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tpatch Company I, 143rd
Caught Hell Near Altavilla

 

KTEM, Temple, Texas

 

(Sgt. Jack White, I-143, made this talk over KTEM, Temple, Tx, Radio Station, while recuperating from wounds suffered on Hill 424 above Altavilla, Italy. He was among those brought to McCloskey Hospital in Temple which Walter Humphrey talked about in his speech printed in the last Historical Quarterly).

JANUARY 14, 1944 KTEM RADIO STATION

I was born and raised in Belton, graduated from Belton High in 1939, and worked in my dad’s photographic studio until I was inducted into active service, November 25, 1940. I had joined the National Guard on April 1, 1939.

1 was first sent to Camp Bowie at Brownwood for 14 months where I had field training and later went on maneuvers in Louisiana in the summer of ‘41. Then we went to Camp Blanding, Fla. for swamp and jungle training for about two months. While there, I went to an intelligence school for about two months. From Blanding, we went to the Carolina maneuvers for the hardest training of all, blitzkrieg warfare.

In August we went to Camp Edwards, Massachusetts, for amphibious training and during that winter, we learned how to carry on operations in extremely cold weather. In April ‘43 we boarded the boat for overseas.

Landing in Oran, we moved further in for mountain training; lots of mountain climbing, endurance marches and night operations by compass. In most of these maneuvers we used real ammunition.

Not being needed on the African front, we were sent to train to Casablanca where our company was assigned to the transporting of prisoners of war to camps in the states. In May, we spent seven days in the states before being returned to Casablanca and assigned to a prisoner of war camp as guards for two weeks. We then rejoined the 36th Division at Arzew, took a lot of amphibious training there, and prepared for the invasion of Italy.

About the first of September, we loaded for the invasion and, in a huge convoy, headed for our destination. The night of the 8th, we slept on the decks, ready to load on our boats at any time. At 2:30 a.m. we had a breakfast of navy beans and then loaded on the assault boats. My boat got lost and never did get with the tight wave, so we landed with the fourth wave at daylight. We waded ashore with shells landing all around us in the water, and on the beach. We ran through barbed wire entanglements and assembled on the other side of the beach among high sand dunes about eight miles south of Salerno at the little town of Paestum.

As communications sergeant, my first message received was that our third platoon had encountered artillery and scattered. By noon, we finally got the company back together and reorganized. Until that time, I hadn’t realized we were in the real fight. It seemed like it was just another maneuver, although there were dead and wounded lying all around.

Reorganized, we moved up a mountain and our battalion took the little town of Cappaccio. We settled in the town and set up defensive positions for the night, digging fox holes and had D and K rations, a combination of food packages.

At daybreak the next morning, we received a message that enemy tanks were headed toward Cappaccio. We moved east of the town to prepare to meet them, but they turned out to be seven armored cars that moved right in the trap we had prepared. Three of the cars were knocked out and the other four surrendered. It was here that the bazooka proved its usefulness; with one shot an armored car was completely blown to pieces.

We moved up on Monte Soprano and Monte Santano to set up defensive positions which we held for three days without any opposition. Early on the morning of the 12th, we got the message to prepare to move. We walked all day long not knowing where we were going. We found out later that we were headed for Altavilla. At 3 a.m. the next morning, we prepared to move up on the mountain behind the town, Hill 424, since by taking this high ground above the town, we automatically took possession of it. There was very little opposition until we got almost to Altavilla.

Then German 88 barrages began coming in thick; they shelled the town for two hours with aerial bursts then moved their fire over on the hill where we were. After enduring about an hour of shelling, one of the last blasts hit ME! A piece of shrapnel fractured my ankle. This was about 11 o’clock in the morning. Five other soldiers were hit at the same time.

Since there were no medics there, I crawled down the hill to Altavilla where I finally found an aid man. At that time the roads were cut off and no ambulances could get in to evacuate the wounded; therefore, we were left in a ravine to wait until ambulances could get to us. The afternoon of the 14th, the German troops moved in and captured the aid station where I was. They marched off all that could walk and left those of us who couldn’t.

After they had gone we lay in the open all afternoon with German 88s bursting over us. After dark, enemy patrols came through and looked us over. They went on and didn’t bother us when they saw we were wounded—with the exception of the fourth patrol. The Germans took my watch and several things off the other boys.

After about 3 o’clock in the morning, they came for us and carried us to an old church where there were around 200 other captured Americans. Among these men were Capt. Alfred J. Laughlin, L-143, of Moody, now in a North African hospital. Others were Capt. Bill Yates of Temple, who is still a German prisoner; 1st Sgt. August Waskow of Belton, now in a New Jersey hospital; Sgt. Randle Wade of Belton; PFC McQueen of Rockdale; Pvt. O.T. Morgan of Belton, now a POW, and many others I know.

The next day (15th) the Germans loaded those of us who couldn’t walk on a truck which evacuated us to an old rock house 20 miles behind their lines. The Americans who were able had to walk. On the way we were strafed by American planes which wounded two of our own men.

At the old house, a German clearing station, our wounds were treated with dry bandages only since the German medics had nothing else. We were treated as well as possible. We were fed three times a day on German black bread, limburger cheese, liverwurst spread, and soup. From all of this, the only thing we could eat was soup.

After six days the Germans had orders to evacuate us; we were to be ready to move that afternoon by ambulance to a larger hospital further back from their battle lines.

During the afternoon they admitted so many wounded Germans that they could not evacuate us . . . too busy taking care of their own wounded soldiers. They moved out, leaving us there. For two days Italian civilians took care of us. Through Italians, we sent messages back to our American troops. After two days Americans came for us. We were taken to the American hospitals where I was operated on. From there, I was sent to North Africa to a larger hospital.

I left for the United States on a hospital ship December 23rd. We arrived at Charlestown, SC, January 5th. After five days there, I was sent to McCloskey General Hospital at Temple, TX, on a hospital plane, which was the first massive evacuation by plane of patients to inland hospitals in the United States. I was very happy to have been sent so close to home.

In closing, I want to say that I hope the people here at home will support the Fourth War Loan drive as enthusiastically as they did the others.



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The 36th Infantry Division Association Library
is sponsored and maintained by Gary Butler.