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Serving Uncle Sam: A Military Life in WWll

Gerald Schwartz USAAC (USAAF) 1940 - 1945


Chapter 46: Cercola Evacuated. Bombing Cassinonuevo. Naples and Flaming Onions. On Board British Ship. Wild Sailing

March 22, 1944 Cercola, (Naples) Italy. San Sebastiano, the town south of Cercola was evacuated this morning, and still the lava keeps flowing down the sides of Mr. Vesuvius. The town was subsequently destroyed. The hot ash keeps falling on our airfield, which results in our planes evacuating this airfield this afternoon and leaving for Caserta. If the lava gets close to our camp we will have to move also.

Today, the U.S. Army Newspaper (Stars and Stripes), said we did a good job of bombing that bridge near Cassinonuova, strafing many German motor transport on the way back to our airfield. Our pilots had to evacuate their villa, and in order to return to the airfield, they had to come back by way of Naples, to avoid the flowing lava. Lt. Wise flew my airplane. On a sad note, Lt. Schuren and Lt. Carrick were buried today.

A Flight was alerted, to be ready for a move tomorrow. We hear it may be Corsica!

March 23, 1944 After packing up this morning we pulled out 9 AM, during a rainstorm. While driving through Naples, Mt. Vesuvius was spewing smoke and cinders that were visible for miles around. We stopped at a hill overlooking Naples and spent the night in a house across the way from a castle belonging to the Dutchess of Austria. I went there in the evening, and spoke with the Carabinieri (Italian Police), who showed me several cannons which the Italians had captured from the Austrians in their last war. There was also a small church at which a Priest was giving a sermon. I went through the town and bought peanuts and candy, and had a good time just conversing in Italian with the populace. We spent the night in one of the building on this estate.

March 24, 1944 After breakfast, we loading on to the trucks and sat around waiting for instructions. At 11 AM we went through Naples once again, arriving at the harbor, to be loaded on board an English Liberty ship. It was one of three that had been built at Glasgow. We drove on board at 12 noon and parked all our trucks on the top deck. There was another such ship tied up alongside us at the dock. I put up my cot alongside the truck on deck. The English sailors told us that they usually loaded and unloaded the ship at night. During the night there were 5 air raids over Naples. It seemed that each time I fell asleep, I was awakened by the booming of the ack ack guns, and the night was lit up with the 'flaming onions' of the tracers criss-crossing the sky above us. The entire top deck was taken up with our trucks and the cots of our men, leaving us with the feeling that we were sardines packed closely in a can! We were fed emergency rations (a can of canned beef or stew and another can with 5 pieces of hard-tack, concentrated lemon juice and sugar packets).

March 25, 1944 we lay at anchor all night, and were surprised to find that our own cooks had prepared our breakfast, down in the ship’s galley. I played casino all morning with Briarly, Reno, and Benton, and in the end we all came out even! For lunch, once again we received 'C' Rations (emergency) and I heated mine up on a primus stove. At 2 PM we were pulled out of the harbor by a tugboat As we left the harbor, we could not help seeing the tremendous column of volcanic ash arising from Mt. Vesuvius. It rose up to around 30 thousand feet, and then inverted, to form a gigantic mushroom. The next time I saw something like this was when I was en route home, sitting in a tent outside of Casablanca, Morocco waiting for a 4 engine Constellation airliner to cross the South Atlantic.

Around Aug 20, 1945 President Truman dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. That explosion looked just like the column of volcanic ash rising above Mt. Vesuvius! There were three ships in the convoy, our LST, the other liberty ship, and a British corvette as escort. The water was rough and with rainy weather not helping; a lot of men became seasick.

One of the reasons for this was that there were tanks and tank destroyers loaded below decks, which contributed to the heavy roll of the vessel, aided by the weight of all our trucks and equipment on deck. The wind was pretty bad so I put up a tarpaulin around the cots of the guys in our tent. Fortunately I was not seasick, due probably from having traveled so much from Brooklyn to Manhattan on the Brighton Beach Express which was quite a wild ride!

If there was any benefit to be derived from being seasick for many guys, it was that they were too sick to care whether or not we were to be bombed or torpedoed!

So ends part 46 of My Wartime Memoirs.

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