Chapter 5: The Underbelly
The Winter Line. November 1943-January 1944
Page 127 - Piedimonte d'Alife
The Regiment encamped for three weeks on the verge of the Campanian plain, resting after saving the Salerno Beachhead from Vietinghoff's Panzers and replenishing itself with casualty replacements, of which I was one.
After forty days of it, the Thunderbirds turned over the fighting to the 34th Division, which with the Third butted across the valley of the Volturno, first against the impromptu Barbara Line's roadblocks, strongpoints and blown bridges, then bang into the Bernhardt Line the Germans had been digging and blasting into the rocky crests of the Apennines that rose like brooding thunderheads before the slogging doggies.
The bountiful bottom land around Piedimonte d'Alife, however, was as salubrious a respite for the touring Americans of '43 as it must have been for the Samnite conquerors of the fifth century B.C. Abruptly plucked from nowhere and dropped into a platoon of faggedout veterans as their third youngest at barely twenty-one, I remember but dimly those days of restless pause for them and easy transition for me.
A signora who'd picked up some English in Canada swapped Andy Zapiecki a couple of chickens for a G.I. shirt or two and a change of underwear and had just cooked these galline for his crew, "and Joe, that's where you come in. I was shavin', and Jack introduced you."
It was not to the madcap corporal that Jack consigned me, however, but to the custody of the schoolmasterish Sergeant Griffith and my fellow Ivy Leaguer Jerry Waldron- Dartmouth and Harvard, old rivals tenting together at last, so far from home. "The men seem a smart bunch," Harvard logged two days later. "They're somewhat reserved in their relations with me. I suspect they're waiting to see really what kind of a joker I am when it comes time to hit a ditch."
Page 160 - Battle for San Pietro
Medics enter what's left of San Pietro. (Department of Defense)
softies wouldn't shell the place as long as we thought it was occupied by civilians. Maybe they tried to sleep during the day.
My first inkling that our platoon might have been responsible for these murders was Pullman's account thirty-five years later of firing through the tunnel of fog at the Kraut taking a crap some weeks earlier. This jogged Dowdall's memory:
On the OP on the right we could see this house, an obvious place fer the Germans to be on account o' the situation an' terrain. Nobody could be sure. Nobody saw any. One of our tanks across the valley on the Pozzilli road saw this house an' fired point-blank into it. The shell had got through the wall an' wiped out the family.
After thirty-nine years it was left to Mullenax, upon our meeting again, to produce a version that rings true (although it's unlikely the Germans would have located an OP except on the heights) if less literally than metaphorically, with the poignant tragedy and irony of the war in Italy:
Our own artillery did it. I directed it. There was a German OP right behind that house. From where we was in that OP behind the rock fence on the hill, that farmhouse was settin' at the base of the hill right across the valley on the range where the Germans had their front line, about two-thirds of the way down a kind of flat plateau, in the open.
This OP was what was giving us the trouble in holding the hill where I Company was at. We had already lost about half of I company as the result of that OP. We seen 'em all the time for two or three days. I kept callin' it back, and they said, "Well, why don't you call some artillery on it?" An' I says, "I don't wanna do that. I
Video of author and Dr. Jonathan Shay discussing the effects of PTSD on the creative process
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Chapter 5 complete text read by author, with buddies' voices