Minturo, Italy - May 11th, we moved ahead to attack the enemy front line - four days we broke the Gustav Line - a shore break, then on May 26th back into action. Moving forward with the 752 Tank B'n. Our first Plt. C. Co. covered a French armored movement up the valley to Carpineto. The 804 T.D. B'n. was moving forward toward Rome. We met delaying action by the enemy. June 3, 1944 was almost a fatal day for me. With the outskirts of Rome in the distance - stop and go on a twisting road, our tanks in convoy position, slowly we inched along, sometimes not moving for 1/2 anhour. Frustration in this delay, as we sat in our sweating tanks. At one of these stoppages, off to the side of the road, I notice a fruit orchard on a terrace hill. Joe Vigil and I jumped from the tank to help ourselves to some fruit - a short stone wall at different levels sloped upward on this terrace hill. Suddenly, an enemy cannon fired at us, but the short stone wall saved our "Butts". A few shots and the gun was silent. Joe and I 'high-tailed" it back to our tank on the road. Sometime later, we moved past this hill into an open flat area. We broke out of convoy and dispersed our tanks. Then many of us got out of our T.D.'s to chat with other crew members. Ahead was Rome!
Anyhow, I decided to walk back to my T.D. and get some cigarettes out of my Mussete bag, which was strapped to the turret. Digging into the bag I retrieved my pair of white shorts to get to the cigarettes at the bottom of the bag. This must of attracted that same enemy cannon from the orchard area; a shot hit at the base of my M-10, showering dust and shrapnel. Thank God, no damage to machine or human, Lady Luck was good to me once again!
One more escapade with Joe Vigil took place in the closing days of the war in April, 1945. As we advanced and captured the town of San Giaovanni, Italy, we were joined by groups of Italian partisans. At a crossroads our T.D. took a position as darkness approached. Friendly partisans invited us to join them in town. Certain that we would remain at the cross-road, Joe and I accepted their hospitality. We hardly were gone but a few hours from this merriment, when returning back to our T.D. we found to our surprise nothing but emptiness and total darkness. The T.D.'s moved! Which road they took was a guess? Moments later a captured German flatbed motor truck came by with a hastily painted white American star on the vehicle. We flagged a bunch of G.I.'s for a ride in our attempt to reach our T.D. This outfit was on a task to string communication wire. Unfortunately, as we rode in total darkness, it was the wrong road - we traveled many miles into enemy territory. We realized no sign of communication wire, also a knocked out Sherman tank off the side of the road. We halted quickly and turned back to our starting point. Joe and I got off the truck at the edge of town. To this living day, I believe that riding in total darkness, the enemy took the sound of that vehicle as friendly - that saved us from being shot up.
Vigil and I reached the first building in town. We knocked upon a door and request to bed down. A servant of this residence reserved permission to admit us. We found our gracious host to be two brothers, local Italian town doctors. We joined them in a served dinner and later enjoyed a soft upper bedroom. When dawn came, from the upper bedroom window, we looked down upon the road and saw T.D.'s moving ahead. Quickly we gathered our arms and met B. Co. We climbed atop a T.D. and moved forward in convoy style, in stop and go tactics until darkness arrived. The next morning we finally reached our 1st Plt. C. Co. T.D.'s. Off the record, we were two days A.W.O.L., but thanks to S. Sgt. Dave Hall he covered up for us.
The closing days of the war was a rapid advancement as the battalion formed into the Ellis Task Force and other armored units. Riding through the Alps to reach the Austria border, we formed a roadblock at Sillian, Austria, and occupied a small German barracks building with bunk beds,. We soon learned that the place was lousy with lice, so we slept in our bed-rolls on the outside ground. This was a pine forest area, with a thickened treed area, nearby was a farm house that furnished us with some Cognac. We then received news that the war ended: We celebrated! A few days later we were loaded into six-by-six trucks, relieved from the roadblock, we headed for a personnel replacement area.
Announcement of the point system came into effect. They broke us into an assignment to other army units. I was sent to the 1st armored division - seven weeks later Carl Jones, J. Munez and I got orders for discharge. Transportation was by air; in a stripped down B-17 bomber - flew from Rome to Casablanca, a short two day stop-over and we were on our way in a C-47 plane landing in Dakar, Africa. With this refueling stop we boarded the plane again, to head across the Atlantic ocean for Brazil, some short plane hops in South America, New Guinea, Puerto Rico and finally Florida, U.S.A.; then by train to Fort Bliss, Texas. Received our discharge papers on the 20th day of July, 1945.
Civilians at last! Jones, Munez and I gave our farewell to each other in El Paso, Texas, going our separate ways.
In retrospect my pride remains high as a comrade of the 804 T.D. B'n. For there is nothing greater than to go through a struggle and feel the satisfaction of survival with the men who shared the same challenge.
Sgt. Paul Mathews
|Army Training||Memoir Index||Engaging the Enemy|