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Serving Uncle Sam: A Military Life in WWll

Gerald Schwartz USAAC (USAAF) 1940 - 1945


Chapter 97: Rome with Ashkenazi. Language Subtleties. Opera La Traviata! Drinking with British Soldiers. Broke Again! Romance Late at Night

Dec 14, 1944, Rome, I got up at 8:00 AM and went down to the Jewish Club where I had breakfast. While there I met the Jewish soldier I had met at the dance the other night. His name is Ashkenazi and he looks like a Spaniard. He speaks Spanish, Italian, Polish and Hebrew. We spent the morning together, visiting the Parthenon where all the Italian kings are buried. From there we went to the National Museum and we walked around a good deal.

After lunch at the Jewish Club we spent some time chasing skirts. At 2.30 we went to an Italian movie and found it enjoyable, because we could understand most of the dialog. This is a far cry from my first Italian movie at Bari, Italy of a year ago. At that time I was able to understand several words in each sentence. What a difference a year makes, given that since then I was able to study and practice the Italian language. I was also able to learn quite a bit of southern and central Italian dialects. Italy is a long narrow country, and as I traveled from Sicily, Calabria (southern Italy), and Central Italy (Rome), I had to learn the idiom in order to communicate. The idiom is the way the language is used, not necessarily the way it is taught in school and used in formal speech.

For example, the expression for 'there aren’t any' in proper Italian is 'non c’e ne'. In Sicily and Calabria you may hear 'non c’e no' or 'non c’e na'. The words 'I am' in proper language are 'Io sono'. In the south you might hear it pronounced 'Io sugno' or 'Io Sungo'. Farther to the north in the Po Valley, once again the idiom changes. For example they soften the K sound of the letter (C). Instead of pronouncing 'Republicano' with a K sound , they pronounce it 'RepubliHano with an H sound ! One learns to slip from one dialect to another after a while!

At 5:30 we went to the Opera House for a three hour performance of La Traviata. It was simply wonderful, and I kept the libretto to send home. The Teatro Reale (Royal Theater) is a magnificent structure with a special box for the King and Queen. It is considered the most beautiful opera house in the world! Afterwards we went to Ashkenazi’s room where we brewed up and ate some of his rations. I spent the night at his hotel because my boarding house was about two miles away. I notice that my smoking habit has increased to two packs a day now. This is not good!

Wonderful Opera House in Rome

Dec 15, 1944 Rome, Italy. I arose at 10:AM, walked downtown to my restaurant and ate a breakfast of a dozen fried eggs, potatoes and coffee. Afterwards I just wandered around town sight-seeing. I met my friend Ashkanezi again and we spent some time chasing skirts with little to show for it. We ate lunch at the club and then visited the coliseum and the King's palace. While at the palace we met three British infantrymen and we all proceeded to get drunk on white wine. At 11:00 PM I met a nice looking blonde Italian woman and spent the evening romancing her. When I finally got back to the boarding house in the wee hours of the morning, Mama (the pension manager) was mad at me for staying out so late.

Dec 19, 1944 Rome. The last four days were spent getting potted and staying that way. It must have been the fault of the company I kept, because I spent most of the time with those three infantrymen. One night we consumed so much white wine that we went broke, so we sold our long johns (underwear). When they were gone we started to sell our jackets. About that time I staggered home. Another night we got into about four different fights. I think I broke my nose again, because it was swollen for three days. In a two day span I spent about $340.00 on wine and women. I then sold $80.00 worth of cigarettes, and finally sold my watch for $75.00 and went through that before I left for camp this morning. I caught a ride with a bunch of infantrymen who were returning to the front and they dropped me off at Grosetto.

Dec 20 ,1944 Grosetto, Italy. I got up at 7:00AM and went right down to the flying line. The entire squadron was supposed to move into the town of Grosetto today, however the necessary water, heat, and electricity aren’t in operation yet. The orderly room and Radio Dept have already moved. The enlisted men are to take over a huge school building. The officers took over a hotel and restaurant. We finished the inspection at 3:30.

And I drew a pair of winter leather flying pants from our supply dept. When I returned to camp in the evening I picked up my back mail. I got 38 letters, and 5 packages filled with food ! I got 7 letters from my brother Murray and a bunch from Mom. While I was away on leave, Major Mallet and Bengal flew home on 30 day rotation, as well as several others on 30 day furlow. Rumors are circulating like wildfire about our future.

There are A-20 bombers on our field which operate all night long. They are 2-engine light (attack) bombers which fly at about the same speed as the P-40s did (around 300 miles per hour). The Americans use them strictly for bombing. The British also use them as attack planes, filling the nose with heavy machine guns as well as cannons.

We got a new man in our flight today. A red-headed kid called Nick, from Nebraska.

Dec 21,1944 Grosetto, Italy. We were up at 6:00 AM and off to the airfield only to be released early so that we 'A Flight' could move into our new quarters (the building in town). There are 7 of us in one room, with no windows. After settling in, we took hot showers and I gave some clothes out to be cleaned. After dinner I returned to our room and got three packages of souvenirs ready to be censored.

I tried to get the charcoal stove working with little success. Gene Schnabel left to go visit his girl friend in town. Ceferino Vigil and I took a walk around town and quickly wound up with two women who were pleased to attach themselves to American soldiers for obvious reasons. It was quite late before were able to free ourselves to return to our room and go to bed. There is no doubt that our morale will rise considerably due to our new living accommodations. It will be a pleasure not to have the winter winds and torrential rains bother us, and to have the comfort of a roof over our heads instead of a tent!

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