By Sgt. E. C. Harris

YANK Field Correspondent

CAIRO, EGYPT—There were five of them in the bull session about the way the war was going in Italy, and they had a special reason for being interested. Just a couple of days ago, these Yank soldiers had been under fire on the Salerno beach head. Now they were recuperating from shrapnel wounds in an American base hospital. After emergency treatment by a British field medical unit, they had been evacuated to Cairo by ship and plane.

“It was kind of rough around there for a while,” said Pfc. Russell M. Taylor of Freehold, N.J. “We spent three days on the beach, unloading and digging in while the 88s up in the hills popped away at us. At night it was tanks. And whenever there was a lapse in our air cover, Jerry would be there too.”

“Over in our sector, we had hardly more than landed before a warning came that six tanks and German infantry were headed our way,” said M/Sgt. John Hockman, who lived in Alto, Ga., before he joined the Army nine years ago. “And when we started digging in, we discovered that the soil was about six inches deep, with solid rock underneath. Some fun.

wwii GI italian children

Cpl. John Chiola of Johnstown, Pa., finds a couple of pals in Italy who appreciate good Army chow.

“There was an irrigation ditch a little way off, and we hit it after leaving barbed wire in a field ahead of us. But the tanks never got that far. They were stopped cold and wiped out by our outer defenses.”

Pfc. Standley B. Laz of Albany, N.Y., was in this same group. “That was a helluva night,” he said. “So much noise I couldn’t sleep. That British artillery kept up a steady barrage; never heard anything like it. They sure quieted down those German 88s. But there were enough left to get a good bead on us the next morning.

“We were out chasing some cows around a field to get some milk to drink when things began to get pretty hot. We got orders to move to a better protected spot to set up our radio communications, but just as we were boarding the trucks, one gun above us in the hills found the range. A shell fell close to our truck and when we wiled out and began to disperse, another one caught us. That’s why Hockman and I are here.”

Hockman was waiting to be evacuated from the British field hospital when he saw a brief dogfight from the window. “Two Stukas came in out of the sun,” he said. “They began to dive, when suddenly several P-38s came out of a cloud and literally blew the Jerries to bits. I stood at the window and watched as though it were a movie.”

It was mortar fire from strategic rat-nests in the high ground overlooking the beaches that stopped Pfc. Charles I. Wolfe of Dublin, Ga. Supporting American ranger landing operations. Wolfe was in a squad assigned to dislodge the Germans from some of their machine gun and mortar nests.

With Wolfe was Pvt. John A. Rohrig, a former prize fighter from Clifton, N.J. “Hell, they figured I was a goner when they brought me in,” he grinned. “They didn’t know that a machine gun slug can’t stop a Jersey pug.” Rohrig’s medical chart show that attending British physicians gave him little chance to live, and wrote “amazing recover” after he proved them wrong.

Now Rohrig’s kidding his ward nurse, 2d Lt. Margaret Pound of Smithsburg, Md., and the officer-in-charge, Capt. William C. Fanley. “Forget the little bullet hole, Captain,” he says. “What can you do about remodeling this schnozzle of mine? It’s had some pretty rough treatment in the ring, and as long as I’m sitting this one out, I ought to get beautified at the same time.”

The Italians are glad their country is no longer fighting on the German side. “No doubt about it,” Taylor said. “The rank and file of the Eyeties, civilians and soldiers, are on our side. They gave us wine to drink, came and shook our hands and cheered when we came in, Italian soldiers would take our canteens and fill them with water or wine. We even had some of their officers doing voluntary guard duty.”

The Italian soldiers started slipping through the German lines under cover of night and heading for home as soon as the armistice was announced. They discarded their equipment and uniforms and pretended to be civilians.

“Never could tell who was friend and who was foe, though,” said Taylor. “When I was injured and waiting for help, a native came along and stopped to see what was wrong. He couldn’t speak English,  and I didn’t dare let him go on. I didn’t know whether he was for us or for the Axis. So I made him stay with me until his wife came along.

“I told her in sign language that I would keep him until she came back with help. In 10 minutes she was back with some Yank medical aid men.”

“I see where we’ve taken most of that high country where they were entrenched,” said Laz.

“I’d like to be there and watch our 105s pour shells down on the Jerries. We took it. I wonder if they can?”

For Further Reading Check Out:

Salerno 1943: The Allies invade southern Italy

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