YOUR BATTLE NERVES GET RUSTY WHEN THERE’S A LULL BETWEEN CAMPAIGNS – SOLDIERS LAND IN ITALY AFTER A BREATHER FROM COMBAT

By Sgt. Jack Foisie

North African Stars and Stripes

WITH THE FIFTH ARMY IN ITALY [By Cable]—Even a week after the coastal road linking Battipaglia, Salerno and Maiori had fallen into Allied hands, the Germans were still spasmodically shelling it with 88s. Jeeps whose drivers and passengers had just landed in Italy dashed through the area like scared ducks, but Yanks and Tommies who had already undergone 10 days of shelling, mortaring and bombing took their own sweet time through the danger zones, pausing even for a heavy puff on a cigarette.

Not that the newcomers were rookies, entirely unused to business of being under fire. May of the guys who had just come ashore were veterans of battle, but they had not been in combat for a month or so, and to some extent they had to make the same kind of mental readjustment that is necessary for an untried campaigner.

“It takes me a few hours or even days to tune up my battle nerves,” explained one brown-haired jeep driver who had just come ashore from a landing craft. And he ducked ever so slightly as a 105 howitzer—one of our own—opened fire in a grove ahead of us.

A moment later he fell flat on his belly as an answering 88 kicked up a splatter of black explosive and dirt some distance up the beach.



wwii salerno invasion italy

A good haul. Pvt. Francis Squirlock of Olyphant, Pa., and Pvt. Daniel Schatz of Chicago, Ill., are holding up 88-mm shells captured on the Italian front while other GIs inspect the Nazi prime mover in the background.

“I wouldn’t have done that in Sicily,” he muttered sheepishly as he got up and brushed himself off. “Do you think I’ve lost my nerve, maybe?”

“No, I don’t think you’ve lost your nerve,” I replied also somewhat sheepishly, as I, too, got up and brushed myself off.

“Shall we try to get the jeep through now?”  he asked.

“Do you think we should?” I said. There was an embarrassing silence.

“It seems pretty quiet right now,” he said at last. But then an 88 tossed another shot into the area. The jeep driver broke into a hollow grin. “Once we make it to the highway, we’ll come under the protection of the cliff. Shall we try it?” The faithful jeep churned through the sand and reached the coastal road safely.

It was a straight stretch of road, lined on each side by stately poplars. At first glance the scene looked very peaceful, but on second glance it didn’t look peaceful at all. There were jagged cavities in the line of trees, where shells had broken off the tops of some of them, sheared away the foliage or uprooted their trunks.

Infantrymen moved cautiously in single file on each side of the highway. Coming toward us were a few Italians, burdened down by monstrous loads and staggering in panic through the shelled area trying to find some safe place.

As our jeep took off down the road, we automatically hunched low. “Even so, I feel like a beautiful fat target,” groaned the slim jeep driver. He pressed the gas pedal all the way to the floor board.

We plunged into a half-filled crater and the jeep almost overturned. A little later a solid blast of artillery fire made us stiffen, but then we realized it was our own guns. Then came the low siren and whistle of a shell headed our way. But the jeep driver just smiled, suddenly he knew that it was going to pass over our heads.

And then we were out of the danger zone. “How do you feel?” the driver asked.

“Okay,” I said, “and how do you feel? Think you’ve lost your nerve?”

“If I did, I’ve got it back again,” he said, like a reborn veteran.



wwii salerno invasion italy

The scarred pillars of a Greek temple at Paestum, Italy, give a classical setting to a U.S. Army field hospital

 For More Reading on the Salerno Invasion Check Out:

Fifth Army in Italy 1943–1945: A Coalition at War


Invasion Diary




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