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Dated:  17 Oct, 2006
Stories from Italian Front
Staff Sgt. Newton F. Cole
Lt. William Sullivan
& other veterans of 85th Division

   These stories were recorded many years after they happened, so the details could be blurred over time.  However, realize that these stories may have been told and re-told over the years.  For some veterans, the events remain as clear as the day they happened.   When these stories were told during the reunions, eveyone enjoyed some good laughs. I'm sure the incident was the least bit funny when you were there. So, that is why some of these appear to be humurous.  DO NOT think that they are intended to show disrespect by how I have related them.

   Whether they are funny or unbelievable, these stories are TRUE.  I know that some stories can get embellished, especially over the years.  But these were usually checked out with other witnesses or reference material and I am confident in their validity.

    Some stories are labeled as "anecdotal" or a narrative.  This usually implies that there is no substantiating data to validate their authenticity in every detail.  It is difficult to find documents or eye-witnesses to these stories.  That is why it is so difficult for soliders to receive an award 50 years after the war--most of the eye-witnesses and documents are gone.  I try to distinguish between stories and incidents verified by several eye-witnesses.

   These stories come from several sources.  The ones about my Dad are from the 1986 reunion of the 337th Infantry Regiment and attached units.  Some are from the reunion of the Polar Bear Assocation of the 339th Infantry Regiment held in October 2002 & 2004.  Others were submitted by email. Compare the names of people and places mentioned below with the info in the 328th FA Ops Reports .

     This is a page of stories and is not an official report. The official 328th FA Ops Reports are shown on a green background.

Check out the Photos from the Italian Front  & GI Biographies .

Menu Of Stories
  Minturno, Fondi & General Overview   Pisa
  General Organization & Intelligence   Pistoia to Prato
  Lt. Alonzo (or was it Lt. Tanzer) and  Lt. Kitz   Dad's Bronze Star
  Jeep Wreck at Yuma    Walter Jabs  Co. A, 339th Regiment
  North Africa Target Practice   Capture the Flag  Arriving Home with his flag
  River Crossing
  One Less Burp Gun
  { Itialics = My inputs }

         Minturno, Fondi and General Overview
     (Quoted from a letter written by my dad, Sgt Cole, after returning from a visit to Italy in 1972)

    "I went into combat at Tufo, about 4 miles North of Minturno in April 1944. 85th Division pushed off on May 11 at the German Gustav Line. It was tuff; going up hill all the way. The camera that I have was taken from a German sniper near Gata. It was real tuff at Itra, a small town in Mtns. Then we had some hard fighting at Fondi. The 85th was the first to reach Rome {other sources attribute that to 88th Division}. The Germans put a big scrap near Rome- the Hitler Line. We spent a month near Rome. Then we went into action again near Florence on the Arno River.

    The Appennine Mtns was rough. It was November about this time. We spent the winter in these mountains. In the Spring of 1945 we pushed off again crossing the Po River and into the Alps Mtns. The war ended on May 2, 1945, about 40 miles in Alps.

    I rode the train from Belluno to Rome after the war. Belluno is at the foot of Alps. I used the RR culverts several times for cover during war, especially at Minturno & Fondi. When, if, you go by train at Minturno, you will see large cemetery - that is where we had our 105 & I was at O.P.  The cemetery was not there then-- was built about a year after we moved on.

    Tufu - I was here about a month. Sgt Laross from Kansas and Sgt Duffy was killed here. They were some of our gun crews.

    Your Ma didn't like the plane ride at all."
    {Mom hated to fly.  She sat in her seat with her eyes closed the whole flight.}

       General Organization & Intelligence  (Letter from Sgt Cole to family dated Feb 1976)

    There were 17 men in my section;
                                        3 in survey,
                                        5 in radio,
                                        5 in wire telephone lines,
                                        2 jeep drivers,
                                        1 office, mail, etc.
    After I got battery surveyed in and laid, I would go to the O.P.{Observation Post} and direct fire for 328th Battalion.

    Sgt Davis, phones; Sgt. Eddie, radio; Cpl. Bower, Inst Operator; PFC Border, recorder

    I was chemical warfare NCO. Also worked with G-7. This is the spy people. No one in battery knew I was working with them; not the Battalion Commander or my boss, Lt. Sullivan.

    I knew where & who the people spies were. All the Red Cross people in the Enemy prisons were trained in spy work and all were to help prisoners to escape. I had a silk map of all German POW Camps sown inside my field coat. Also I had a compass on a button of my coat. You pulled the tip of a button and there was a compass. Also had a lead pencil; take the holder of the pencil, put on point of pencil, it would point North.

    If anyone in the battery were captured, I was to give up and go with them and help them to escape. The best time to escape is before you get where you are going (or before you get handed over to a POW detention camp).

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       Lt. Alonzo Fall before Florence          (Lt. Kitz story follows)
          (My research has identified the seriously wounded officer as Lt. Tanzer)

    A patrol was out at the front lines and they stopped to eat. Suddenly Germans starting firing on them. They ran for cover to a nearby haystack. The Germans fired into the haystack. Bullets were flying everywhere; bouncing off helmets.

    When it stopped, Lt. Alonzo had been hit 5 times. They knew he was dead so one took his dog tags, Dad took his binoculars and maps and another took his .45 pistol. They returned to their lines and reported the Lieutenant as killed in action and the clerk filled out the papers.

    Two months later, Lt. Alonzo walked into the Command Post to say goodbye and pick up his personal belongings. His belongings had been mailed home and when they had taken up the Lieutenant's bedroll and discovered his whiskey(2) ration stashed away. After they told the Lieutenant about this, he said, "A man can't be gone 2 months, and they drink up his whiskey ration".

 Good story but my Dad had the wrong officer.
   Quote from 328FA Operational Report:  "On the 8th of October we were notified that our Baker Forward Observer, Lt. Tanzer, was missing. A later report stated that he was found wounded in action and evacuated (the second of our forward observers to be wounded)."

{ Recently, I made email contact with Bill Dempsey, the son of Captain Bill Dempsey of Battery C, 328th FA.  Bill said his Dad and Mom were good friends with Lt. Alonzo after the war.  His Mom was surprised to hear about Lt. Alonzo's close call.  From this contact, I have confirmed that the officer was not Lt. Alonzo, as Lt. Alonzo was not seriously wounded and did not serve with Battery B.  I've recently talked to Mr. Alonso and he said he made it through the war without being wounded, only to injure his back while loading equipment to go home.  He spent about 10 days in the hospital.}    {Now, I'm in contact with Lt. Walter Tanzer and his son.  The above story seems to match Lt. Tanzer's experience.   Lt. Tanzer was a Forward Observer for Battery B.  In October 1944, he was wounded when a bullet entered his left shoulder, traveled under his spine and blew out his right shoulder.  Lt. Tanzer said he fell into a pile of hay or more precisely a manure pile.  The Ops Reports for 328FA state that Lt. Tanzer was reported missing in action but later found to be wounded.  After 6 months in the hospital, Lt. Tanzer was assigned to the Intelligence Office as a German interpreter.  This is still be researched. Also, see the certificate for Lt. Tanzer's Silver Star, further down on this page.}

Here is the certificate for a silver star awarded during this time of the fighting.   
Lt. Tanzer's certificate describes several enemy attacks that were repelled with artillery.

Silver Star Award

    WALTER L. TANZER, (01165797), First Lieutenant, Field Artillery Battery “B, 328 Field Artillery Battalion, United States Army. For gallantry in action on 2 and 3 October 1944, in Italy. When the company to which he was attached as a forward artillery observer reached its objective, found itself surrounded by enemy infantry and tanks under heavy fire from mortars, artillery, and machine guns, Lieutenant TANZER courageously established an observation post and set up his radio to direct fire upon the tanks.  Thourghout the day, he continually exposed himself to direct enemy fire to observe the effect of the friendly fire and return to his radio to adjust fire on other targets.  After greatly assisting in the repelling of two heavy counterattacks during the day, he repelled a third attack during the night, almost entirely with artillery fire.  The folowing day, despite the continuing enemy fire, he remained in his observation post, and although slightly wounded, continued to adjust highly accurate fire upon the enemy, greatly assisting the holding of this vital hill feature.  Entered the military service from Brooklyn, New York.                                      
                                                        Headquarters 85th Infantry Division                                                          AG 300.4 AG-21                                                          General orders No. 8
                                                         APO #85, U.S. Army
                                                         4 February 194


         Lt. Kitz   (front row in Battery B group photo next to Capt. Armstrong)

    Once they were out in the field and walking to their position. Lt. Kitz and another man was whistling and talking. Sgt Cole told them they needed to be quiet. Soon he heard the sound of bees over their heads. Sgt Cole informed Lt. Kitz that the Germans were shooting at us.  They ran and jumped in tall grass.

    On another occasion, Lt. Kitz said he had to go report to infantry HQ - probably because the shooting got too hot where they were. On his way back to HQ, he was hit in the hand and lost a finger. He returned to the unit.

        Pisa  - Pushing forward outside of Pisa, between Pisa and Florence.

    They were south of the Arno River and the Germans were north. They were firing 5 miles on a windy days. (Division HQ sent up weather balloons called "Miff-Miff".)

    Each night they would change positions along the east-west river, but they left their camouflage nets in position. The Germans thought more artillery had been moved up. Sgt Cole could see the Leaning Tower of Pisa from his observation post and could see the Germans using it for their O.P.   One day, dad saw 2 camels grazing near the Leaning Tower. They reasoned the Germans brought them with them from North Africa.

    Dad could spot the railroad depot in town. One day he saw a railroad car with several people standing around it. The town was being bombed by Air Corps bombers. The next morning he saw that same railroad car lying upside down on TOP of the railroad depot.

    Also, outside Pisa, they were digging a latrine and dug up some sugar, olive oil and very good wine.   Davis got drunk on the wine and so did the guards.

  {Leon Wechkstein related in his book "Through My Eyes" how he was given orders to call an artillery fire onto the Leaning Tower of Pisa if he saw any signs of German activity in the tower.  Luckily, he didn't spot anything.  He was a forward observer with divisional artillery of the 91st Infantry Division.}

        Pistoia to Prato   (This town is where we get the word "pistol" from.)

    They fired from this road for several months.  They were sent to Lucca at Christmas time to support the 92nd Buffalo Division. The Germans launched an attack against the new division made up of black troops in December of 1944.  Dad told of meeting them retreating from the front without their rifles.  From this mountain position during winter stalemate in 1944-1945, Sgt. Cole said he could see Bologna, which had a big church on the edge of town. At night he could see car lights on the road north of the city, but it was well beyond the range of their guns.

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         North Africa Target Practice  - Prior to landing in Italy

    The 328th Field Artillery Battery were training by firing live rounds at a feature on an island off the coast of North Africa. Sgt Cole called "3000 yards left and 200 yards up". In correcting the distance, Cole was implying the shell missed its target more than 1/2 a mile! Col. Barton said "Cease fire!" because he believed Sgt. Cole was calling fire incorrectly. Capt. Armstrong told the Colonel to fire it as Sgt. Cole had called. The next round hit the target dead on.

    Sgt Cole had looked at a map & knew that the first round nearly missed the whole island and the map helped him judge the distance to correct the next shot. The Colonel didn't have a map and apparently had mis-judged the size of the island. The Colonel never questioned Sgt. Cole's fire missions again.

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        River Crossing ( by Lt. Sullivan, during 337th Infantry Regiment reunion.)

    I had orders to meet with an armored column and we were going to advance across a river on a rail road bridge. That morning I gathered my Forward Observation group together and moved to the railroad and proceeded up the railroad bed to the bridge. We reached the bridge and so, we milled around to wait for the armor that was to rendezvous with us.

    Suddenly, a shell hit the railroad on one side of us. Then another hit to the other side of us. Being a Forward Observer, I knew exactly that meant one thing; someone was ranging in on OUR POSITION. So we scattered and hide in the ditches and river banks. Then machine gun fire opened up from across the river.

    Hearing tanks I looked back down the railroad were we had come and saw American tanks. THEY were the ones firing at us! And this was the armored column that was supposed to rendezvous with them.

    After we got things calmed down and under control, I realized my mistake. I was supposed to meet our tanks at the railroad and then together we were to proceed to the river, which was held by Germans. Lt. Sullivan jumped off a bit too early without his tanker buddies.

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        Smokestack (unknown location - I wish I knew )

    As the Allied position was moving forward, an infantry Colonel relayed an order to the artillery that he wanted a smokestack shelled and destroyed as it was a likely place for an enemy sniper or artillery observer to hide. The smokestack was used by the town or a local factory and was very tall and well built.  Battery B began a fire mission to knock down the huge brick smokestack.

    However, each 105mm shell that hit the base of the smokestack only bounced off. A direct hit at the top of the smokestack would dislodge a brick or two, but the top was smaller and a much harder target to hit. The battery kept trying. The smokestack kept winning.

    After many rounds fired at it, the mission was canceled. Most of the town behind the chimney was destroyed but the smokestack still stood. GI's estimated that they fired off $25,000 worth of ammo at that thing.

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          One Less Burp Gun

    The patrol stopped for a lunch break in the field. (I assume this group probably consisted of a few artillery forward observers going along with a patrol of infantrymen.)  One of the new recruits had picked up a German "Burp Gun" and he was trying to hit some targets he had set up.
  After a few minutes of this, an experienced sergeant got up from his C-Rations and walked over to the private.  Without saying a word he took the Burp Gun and went over to a large rock and smashed the gun to pieces.  Then, the Sergeant calmly went back to eating his C-Rations.
    The Sergeant did not particularly like the sound of the notorious gun that dealt death to many of his comrades.

        [The German MP-40 machine pistol fired at a high rate of speed.  Pull the trigger and hold for 3 seconds and you would hear a "Br-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-rp" and the 60-round clip was empty.  Thus its name; Burp Gun.]

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      Jeep Wreck at Yuma

    After basic training in Camp Shelby, MS and field maneuvers in Louisanna, the 85th Division went to Yuma, CA for desert warfare training.  The Allies at this time was still fighting Rommel in the deserts of North Africa.
    As part of the exercise, the 328th Field Artillery was moving in a convoy through the desert.  During a long drive, the convoy was required to pull off to the side of the road and rest for 10 minutes during each hour. The 328th Field Artillery used Jeeps as well as command cars(which Sgt. Cole sometimes referred to as a Jeep).  Sgt Cole's section parked their radio-equiped command car off the road and waited.  The driver was watching his watch for the end of the rest period.  One minute to go……45 seconds…..30 seconds…..10 seconds….Then comes the command, "Pull out".
     About that time, a vehicle from another unit was trying to take advantage of the cleared road and was barreling down the past the parked convoy. When the command was given to "Pull Out", Sgt. Cole's car pulled in front of this on-coming vehicle.  Wham!
     After the dust settled, they found Sgt. Cole lying in the sand.  He was dazed and kept asking "Where is my .45 pistol?"   When he came to his senses, he was in a hospital bed.  Sgt. Cole never liked hospitals so, he got out of bed, started to dress and told the nurse he was leaving.  She protested-- but to no avail.   Sgt. Cole proceeded to the clerk's desk to get the necessary discharge papers.  The volunteer clerk at the desk was none other than Robert Mitchum, the actor*.
{ I've tried to research Mitchum's career and determine if he was a volunteer at this time.  Based on the films listed below, he appeared to be too busy to have time for anything else.}

*Robert Mitchum(1917-1997) was drafted into the Army, but hated it. He refused to be promoted, and left the Army a mere Private First Class. He was released in 1945 on a family-hardship claim after eight month's service.
His war time movies included:  We've Never Been Licked (1943), Corvette K-225 (1943), Aerial Gunner (1943), Doughboys in Ireland (1943), Minesweeper (1943), Cry Havoc (1943), Gung Ho! (1943), Mr. Winkle Goes to War (1944), Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1944), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), The Story of G.I. Joe (1945),Till the End of Time (1946).

  Capture the Flag  - Account of Sgt Walter Keane retrieval of his battery's flags from obscurity.

     Sgt. Keane was a member of Battery A of the 328FA.  After the war was over, headquarters selected Captain Alonso, Sgt. Keane and about 8 other men were selected for a 10-day vacation to Nice, France.  They left their unit in Northern Italy and drove to Nice, where Sgt. Keane discovered he had very little money---probably because all they had was Italian occupation Lira. After his vacation, Sgt. Keane returned to where his unit was but discovered that they had left.  The 328FA and the 85th Division had shipped out for home in late August 1945.  During this time, Captain Alonso injured his back while lifting heavy loads in preparation for embarkation.  He was sent to the hospital for a week or so.  Eventually, Sgt. Keane caught a ship home and arrived in Virginia.
     Sgt. Keane described the mass exodus as total confusion as the GI's had only one thing on their mind---get home as quickly as possible.  When they disembarked off the ship, they entered a large warehouse where everything from the ships had to be unloaded.  Soldiers were dumping their old uniforms and boots as well as crates of other items from the their ship and the other ships docked in the port.  Sgt. Keane spotted the both flags of the 328FA lying on the floor.  One was the red artillery flag and the other was the National Flag.  He retrieved both flags and packed them away in his duffle bag, along with 10 guns.
    The 328FA flag can be seen at 328 Flag.    Story submitted by Patricia Corbett, daughter of Sgt. Keane.

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       Bronze Star - Quoted from Greenwood Commonwealth, dated Aug. 10, 1986.

The following is an interview of Sgt. Newton F. Cole made soon after returning from his first reunion. The action he described is the kind that either earned a medal or a court-martial.  The newspaper article is quoted, below.

Quoted from article in Greenwood Commonwealth   newspaper of Greenwood, MS.  
    As an artillery observer, it was Cole's job to advance with front line troops and to relay target information to a battalion of six 105-mm howitzers located three to four miles to his rear.
    One page in Cole's album was labeled "The Hardest Week of My Life".  It was almost his last, since it was also the week Cole had to call in fire on his own position to stop a German attack. This action won Cole the Bronze Star. 
Cole's unit held a ridge that came under a Nazi ground assault.  Supporting Allied artillery was on the ridge behind Cole.
   "It was about 9 o'clock in the morning. (The Germans) were coming up the hill. I called for artillery fire," Cole said drawing a map. As he explained it, U.S. shells would have to fall just forward of his position to have effect - that meant some shells were likely to fall on his own troops.

   "When I called the (U.S. battery), colonel called 'Unsafe to fire! Unsafe to fire!' He'd seen that if he fired, some would fall right there (on Cole's position). He wouldn't fire.
  "You don't cuss no colonel, but I said 'Gol-dang, if you don't fire they're going to kill us all'.  He kept on (refusing to fire) for 30 minutes. He said 'I'm going to reduce you (in rank) when you get back.'

    "I told him I didn't give a damn if he reduced me. If he didn't fire I wasn't going to get back because those Germans were coming up and were going to get us," Cole said he told the fire base.
   Cole's battery commander, hearing the radio conversation, finally interceded on Cole's behalf saying "You're going to have some more reducing to do. That boy's in trouble up there. I've been with him a long time. I've got my battery loaded and I'm going to fire."

    Shells began to fall on Germans and Americans alike but the position was held.
    The reluctant colonel later presided over the ceremony in which Cole and others were decorated.

The reluctant colonel was Colonel Burton. The battery commander was Lt. William Sullivan.
See the above certificate for a silver star awarded to Lt.  Tanzer during this time of the fighting. 
I do not know when th
e above incident occured but it was in late October or early November of 1944.
I am almost convinced it happened during the same time as the following event with Lt. Tanzer,
who was in the same battery as Sgt. Cole.

{Further quotes from newspaper article.}

V-E DAY arrived just after Italian partisans killed dictator Benito Mussolini, who was hung from his heels in front of a Dongo gasoline station. Cole was among the troops sent to the scene -- the censors let him keep his own photograph of the gruesome event.
{Sgt Erich Bauch was also a witness to this historical event.}

Some of the happier photographs show Cole and his comrade-in-arms on a ship bound for the United States. He arrived back in Mississippi on Aug. 30, 1945, which was the third birthday of his first son.

     Walter Jabs    (paraphrased in my own words)
    Walter is a friendly, out-going veteran, I met at the Polar Bear Reunion in October 2002 (see photo, below).  His ability to speak German saved his company from capture.
    During their first experience in combat in May of 1944, the 339th Regiment fought hard to break the German GUSTAV line.....resulting in high amount of casualties.  Company A was in a hot position and the companies on each side were getting hit hard.  Some positions were being over-run by the Germans.  During the night, Jabs was able to hear the Germans talking.  At one point he spoke back to the Germans and made them believe that his company was no longer in their position.  They hid out for the night and what was left of Company A was able to sneak back to the Allied lines by morning.
2002 Reunion of the Polar Bear Association of the 339th Infantry Regiment
Polar Bear Reunion 2002
Frank Ruth(L), 1st Battalion medic , and Walter Jabs(R), A Company. The GI helmet brought out a lot of smiles and comments.
See Walter Jabs story, above.
Polar Bear Reunion - 2002
 Russ Brink of Anti-Tank Company.
I told him to give me a mean look and this was the best he could do.

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