. Under fire there was nobody doing what he was supposed to do. I know that. Of-course I shouldn’t have been in a foxhole. But then everybody was tied down. All the walking infantry.
J: You went into a foxhole because there was nowhere else to go presumably?
EW: Yes. The 34th attack just bogged down, and the English took Fondouk.
J: In retrospect do you think you should have just carried on going?
EW: I would have been alone! We would have been entirely wiped out. Oh it was a flat [?]. It was murderous. It was a terrible, terrible piece of strategy. The British on the left had more rugged territory. They were able to get armour, they had a lot of flat territory, they were able to do more and the tanks actually, the British armour took that pass. We didn’t take it. The 34th just failed in there. We just didn’t do what we were supposed to. It should have been a night attack. I think. It was the only thing that it could have possibly been that would have possibly saved us and maybe helped us but I don’t think that would have done too much good either because we were too undisciplined.
J: Lack of discipline, lack of training? You’ve trained pretty hard?
EW: It’s hard to say. Leadership maybe. I think that’s where it all stems from. Leadership. Because I know the British officer was Oh Boy! You would probably follow him and do whatever he told you to do no matter what.
J: That wouldn’t happen with the Americans at that stage?
EW: No. Because as I say I felt that at that time We had good officers, good men, but at that time we weren’t that battle wise and our chain of command had broken down somewhere, up above, maybe not our fault, I don’t know. But our officers were good men. They were good officers. And they were brave too. But they didn’t have the battle experience to keep us moving. But as I say, everything got bogged down.
J: Did you lose many men that day?
EW: Yes, we lost quite a lot. I forget what the casualty figures were.
J: Can you remember feeling personally scared or was it just too overwhelming what was going on?
EW: Oh I didn’t see too many first aid men running around. But we helped each other [end of side A]
…J: Was it a terrifying experience? Can you remember feeling frightened or were you too busy to worry about fear?
EW: Well. I remember looking at an ant in my foxhole and wishing I were his size. Things of that sort. And of-course one British tank pulled up right on our hillock and they were blasting away and the 88s started to whiz around and they pulled out. But like I say, our attack just failed. I don’t believe it was because of our officers not being brave or anything like that. They were all good men. It was just chain of command, orders, and knowing clearly and getting clear cut orders and knowing what to do. But the odds were impossible, because the enemy had the high ground. The enemy was dug in. The German engineers were geniuses at setting up fortifications. They used to go into solid rock with their gun positions. It was just an impossible situation. I don’t think it was the fault of anybody from Captains on down. I think they all gave a good account of themselves in that battle. We all tried to do what we could but it did bog down.
J: So what happened next?
EW: The British armour on our left, as I recall, came through. And I don’t recall. I think it was that night. We were all split up and we had to – I had some men with me – we eventually found our outfit spread out all over the place, and we eventually regrouped.
J: So at night time you left your foxholes and went off and looked for everyone.
EW: Oh yes, we were only in our foxholes till towards dark. And then the next failure was the renewed attack. We were just knocked out. Our entire force. The 34th Division was just mangled. The casualties were very high.
J: That must have hit you all pretty hard didn’t it?
EW: Yes. As I say, we didn’t know what to do next. But darkness came and then we were able to regroup to the right and then find the rest of our units. But we were all split up and mixed in with the British. But as I say when we dug in the British dug in too. It wasn’t just that we dug in, we all dug in. I think it was the armour that actually did it. Not sure if it was during the night some time or the morning.
J: It must have been quite a frightening experience scrabbling through the dark in the night, trying to find friendly faces?
J: How did you navigate your way around?
EW: We knew pretty well. I was with the British most of the night. And they had set up I guess there were no fires or anything but we did get some rations from them and we finally found our outfit. I think it was toward morning. But we were split all apart. And the British of-course weren’t.
J: Was that your first experience of fighting directly alongside the British?
EW: Yes I would say yes it was. We followed their example. We did pretty much what they did. But they gave us a lot of inspiration. We wouldn’t have done half as well as we did – and we didn’t do well at all. But the 34th as a result of Fondouk I think the British press were really down on us I know that, and I don’t blame them. But gradually all the way through then, we were naturally – after Fondouk – we were replaced – let’s see, when was that? Oh that’s after Patten was relieved by Bradley and Bradley wanted to have the – I knew this at the time – have the 34th prove themselves after that disasterous showing at Fondouk (and it was a disasterous showing).
J: What did you think of Patten?
EW: Oh Patten was, he was I never saw him at the front. I saw Clarke at the front. I never saw him at the front or in a combat area because he was he was [?] for a while. He came not close to the front I don’t think, but he was The men hated him. The infantry hated him. They didn’t like Patten at all. We knew he was a glory seeker, well weren’t they all! Weren’t they all glory seekers!
J: All the Generals?
EW: Patten was. He like to make the headlines in the Stars and Stripes. I’m sure all the Generals did, both sides.
J: I think the one exception actually is Alexander. He had a bit of a bad press but I think he was pretty good news actually.
EW: And Montgomery was exceptional.
J: But he was also a glory seeker as well.
EW: He was after glory, I can realise that. We didn’t come into contact with the 8th Army very much until where was it up toward after 609, I think it was, we came into contact with parts of the 8th. But after Fondouk as I say, we refitted and
J: I can’t remember who was in charge before Patten?
J: He was the guy who was relieved?
EW: Freedendor was relieved. He was chicken. He had a fortress back at we knew that, away in the rear. I learned later, somewhere like Tebessa some place. He was carving things and putting in tunnels and all sorts of things. We got wind of this gradually. You didn’t get it for quite a while but you got wind of it. And it was ridiculous. He never budged from there. Patten at least moved to the front.
J: From the moment you got out to North Africa were you aware of who were all the Generals and whether they were good guys or not?
EW: No, we didn’t even know that Freedendor was in charge. We didn’t learn this till later. We didn’t know he was in charge. But we knew of Patten because his reputation. In fact we knew Clarke. We knew where Clarke was but he didn’t have much to do with Africa I don’t think. I saw him close to the front a couple of times in Africa, just maybe for he was not commanding or anything. I think I saw him once when he came up behind our gun position in broad daylight and the Germans opened up on us.
J: Incidentally, at Fondouk, were you just carrying an M1 or were you with a machine gun?
EW: At Fondouk I had an M1. As a Recon Sergeant off and on I carried a tommy gun with a round not the newer straight clips, and a Carbine, with a grenade launcher, which we got pretty good at. They were handy. And a 45 too.
J: So what happened after Fondouk?
EW: Just right after Fondouk we didn’t know how badly we had done but it sunk in after a while. All during this time we were still rubbing elbows so to speak with the British and not one combat infantryman from the British ever criticised us. They did whatever they could for us. In fact after the we travelled with them on trains after the Victory Parade. We got on fine. They never did make The brass realised what was going on or so I guess. They were getting killed too, just as we were.
J: Are you talking about your British tommy footsoldiers, that’s what you’re talking about?
EW: Yes, we got along famously. All the way through the whole thing. Even after our bad showing. They didn’t criticise us. They could have very well. Of-course the brass had to. But they didn’t criticise us. Even on the train back from Tunis after the Victory Parade – we were on the same 48s with them, the train – packed in, 40 men or eight horses I think it was. And we were packed in there and we got on, we sang songs all the way back off and on and we shared whatever rations we had and there was no mention of our miserable showing. They could have very well but they didn’t. Because as I say they were facing combats too. They were infantry too. We refitted after
J: Do you think, after Fondouk, you were talking about how you needed to hate a bit to become an effective soldier, is that when you changed do you think?
EW: That made a difference I think. Seeing your buddies getting killed.
J: So you had good friends killed at Fondouk?
J: As a 22 year old, how do you deal with that?
EW: It’s funny because it’s a hard thing to explain. The loss was severe but you couldn’t take it all to heart because it happened too many times. But you looked at yourself and you said â€œGee I’m still alive!. You couldn’t explain it. You couldn’t explain it.
J: Did you think it was just chance or fate or?
EW: Whatever. With the air bursts for instance, you learn that the shrapnel goes in one direction but they’re terrible things and the most horrifying they were far worse than â€œScreaming Meanies or the 88s – well I mean the sound of the 88s. The air bursts were the things that made you taste fear. You actually tasted fear. And you wanted to hide but you didn’t. We didn’t, not until everybody else did. But we had after that we had developed quite a bit of hate and anger towards the enemy.
J: Do you think you become hardened?
EW: Oh you become hardened. Absolutely. Seeing friends who die. You become dulled. It’s a numbness. And the fact that you’re still alive makes you somehow still able to go on I guess. You realise that one factor. It’s hard to explain.
J: Was there ever a point where you questioned why you were out in North Africa?
EW: No, not at all. I looked around me and saw everybody else in the same situation and I didn’t see much sense in that.
J: But did you think it was right for America to be involved?
EW: I should think so. At that point we certainly were. I think we were all the way through.
J: You never questioned the decision to go to North Africa? That’s what I’m saying.
EW: No. I think all the way through from the very beginning, even on the way over you felt there was a purpose to it. Definitely. And that someone had to do it. And then, as I say, we were a little different and we did very well. Bradley had faith in us anyway, so he shoved us into 609, hill 609.
J: That’s a bit further north isn’t it?
EW: Yes. It was just due north. Not too far. I can’t remember how far. That was April 27th.
J: So you’re getting close to Tunis by now?
EW: Yes. And that was where we first experienced â€œScreaming Meanies. We hadn’t had those things on us before: the six rocket launchers – there were six rockets on every launcher. And they used to come over and there was a horrible sound. And then it seemed as though there were fish swimming over your head and going around in circles and screaming all the time and all of a sudden dipping straight down and pop and hit. They weren’t as deadly as artillery because they weren’t that accurate. But they saturated an area with them.
J: The noise must have been horrendous?
EW: Oh the noise was terrible. It was deafening. It was just deafening. Of-course it was all designed to be psychological.
J: Did you have much experience of being strafed?
EW: That’s what I was saying. We got Stukas after us but the Stukas seemed to be after artillery and tank concentrations. There were Stukas coming down, but they seemed to be a little farther and back and I saw you hear them because you can’t miss them, they scream like mad, but they used quite a bit of Stukas on us at Fondouk. They were after artillery and tanks more than an open skirmish line but the stuff was close and they dropped them wherever they could. I don’t know what they were: 500 or 200 pounders. If one landed, and when they landed, they would just lift you off your feet. You would be on the ground. You wanted to stay there. The concussion. But it was at 609 and we were moving into position that we were strafed by jets, not strafed, four jets came screaming down the valley! Jet airplanes! We had never seen them before. Four of them! Terrifying sight. They just made one pass. I’ll never forget. It was just down in the valley before the approach to 609 and this jeep driver jumped down – we had a 50 calibre gun on there. He was a gutsy guy, Butcher was his name, and he got onto that and he was firing like mad at him. He had a lot of guts. He was the Captain’s driver. I was usually in the jeep with him sometimes. But most of the time what would happen would be that I would either be with the Lieutenant or with the Captain and we would move with the infantry because we had to defilade so that we could know where to put our mortars. And of-course there was no question about the machine gun. That was a thankless job, being a machine gunner. Forward slope all the time. And our muzzle blasts, he would pick out one of our machine gun positions during the daylight because muzzle blast was a dead giveaway. I mean flame! It seemed to me the Germans, of-course their Buerk guns, their light machine guns were two barrels and one you’d burned up you’d throw it away and put on another. But their machine guns seemed to me the powder was smokeless. You couldn’t pick out their positions. That and their muzzle blasts weren’t like ours. It was really hard. And the tracers never seemed to me at night of-course they’d light up for yards and yards after they left the muzzle of a German machine gun. They had all that on us. And all their artillery. Their smoke puffs were much weaker than ours and it was unbelievable.
They used Stukas on us at No.1 coming down. We were on the side going up to an OP and there was a waddy, a little dry streambed, and I heard the scream of the Stukas and I jumped in, we all jumped in the waddy and the son of a gun hit not too far away from us and lifted us right out – two of us, three of us – lifted us right out of the bottom – it was about four feet, maybe five – lifted us right out back up on the bank again. I’ll never forget. Not a mark on us, and no bursted eardrums. What happened a lot was when the 88s came in and they would ricochet them off the rock up above – they couldn’t get down in the defilade. Of-course they could use the 88 for high trajectory but mostly always it was straight trajectory anti-tank weapon and anti-infantry. If you got a near burst, the shrapnel would land on you, and it would burn through, you know, red hot. Shreds of shrapnel. And it would burn through your O.D.s, your pants, usually burn the skin pretty well. You’d get a lot of that because it was such a high velocity weapon that it just disintegrated wherever it hit.
J: So your uniform must have had holes in it all over the place after a while?
EW: Yes. All those as it was small wounds – whatever it was, a piece of shrapnel under the skin – you wouldn’t want to go to an aid station with that, because you were afraid if you went to an aid station you wouldn’t get back in the same outfit again. That’s what you were worried about.
J: You wanted to stay with your mates?
EW: You wanted to stay with your men. You wanted to stay with your boys.
J: You successfully took hill 609?
EW: Well yes. We had some dark nights there and we had gone up quite a bit and we had moved around to the north of it, and we were able to get there through a goat trail or whatever it was. The infantry was with us of-course because we were all together, and I was with the Captain usually doing forward observing and so forth. By the way we were using German BC scopes. They were much better than ours. We captured German BC scopes. And the Lugers could bring a nice price with the rear echelon if you get back there, but we learned not to wear them or use them the P38s because we had experience that if you were taken prisoner and you had a German Luger, that was a sacred weapon: they would kill you. There was no forgiveness there. So we stopped. We used to take those back with us to the rear echelon and the rest area and the cooks and washers used to like to buy them. But the BC scopes were so much better. Just about every piece of German equipment was better! And of-course they had a wonderful lens.
But 609: I can remember a terrific amount of artillery coming in there. But we had very good defilade. Because where we were, we were up on one side sort of and we had an OP, we could look at mountains to the right of us and I guess we were there, up on that slope for a day or two anyway, two or three days? We were meeting top German opposition there.
J: But by then did you feel you were better equipped to face the enemy by this stage?
EW: No, no because we still had the same well the M1 was the best weapon
J: Equipment’s not the right word. I mean psychologically you were more prepared, you were better soldiers by this stage?
EW: Oh yes. Actually, as I say, that simmering hate had been developing all along. As I say, especially when you see what the enemy does to your buddies, and I think we were definitely better soldiers because we certainly did a better job on 609. There were a lot of counter-attacks I know and I was actually, as I say, on an OP. The infantry the rifle companies were just ahead of us and they had to move forward and of-course our machine guns had to be on the forward slope and they took a [?]. But our mortars did a wonderful job because they had nice defilade. They did a good job. And our Lieutenants were good: they were excellent observers. That’s one thing they were very good at. Actually when we did take 609, then we were in the centre. We headed Jayoga[?], â€œChewyguey we called it, Pass, toward I don’t know, the southern part of Tunis I think it was. And I’m trying to think of the other outfit called the 168th and the 133rd, one headed toward Bizerta and the other headed toward Tunis and we were in the middle. And we got tied up on â€œChewyguey Pass. There was almost as much action on there as we had had. A lot of heavy artillery. But that was the last pocket of resistance I think. And then the prisoners were all over the place. I think something like 250,000 prisoners in all were taken.
J: You saw them?
EW: Yes well they were moving. They just moved right through. We just let them move through to the rear.
J: Did you just watch them go or were you shouting at them?
EW: Lots of times you were still advancing while the prisoners were coming toward you or you were coming to their positions so
J: So no time to exchange pleasantries or otherwise?
EW: No! They were just moving with their hands at back of their heads and just moving. And not necessarily many of our infantry guiding them back because they wanted to get to the States. There’s no doubt about it. They felt that they were. A lot of them did say that. A lot of them spoke very good English. But I was fairly good with German. Not too good but I could get by.
J: When did you meet up with the 8th Army boys then?
EW: That was the only time, after â€œChewyguey, there was an element of the 8th Army mixed in with us.
J: Were they still in their desert kit?
EW: Let’s see? Oh yes. It was warm weather. No I didn’t they were in battle dress the ones that I we never fought alongside of them but they were there, rounding the prisoners. They actually took spots farther east – Cape Bon I think, they were over there. We were just on the fringe of their left flank.
J: Eventually you got into Tunis?
EW: Well we didn’t. After that we were sent to Bizerta – after the final capitulation there. Arnem he surrendered. We were shipped to Bizerta and boy that was paradise! We were on the beach for about two weeks I guess.
J: You must have felt you had earned it.
EW: Oh yes. But there was a lot of lice and a lot of scabs and sores and trench feet. And all this time of-course you’re battling, you’re living in the muck and the misery. Who was it that said that the infantry live miserably and die miserably. And that’s a fact. Sometimes you couldn’t wait to get back on the line again because you knew at that point at least we’d be equipped and we’d get some clean gear on you know.
J: And when you were on the front line did you ever get any mail through?
EW: No. We were on the line quite a long period of time in Africa. I think a long time. Say 60, 70 days, something like that. We didn’t get any mail then. The only time we got mail was in a rest area. And when we were retreating from Pichon I think it was, or before, our barracks bags were all bombed so we couldn’t get any of our original equipment back at all. At El Kef, they were bombed, lost in an air raid. But anyhow, I guess the thing I trying to stay warm is a bigger battle as any of the bullets.
J: Did you every have a lucky mascot or anything like that?
EW: Oh, in Italy. We had a puppy dog. But the cooks kept that.
After 609 and Bizerta, the 135th redeemed itself somewhat evidently at 609 and thereafter, because we were picked to march in the victory parade with fixed bayonets I think it was.
J: That must have been a good moment wasn’t it?
EW: Yes. I can remember being in flowers everywhere. I can remember things like that. But the most colourful of-course is again all the various Ghurkas, Punjabs and the [?] and [?] nothing as stirring – they could chill you down to your spine – as the tartan plaids and the Black Watch and all the rest of it. They stole the honours. They always did. They were unbelievable.
J: Did you feel the corner had turned with the war?
EW: We were hoping that we would get the hell home! You know down deep in my heart Well I was in the Captain a lot. He says â€œBuck, we’re not we’re headed for Italy. The officers knew it, but they didn’t want to let the men know. We were having such a good time at Bizerta on the beach. Just to feel the water on your body and feel clean and get rid of the cooties.
J: Did you get a clean set of kit at that point?
EW: Yes. They set up field showers. I think they must have put something in the water though because it made you lose your hair. But I don’t know. They must have put something in the water to get rid of the lice you had on you. But you got used to living with them pretty much. You could feel as though you could let a scorpion get into your bedroll and you were so damned tired you wouldn’t care.
J: You must be constantly exhausted the whole time.
EW: And of-course up in Italy there were an entirely different war in Italy.
J: In what sense?
EW: Mountainous terrain. We could find something to hide behind. But Fondouk was vivid in our memory and Italy was more like 609.
J: When you were in North Africa, between being bombed there must have been moments of boredom and nothing to do? Did you play cards? How did you pass the time of day?
EW: Oh gosh, let’s see? No, no. There wasn’t much card playing at all. What did we do? There was no way that anybody could keep a diary. It would be filthy dirty. But there’s always a guy who manages. There’s somebody in there who can manage. But you could never keep the pages dry. There’s no way you could keep a diary in any outfit I was in. The mud, the rain, there’s no way you could keep it dry. This one fellow managed to keep it. He had a different type of person I guess. He had it encased in plastic or something. Oh by the way the British rain cape was a godsend. It was called the British rain cape. And we annexed those and we were able to get them, and they were a godsend in the mud and the wet and the rain. They were better than any shelter half or anything else. That was wonderful. And of-course the rations we liked too.
J: Presumably you’re sleeping when you can and eating when you feel hungry?
EW: It was different again in Italy because you could live off the land. In Africa, sometimes in the rest area the Arabs would come, but we mistrusted them very much. We had a couple of incidents – more so down on 168th, a lot of boys I talked to there – body stripping. And they did it in our area too. I saw a couple there. They had to be shot.
J: Were you involved in the Sicily landings?
EW: Sicily? No. That was Patten’s baby. In Africa, we were a lot with the 1st and the 3rd Divisions. Now you must realise that they were regular army divisions. They were entirely different from us. They had more spirit and morale and their officers were much better trained. But they were career men. And all the way through Africa and even Italy we always had the 1st and the 3rd with us somewhere – Murphy’s boys. And 36th. But we didn’t we bypassed Sicily entirely. Our 36th I think it was American landing, the initial landings at Salerno was the 36th Division I think or maybe the 45th I don’t know. But we didn’t get to we landed in Salerno we left Oran and landed in Salerno, when the hec was it? I’ve got it written down here somewhere. As I say, we were shipped back to Oran by rail in the 40 and 8s with the British soldiers and then we had amphibious training. We were set to Oran for amphibious training. And this is where the 100th Battalion, the Japanese â€œNisi, they joined the 133rd. They became a battalion of our sister regiment, the 133rd. They were wonderful in battle! I remember them later on. And we had been sent to Oran. Then we were moved inland to Sidi Bel-Abbes, the home of the French Foreign Legion. And that was not bad. We were training in that area for the Italy invasion.
J: You must have had replacements coming in for your outfit?
EW: We were being refitted.
J: Did you notice that the new guys arriving were looking up to people like yourself?
EW: Yes. And a lot of young boys were coming in and they say this business of you don’t like to make new friends because you don’t want to see your friends get killed. But these boys needed somebody, and we weren’t like that at all. We tried to help them in any way. There you saw wide staring eyes and We had a lot of fun there too. The 36th Infantry hit Salerno September 15th and then of-course I think in the process Italy surrendered, and then we came up somewhere a couple of weeks after the initial raid on Salerno. And we landed a little south of Salerno. We started to push inland immediately. I think that was after the beachhead had been established by 136th and a couple of other Divisions and we landed south. Of-course there wasn’t any action but we were moving inland off the beach, and I’ll never forget, we were working with the way we used to work it is that I was either with the Lieutenant or (I was in the Cannon Company now. I had been transferred to a Cannon Company)
J: What did that mean?
EW: Because of my heavy weapons experience they drafted us from H Company to heavy weapons. Sergeants or someone with experience who knew a little about artillery – fields of fire, observation, directing artillery – which I did a lot of with the Captain We were directing our mortars we were also directing the 155. We could get support from way back you know, usually from 105 Howitzers from our Field Battalions: 125th and so forth. And so we I was drafted into it [Cannon Company] my Captain was mad because he was away on
J: What was the name of your Captain by the way?
EW: My first Captain, Lund[?]. But my new Captain was well I’ll get into that in a minute. But Lund had been on leave to the rear to a rest area to some exquisite city in North Africa, and when he came back I was actually drafted into the Cannon Company. He was mad as hell! He got in touch with me after the war. And then I had a new Captain, Captain Barman[?]. They were pack Howitzers. We could give the infantry closer support artillery. They were 75s, and they were three batteries: A, B, C battery. Three batteries: four guns in each. They were pack Howitzers so they could be broken down and carried into high land we were going to encounter in Italy. Most of the time they were pulled by weapons carriers though. We had opportunity if we had good defilade we could always get our weapons carriers up pretty darn close. And they would support. In other words, 135th had a Cannon Company. 133rd had a Cannon Company and 168th. And they did some good work in Italy. I was with the Cannon Company then, and the same situation: I was a Recon Sergeant. It was a little different but not much different. And we were given orders when we landed in Salerno, we landed to the south and to move inland immediately. It wasn’t long after the invasion but they were moving north and we were moving a little north-east so we were in that direction. And I’ll never forget. I had either the Captain or one of the Lieutenants with me and we were with a Rifle Company, because we were looking – because that was our procedure, we would move with a Rifle Company and defilade gun positions along the way so that we could be of aid and radio back or send somebody back to get the guns in those positions that we recommended so we had to -anyway we were coming across the field and we come to this – it was an open field, it was like a fenced-in field with a hedgerow or something around it and another wide open field about 100 yards away – and all of a sudden this machine gun opened up on us. And I hit the ground, and when I hit the ground, I ran my helmet into a groundhornet’s nest, and they swarmed on my helmet and it felt like 1,000 needles. And this machine gun was pumping away on the other side and I got up and I ran! I don’t know where I ran. And one of the guys knocked me down and ripped the helmet off me and couldn’t get rid of them! Meanwhile it’s funny, we didn’t get any more. It was a rearguard action. They were starting to move fast, to retreat. And it was that kind of war all the way. You realised that when you were moving to position of defilade when you place your guns or your heavy weapons or whatever or your mortars or your Howitzers, that the Germans had been there, that they have this zeroed in, and they know that it’s a defilade on a reverse slope – not a forward slope but a reverse slope – and so they can pick out your positions. They already have a map. You’re moving into their area. This was the way it was all the way through. It was horrible! We knew, we had the feeling if you pick a good spot, you know darned well they have it zeroed in. They have it zeroed in for their mortars and everything else. We had to be very careful about that and give a little and take a little and move out, a little less defiladed position. But that’s the way it was all the way up through Italy. I think it was about the time Italy did surrender. We didn’t know this much. We hadn’t met many Italian troops in Africa at all, but we didn’t meet any Italian troops at all in Africa and in Italy they had surrendered before we even met them so The first thing that we came across was a patrol the Volturno River. Serpentine as hell. We had the first, second and third crossing of that thing. And the way we worked that: I was usually with the Lieutenant. The Captain was usually placing the guns, and I was with the Lieutenant. Usually we would move with the infantry but we didn’t ford the rivers with them. We waited for the 109 the 109 Engineers were a â€œcrackajack outfit. They could get a pontoon bridge up pretty quick. We finally got the pontoon bridge we knew that our weapons carriers could finally come across with the artillery. Then we’d go to the other side, but we always had a radio man with us. So this was the procedure pretty much all the way up. I was either with the Captain or with the Lieutenant on forward reconnaissance and then we’d set up an OP when we got to a point and we’d radio back and we’d already have somebody setting the guns in position for us so one or two of us could get back. And that was the way it was all the way through Italy as far as I can recall. But the Volturno crossings were really bad – I mean heavy on the rifle companies. They had to wade across. It wasn’t a short time after, usually always under fire… The engineers, the 109 engineers, they would have the pontoons up real fast, fast as hell.
J: Made a huge difference I should think.
EW: It means so much, the engineers. Don’t forget your supporting artillery, we depended on them so much. We could call them in any time. The Captain and Lieutenant and I doing some FO (forward observing) work, we could call in any one of our artillery units
J: You must have felt you were pretty good soldiers by this time didn’t you?
EW: We had a lot more confidence. Not only that, we became rivals. We tried to do a better job than the 133rd. But the 168th got all the flak. They got the toughest assignments all the way through the whole thing: Africa especially. Because they were somehow thought of as more experienced of the three Regiments because of their experience in the thick of it south down in Kasserine Pass.
J: Did you start to notice that the equipment was getting better at this stage?
EW: Yes, we had shovels! We had collapsible shovels which were just a copy of the Germans.
J: And OD underpants?
EW: I don’t know if it was heavier twill or what, we had boots, combat boots, and they were a great improvement over the leggings. We got rid of the leggings.
J: In North Africa did you gripe to the officers about the kit you had? How did the information that the kit?
EW: Well they were suffering the same
J: So they would report up to the Major.?
EW: The Lieutenants, as I say – we lost quite a few all the way through the two wars – The Lieutenants were really really they weren’t expendable but we lost quite a few second Lieutenants. In fact many times if you were a Sergeant you were offered a battlefield promotion. You were offered it usually by a Captain. We lost too many Lieutenants.
J: Had you got OD underwear by this stage as well?
EW: Oh yeah. I’m not sure. I may not be clear on this but I’m almost positive our underwear in Africa, at the very beginning, was as white as the toilet paper we used. All sorts of things like that make it so different. Equipment meant everything to us.
J: But by Italy, things had improved you would say?
EW: Oh yes. Absolutely. Those shovels, entrenching tools, came through.
J: And that makes a huge difference to your life?
EW: Yes. Still they never did improve the 30 calibre water-cooled Brownings though. They were a cumbersome thing. Took a whole slew of people to operate in one gun emplacement, ammunition barrows and what have you. Where the German light machine gun and the Buerk gun, like a BAR could do a tremendous job: rapid, you couldn’t mistake a Buerk gun and you couldn’t help but tell the difference between a Buerk gun and an air-cooled and a water-cooled Browning. But all these things kept coming along and kept getting better. The ration cans they had done something about rather quickly in Africa I think and what else? Clothing: at least you could get you carried a spare pair of socks and underwear – one maybe if you were lucky and a couple of pair of socks which didn’t last long, but that’s all. And they wore out if you were on sixty, sometimes 90 days. It’s a long time. You wore the same stuff and that’s all there was to it. But on the whole they couldn’t improve the tanks that hurriedly and our Shermans were no match for the Tiger. They were almost invincible. Another thing, the bazooka came out, toward the latter stages, just before 609, before the battle of 609, that’s the first we saw of the bazookas and one Sergeant was demonstrating the bazookas and he said â€œFirst of all, you’ve got to clear everybody out from the back of you, nobody can stand at the back of you. And of-course he was standing up and he shot the darned thing and he had blood around and he said â€œI forgot to tell you you’ve got to wear gloves. But anyhow, they were the first bazookas. They were a godsend after a while. They made a lot of improvements on the bazookas too because all our infantry would carry them after a while. So a lot of things improved.
J: Presumably you’d agree that the best experience for a soldier is combat experience isn’t it?
EW: Oh there’s no question about it. I think after 609 we developed a lot of confidence. I think we did a hell of a job. I think we did a terrific job in Africa. Three crossings of the Volturno and it was all spearheaded by using 135th, 168 or 133rd. Usually Commander Kelly’s outfit, the 36th was on our left and sometimes the First Division and the Third and the regular army divisions we always had tremendous respect for. We felt that they were always better than we were anyway. No question about it. That’s why you have to remember too at the battle of Fondouk when we made such a miserable showing, we were draftees who didn’t want any part of war till we got mad enough! We got through the Volturno three times. We reached the Gustav Line. That was in the winter. That stretched right across I’ll never forget. It was a cold, cold winter, and every time we tried to move it was rugged country, and every time we tried to move – especially one night we were coming up and we were feeling our way in the darkness and the weapons carriers were [?] we were coming along this (I always called it the Appian Way, Caesar’s route) and these trees started to come down. And we had just then noticed on the side of the road: the Germans had notched the trees before us. They were masters of defence. Finally, after Volturno, I think there was a bloody battle of Mont Pentano[?] in which the 38th again took all the brunt of it. They were wiped out again and replaced. I don’t know how many times they were replaced. We of-course, after certain amount of time, we withdrew for rest and rehabilitation. We’d find a rest area. It would be my job. I’d like that. Instead of forward recons with the Captain, I would take a radio operator in the jeep and we’d do rear recons for a rest area. I’d like that. And meanwhile the mines were bloody mean. We lost so many men to mines. So when I’d go back to a rest area, to reconnoitre for a rest area, I would pick spots that no attacking army would ever use. In other words, the most barest and the most least likely, no defilade in sight: flat, open, whatever, because there were no mines there. And many times our fellow units – I think the Captain liked me to pick those places – we never hit a mine in our area but units to the sides of us, they were suffering casualties in the rest area. In the rest areas, I’ll never forget either, we had hot kitchens and we had hot meals. Very seldom we had hot meals. And after they would feed us, we would stand in line and they would feed us. Diggers would dig a hole for the garbage. The Italian people would call it â€œla bouque[?] and they would stand by the hole with No.10 cans. Only old women and kids. There were no men. The Germans had pressed them all into service I guess. No young Italian young men around at all. And they’d stand there in line with their No.10 can with a little handle on it and at that time nothing thrown into that garbage hole at all I told the cook. Everything went to the whatever we didn’t eat we gave to them. Of-course we didn’t get that much either but we had to make sure our men were fed first.
J: I was going to say: did you have much to do with the Italians out there?
EW: Oh yes. Oh we practically lived with them. And they saved our lives so many times. Because they always knew when we moved and we never did displace them from the farmhouses. They had good defilade they were there, but they were always telling us where the mines were. In these rest areas in coffee grounds and I saw them at one point where they would dry the coffee grounds out we’d dry the coffee grounds out, so whatever coffee we had that wasn’t used we’d simply give to them. He had to send us back well fed. We took the coffee grounds and given them to them. They suffered immeasurably the Italian people. They were caught between two armies all the time and many times they never left their houses. But they were caught in them. They couldn’t leave. They had to carry two flags: one American and one[end of side B]
J: Can you remember when Rome fell?
EW: Oh yes. After Varis[?], the farther we went the more action the 34th saw and they handled it well always. Our officers had really matured. But the replacements – it was hard, because we were replaced a lot – but when the replacements came in we made sure they got all of the secrets we had, how to stay alive. I think we were entirely different from Fondouk. We had moved into this area and then off on our right, moved into Monte Cassino, the abbey, and that was good rugged country and that was good defilade. We had our guns up close and 135th and they were down in the valley. We were on an observation post and the Cassino, the town, was right down below here and the people were caught in there too. A lot of them were killed. But the town itself was taken by 135th, our outfits, 34th, and you could see it from our OP. But of-course the abbey, we weren’t allowed to bomb the abbey at Cassino. We were getting a lot of fire of-course. They had tunnels coming in: railway I think from the north and we had some prize German SS troops and German fighters and they knew their business. But as I say we didn’t bomb them. We didn’t have to use pack mules. Our outfit – I think it was 133rd on our right – they had to use pack mules. We didn’t. Our sector was head on to the right and almost north of the abbey and we were able to get our guns into position at night and defiladed. So we were fortunate there. And I’ll never forget we had our OP with a beautiful view of the monastery and the town of Cassino right in front of us and there was an Italian we were up on a hill and there was an Italian home. A family was living in it all during this battle. The Italian family were still in the house. We had tremendous defilade, beautiful defilade. A Howitzer could have gotten there. We were getting Anzio and Antio on in there, that big freight train, and that’s exactly what the shell sounded like when it came in. It was all psychological. It was just like a freight train. And they used that a lot on us, coming from a railroad, that’s actually on rails I guess. Italian people in this houseI went down there I used to go down to the house to get the they gave us some warm pasteurised goat’s milk. We hadn’t tasted milk. The last time we’d tasted milk was when we left the States I guess. And so we had warm goat’s milk. These Italian people were living right in there. The shelling was tremendous defilade I would say. They wouldn’t leave. Of-course we wanted them to leave. But we never confiscated a house from an Italian family, ever. I never slept in an Italian home. Always outside somewhere. Sometimes the officers used to commandeer them but I’ll never forget we had that one night the 135th got hit by the battery. They brought boys up from our headquarters and that was really stretcher bearers. That was a horrible experience for those guys, to come into that, you know? I never forget that. I had a lot of friends at headquarters too. They pulled us back. The Gurkhas came in: the British came in, the Gurkhas and the British, the Punjabs, the Indian troops, and as we pulled out and we were pulling out, we had to to a rest area, I can remember we heard the bombing and they started to bomb the abbey. And I understood that later on of-course it only made more rubble and rubble was better to fight from than fully constructed building so it went on, it continued to go on. And we were pulled back to the docks at Naples. Any direction to the rear felt good. We were got there in the night and we were waiting on the docks to ship out the night Vesuvius erupted. That was an experience. We watched it right across the bay. And never forget everybody’s face glowed red. Somebody said it was a good omen and somebody said it was a bad omen. I said the Gods are angry. One fellow who knew a little mythology said the Titans. I said no the Titans were under Etna not Vesuvius. I says Hera. It’s Zeus. We went to there on Ellis I guess it was an [?] American ships. Of-course there again the beachhead had been established some time, a long time before. We went right on the line and into [?] 45th or one of those divisions. And we went into their positions and they were fairly well dug in on the forward ridge but they was wide open again with the foothills ahead. When they made that bridgehead they stopped too soon. And here five miles separated them to the high ground and the Germans had all the advantage again. And it was that time that the Darby’s Rangers on our right flank got wiped out practically. At Cisterna I think it was. Cattle roaming around and at night, stepping on land mines. And then we had these crazy butchers of ours. Some of our soldiers, they knew how to butcher and so the boys used to go to the minefields to get to the and ship it back to the kitchens. I felt so sorry for the animals. But we were there quite a while and I think the attack took place I forget exactly when. But anyhow, they brought armour up: tanks. And we were emplaced in a forward observation post and right alongside of us the tanks came up with the long Bangalore torpedoes. I’ve never seen anything like it. And they were about 12-14 inches in diameter. And pushing before them to destroy the minefields and to blast the barbed wire out of the way to make a path for the infantry to move through. I guess after that Oh then of-course we were under the command of Mark Clarke and he wanted to there was a battle between him and Montgomery I think to see who would get to Rome first, you know.
J: Were you aware of that?
EW: At the time, no.
J: Did you always read Stars and Strips every week?
EW: No. We never got any copies of it. Never got a copy of it.
J: You didn’t even get it in North Africa?
EW: No. We never got any copies of it. We never got any doughnuts from USO or anything, wherever we were.
J: But you went into Rome first did you?
EW: We were the first ones into Rome. It didn’t make any difference to us because we moved right through. They wouldn’t let us stop. We broke through and moved right on through right on through and I guess we hit certain places, pitched battles off and on, but we were moving fast all the way along and got into Rome January 5th. And 34th and Clarke got his wish. He got the Americans into Rome first. He got his wish.
J: It must have been exciting?
EW: Oh yes. There was no resistance at all from for quite a while. And we just trucked right on through. And it was a thrill and of-course a lot of guys were able to grab wine and people were offering us all kinds of things. Flowers, a lot of flowers and bouquets.
J: That must have been exciting wasn’t it?
EW: Yes it was. I guess that’s one of the better parts of a war I suppose. And of-course we had fortune enough to come back on the rest area later on back to Rome. We moved right through. I remember seeing this one lad I was with, he said, we were passing by the Colloseum somewhere and he was looking at the Colloseum and he said â€œSarg he says, â€œThey wasn’t supposed to bomb Rome were they? He says. â€œThis place took a lot of hits!
J: Where was he from?
EW: From Brooklyn. Freddie Urban was his name. I remember seeing the Vatican off to the left I think but we went right on straight through. I think the first trouble we had after we got through Rome was Civitavecchia. That’s where we hit our first snag.
J: The Germans had retreated then to the Gothic Line presumably?
EW: The line was ahead of us up towards Pisa, but they were forming the Gothic Line at the time. The last winter stand. We had broken the Gustav Line in the winter too. It was really the first winter line, but the Gothic Line was the big one. As I say at this time it was a breeze. No air attacks. In Africa, when we’d see a dog fight develop above us
J: And you saw that quite often did you?
EW: Yes, quite often, the Spitfires always. There weren’t a lot of American planes around, but the Spitfires and the Messerschmitts, Focke Wulfs too, used to engage in a dogfight, all artillery would stop. You wouldn’t hear any artillery. Everybody would watch. Everybody would lie on his back and look up. And then every once in a while you’d see a lot of our bombers come over and be attacked by Messerschmitts or Focke Wulfs and the horrifying thing: we’d see parachutes blossoming from the ones that were shot down by the fighters. They were in a minority, you know, but all the way through Africa they did control the air.
J: But that had changed by Italy?
EW: Oh yes. We didn’t get nearly as much strafing in Italy. The big thing in Italy were the mines and the â€œScreaming Meanies. And SPs (self-propeller guns). There’s a story about that here. All during this time Oh this was the time that we saw the worth of the VC Battalion, known as â€œGo for Broke
J: This is the Japanese one?
EW: Purple Heart, Purple Heart Battalion. They were great soldiers. They were so anxious to please. They’d been treated pretty roughly in the United States you know but they were allowed to join in England. They made up the 42nd Combat Team in Italy, and they were tremendous soldiers. They were off on our flank a lot. They were part of the 133rd, our sister Regiment, and oh they showed so many signs of courage. I saw one use a bazooka once and knock off a side-track on a scouting car coming over a rise. No fear whatever. Tremendous people. During this time of-course we got a lot of I would say mostly the German artillery were still mighty accurate and mighty heavy. We were getting a lot of that and of-course we were getting a lot of 88s from the self-propelled pieces.
J: So when you’re saying you ran into opposition, after Rome your first bit of action, basically the Germans started firing on you and?
EW: What happened was I can recall the next thing was I think we moved we were moving north of-course we were veering more towards the coast after Civitavecchia. I don’t remember much about that battle. I’m trying to place all these. We hit so many places. And we went on. But we came this one particular place, let’s see we came to a place in actually it was south of Leghorn but it was the outskirts of a town called Rasignano[?] and I didn’t have a Lieutenant, I was alone and I had a radio man and a driver with me, and we were moving pretty fast. We came upon
J: Were you in a jeep or something?
EW: We were in a jeep. And the infantry was moving on the sides and we were moving along with the mechanised stuff, and it was my job to find a spot where we could pull the guns because we were moving fast. And I was alone with a radio man and a driver. We came across this huge – looked like a fortress – it happened to be a chemical company with a huge wall around it, not a shell crater anywhere near it. And so we moved just past that and I got what looked like a good spot because there was some defilade there between the chemical company it turned out to be a Cartel, both British and German I guess, I don’t know what it was. But there was not a shell crater near that chemical company. And the chemical company was to our rear and I pulled off and had good defilade there. And I had to get a spot and so I had the radio operator go upstairs with me we had picked out the last house on this row of houses with no people in it at all because they were taking a lot of shelling in there, they were knocking the roofs down. And so we pulled the guns in there and placed them and it was there this was Rasignano. We hadn’t got to Leghorn yet. Leghorn was enough You might want to look at this [map?]. We were on this place so I pulled the guns in and we were getting shelled – in fact they were knocking the roof off the house but these radio men were gutsy. He was a gutsy boy. So we finally saw an outfit coming up. We had one man out there, I had the driver out there, and we got the guns in defilade. The house was a good observation post. It was the first time we were on top of our guns. And actually it was in the basement of this house – after the Captain came up and set up a CP – that this happened. This is from the Stars and Stripes. And here Before you read that article, this is the way the reporter wrote it and this is the way I wrote it. So you can read this first.
J: I photocopied editions of the Stars and Stripes yesterday.
EW: We never got any of that. I don’t recall a newspaper, a copy of it ever. Even at a rest area where we got a mail call. I guess we could have gotten one.
J: Did you have much to do with the other Sergeants: Mazelin[?] and?
EW: We had three Sergeants in charge of gun batteries. As I say I was the Recon Sergeant. They got me mixed up with the other Sergeant who was also he wasn’t due for rotation because he was a replacement. These guys: Mazelin and Noche[?] had come over with me on the same boat. The first. The British people didn’t know what to make of us but we got along famously with them.
J: But furlow[?] was just had a bit of time off?
EW: But furlow wasn’t a furlow. That’s where I disagreed with him. It wasn’t a furlow right? It was a rotation. It was like a reprieve from death. Because the guy with this eye was always close.
J: But if you were up for rotation and you got rotation, did that mean that you went home or?
EW: That meant that you went back to the you were Z.I.’d: the zone of the interior, Z.I.’d they called it. You was Z.I.’d and what happened to me when I finally went not too long after this, they shipped me to Camp Sill, Port Sill Oklahoma, and I was with a training outfit there because I was a veteran then. We were getting ready to go to Japan. They were going to ship us to Japan. They dropped the bomb and that saved the whole thing. Terrible thing in a way. I was discharged right practically in the same barracks, shipped back to the same barracks, how about that, as when I was shipped over. Coincidence huh?
You always did your job. If you had a responsibility I think that’s what kept you going and that’s what kept our Lieutenants going.
J: Presumably it’s not wanting to let anyone down?
EW: The sense of the fact that there are men depending on you if you’re an officer. There are men depending on you. And you can’t let them down. And you watch over them you know.
J: Did you find times when you were scared?
EW: Oh, Fondouk mostly.
J: Fondouk more than any other time?
EW: Oh the mines, they were unbelievable. What people don’t realise, they were called mess mines, they were spider mines. They could take the anti-tank mine which only took nine pounds pressure: it was a personnel mine too as well. And they rigged a spider made a spider mine out of it. They took trip wires – about eight or ten feet tall – and they could hide them. They were taught. Usually in a freshly ploughed orchard – I can tell you about in a minute. All that you had to do was, you didn’t have to trip them, you didn’t have to all you had to do was step on the trip wires. They had tense mines too but they weren’t nearly as popular because they were too obvious. But the bouncing betty, when they made a spider out of a bouncing betty, a spider mine, that’s what got Captain [?] – I’ve seen him go off. The initial charge would take them about five feet high. Then they would go. I’ve seen them go off several times. There were three hundred ball bearings in there. They’d bounce about five feet off the ground. Not too high. They want to be sure to get you in the guts. And I’ll tell you, they cover an area. Actually I know, because I got into mines pretty well. I did a lot of de-mining that route up Italy.
J: So you didn’t just leave it to the Engineers?
EW: Oh no. Lots of times I had to pull into an area and I had to step over the propeller mines. But they were obvious you know. But we got to the point that we were pretty good. But then came word that if you didn’t know how to defuse them completely right, the method of defusing that we were using would ignite, would set off the mine. So from that point on what I used to do – the Captain liked me because I used to all the way up the boot of Italy Jim, I had a canteen in my right side full of olive oil. We had that to use for cooking on the ration cans. And on the left I had vino. Never water. And the Captain used to like me because when I did go ahead on reconnaissance I could unturn the wine cellars. Every farmhouse had a wine cellar all the way up the boot of Italy. A lot of the houses were empty. The only trouble is the Germans used to booby-trap them. So by that time I was thirsty. Same old thing: moving ahead to try to find gun positions. Lots of times we had no infantry around us. We’d get into trouble once in a while, and I would help find a way of rolling something down – they had stairs going down, about twenty feet down – and then I said to hell with it, I go down and I’d see these big the thing you had to worry about were further booby-traps.
J: Would you have an electric torch or something?
EW: Oh yeah. Well there used to be quite a bit of light coming down as I recall. We always had a it was always a jeep on recon. That had everything. Our jeep had ten gallons of gas in two cans on the side and ten gallons of wine. I used to get this wine and the Captain liked me. So we’d go down and one case and we was thirsty. Got a little not brave, not brave, foolhardy sometimes. So we’d shoot a hole in these big beautiful things and lots of times there was one with enough left in it to drink – the Germans used to try to wreck them you know. But with the ones with the big casks completely intact, you knew damn well that they had to be booby-trapped or they used acid in wine you know, which they did in a couple of places. But anyway we’d shoot a 30 calibre shooter hole in it and take the helmet off and catch it in the helmet. Then â€œWho’s going to drink it first? I always had one or two guys with me. So we used to procure wine in that manner.
J: Why did you have wine rather than water?
EW: Oh the water was bad. In the first place I didn’t have to do it because I wasn’t a Platoon Sergeant but our Platoon Sergeants had to make sure that their squad leaders got so many Adabrin[?] tablets a day and they were responsible for shooting them into the mouths of their boys in the squad. And of-course the Adabrin would bring on quite a thirst. But the Adabrin wouldn’t prevent malaria. It would stave it off while you were in the service. It would break out when you got home. When you stopped taking the Adabrin it would break out. So we had a lot of I remember at one time with three or four men, yellow jaundice: that was a combination of malaria and the Adabrin. What used to happen was the eyeballs would turn yellow. And when the eyeballs started to turn yellow you knew you were on your way to jaundice. But that was the responsibility of the Platoon Sergeant all the way down the line. But as I say they just didn’t care about us, because it only staved off. I know lots of friends of mine who reactivated once they were discharged.
J: So although you were in the Cannon Company you were still in reconnaissance? You were still the reconnaissance Sergeant?
EW: I was in reconnaissance for both. Much the same job as I had in the heavy weapons. It was almost identical. I was very sharp and shrewd at the time. I was never trained in the artillery. Whereas Captain Barman was a tremendous artillery officer. He helped me a lot too. But I had had training at Camp Cross. They weren’t bad with the books down there. But as far as physical training, you had the wherewithal and the right manpower.
J: So what happened when Captain Barman was killed?
EW: Oh well we were coming up it was on the outskirts of Rosignano. Leghorn wasn’t till later. Leghorn was a pretty stiff one. It was right on the coast. Thank god we were heading towards the coast because I was a beach man at heart. I just jotted some of the things down that I picked up in my reading because the dates are I don’t remember much. Our Cannon Company did a good job. I know because in Rosignano, helping the infantry, we were close and it was kind of jammed up there. But anyhow, we caught the Germans and the Germans did not vacate the town and we caught the civilians
J: This was Rosignano?
EW: It was a terrible thing. A lot of civilians were killed.
J: Caught in the crossfire?
EW: Yes. As I say, the Germans had a sense of battlefield honour sometimes. They shot prisoners I’m sure, but not usually. I often thought of our boys over in the Japanese theatre. They were captured, they The German, the Prussian spirit, they were pretty good, unless you were wearing one of their weapons or something or unless in the heat, if it happens right away, which had happened with us a couple of times, you do get a young fellow put his hands up and get shot, you know. Because you’ve just seen him, or the like of him, shoot some of our boys. But very, very seldom. The Germans usually took care of the prisoners. But anyhow, this particular town They usually would withdraw from the town. Now I don’t know why the hec they didn’t as I say that chemical plant still has me puzzled to this day but I did look into it and there was a cartel involved. It’s a horrible thing to say in wartime but a lot of money. It was German, Swiss, English and American: three or four different countries involved. It wasn’t shelled by either army. I don’t understand that. Well it wasn’t shelled by our army, because the Germans stayed clear of it. We had no need to shell it. But now, with our guns in this position not too far away, we went forward to an observation post. Our guns were in pretty good defilade right by the chemical plant, and when the shelling started, the Germans did not vacate the town. They usually would have vacated. We wouldn’t have had to shell the town. But it evolved into a house to house and it was loaded with people. The people were caught the reason there were so many civilians in Rosignano was we were advancing so fast it’s hard to visualise what we hit next. So actually there were a lot of citizens and Germans killed. I got into the town after the infantry had done street to street. Of-course they were under a terrific disadvantage because they didn’t know whether civilians were going to pop up from the next corner or not. I was close enough to see that. And anyhow, the Germans only had skeletal rearguard action forces in the area but enough. But whatever was left of them pulled out but the rest of them got hit pretty badly as they were fleeing, and a lot of Italian dead, civilians. Felt awful about that. We held a mass cremation. I didn’t see them cremate but we knew it was being done.
J: So where were you when that was happening? You were on an observation post watching what was happening?
EW: I was on observation. I was always at a point where I could see what was happening and lots of times I wasn’t in the street to street fighting thank god. I thank god I was drafted into the Cannon Company for Italy. Italy I got used to. Other than the mines, otherwise you could take pretty good care of yourself if you knew the terrain and you knew what the Germans were going to do. You learned a lot from Africa. You knew pretty much where they were going to mine, where they weren’t going to mine. This one instance, after Rosignano, right after Rosignano, right after Mazlin was killed
J: How was Mazlin killed?
EW: Captain Barman and I came into this town of Garbro[?] – it was only about a week or so after the [?] and we thought we had picked a good position because the Germans – there’s still door to door fighting in Garbro. Not too much again
J: Is Garbro near Rosignano?
EW: It’s not far from it. It can’t be. Because at the time Captain Barman was killed on the 13th (I got his date) and Mazlin had to be somewhere in between the 13th and of July. After Garbro, Mazlin was killed maybe two weeks later and Captain Barman about four weeks later. But we had gone onto the next town. We were on our way to Leghorn anyway. And it was the village of Garbro. We were on jeep but then we were on foot. Because we never knew where the infantry was. We could be maybe half a mile ahead of the general line of battle. We didn’t know, because we were moving so fast. We got up on the approaches to this town of Garbro, and we were receiving some fire and we got some small arms fire and we took cover. Anyhow, where we took cover it was exceptionally good defilade and we were pinned down there, the two of us. And I happened to check the town and you could see it was only patrol action: rearguard action. And they were pulling out. And so we waited quite a while. We didn’t go into the town. And we saw the people started coming out on the streets again in the town of Garbro. So anyhow, we radioed back and we sent a man back there to pull our pack Howitzers up there to that particular position, because there was excellent defilade. But as I say, the town had just cleared, we weren’t sure whether it was clear or not. So we did move in there and we finally got our trucks and everything. Not a shot was fired at them. There was nothing fired and they were able to take positions here. Then we established our CP real close, right maybe 500 yards from them, and there was a hell of a bunch of artillery come in right after that and they had left observers back, and there was this steeple. I looked at it we even talked about it: â€œThat’s a good observation spot for somebody. We should never have put the guns in. We put them in too soon. We had to wait for our infantry. Our infantry weren’t there. But we had to get our guns in position and there were more or less exposed to artillery where they were, so we pulled them in there. And we had no sooner gotten back to the CP, the Command Post back there and a hell of a barrage down there. And it cleaned out the one battery: Mazlin’s battery. The other three or four boys with him lost their legs and arms and things like that. It was a rough situation. But we didn’t know. It looked pretty good. Our guns weren’t under observation at all when we pulled in position, I mean from this tower. But once our forward observer called for
J: Would you say Mazlin was a friend of yours?
EW: Oh yes. He was a close friend of mine. I never forget the look on his face when he drew that card you know? I mean that was a hard thing to take. When the stakes were high! He was a great guy. That sort of shakes you up. It really shakes you up. We got it into position alright. There was no observation, no incoming fire. We had done it before. But there had to be one found out later that they did have that one church steeple and they did leave an observer back behind. But I couldn’t understand that, because usually if they only left two, knowing the Germans were pulling ahead. That happened. And then we had gone on somewhere between that particular time and the Captain and I were on another reconnaissance. I think it was between there and Leghorn if I’m not mistaken, and we were again all alone. There were about ten jeeps (ten jeeps in the patrol) and we were pulling along a side road looking for two German machine guns opened up on the left, the last jeep in the convoy. We hit the ditch. It was a nice ditch alongside there. And then we started getting a few mortars. We had no infantry around us at all. It was just probing, recon, until you hit something. And we started getting some light mortars, so we knew that the heavy ones had pulled out. And machine gun fire. We figured maybe three medium machine gun, not the heavy. So we crawled along this ditch and got into this farmhouse. There was nobody in it, and we were in there and tried to get upstairs to get some observation, see what was happening. And in the distance – we only looked there after we heard the â€œphew – there was a tiger tank sitting in the street of the town. And no observation post here, so we got down and went down into the basement and that damn tiger tank started hitting, and he started chewing that house down bit by bit. And luckily the velocity was carrying the debris and we were in a section where it wasn’t raining down on us. But the town was still occupied by Germans and it wasn’t far away. I would say maybe half a mile. And so we got down into the finally found a wine cellar. I got into the wine again. We stayed there. Of-course we called for air support, and I went up to the window and I threw out a yellow smoke grenade you know, to mark our positions so the Spitfires would know what the hell Mustangs, whatever. Came down to the wine cellar again. Meanwhile the artillery came in. First thing you know, the Tiger Tank withdrew. Of-course we figured it was still in the town. I took another look. Finally we had a scout, he was a Chipawah[?], we always had Chipawah scouts from Minnesota, Chipawah Indian tribe. They were scouts. They had more trouble at night than I did. But anyhow, the Captain wanted me to go up and check the town. I was feeling pretty good. There was a big deep canal going up. and Mason and I had tremendous cover. We got into the edge of the town and very cautious. Finally we got across the street and we got into the first or second house. We ran in the house and we weren’t fired upon at all. So we were feeling pretty good – I was feeling pretty good anyway. And sure enough
J: Was that because of the wine?
EW: Sure. It made me a little brave. And there was an Italian family. They didn’t know what to do. They were round the table. Mother and children and again not too many young men. It must have been two families. They didn’t know what to do.
J: They were having a meal were they?
EW: No, they were just huddled around the table. And they didn’t know what we were going to do. We had one boy with us who spoke a lot more Italian than I had picked up broken Italian. And oh boy they hugged us and everything. But we were in there: Mason, I and two other fellows came up when we got there to the house, and we were sitting there and first thing you know they’re going to feed us and everything’s fine. We’re feeling great. And all of a sudden I hear â€œAchtung Boots coming up the street. Coming up from one of the alleys and coming in. And there was a German patrol! So I don’t know what the hell to do. The Italian people they had us under the bed and the German patrol went right by and kept on going. We were all set to take them on if they came in but the Italian people hid us under the bed: two of us under one bed, two of us under another one. I think there was three or four, I don’t remember. But after that we got back to report to the Captain, came back and went back the same way, came round in a little different direction and there was another house and from which I felt that when the German machine gun had opened on us, had come from that vicinity. But the house looked empty and we thought there might be something to eat in there, and we went in there, looked through the house and on the second floor there was a bedroom, white sheets, laced with blood all over the wall. And there was an old man and an old woman in there. It looked like machine gun. The Germans would never do that. I couldn’t understand that. The Germans wouldn’t do that, I felt. But they did. But the old man was bed-ridden. The covers were up on him. And the woman was somewhere in the hall. Elderly people! I couldn’t imagine, I couldn’t even picture the Germans doing something like that. After a while I was worried as much about the Italian civilians as much as my own men.
J: So you reckoned that’s where the machine gun had come from?
EW: I assumed they had come from that direction but we had gotten sidetracked over that way anyway and the house was there and we wanted to take cover in it. Found a salami on the wall in that house. Took the salami. I got the roundworms from it later on. And we got back to the house, got back to the recon group. They were still there. And we reported and so forth. And we radioed back and we pulled the guns up again but it wasn’t long after that that I’m trying to think where we were I don’t know if it was before or after Leghorn. It was before Leghorn. The Captain and I and a radio man – we had one radio man, a driver, the Captain and I – were again in the same situation where we’re all alone in the jeep this time. And the Captain, he was a daring guy. Big, six foot five, blonde, well educated, good artillery man. He taught me a lot about artillery. We came to a spot and we looked ahead and the bridge had been blown. Wasn’t a sign of anybody around. A few houses here and there, not a soul did we see. The bridge had been blown and he said, â€œCome on Sergeant. So I went with the Captain. But we only had the driver with us. Yes, we had the driver and a radio man. He didn’t want to take them. We weren’t being fired upon or anything. Anyway we went up and we got to this blown out bridge and I knew they had mined it. For some reason we picked our way across it. We went right in the middle of it rather than on the flanks on the sides where they might be mines. We didn’t see, I didn’t see any mines.
J: When you say you pick your way through, this is with a bayonet?
EW: No, we just made our way instead of on the sides – the vehicles of-course would have had to go around on the sides – we went sort of in the middle of the bridge. Real close to what was left of the bridge. We didn’t go where a vehicle would have gone, because we had come across so many mines. We knew something about the German habit of mining. We got through there and we went up and there was a house there, again, and we didn’t see a soul. Beyond the house was an orchard. We went in the house and there again, the same situation. All the people were there. But they were all they didn’t know how we’d react of-course. With my broken Italian
J: So basically they were scared out of their wits were they?
EW: Yes, they were scared, certainly. And first thing you know, then they started pointing out where the mines were. They had a freshly planted orchard, right beyond the house and they told us – the Captain, who would never learn anything about Italian they shown us where the mines were. They told us of-course they had freshly ploughed, spider mines were there. There’s no doubt about it because it was an ideal set-up. But anyway, they all went back in the house and we approached the orchard and they told us there was no mines to it, and we were right on the edge of the olive orchard, and we came a little farther down a little defilade, not going into the ploughed section, and right below us there were four SPs – I don’t know whether 88s or 105s: self-propelled artillery pieces pulling out. And the Germans were paying attention to nothing. You could see them down right below us. He said â€œSergeant get back and get the radio man. So I said â€œCaptain. We had good cover where we were. I said â€œStay here, don’t forget what they said about the mines. I went back and picked my way through back. Picked up the radio man. Came back, the same steps. We were coming up the hill, we heard this bouncing betty. Came up to the orchard and there he was. The Italian people came out. He had been looking for a better vantage point evidently. I don’t know what made him do it because he knew it was mined. And 50-60 feet into the orchard. They brought a mattress out from the house and they brought it to the edge of the orchard and they went in – they knew pretty much where the mines were, but they didn’t either because the spider rigged mines. They came in, we put Captain Barman on the mattress back into the house and we went back and I got the second in command sent the jeep driver back to get the second in command. And when he came up I took him to the mined area, into the house and he saluted the Captain and took the bars off his so that was Captain Barman. He was a tremendous guy. See after that it was Lieutenant Fellows took over, and boy he was not too easy to get along with.
J: Why was that?
EW: He was kind of arrogant. But wore logging boots with kind of high heels on because he was short. But anyhow, I put up with him for a while. He almost got me a couple of times, really bad shape, he didn’t listen. He wouldn’t take my advice, let’s put it that way. Captain Barman and I always used to talk things over. [end of side A]
pulled hastily out of Leghorn after the initial contact. And our troops which were ahead of us. That was just about the time that Pisa – I could see the leaning tower in the distance. I think it was the Arno River I think it was. Let’s see. I think it was in that area that we were getting ready to breach the we knew of the Gothic Line and it was in that particular area right after Leghorn. I’m trying to think of exactly where it was. But we were in position one night and I was at the CP and I was at an FO with one of the Lieutenants, and we had good defilade. Our guns were in. I don’t know whether it was six. To me it was the Appian Way, right up to Rome. It was always the same road. And on this road, all the way up, no matter what time of day or night, we had intradictory[?] fire on the crossroads. So anyhow, most of the travelling we did at night but still the intradictory fire came in at certain times and so forth. It was always a hassle. So anyway, the guns had good defilade and I was up in a close OP because it was nice high down right ahead of us. And I was called back to the CP and Lieutenant Fellows notified me that I was next to go on rotation. So oh boy! All of a sudden, I became cautious! But anyhow, a weapons carrier was going to take me down from the Company area. It was going to come at a certain time. It was after daylight anyway. It didn’t make any difference as the Germans were making the same intradictory fire on that road daytime or night time. So as I say when I was notified I said â€œOh my god, I’m going to make it, you know. So early in the morning, I didn’t wait for 8 O’clock. I said goodbye to my buddies and we had a couple of new men and I told the Captain – he was a Captain now, he became a Captain immediately – I said â€œI’m not going to wait for the weapons carrier. There was a side road. It had good defilade. And as I walked down the road towards the road, I had come from this direction, I looked on the right and there there were bodies stacked like cord wood. I never saw anything like that. There were no body bags or anything. They were all stacked like cord wood.
EW: Americans, yes. We had hit – I can’t get the location of this position which we were in. They had been pulled back off the line and dumped there like cord wood right there on the side of the road. And I’ll never forget. I passed them and I looked at them. And it was a very still morning and there was only one thing moving and it was a hair on a blonde boy’s head. And boy that hit me! I said honest to goodness I’m not waiting for the weapons carrier. I went to that road and all of a sudden, you’re stuck, you’re really nervous, you know. You get used to being there after a while. I got the first ride that came by. It was a jeep. Luckily they were going back toward headquarters. They were headed back toward the headquarters company where I had to report. Got to headquarters company and they gave you a tent to sleep in. It was a brand new tent. And I got word that night that that weapons carrier took a hit bringing these boys on rotation. Took out the one I was supposed to be in. It was the same one.
J: Were they all killed?
EW: I think so. Actually you know, you wonder. Got back and had to stay there a while and saw some of my old buddies. They had luckily come back there in the rest area and I was able to see some of my old buddies from H Company. They were pretty much with us all the time anyway because we were right close to them all the time. I didn’t see much of Captain Lund though. I think he got hit a way back and he was out of it for a while. But as I say he contacted me after the war from Fort Benning. But that’s about the size of it and
J: Then you got back to New York?
EW: We went on the Liberty Ship right from
J: Where did you sail from?
EW: We were sent to Naples. And I remember they went through whatever belongings we had and they took every war souvenir that you had: that’s illegal, that’s illegal. And the lugers you know – of-course I wouldn’t attempt to get one of those through – but like a camera, they couldn’t get that from me, I hid that. I had a camera. I got some German compasses and one helmet. They let us keep that. They confiscated the lugers and just use them themselves. They were sort of valuable. I went on the liberty ship and tasted I guess it was, I don’t know if it was fresh, but we tasted milk and tasted pretty good grub. To me it was excellent grub on the way home. We landed in New York to Camp Drum. And I had left to go home and I had learned that he had been inducted – somehow, I don’t know how, somebody called me or something – I went back to Camp Drum and happened to walk into the same I think it was Camp Drum. Yes, I think it was Camp Drum. There was a debarkation unit and so I did, I don’t know what led me to the same barracks. And there he was.
J: What was his name?
EW: Harry. Almost on the same bunk.
J: You must have been pleased to see him weren’t you?
EW: Oh yeah. Somehow I knew oh I made a telephone call on the way home. I was headed home and I called his wife Milly, and she told me that he was in Camp Drum. And that’s when I went back and snuck in. And I knew where to go. I could have found out if I wanted to but somehow I didn’t even ask anybody. I just walked to the place that I had landed on.
J: So when did your father pass away because you said you didn’t see him again?
EW: Dad passed away when I was at some time around Civitavecchia. We had pretty good quarters and we had tents set up and anyway we got mail. We had hot food there. We had a good spot. And I got a telegram from the Red Cross that my Dad had died two weeks before. And that kind of shook me a little bit.
J: So then you got home. Were you instructing for a bit?
EW: I went home and moved around a bit. And went back to College on the GI bill and worked on my doctorate.
J: It must have been so hard for you wasn’t it after all that time to go back to being a civilian?
EW: Yes but you know when I came back nobody recognised nobody paid the least bit of attention to the stripes or the I never wore the decorations. I wore the combat badge though.
J: Did you get any medals?
EW: I got a bunch of ribbons and stuff. They just notified me since I joined I got a bronze star and something like that that they were supposed to have given me and I never got. I don’t know what else. I never did anything exceptional. I think I did my job though. I think I did my job. What kept me doing that was my deep affection for my buddies. The camaraderie we had was tremendous. In no other place could that happen but in the army in a life and death situation, and one can help the other to survive. And one depends on the other. But as I say the idea of always attacking and being at a disadvantage and the mines were just unbelievable. The mines were just all over the place and lots of times we just I would attach cables to them and just pull them and get around the corner some place and pull them and they went off and try to detonate the damn things. But it was the mines and the fact that the Germans always had the good position. Always, always were set. And they were such expert soldiers anyway.
J: The shooting of the old couple, that was the only atrocity you saw?
EW: That shocked me. We didn’t hear any gun shots immediately after that but there had been there was desultory firing here and there but we had just happened to go that way. But I knew we were off course, we should have veered a little left to get back to the place, but I know we could reach the jeeps that were strung out along the roadway there. But I don’t know what took us in but we were hungry. And we didn’t have much appetite, but I saw this salami on the wall, and when we went up to the second storey bedroom on the second floor there when we saw that. I remember nice clean white sheets laced red, laced with blood. The man looked like he had been an invalid. He was in bed. Looked like a couple of machine gun bullets was used. And the woman, we found her out in the hall. Same thing. And I could never understand that.
J: So that was the only atrocity that you saw.
EW: That’s the only atrocity I saw.
J: So tell me what did you do in civilian life in the last 58-odd years?
EW: I was fortunate to get on the GI bill of rights! GI bill education. I had my college diploma, and so I was working for a doctorate in education, and see how far I get from there. I got that. Didn’t get my doctorate. I got to my thesis. I got the doctorate in education. That was a kind of mickey mouse doctorate. When I came back to University, I came back east here, I got into teaching High School. Taught High School for a number of years and I had gone to Mount Claire State and got another degree in another field, a graduate degree, and I changed my jobs to history, general subjects and what have you. And I taught for Trinton[?] State, taught for a few colleges.
J: Teaching history?
EW: History and general subjects. And so that’s what I’ve been doing. I finally retired from teaching. I found out that I could make more teaching at the High School level in Jersey than I could teaching at the college level. And because they were making more money there was a better pension involved, and so I went and put quite a few years in, and then as soon as I retired teaching High School I went with the Ocean County College. I retired in 1981 and went with the Ocean County College as co-ed and taught two or three different kinds of subjects. And so that’s what I did during my retirement. And having a wonderful wife and living here in this vicinity for 54 years, we had just a wonderful life together. We thank God for it. She thanked God for it the night she passed away in fact.
J: When did you two get married then?
EW: We were married in wasn’t too long after the war. I was up at University I think.
J: Two sons?
EW: Yes. Good boys.
EW: No, no grandchildren. Not in either case. They only got married a short time ago. They were both having good times as bachelors. They’re not much older than you are I guess. We had children late[break]
We were draftees and we were fighting along with very experienced British troops, but also regular army units of the American army: First Armoured and the First and Third specially, Texas units: the 36th Texas Unit. All regular army. And the fact that we got shoved into that unfortunate physical situation – the make-up of the terrain at Fondouk, just everything was against us. And I don’t know whether our performance was disastrous or not but it was certainly not worthy of any Division. But I don’t think the entire division should be blamed because there was still a lot of good fighting done by the 168. I know that for a fact. They were always into the thick of it. But the fact that we were draftees mixed in with a lot of professional soldiers
J: You have to remember that the American army was so new. Fighting foreign wars in foreign climes was a new thing. The British were brought up on it. It was so hard for you and the fact that you came through so quickly is really impressive.
EW: We did. We adjusted to it gradually. We got into it. And I think we did a pretty good job from 609 on. And as I say the one thing that I think that is very important is the friendships that you make and the closeness that exists between men in combat.
J: Did you find you missed them after the war?
EW: Not right away. But gradually yes, I did miss a lot of the boys. In fact I miss them more now than I did then and that is one reason why I would love to contact anybody. But there aren’t very many. I don’t know. You have a feeling some soldiers have a feeling, I’m sure, that, â€œThere’s no name on any shell. My name is on no shell. I’m going to lead a charmed life and I’m going to survive this thing. There are some who felt that way and did it, but I never did. And most soldiers never felt that way. They felt, â€œOh this next one, what’s it going to do, rip my leg off?
J: You did think that did you?
EW: Oh yes, you thought that all the time. Especially with the artillery. You knew that it had happened to friends of yours before and why not happen to me?
J: Exhaustion comes through constant strain and anxiety. You must have felt tired the whole time?
EW: Yeah. You somehow don’t sleep for extended periods of time. You catnap at any time. In fact some forced marches, in the latter stages of Italy, where you hook yourself onto the belt on the man in front of you and you can actually go fairly well to sleep while you’re walking. I mean not into a sound sleep but a relaxing sleep. I think you learn all the ways of trying to conserve. You see we had this advantage: we could get fresh eggs once in a while. We were with civilised people. They all had there were greens, gardens. You didn’t destroy them or anything but you could reach into the ground and get scallions for instance, things of that sort, which you couldn’t do in Africa. You could manage to get farm products from the Italian people. We never confiscated or took anything. We were given it or we bought it from them.
J: Did you have much concept of what was going on elsewhere in the war?
EW: No. The only thing that was we finally heard when we were quite a way up in Italy we had given up on the Normandy thing. We didn’t even hope for that at all. We had no idea it was coming in a way, until about half way up the boot I would say. We realised that we knew that they were massing, had been massing for years in England, and we knew that it had come, but somehow not when. We had no idea when.
J: Do you think even in Italy, you knew things were going well when you were moving forward. Presumably you knew little more than that did you?
EW: The fact that we were advancing you mean? That was in itself satisfying to say the least. And of-course it was a lot more fun chasing than being chased.
J: In North Africa did you ever think there was a case of we might not win this?
EW: North Africa? Yes. Of-course. At the earliest part. Although we had The thing that made me think all the way through. We did get news of Montgomery’s progress towards us – as we moved east, he was moving west – I think that we were convinced that we were going to win the war because of that. I think mainly because we didn’t know how the rest of the war was going but we were the war at the time. I don’t think I ever felt that we were going the war at any time during the campaign because I had realised – from being bombed and shelled and stuff – that we were able to bomb the German factory and they weren’t able to bomb the American factory and that in itself I thought would make the difference. The bombing of Germany’s supplies. I felt that very much.
J: When you got back home, was the family home you left still there?
EW: There was nobody. When I returned, the only person in the family was my brother’s wife. I spent a few nights with my sister-in-law and outside of that there was nothing left. The family was gone. I had some relatives here and there that I stayed with from time to time but I just floated around. I put my duffle bag on my back and just got on the road. And I found that it was even hard getting a ride in a uniform. But I just travelled around quite a bit and as I say ended up at school somewhere. And at least got an education on Uncle Sam. I never thought at one time that I would make a career of it. I was just a civilian at heart all the way through I guess. It was very difficult after I came back. I did manage to renew old friendships from college. College wasn’t far away from where I had lived and I was able to get together with most of my fraternity brothers who were here. Most of them were gone when I got back. Most of them were still in the service. There’s no such thing any more as a at that time, when I returned, as a returning hero. I remember Commander Kelly – you might remember him – I had met him once or twice, the fact that the country did quite a bit for him, set him up in business and so forth, but he never quite made it. He had problems. It was basically because of the war I suppose. He never could adjust. I suppose a lot of heroes are like that after being in the thick of it.
J: Did you suffer from bad dreams or sleepless nights or anything?
EW: The worst recurring nightmare that I think I’ve ever had was going in to face classes on a Monday morning at school! I never had that. Earlier I had. I used to hit the ground every time a screech or brake or train – hitchhiking along and a train came and boy did I ever hit the dirt! Yes sounds used to bother me. During the night when I’d hear a certain sound I’d wake up and feel that I was still over there. The first few years was rather difficult to adjust. If I had come back to a family it would have been easier I think. Because I was alone, travelling, roaming around. And that made it difficult to adjust. But otherwise no. I don’t carry any recurring dreams as a result.
J: Do you mind me asking when you were born?
EW: June 18th 1918. At the end of one war and in time for another.
It was an experience. As far as I’m concerned I learned a lot about people. About the human soul I think. Not only the soldier but the people who were involved in the conflict. The Arabs, the Italian people, especially the Italian people whom I developed a very deep affection for.
J: Did you ever go back to Italy?
EW: No, I was never able to go back. Our Division is having a special trip to Anzio in September next year but I’ll never be around for that. I hope I’m around for your book! For about two or three books! [break]
I talk about the war, things like I remember distinctly and vividly every leave and every rest area.
J: You never had leave in Rome or anything like that?
EW: Yes, it was very interesting. We were able to get I got a three day pass to Caserta. It was the summer palace Mussolini’s summer palace at Caserta. It was a fantastic place. And we stayed in the barracks where Mussolini’s guard had stayed. And I’ll never forget. We had to go to the john: you walked into this long room. It wasn’t in the basement, it was up a floor or two. And there were big huge funnels. And in the middle of each funnel was a shoeshine stand. You used to plant your feet in the funnel and stand and when you pulled your pants down, your wallet or whatever you had in your pocket would go down. And you could hear the exclamations down below: the honeydippers down there. They were waiting for that stuff to fall down through that. Then, that very same leave: before you went on leave, you had to go through a VD that was another thing. That became pretty rampant in Italy. You had to go through this VD exhibit before they would allow you to go. There was one guy with us – the guy who had been keeping a diary or he has a camera. He is headed for the historic places of interest. The rest of us aren’t. And so as you pass – honestly you never saw anything like this – on both sides, like a side show, just like a carnival, there were testicles, all the results of venereal disease. There about five or six models on the right and five or six on the left, before you can get out. So what we used to do, we used to put this fellow with a camera in the front, and hook our belt to him and keep our eyes closed. And it became a problem because in certain areas up in Italy I had to take care of the Platoon for the first Sergeant when he was on pass or something, when he was in the rest area that is. And there were quite a few within our Regiment as I recall. And you would get on a rest area and you would go to the john. And one case, there would be loud screams. And then of-course the house of a thousand needles was a house of horrors. That was in Naples. If you got sent there that meant a serious probably syphilis. They woke you up every two to four hours every day and administered needles. They didn’t have any It was a problem and it certainly made you think three or four times before you got half inebriated and did something foolish.
J: You did get a pass for Rome one time did you?
EW: Yes, we went to Rome. The thing that fascinated me most in Italy were the outside urinals in the corner of the Bank buildings and so forth. There would be a couple of urinals. And in one case I was fascinated by the guys who had a sweetheart on, holding her by the hand, still keeps holding her hand and answers the call of nature! And then in the middle of the streets Rome was a fascinating
J: Did you meet up with any British soldiers there?
EW: Oh yes, in Rome.
J: You all got on?
EW: Yes. In fact most of the places we went with the British in Rome.
J: Were there services bars?
EW: There were no brawls
J: No, bars?
EW: Like the canteens? The bars. It was always the bars.
J: They were just crammed full of servicemen and you’d just hook up?
EW: Yes, of-course. And if there were any fights which were frequent, it was usually between the Americans: the Infantry versus the Airforce. But there was a very harmonious feeling between the British Army and the as long as you were an infantryman I guess. The blue beret meant a lot. What we did, if you were fortunate, we took cigarettes with us and bonbons, and they used to pay for any if you wanted to stay even in a hotel, leave the rest area, we stayed in the hotels, you could buy with cigarettes. And as I say all the beautiful wonderful historical we did get to the Vatican and I had to walk again through the Colloseum. With all the wonderful historical sights in Rome, I got a pretty good look at the inside of the bistros.
J: So a bit of sightseeing but mostly entertainment?
EW: Yes, it was. And on limits, off limits places: on limits to officers, off limits to It was a tremendous experience as far as just visiting Rome and to know and look back at all the things of-course history that had taken place in and around the eternal city. There was a ghetto in Rome too, a Jewish ghetto in Rome. The Germans never bothered it from my understanding. They didn’t seem to they respected the open city as regards both material and humanity evidently. I remember one time at Anzio, one of our batteries we were using I don’t know whether it was Bofors, I don’t know which artillery it was, got a hold of some gas shells, and they went over and boy! They actually we found our mistake and we ceased firing of-course. It was sort of a truce. I don’t think there was any meeting about it. I don’t think that emissaries from either side met and apologised, from the American side especially, but everything ceased and I guess the Germans just realised it was a mistake. But they were such experts with weapons… [break]
It’s mostly about self. Am I going to make it? If you’re one of those guys: â€œThere’s no bomb with my name on it, here it comes! There are some. Few and far between. Most people, I’m sure most soldiers say, â€œHey it happened to my buddy the other night it could happen to me tonight. How am I going to get it? Is it fast, is it quick? That was the big thing: â€œHow am I going to get it. You’ve seen a lot of boys lying in agony. Our medics did a terrific job. They’re the ones who should have all got distinguished service crosses and medals of honour because they were very courageous people. Saved a lot of lives. As I say it’s just fortunate. I like people and I got along with people. There were a lot of loners in the service. If you were a loner I thought you’re kind of lost you know? It’s one time when you do want to have close friendships and you do automatically. You’re all suffering the same misery.