Chapter 103: Winding Down From War. Hiding Our German Jeeps. Getting to Bastogne. VE Party. Generalissimo Franco
May 5, 1945 Villafranca, Italy
The day was spent uneventfully, playing ping pong, and doing routine chores like washing clothes. With the lack of operational flights, we find ourselves at loose ends. Some of the men went to Lake Garda to swim, and they said that the water there was extremely cold. We don’t know how to spend all the free time that we now have. At 7:00 PM a few of us jumped into our German jeeps and took off for Mantova.
We made the rounds of the bars and nosed around looking for some action. The people were quite friendly and we were not in any hurry to return to camp. We had a good time there rubber-necking at many remnants of medieval times and making the round of their bars. We returned home at 4:00 AM, and felt that the day was well spent.
May 7th, 1945 Our 'A' Party left this morning to return to Grosseto. I suppose we will be leaving tomorrow. Once again we are hearing all sorts of rumors that we will be returning home soon. I just hung around not doing much of anything. I played black jack for several hours but the cards were just not cooperating tonight.
May 8, 1945 Grosseto We were awakened at 5.45 this morning, and we packed up, ate breakfast and then proceeded to sit on our hands all day waiting for the quartermaster’s trucks to come for us. We did the usual grumbling about this, as all soldiers are wont to do, bemoaning the Army’s usual SNAFU (situation normal, all fouled up)! We gambled all day and I lost $100.00 playing black jack while the Mouth won $600.00.
He drove Metzgar’s German jeep and Porky Benson, Willie Williams and I went in two of the other German jeeps. I drove for 7 hours, and after an all night drive over the mountains, we finally got back to Grosseto at 11:00 AM. In order to avoid the traffic control posts manned by British MPs we had to go through the outskirts of every town.
Had they caught us they would have confiscated every one of the German jeeps. Our evasive tactics were successful however, and we made it through OK. Driving through Grosseto in mid-day as we did, we tried to hide our faces from the gaze of the inhabitants. You see, we never expected to be seeing Grosseto again when we left, and I am afraid we did not deport ourselves like gentlemen prior to our departure. So it was that we noticed some scowling faces turned toward us as we drove downtown to the school building that had been and once again was our barracks. I must have been really exhausted because immediately after setting up my cot I went to bed. I slept like a lot for 10 hours, which is quite untypical of me! Looking back I see I have used nicknames for some men. This is a customary practice in the military. Problem is that now I can’t remember who we called the Mouth!
May 13, 1945 Grosseto, Italy. Sgt. Pete Podraza and I are going to try to get to Bastogne, Belgium to visit his brother’s grave. Then we would go to Germany so I can visit with my brother Murray. Our executive officer is working on this right now, and our papers have been forwarded to the 22nd T.A.C. for approval. We propose to go in Sgt. Georgen's jeep and pull a trailer.
Today our planes flew one mission, of 16 planes just for practice. We were finished at 10:00 AM and were released from duties. I went to see the Red Cross representative and arranged for him to send Murray a cablegram prior to our departure. It would tell him to meet us at the 9th Army headquarters.
There is no definite word yet, and it is best not to let our hopes get too high. My old Brooklyn handball buddy Capt. Kaufman, told me today that Col. Knight said we would be on our way home within 2 months. He also said that we would run another ping pong tournament. I will sign up for it, and do my best, but I know I can’t win. There are a couple of men in our squadron that are just too good. Oh, I am pretty good myself, and when I play against Capt. Kaufman we stand about 10 feet behind the table and slam long drives at each other.
When we return the ball with a deep slice for example, most of the men we play against cannot return the ball over the net. They just cannot offset the slice and their return usually hits the table before the net. We always choose to play with rubber faced rackets while most of the men just pick sandpaper faced rackets which cannot impart a lot of slice or of topspin to the ball.
We had a squadron meeting tonight, and First Sgt. Leland Pettis said we will have a VE day party for the whole group. Everyone is expected to get drunk and have a good time! That’s the good news. The bad news is that everybody has to turn in his beer ration to provide the beer for the party!
Just thinking that VE day is May 2, 1945 reminds me that in two more months we will have been overseas in combat for three years. It serves to detract somewhat from the pleasure I derive from the thought of VJ Day.
P.S. During the time I spent in Grosseto I was under the impression that it did not have any historical significance. In 2004 I learned that it was the birthplace of General Francisco Franco of Spain. He was the Spanish commanding general who defeated the Russian backed Spanish revolution prior to World War 2. He subsequently ruled Spain as a dictator unit the time of his death many years later.
Of interest is the fact that he did not believe the title General did not properly describe his rank. He therefore appointed himself as Generalissimo! In the Spanish language, adding 'issimo' to a noun increases the size or greatness of the noun. Thus his title became Great General instead of just General. Lest you considers this act as ostentatious (overly proud), be aware that he could have added two 'issimos' to General to make it Generalissimo. He could even have made it Generalisisimo or even Generalisisisisimo and so on!