Somewhere in Italy
During the fall of 1943, the majority of the units in the 82nd Airborne Division were pulled off the Italian front and were sent to England to prepare for the Normandy Invasion. However, Ruben Tucker's 504th Regiment, Wilber Griffith's 376th, and Hugh Neal's 456th Parachute Artillery (the three units constituting a combat team) would remain behind and fight as leg troops in the Italian mountains for several more months before linking up with the rest of the Division in England.
The author of the following V-mail is George Graves, a corporal in Headquarters Company of the 504 PIR. Prior to joining the 82nd, Graves was a stockbroker and graduate of Yale University. Graves, V-mail letter to his father describes several vignettes that occurred while the 504 battled Germans in the rugged Italian mountains.
I had a couple of experiences that I though you might be interested in, on my last two weeks in the thick of fighting at the front and I have a little extra time today. It is true that the Germans are taking it out pretty badly on the Italians whom they have under their control as they think they let them down by getting out of the war. They are more or less forced to live off the land and naturally take everything in sight including a lot of non-essential things. Our Regiment captured eight mountain villages which had just been evacuated by Jerry and the story was always the same with the populace saying the same thing about the Germans, "Tedeschi robatti tutti" (the German's have taken everything).
One incident was fairly amusing showing the stark fear the Italians have of the Jerries. We had recently captured three young Jerries in a wine cellar in a little village. Four English pilots who had been captured and held prisoner by the Italians for 18 months and had just reached our lines after hiding out in mountains and walking 44 days from XXXXXX (blacked out by the War time Censor). We were all laughing and joking with the Jerries when the owner came in and one of our boys who spoke good Italian started asking him why all his wine barrels were empty and asked if the Tedeschi stole it all. He took one look at the three Germans glaring at him and violently shook his head saying, No, No, No, they never stole a thing, and ran out of the place. The next day while going through a mountain pass a few shells hit fairly close to me and our Italian mule skinner took off like a scared rabbit and we never saw him again. A day or so later we shot up a Jerry OP and there was one badly wounded man left behind in a little rock farm house. He was shot in the neck, arm, and his left leg was broken. One of our medics patched him up the best he could, but while he was doing so some Italians come in with an ax and wanted to kill him off so when I arrived on the scene I thought I would spend the night with him as it was getting dark and raining. I made him some hot coffee which he couldn't keep in his stomach because of the morphine. He kept mumbling "mitt axen" and "Du bist gute". I asked him about the only German words I knew: "Haus minen?" Because I had seen people blown to bits by booby traps. He shook his head and I felt safer. While I was trying to keep this guy alive three Italians came in looked down in his face and seeing his German uniform, shouted something and spit in his face. I roared like a mad bull and grabbed my riffle, but before I could shoot the SOB, he disappeared in the dark.
This is just one example of what our XXXX (censor's mark) Italian allies are like. How Mussolini though he could conquer the world with a bunch like that beats the hell out of me. A little later that night one of our boys was brought in with a bullet hole through his leg and he was much more worried about the wounded Jerry than his own wound and kept giving him his own limited supply of cigarettes. All night long the Jerry 88's were shelling our men and it made me reflect some on the total stupidity of war, but as far as we were concerned it is a Gentlemen's War over here. The other day, one of our boys on patrol got shot, a German medic stayed behind with him, refusing to leave a wounded man and when the patrol came back the medic himself was shot in the shuffle with another German patrol, so they carried both of the guys back. We have air raids here about every night, and I have been in those stuffy air raid shelters with crying women and children kneeing down and praying and wondering how our folks back at home would take this if they had to endure it. I am very thankful that so far they haven't had to. I must stop now. I surely have had some memorable experiences in the last two months over here most of which I can't tell you about. I will soon be calling on our Jennet and Graves relatives as they should be in abundance. I always wanted to make such a visit.
Your loving son,