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Serving Uncle Sam: A Military Life in WWll

Gerald Schwartz USAAC (USAAF) 1940 - 1945


Chapter 101: Depression Breeds Violence. Understanding Italian Movies At Last. Move to Villefranca. McDonnel Takes My Diary to USA for Safety. Living in Former Death Camp. Beautiful Italy!

April 26, 1945 Grosseto. It has been two months since my last entry, for the same reasons I skipped a month and a half from Jan 8th to Feb 21st. I simply did not have any patience for work or study or for socializing with my fellow men. Things seem to pile up in my brain and I begin to look for an outlet for them. I never used to be a violent or vicious person, drunk or sober, but for some time now I found myself thinking and acting in a belligerent manner. It is as if I have lost all inhibitions and I can let off steam any way I want without thinking of the consequences. All I know is that it is a bad way to be, because there is no limit to the damage that could occur while in the midst of one of these spells!

If the powers-that-be in the Air Corps were to have a psychiatrist or psychologist interview us, I am sure they would have wasted no time in sending us home for the good of the service. Nowadays I go to an Italian movie every night, and have started to really enjoy it. At first I had trouble understanding the dialogue because the actors were American or Argentine, with Italian sound tracks. But now I don’t look at the speaker’s lips, but at his forehead and thus can understand most of what is being said. I am still not perfectly fluent, but I am bordering on it. Another 6 months ought to see me speaking excellent Italian.

Today our 'A' Party moved out this morning, enroute to Villafranca which is north of Bologna, close to Verona. Our pilots and our intelligence people tell us there are still German snipers near the airfield, so our men are going heavily armed. Hopefully the enemy will be all cleared out by the time we get there. My name appeared in the bulletin board to fly there in a couple of days. I just found out that we have a new special services officer in group headquarters. He is an old friend of mine named Capt. Jerry Kaufman that I used to play handball with every week-end. We were sure glad to see each other and we played ping pong everyday at Group headquarters.

Rosie tells me that my name was put in for a 30 day furlough to the U.S. but I don’t know whether to believe him or not. Since Gene Schnabel went home on 30 day furlough I get all his packages from home. Lt. McDonnell left for home today, and I gave him my diary to carry with him for safe keeping.

April 30,1945 Grosseto, Italy We packed up this morning and boarded a DC3 ( 2-engine transport) with all our equipment. There were 15 of us in the air echelon, and it took us exactly one hour and a half to reach our new airfield at Villafranca. The air was rough and 6 guys on the plane got sick. I made the trip well, playing cards with the crew chief the whole time. When we landed, we threw our stuff on trucks and we were taken to our new camp. As we approached the entrance we saw a wrought iron sign above the gate reading Arbeit Macht Frei which in German means Work Makes Freedom. I knew then that it was a German concentration camp operated by the Todt organization and it evoked a feeling of uneasiness within me because we had heard of what went on in those German death camps.

The Death Camp Sign

The country here in the north of Italy is fertile, green, and beautiful. The people are friendly and wave as we pass by.

I set up in a tent with Willy, R.C.Clark, Chuck and Wallace and we put up a stove, installed lights, etc. In our first night here, five of the men scrounged up German Jeeps. We all work on them and use them in a sort of cooperative arrangement. At 5:00 PM we took off in all five cars at once, and headed towards Verona, which was located 9 kilometers away. We drove through the town, noting that it was pretty badly bombed out.

With the stores already closed for the night, there was little to see however. We did see a lot of good looking women, many of them blondes, which seemed quite unusual to us. Coming up from Sicily and through southern Italy we had become accustomed to seeing only black haired women. We were likewise surprised to see the civilian policemen (Carabiniere) wearing large strange-looking hats.

Of interest also was the huge Coliseum, which appeared to be in remarkably good condition. This then became the third coliseum which we had seen during our travels. The first one was at El Djem, Tunisia and the second at Rome, Italy. They say travel is broadening, and I guess it is!

We couldn’t help comparing this part of northern Italy and the parts we had already seen in the south. For example, Sicily was one large orchard and grain field. Southern Italy was also basically farmland with some manufacturing. From what we have seen in Northern Italy so far, it is heavily into manufacturing, as well as dairy and vegetable farms. This confirms what we had previously heard about Mussolini’s rule, in that he had neglected the south while building up the industrialized north. Seeing how beautiful this part of Italy is, I can now understand why so few northern Italians came to America. They have a beautiful industrialized country up here!

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