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Gela Beach

An Interview with Randall Harris
1st and 4th Ranger Battalions

The Invasion of Sicily was spearheaded by two Ranger assaults.   The 1st and 4th Rangers landed on Gela and the 3rd Battalion landed near Licata. Gela beach was a deadly and bloody affair not only was the beach heavily defended but many Rangers were killed crawling through a minefield.  Randall Harris, of the 4th Rangers, describes the assault.

When we got into the landing craft, the water calmed down considerably. Prior to this, when we first got into the mother ship, we had waves that were two stories high. But when we got into the landing craft, the water was almost mirror like; it was kind of eerie. As we started to get closer to the beach, there was a lot of light in the sky from flares and rockets that illuminated the sky. Every once in a while, the whole sky was lit up. Meanwhile, the landing craft next to us took a direct hit by an artillery shell snapping a cable that held up the landing craft ramp, flooding the boat instantly. The men were packed in there like sardines and they all went down with the boat. Only the coxswain survived; I helped pull him out.  For many years, I suppressed this memory thinking it was a dream, a lot happened that day, until I read a book, a few years ago, that described the incident. I remember when I got off the boat; I had been loaded down with my regular gear as well as 50-60 pounds of ammunition and supplies that we had to carry to the beach. It was about knee high when I got out, but I stepped into a shell hole and I went down about ten feet. All I could do was climb out. I finally was able to get my head above water and got out. We started to move onto the beach.

About one hundred yards on the beach, the mines started going off; we were right in the middle minefield. Men were being hit all around me. I was a First Sergeant at the time and the Company Commander, Walter Wojac, was in front of me. He got hit in the chest and he turned around and he looked at me and said to me, "Harry, I've had it." (He was the only person that called me Harry). I could see his heart hanging outside of his shirt as he crumpled to the ground, (pause). A couple seconds later, I got hit. My stomach opened up. It felt like I got hit with a baseball bat. I didn't feel much pain of any kind; I must have been in some form of shock. A handful of my intestines actually came out. I just picked up my web belt and used it to put everything back inside and I kept on going. I could see another one of my friends get hit. I managed to get through the minefield and get up on a dike that ran along the edge of the shore. It was probably about 15 feet high and flat on the top. When we got up on the dike, Andre saw the a row of pillboxs and said, "let's get 'em, Harry."  The pillboxes were situated facing the ocean and as soon as we got up on top of the dike we started to attack the pillboxes. Howard Andre and I took turns cleaning out the pillboxes. We were a team through the war. When I was a sergeant he was a corporal and when I was commissioned and became a CO, he was also commissioned and become my XO. He was later killed in Anzio. I would kick open the door and he would throw in a grenade. We would alternate and he would kick open the door and I would throw a grenade. We leapfrogged in this fashion and got about 12 in a row. Then down around the last pill box one of my men, Corporal Peter Deeb, came up and said, "has this pill box been emptied" and I said "no, you'd better look." Without knowing it at the time,  I had been sitting in front of the slit of the pillbox with a machine gun aimed at my back. The next thing I heard was the explosion of Deeb's grenade going off and him saying "there were a whole lot of   Italians inside the pill box with their hands up.

 

At this time, were you experiencing any pain?

No. I had too much to do to think about it.

So the next thing that happened was I put Howard in command of the Company and I took the prisoners back the cathedral in the town which was also an aid station.  I spent the next couple of months in a hospital recovering from my wounds but eventually went AWOL from the hospital to rejoin the Rangers. ** 

 

What are your thoughts about that experience now that you have had all these years to reflect on it?

(Editor's note: Harris, very quietly and in a humble manor, answered my question) It's kind of hard to say. We were trained to do a job and we got it done.

 


Sources:

Interview with Randall Harris by Patrick O'Donnell 1st & 4th Ranger Battalion

* Harris later received the DSC for this action
**When medics discovered how life threatening his wounds were he was evacuated to a hospital ship off shore.  He opted to stay awake during the operation which is later credited with saving his life.

 

 

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