Chapter 6: Whale on the Beach
Anzio. January-February 1944
Page 169 - Piedimonte
All we knew as we slumped down exhausted in the frozen fields of Piedimonte was that Italy was the forgotten war-all mud, mountains, mayhem, misery and death, forsaken by God and Country.
So anything for a laff. Henry Mills is lounging on his straw-stuffed tick in our pyramidal tent after the 45th's seventy-two days on the line, smoking and waiting for the Coleman stove to boil the water in a number-ten coffee can. Hank is gonna make real coffee from real ground coffee he's scrounged from the cooks, not the powdered piss we'd been poisoning ourselves with up there on the front.
I thought I'd finish the cigarette and then put the coffee in and pour in a half a canteen o' cold water around the edge to settle the grounds. This replacement, Jim Buckley, about six feet two, had swiped a loaf o' bread from the kitchen and is down on his hands and knees, and his foot keeps creepin' back toward the stove, and I'm watchin' it like I'm enchanted.
Next I know, the can tips off an' lands within inches o' my crotch an' burns the hell outta me, both legs but mostly on the bottom. I jump up an' pull my pants off, an' my buddy Vern Dilks is layin' over on his sack laffin' an' laffin' an' says, "Well, I didn't know you was hurt, and it was damn funny, you tryin' to get your pants off!" 1
So I went to the Medics. The only guy on duty was a dentist, an' he put some thick ointment on my legs an' wrapped 'em tight with gauze. Ambulance to the field hospital, then the hospital train to the general hospital in Naples. They carried me on the litter up to the fourth floor, an' the guy says, "Your bed's over there." So I got off an' walked over, an' he says, "If you could walk why the hell didn't ya tell us?" Never dawned on me.
Video of author and Dr. Jonathan Shay discussing the effects of PTSD on the creative process
Chapter 16: Dachau complete text and audio, with author and buddies' voices, now online
Chapter 6 complete text and audio, with author and buddies' voices
Chapter 5 complete text read by author, with buddies' voices