It was a quiet, lazy spring day -- the date was 11 May, but it was no
different from any other day on that front.
Scarlet fields of poppies nodded and bobbed in a faint breeze -- smoke
pots at the Minturno Bridge drifted their haze across the valley -- an
incoming shell punctuated the stillness now and then with a muttering
South of Minturno, the "Vampire Platoon" -- so named because they'd
bivouacked in a cemetery,
sleeping by day and gliding about the front by night -- made last
checks of their equipment, slept a little, wrote letters or talked idly
about the job ahead of them.
Daylight faded, and dancing stars winked across a clear sky. A dog
howled somewhere, its cry echoing over the silent valley. Forsythia
drenched the night air with a nostalgic perfume. The minutes crept
on -- it was 2230 hours. And then -- 2245 -- 2255.
It was 2300 hours -- H-Hour of D-Day.
A solid, leaping sheet of flame shattered the darkness as the greatest
concentration of Allied artillery since El Alamein roared sudden death
into German lines. From coast to coast along that long-dormant front,
uncounted tons of steel spat from the throats of hellishly-roaring
American, English, French, Canadian and Polish guns.
And silently, quickly, from their sangers and dugouts, the men of the
88th took their first few steps on what was to be a long and bloody and
bitter trail -- began doing the job for which they had been trained so
well, began making battle history.
Stunned at first by the ferocity of the barrage, the Germans
nevertheless were swift to react and poured a murderous hail of mortar
and small arms fire down the slopes at the advancing doughboys,
battering at their sector of the Gustav Line.
There was no stopping that initial surge, and in less than 51 minutes
Mt. Damiano (Hill 413) key to the defenses of Castelforte and a height
Lt. Gen. Clark had once boasted could be taken whenever the 88th
desired, had fallen to the 350th Infantry Regiment.
"Flame shattered the darkness"
Capture of Damiano, or Cianelli, passed almost unnoticed in news
dispatches at the time, but it was described later as one of the most
outstanding operations in the initial assault on the Gustav Line. Its
seizure covered the flank of the French Corps on the right and enabled
the French to crack through the bottleneck that was Castelforte.
As the 350th mopped up on Damiano, the 351st butted against the
stone wall that was Santa Maria Infante -- pivotal point in the Gustav
Line and the first real testing ground for the 88th.
With tanks, which knocked out 21 German machine guns in the first
few hours, the 351st jumped off for Santa Maria with the 2nd Battalion
in the lead. A hell of small arms, machine gun and mortar fire caught
the doughboys as they started up the rocky slopes. Company "E" led
the assault on the
right, Company "F" on the left and Company "G" was held in reserve.
Early on 12 May, Company "F" overcame resistance from Hill 130 and
continued its advance up the terrain-feature known as "the tits," on
line with Company "E." Its commander wounded, Company "E" was
held up on the "spur." When his radio was knocked out by shell fire, Lt.
Col. Raymond E. Kendall, Bn. CO, moved up to determine the cause of
the delay and assumed command of Company "E" on arrival. Spotting
two machine guns, Lt. Col. Kendall led a platoon in an attack on one of
This gun was knocked out, and Lt. Col, Kendall then swung the
company to the right under heavy mortar and machine gun fire.
Moving up to the right of "the tits," the outfit was stopped again by
machine guns firing from the flanks and front. Again Lt. Col. Kendall
took off -- this time with a squad from the 2nd platoon, and started for
the gun which was firing from a position in a stone house to the right.
First building up all the fire power possible, and joining in the fire fight
himself with a carbine, bazooka, BAR and M-1 with anti-tank grenades,
Lt. Col. Kendall then led the final assault on the building. As he pulled
the pin on a hand grenade, he was hit by machine gun fire from the
left flank, receiving mortal wounds.
An artillery liaison officer, 1st Lt. Pat G. Combs of the 913th,
reorganized the company after the death of Lt. Col. Kendall and
personally led the doughboys as they attacked and silenced three
machine guns. He then ordered part of the unit to dig in while he and
the remainder drove forward to capture the "spur."
Company "E" then pushed on into Santa Maria, but was driven back by
a strong counterattack. Company "F" forged ahead on the left and
reached a position near Tame. Supporting tanks were unable to get
through because of mines and Nazi SP guns.
At 0515 hours, 12 May, the 3rd Battalion, commanded by youthful Maj.
Charles P. Furr of Rock Hill, S.C., was ordered to pass through the 2nd
to keep the attack moving. The 3rd jumped off at 0730 hours for Hill
172, was held up for a time by fire from Hill 103, but continued the
Another German counterattack forced Company "E" to withdraw, and
Company "F" quickly was isolated and surrounded. Attempts to reach it
Going forward to check on the supply situation, Capt. Charles E.
Heitman, Jr., Fort Myers, Fla., found "E" and "G" practically
disorganized, badly cut up and with "E" minus its commander. Taking
over "E," Captain Heitman outlined a plan of attack with 1st Lt.
Theodore W. Noon, Jr., of Belmont, Mass., Company "G" commander,
who insisted on sticking despite wounds. To complete coordination with
the 85th Division on the left, the attack was delayed until 1700 hours,
When "E" and "G" kicked off at 1700 hours, Lieutenant Noon had
recovered sufficiently to lead his men. Hours later, and then only on
direct orders, did he turn himself in for treatment. Captain Heitman,
with the 1st platoon of "E," moved up on two machine guns. In a
struggle which lasted almost two hours, he killed four grenade-
throwing Jerries and knocked out two guns before being wounded.
Late on the 13th, with no word having been received from Company
"F" in 24 hours, Colonel Champeny ordered a new "F" to be formed
from the remaining companies of the 2nd Battalion.
The 1st Battalion, ordered to attack at 1600 hours, was taken over by
Colonel Champeny when the battalion commander was separated from
the outfit while on reconnaissance. And stern, graying Colonel
Champeny proved himself to his men as they lay pinned down under a
barrage. Standing erect, apparently unmindful of the shells falling in
his vicinity, the Colonel calmly directed operations -- shouted words of
encouragement to his bewildered doughboys.
"-- To Santa Maria"
"It was magnificent." said Larry Newman, International News Service
correspondent. "We wanted to lay down and stay there -- but with the
'old man' standing up like a rock, you couldn't lay down. You were
ashamed to. Something about him just brought you right up to your
feet. The guys saw him too -- they figured if the 'old man' could do it,
so could they. And when the time came, they got up off the ground and
started on again to Santa Maria."
Early on the 14th, the 1st Battalion took Hill 109 after considerable
resistance which included traversing an extensive mine-field and
beating off a strong enemy counterattack. Its flank wide open through
failure of the 338th Infantry to take Hill 131 on schedule, the battalion
left the regimental zone and took 131 itself.
With opposition now in its final stages, the 2nd Battalion moved on
Santa Maria from the right and the 3rd Battalion drove up the
Minturno-Santa Maria road. The town was occupied by 1000 hours and
engineers followed on the heels of the infantry, clearing rubble froth
the streets with bulldozers.
On arrival of the 351st in force, the mystery of missing Company "F"
was solved when Pfc. Frank Cimini of Northampton, Mass., and two
other men emerged from a culvert in the vicinity of Tame where they'd
been forced to hide more than two days to avoid capture.
Company "F," in the first attack, advanced so rapidly it soon was far
out in front of the regimental
lines. Cut off when the Krauts counterattacked and forced "E" to
withdraw, the men of "F," though surrounded, held out for more than
30 hours, Cimini related. Finally, the Krauts resorted to an old trick --
but it worked. Several Krauts stumbled down the hill towards the
company lines, hands in, the air and yelling "Kamerad." As the men of
"F" rose to capture them, other Germans closed in from the rear and
flanks. Five officers and 50 enlisted men were taken -- only three
escaped to live and tell the story.
In the first days of the push, the 88th Recon Troop made its bid for
glory with capture of Mt. Cerri by a 13-man patrol. During the months
of the "quiet war," Recon patrols up the Ausente Valley always had met
fire and resistance from Cerri, and 2nd Lt. Laurence "Cookie" Bowers of
Grand Island, Neb., swore that some day he'd "get the Krauts on that
Shortly after 0200 hours, 14 May, Lieutenant Bowers and his little
group of dismounted cavalrymen "busted through" Kraut defenses to
the top of the hill, originally listed as a 350th battalion objective.
When the 350th chugged up at dawn, the patrol turned over the
newly-won ground to the doughboys and went back to their outfit.
Action in the 350th sector had been much more favorable. The advance
was swift and resistance was quickly overcome. By morning of the
12th, Hill 316 and Mt. Ceracoli were taken, and at 1320 hours Brig.
Gen. Kendall, who was directing operations of all units in the Damiano
area, reported that Ventosa had fallen, thus completing action in the
first phase by the 350th.
One of the highlights came when an entire German battalion was
caught in its assembly area by a TOT barrage from the 337th, 358th,
339th and 913th Field Artillery Battalions -- observers later said there
was no describing the scene of death and destruction at the impact
The 349th, held back as a reserve striking force, sent its 1st Battalion
to occupy its 1st Phase positions. These positions, involving a limited
advance, were occupied by 0030 hours, 12 May and the regiment
awaited further orders. On the afternoon of the 14th, the 1st Battalion
jumped off for Mt. Bracchi -- occupied it with Companies "A" and "B" by
Santa Maria Infante
But with Santa Maria fallen, the German Gustav Line was smashed --
the Nazis, fighting desperately for time, began a general withdrawal,
prisoners, stumbling back through the rubble heaps that had been their
"impregnable" fortification, were dazed, bewildered -- glad to be alive,
amazed at the savagery of the attacks hurled at them so suddenly out
of the night. They had expected a spring drive -- it was inevitable that
there would be one. But they had not expected it so soon -- their
commanders had told them that 24 May was the Fifth Army D-Day.
They told PW interrogators that Yank troops -- 88th troops -- who
swarmed in on their positions were on top of them within seconds after
the artillery lifted.
And they said that those men, those bearded, dirty, tired, angry,
charging men with the blue cloverleaf insignia "fought like
"The attack came too soon"
Many of those men never lived to hear that
tribute from a beaten enemy -- many of them had been dazed and
bewildered and frightened also in the first hours of hell that marked
their first attack. But they took all the Krauts could throw at them --
and kept on going, until wounds or death had stopped their individual
Magnificently, they'd met -- and passed -- their first real combat
test. And, living or dead, those draftees had become soldiers -- soldiers
who "fought like devils."
The nodding poppy fields added new patches and splashes of red to
their scarlet blankets. The breeze still carried the sweet fragrance of
forsythia, but mixed with the flower odor was a new scent, the
unforgettable smell of the dead. The smoke pots at the Minturno Bridge
no longer covered the valley with haze.
And back in the Division cemetery at Carano, the notes for a book lay
in the new grave with Frederick Faust, killed in the first hour of the
push below Santa Maria lnfante.
UP FROM THE SOUTH
Pressing on after the retreating enemy, the 349th "Krautkillers"
bypassed the 351st at the rubble heap that had been Santa Maria, took
the Capo D'Aqua and at 2045 hours, 14 May reported its 2nd and 3rd
Battalions were advancing up Mt. La Civita from the rear while the 1st
Battalion drove up the forward slopes.
To the northwest of Civita, the 1st Battalion,
351st, took Mt. Passasera and wiped out a German pack artillery train
in the process. Continuing its drive to the northeast, the regiment
moved to cut off the Germans withdrawing from Spigno on 15 May,
then under direct assault by the 350th.
By 0830 hours on the 15th Spigno fell to the 1st Battalion, 350th, with
Brig. Gen. Kendall accompanying the troops into town, where they met
a patrol from 1st Battalion, 351st, in just a few minutes before. After
the fall of Spigno, the 350th became division reserve and the 351st
continued its attack to the west, captured San Angelo and on the 17th
had occupied Mt. Ruazzo.
The 349th Combat Team, attached to the 85th Division on 15 May,
assisted the 85th in its drive on Castellonorata.
Punching across the mountains, the 351st stabbed to within 800 yards
east of the Itri-Pico road before it was stopped by heavy enemy tank,
SP and machine gun fire. Casualties were high and ammo and water
ran low. Because of the terrain, artillery could not displace far enough
forward to take the enemy tanks and guns under fire.
Artillery Cubs dropped medical supplies, radios, rations and maps to
the 351st, forced to set up on Mt. Peretta and reorganize. Corps
artillery finally got the range and silenced the Kraut tanks -- later the
601st Pack Artillery arrived and went into position to support the
Detached from the 85th on 18 May, the 349th was ordered to drive for
Itri -- at 1500 hours, 19 May, the 1st Battalion moved into the wrecked
town behind General Sloan, clearing the buildings and streets of
snipers and rearguards left behind to
harass the Yanks. The advance of the 349th was so swift that 313th
Engineers, hacking out a supply road from Marinola to Itri, were only
half finished when word came to drop the project. Previously, the
engineers had cut jeep trails through rugged country from Spigno to
Marinola and from Guanello to Route 6.
Recovered from pneumonia which had hospitalized him for weeks, Brig.
Gen. Guy O. Kurtz returned on the 19th to assume command of the
division artillery. And arrived in time to learn of the 338th's "firing from
the hip" technique.
Pack-mules supply the doughs
Displacing forward on the road about one mile east of Itri, the 338th
was warned that the battalion Air OP had picked up considerable
activity on the west side of Itri. Immediately, Battery "B", Capt. John
G. Tillman, commanding, dropped
trails on two guns and started to fire through a fire direction center
established on the hood of a jeep. Other batteries went into position on
both sides of the road and remained in their improvised setup until late
next morning, their fire accounting for one Jerry tank, a 170-mm. gun
and more than two-score Jerries.
In general, the artillery situation in this phase became rather hectic --
not at all as outlined in the manual. The doughboys, with a full head of
steam, were chasing the Krauts so rapidly it was difficult for artillery to
keep the enemy in range. Outfits would displace, set up in a new area,
find that the doughfeet again had outdistanced them.
The Krauts, disorganized, wandered in small groups all over the hills,
bypassed by the infantry. Artillery batteries met sniper fire many times
and cannoneers became expert at patrol work -- on several occasions
new areas first had to be combed and cleared of snipers before the
guns could go into position.
Forward observers frequently found themselves doubling in brass and
leading infantry companies and platoons. Air OP s flew missions, not
only to spot targets, but to dump food supplies and maps to advanced
infantry elements far ahead of their ration trains. No longer could
artillery be classed as "rear echelon."
Because of the mountainous terrain, pack mules were used extensively
for supply purposes and despite several ambushes and sudden enemy
raids, the Division's 1,400 mules and more than 400 Italians and
soldier "mule-skinners" slogged doggedly across the peaks with their
"Sally of Berlin," on the air almost constantly as the 88th battled up
the peninsula, grew increasingly annoyed at the doughboys and as her
harassed countrymen lost more and more ground she aired a plaintive
complaint that the 88th soldiers were "a bunch of bloodthirsty
cutthroats" and "did not fight like gentlemen." Later the hysterical
voice added a couple of hearty cuss words as descriptive adjectives;
finally stuck to calling them "Blue Devils."
Brig. Gen. Kendall again took off frontwards -- this time on horseback,
startling doughboys and war correspondents alike as he galloped after,
and along with, the infantrymen. He shocked the Recon Troop at one
spot when he told a platoon leader to pretend his scout cars "were
Below Fondi he joined combat engineers in a fire-fight with ambushing
Krauts -- later took personal affront at a Kraut sniper who fired at him.
Stalking the sniper, Brig. Gen. Kendall bagged him and dragged three
more "supermen" out of a nearby house before he calmed down. His
front-line prowling became almost legendary and the doughboys grew
accustomed to seeing his one star with them, or up ahead with the
Scauri, Gaeta and Formia fell -- and the 85th drove for Terracina. On
the right flank of the 88th, 10,000 Goums -- held back until Castelforte
and surrounding heights fell -- poured through the hills in delirious
pursuit of the Nazis, shooting them by day and by night slipping quietly
among them for a little knife-work.
Slugging north from Itri, leading dements of the 349th with Maj. Gen.
Sloan in the foreground, were fighting in the southern outskirts of
key point in the Hitler Line -- on the afternoon of 20 May, the 350th
following closely in its wake. With capture of Fondi at 2200 hours, the
349th drove on for Mt. Passignano, took it and assembled in that area
on the morning of the 21st.
The 350th, moving through Fondi, attacked at dawn 21 May to the
northwest, the 1st and 2nd Battalions being committed in the drive
against Mt. Casareccio and Mt. Martino, both of which were taken late
on the 21st. The 351st jumped off on 20 May from its assembly area
near Mt. Grande and by the morning of the 21st had seized Mt.
German planes were active in this phase and on the 24th, the 788th
Ordnance Company was bombed and strafed heavily, resulting in death
of three men and wounds to 14 others. The night before, the Division
Rear Echelon at Casanova suffered its first casualty when seven bombs
were dropped on the outskirts of town -- fragments ripping through a
tent killed one member of the APO staff.
Opening of the beachhead drive on 23 May was joyful news to tired
doughboys of the 88th -- junction of the southern Fifth Army front with
the beachhead on 25 May was a terrific morale booster. Though not
officially in on the junction, the 88th was represented unofficially when
Capt. James A. Flanagan, Asst. G-2; Lt. Milton A. Blum, G-2 Office, and
Lt. Wolfgang Lehmann; PW interrogator, took off in a jeep piloted by
Sgt. Egar Clark, correspondent for The Stars and Stripes.
"Baby" is a 60-mm. mortar
On the former beachhead, the quartet had tea (?) with the
commanding general of the 5th British Division -- the outfit the 88th
relieved when it
first went into the Minturno sector -- then made the return trip to the
CP where they explained their absence to "the Chief of Staff and
relayed congratulatory messages from the 5th.
After regrouping in the Monsicardi-Delmonte area, the 349th continued
its advance northwest, taking Mt. Rotondo, and later, Mt. Alto and Mt.
Della Salere -- the 350th meanwhile jumping off for Roccasecca dei
In the drive for Roccasecca, the 2nd Battalion ran into stiff resistance
in the valley south of San Boggio -- the Krauts pouring in heavy fire
from the hills on both sides. On the 24th, the 1st Battalion occupied
Roccasecca dei Volsci - 10 miles ahead of Fifth Army lines -- and the
3rd garrisoned the high ground overlooking the town.
On 27 May, 2nd Battalion, 349th, was advancing
northwest towards its objective of Mt. San Martino and as security,
sent Company "E," its leading element, to establish a road block on the
road running north from Maenza, a small town to the west of the
battalion objective. Company "F," commanded by 1st Lt. Paul R.
Behnke, encountered a German Panzer Company retreating from the
town and the gleeful "Krautkillers" shot up three enemy half-tracks, 10
cycles and two jeeps before running out of ammunition-"F" held its
position during the night and made contact with the battalion next day.
Ordered to clear the Amaseno River Line, the 88th had accomplished
the task late on the 28th, was attached to IV Corps and shortly
thereafter, its front pinched out by the French and the beachhead
forces, the Division prepared to move on the 31st
to the new II Corps sector in the vicinity of Anzio.
The Road to Rome: May 11 to June 10
Released by Army censors for identification in news dispatches, the
88th was praised for its "magnificent record" by newspapers
throughout the United States-the New York Times summing
up the tributes with its own accolade that "the blue cloverleaf shoulder
patch has become a badge of honor to be worn proudly" by all who are,
or were, members of the 88th.
ALL ROADS AND CLAIMS
If the battle for Rome was tough-and it was--the battle to determine
identity of first troops in Rome was, in its way, tougher-and still is.
They're still arguing it but as far as the 88th is concerned, there's
no argument. The 88th will not claim "first in" but will simply state
the facts here and let the story stand by itself.
Bivouacked in the former beachhead area, the doughboys' half-hopes
for a rest were ended with news that the Army had turned and was
driving directly for the Eternal City. And from Maj. Gen. Geoffrey M.
Keyes, II Corps Commander, came word to the 88th that it had been
honored by a new assignment in the final drive for Rome-and that the
Corps Commander was confident it would be the first in.
On 2 June, having moved back into the line with the 3rd Division on
the right and the 85th on the left, the 88th attacked to the northwest
to capture the eastern entrance to Rome on Highway 6 and
cut off and destroy the retreating enemy. The 340th Infantry, minus
one battalion, was attached to the 3rd Division for this operation and
the remaining battalion was sent with the Howze Task Force. The 351st
was directed to attack northwest, protect division flanks and maintain
contact with the neighboring division and with the 350th until that unit
advanced abreast of the 351st. In support of the 351st was the 752nd
Widening an initial narrow sector, 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 351st
cleared the towns of Carchitta and San Cesareo and at 1630 on the
2nd, cut Highway 6. After reorganizing, they established road blocks on
Highway 6 and parallel routes.
In the assault on San Cesareo, the 1st Platoon of Company "G," which
was acting as advance guard for the 2nd Battalion, ran into enemy
resistance. During the action, a tow-haired youngster from Virginia had
a field day when he made seven bazooka rockets count for as many
German vehicles and upwards of 60 Nazis.
The youngster was Pfc. Asa Farmer of Isom, Va., who was at the head
of his platoon column when the fleeing Nazi vehicles were spotted. He'd
never fired his bazooka in combat before but when someone yelled "let
'em have it," he swung into action, scored a direct hit with his first
shot. After that, targets loomed in quick succession at the road
block -- calmly and accurately, Farmer and his bazooka paced the platoon.
When it was all over, a tally revealed that Farmer himself had knocked
out two half-tracks, a light tank and four German jeeps -- the platoon as
a unit bagged 22 Kraut conveyances before sundown.
Another Virginian, 1st Sgt. Paul N. Eddy of Crewe, Va., distinguished
himself near Monte Proziocatini when he killed five and captured eight
of the vaunted Hermann Goering Division, put three enemy machine
guns out of commission and neutralized an enemy mortar and crew,
thereby enabling his company to advance.
Enemy air braved the skies over rear areas in futile attempts to cut
supply lines and block reinforcements as Nazi foot-soldiers struggled to
get away. The 313th Medical Battalion clearing station was a target for
six bombs and several strafing runs the night of 1-2 June; a direct hit
on an admission tent killed nine, wounded others.
Moving now astride Highway 6 on a 3,000 yard front, the 351st drove
for vital bridges over the Aniene River. The town of Colonna was
partially bypassed by the 3rd Battalion and the regimental staff, with a
portion of the I and R platoon, officially captured the town-were
treated to a preview of a Rome welcome when civilians broke out
hidden stores of wine for the dusty and tired men of the "Spearhead"
At Colonna, eight Division MP's who "wanted action" took off with Lt.
Walter R. Glass of Dexter, Kan., on a combat patrol-bagged 18
Germans before calling it a day. With Lieutenant Glass on his round-up
were Cpl. William A. Stewart of Oklahoma City, Okla.; Pvt. Ronald
Ware, Navasota, Tex.; Sgt. Sidney Gabin, Bayonne, N. J.: Sgt. Carmine
Romano, The Bronx, N. Y.; Pvt. Jesse Brown, Memphis, Tenn.; Pvt.
Xenephon Simitacolos, Canton, O.; Pvt. Robert Mahaffey, Rudolph, O.,
and Pvt. Emanuel Holtzman, N. Y.
"Blue Devils" smash into Rome
Securing the bridges over the Aniene River, the 351st was ordered to
halt in place. Dawn's light on the 4th disclosed the unscarred buildings
of Rome some 4,000 yards away-the regiment was impatient to close
Now began the final foot-race. The 350th had been directed to
overtake the 351st, pass through it and continue the attack. Loath to
be overtaken, Colonel Champeny had pressed
on -- -- not exactly
disobeying orders, he nevertheless saw to it that his doughboys hit a
pace fast enough to out-distance the 350th. Early on the 4th, the 351st
was ordered by Maj. Gen. Sloan to push forward at once with one
motorized battalion along Highway 101, enter Rome, and seize
important bridges over the Tiber River.
Before the take off, however, word came that a six-man patrol from
the 3rd Platoon, 88th Reconnaissance Troop, had entered Rome at
0730 hours on Highway 6. This patrol later was credited, officially,
by Fifth Army as being the first Allied troop element to enter
Rome. This is its story.
The 3rd Platoon had fought its way to within two miles of Rome. There
it halted and the patrol was dispatched to reconnoiter the road ahead.
Shortly before 0730 hours the lone jeep, moving forward cautiously,
passed the "Roma" city limits sign and proceeded for about a kilometer
and a half to a small railroad station from which point a Kraut machine
gun opened up on the patrol.
Sensing the immediate danger and because their orders called for it,
the patrol retraced its route and Staff Sgt. John T. Reilley of Watervliet,
N.Y., reported to his platoon leader that he'd been in Rome. Cpl. Cassie
W. Kuemin of Detroit, Mich.; T-5 Roy T. Cutler of Moweaqua, Ill.; Pfc.
John E. Cottrell of Rochester, N.Y.; Pfc. Matthew J. Fitzpatrick of
Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Pfc. Michael J. Regan of North Bellmore, Long
Island, N.Y.; confirmed Reilley's report and "damned the Kraut
machine gun which had spoiled everything."
At 1500 hours the 3rd Platoon, attached to the 1st Special Service
Force, moved into Rome and raced through the city to secure certain
bridges over the Tiber River.
Back at Division CP. staff officers turned hand-springs -- Maj. Gen.
Sloan beamed proudly. His men had "made it -- and first."
But the struggle was not yet over. Moving up Highway 101, paced by a
Recon platoon, the
regimental I and R platoon and Company "C," motorized, the 351st ran
into considerable German resistance from a strong point about one
mile east of the city, just north of the suburb of Centocelle.
Detrucking, the doughboys deployed and took up the challenge. In the
ensuing action, 1st Lt. Trevlyn L. McClure, I and R platoon leader from
Greensboro, N.C., was wounded several times but continued to lead his
men until caught and killed by cross-firing enemy machine guns. Less
than 24 hours before, McClure had led his platoon in routing 50
Germans from a strong point -- killing 16, wounding six and capturing
four -- and shortly after had captured an enemy tank and an ammo
truck, exploits for which a DSC, posthumous, was awarded.
Overcoming the last-ditch resistance, the 1st Battalion, plus several
TD's and three tanks, swept on into Rome -- arrived in the city at
1530 hours and reported itself as the first infantry, in force, to make
Toiling along up Highway 6, a motorized battalion of the 350th, one
battery of the 338th Field, one company of the 313th Engineers and a
provisional battery of six 105-mm. self-propelled guns from the 752nd
Tank Battalion, all under command of Lt. Col. Walter E. Bare Jr.,
Muskogee, Okla., battered its way through Jerry rear guards and
crossed city limits on the Via Palestrina shortly before 1730 hours.
Once in, it was joined by Italian Partisan troops who aided the
doughboys in cleaning out snipers from buildings along the way.
The welcome was tremendous -- like nothing the doughboys ever had
expected or experienced.
In the suburbs, civilians poured out of their homes to greet the first
troops -- milled about the vehicles, ignored the sniper and return fire
which whizzed about their heads, cheered when a German tank was
hit, groaned when a Yank jeep went out of action, cried, whistled,
smiled, shouted, danced, sang, tossed flowers, poured wine and
champagne and finally by their sheer exuberance succeeded in doing
what the Germans hadn't been able to do since the kick-off --
temporarily stopped the "Blue Devils" cold in their tracks as they
welcomed "the liberators."
It was fantastic -- it was unbelievable -- but it was Rome, that first
Cheers for "the liberators"
Artillery units were fired on by Kraut small arms and machine
guns -- Battery "B" of the 339th was pinned down while moving into position
Rome; Division Artillery Headquarters found itself in the midst of a
firefight; and surprised cannoneers of the 913th rounded up 15 Kraut
PW's. The "red legs" were a defiant, proud lot as they hauled their guns
into new firing positions in the city.
The 913th was the first artillery battalion to fire from Rome after
occupying positions in the Villa Borghese early on 5 June, followed
shortly by the 338th, the 339th and the 337th. Division Artillery
Advance CP moved to the Villa Borghese at 0800 on the 5th but later
that day Brig. Gen. Kurtz moved the CP to the Ministry of War Finance
Building near the Milvio Bridge.
Division Headquarters and the CP of the 349th Infantry also set up in
the building -- Kraut artillery tossed a barrage at the area in mid-
afternoon, scored hits on a jeep and an apartment house across the
Stripped to the waist, and center of an admiring circle of signorinas,
artillerymen were never in better form as they pumped shells at enemy
columns and vehicles across the Tiber fleeing north along Highway 2.
The Romans cheered every round, youngsters fought for still-smoking
shell cases as souvenirs, wary parents eyed their daughters who, in
turn, eyed the artillerymen, who -- well, there still was a war on.
Weary doughboys plodded through crowd-jammed Rome streets, slept
on sidewalks and in doorways during short breaks, secured their bridge
and road objectives and pressed on over the river and up Highway 2
after an enemy they were unable to catch or to make stand and fight.
The 349th, held in place south of Rome after being pinched out by
the French, rode and marched through Rome on the 5th, detrucked
and deployed across the river to take up the pursuit again.
There were some who neither rode nor marched through Rome -- they
were the men who died on the outskirts, in the suburbs and in the
center of Rome itself from rearguard enemy sniper fire and who lay
crumpled and twisted in the pathetic shapes the newly-dead assume.
Over their silent heads, the delirious welcome celebration roared on
Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark, Fifth Army Commander, officially entered the
city on the morning of the 5th. Accompanied by Maj. Gen. Alfred M.
Gruenther, Fifth Army Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey M. Keyes, II
Corps Commander, and Maj. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott Jr., VI Corps
Commander, Lt. Gen. Clark's appearance touched off the celebration
again as the party toured city streets.
News of the invasion of France on the 6th was the climax -- the first
flash brought smiles to the faces of exhausted doughboys and a new
jag to an already happiness-saturated Rome.
Still pressing, the 88th Division was relieved on 10 June, culminating
an offensive advance of 109 airline miles in 31 days from Minturno,
including the rapid dash through Rome and across the Tiber from the
vicinity of Roccamassina to the vicinity of Bassanelio, a distance of 56
miles in eight days.
After a total of 100 straight days in the line, the "Blue Devils" put down
their guns, capped their mythical horns and headed back over the long
trail they had won - headed for Lake Albano.