Tuesday, February 03, 2004
WORLD WAR II SERVICE - CLIFFORD HARLAN HULLINGER
I served the entire war with the 109th Combat Engineers of the 34th "Red Bull" Division. It was the first American unit sent to the European Theater and, after service in North Africa and Italy, had more combat time - over 500 days- than any other US division. The Division, which numbered under 14,000 men at full strength, had over 21,000 casualties which included 3737 killed, 14,165 wounded, and 3460 missing. Most of the latter were captured when cut off during the Kasserine Pass battle in Tunisia. Since about 80% of casualties are borne by the infantry and there are about 9000 infantrymen per division, their casualty rates were in the 2-300% range. Men from the 34th earned 11 Medals of Honor, 98 Distinguished Service Crosses, 1052 Silver Stars, 1713 bronze stars, over 15,000 Purple Hearts, as well as citations and awards. We had about 4.5 years of active duty with about 3.5 years overseas.
I have a whole shelf of books on the African and Italian campaign and some comments may be of interest. Eisenhower in his book, CRUSADE IN EUROPE, p 454 in commenting on the value of experience in battle adds "But when kept too long in the fight they not only become subject to physical and mental weariness; the most venturesome and aggressive among them -the natural leaders -begin to suffer an abnormally high percentage of casualties. Consequently the periodic relief of units from the front lines is mandatory to the preservation of efficiency. In Italy and in northwest Europe we were frequently unable to do this and sometimes regiments and battalions had to remain in line for excessive periods. Some divisions bore far more than their share of combat; the 34th, 45th, 3rd, and 1st Divisions led in number of days in battle....,they also suffered relatively high casualties."
The Tunisian campaign blooded the Division and gave us needed experience. The Italian campaign started well but losses mounted after three crossing of the Volturno river and driving the Germans off the mountain massif between Venafro and Cassino. After 79 days without a break we had about 10 days off. The Infantry had almost 50 percent losses by then. It was now December with almost constant rain in the valleys and snow and sleet on the mountains.
We went back into the line in January to attack the German Gustav Line anchored on the mountain above the town of Cassino. The 34th penetrated that line and forced a salient behind the famous Abbey of Cassino but were almost destroyed in the process.
The reserve American Divisions had been sent to the Anzio beachead in an attempt to flank the Gustav Line so American historians followed that battle and largely ignored the battle of Cassino. Since we were eventually relieved by New Zealand and Indian Divisions from the 8th Army, one must read British authors to get an understanding of the Cassino battle.
Fred Majdalany, an English author, in his book, THE BATTLE OF CASSINO, p. 85 writes "The performance of the 34th Division at Cassino must rank with the finest feats of arms carried out by any soldiers during the war. When at last they were relieved by the 4th Indian Division fifty of those few who had held on to the last were too numbed with cold and exhaustion to move. They could still man their positions but they could not move out of them unaided. They were carried out on stretchers..... They had earned the praise which for soldiers is the best to receive- that of other soldiers who have moved in to relieve them and who alone can see at first hand what they have done, what they have endured. It was the British and Indian soldiers of the 4th Indian Division, moving in to relieve them, who proclaimed the achievement of the Americans the loudest."
Eric Morris, also an English author, on page 270, of his book CIRCLES OF HELL, says that when the Royal Sussex Regiment relieved the 135th and 168th Regiments of the 34th Division, "There were just 840 left of the 3200 Americans who had begun the battle." Since two Infantry regiments would have about 6000 men at full strength, their losses exceeded 80%. The battalion of the 133rd Regiment we were working with in the town of Cassino had 45 men who walked out.
On page 272 he quotes an eye-witness, "Our troops were living in almost inconceivable misery. The fertile black valleys were knee deep in mud. Thousands of the men had not been dry for weeks. Other thousands lay at night in the high mountains with the temperature below freezing and the thin snow sifting over them. They dug into the stones and slept in little chasms and behind rocks and in half caves. They lived like men of prehistoric times and a club would have become them more than a machine gun. How they survived that dreadful winter at all was beyond us who had the opportunity of dryer beds in the warmer valley."
David Hapgood on page 153 in his book, Monte Cassino, writes "The soldiers of the Indian Division began climbing up the murderous hillsides where so many French and American soldiers had struggled and died. When they got to the part of the ridge where the American of the 34th Division had been in combat for two weeks, the newcomers were appalled by what they found. Corpses lay all around and the living were not much better off than the dead. The Americans had fought up to and beyond the limits of human endurance. Fifty men still defending their positions were found to be too cramped and too weak even to walk. The men of the Indian Divsion had to lift them bodily from their stone shelters and carry them out on stretchers. Not all of them made it. Some of the stretcher bearers, and the exhausted men they were carrying, were killed by German shellfire on the long, difficult journey down the mountain side.
Majdalany, page 85, writes "Three years after the end of the war a party of British officers were walking over these same mountains, studying the battle of Cassino as a military exercise, under the direction of officers who had fought there. As they clambered over the rocks, incredulous that anything resembling organized warfare had been waged there, they came at one point upon a grim sight. Crouched against some rocks, in the position in which an infantryman would take guard with his rifle, they found a human skeleton. At its side were the rusted remains of a rifle and steel helmet, both identifiable as American. It seemed a final comment on the endurance of the 34th U.S. Division and the men of the 36th who shared their ordeal in the later stages of the battle."
Morris again, on page 267 says "The 34th (US) Infantry, the Red Bulls, was known as the hard luck outfit. It was the first American division to reach Europe, fought with distinction in Tunisia and showed dogged courage at the Volturno. It fought in every battle but never made the news, hence the nickname. Cassino tore the heart out of the Bulls, from which it took a year to recover"
Farley Mowat, the Canadian author who also served in Italy, in his books, THE REGIMENT, and NO BIRDS SANG, best captures the feeling of hopelessness and resignation that troops experience under such conditions. Only the extremely strong bonding formed between experienced soldiers who have gone through so much together enables them to continue to function.
I enlisted in the SD National Guard in the spring of 1939 while a freshman at SDSU. The unit was Company B of the 109th Engineers of the 34th (Red Bull) Division. The Engineers came from SD while the Infantry and most of the other units were from Minnesota and Iowa. It was a square division then with 4 regiments of Infantry and 6 companies of Engineers but was reorganized to a triangle Division in late 1941 with three regiments of Infantry and three companies of Engineers. About 40 men, including me, from Company B from Brookings was combined with Company A from Madison to make a new company A.
I joined up to get the $1.00 per weekly drill for "mad" money since I didn't feel right squandering the support from the folks on riotous living! However I should point out that even then one couldn't get into serious sin on $1.00. The folks were concerned even then- I suppose they remembered 1917 and knew that war was likely but that never occurred to an 18 year old.
We went to spring camp for two weeks at Rapid City for my first glimpse of the Hills. I don't think any of the family had been there before since that was a major trip on those roads in those cars. I spent most of my time on KP on WW I equipment- Metal stove tops set on the ground and dirt banked up around the sides to keep the heat in. The food and water were heated in what we used to call boilers -oval or square sheet metal pots that held about 10-15 gallons. Shorty, the mess sgt. (whose only qualifications seemed to be that he had been a machine gunner in WW I) would get a pot of water boiling and throw in a few pounds of ground coffee in what we suspected was his laundry bag and let it cook all day. Only the veterans could handle that boiling liquor in an aluminum canteen cup which promptly turned black inside and I suspect we did too!
We went to Camp Ripley near Brainard, Minn. in the summer of 1940. I was a pfc. then and remember swimming in the Mississippi River (we could wade across there). Sgt. Siep of A Co. shot a deer out of season with govt ammo and only the ubiquitous Shorty dared to cook it. He simply cut it up into pieces and boiled it in one of his pots. It was fat and greasy and probably dirty and we all got diarrhea and since we left for Brookings the next day, there were bare bottoms hanging out the back of the army trucks all the way across Minnesota.
They were starting to mobilize the Guard units across the country in the fall of 1940 and we heard we would go about the first of the year. I got in the fall quarter of my Junior year and started my second quarter when they called us up. Over half of the company were from the college. We had a good share of the football team, a good sprinkling of juniors and seniors and a few graduate students so we were not a typical company. We left Brookings by troop train at 2:00AM in zero degree weather so not many saw us off! Most of us were not Brookings natives anyway. I was promoted to Corporal about then.
We went to Camp Claiborne, La., about 20 miles south of Alexandria. This was a new camp carved out of red clay and brush but they had built mess halls and latrines and set up wooden frames and floors with tents over the top. They had even piped in natural gas heaters in each tent so we considered ourselves in luxury. We did build the rifle ranges which was good experience, learned to drill, shoot, and some bridging and demolition. We had no real training in mines and booby traps and nothing under live fire, either rifle or artillery. However we were far from home and there were four camps near Alexandria so we had few distractions and so we graded well in the maneuvers in the fall. The guard units were supposedly in for one year but congress extended our time to 18 months in the fall by one vote! We started to get some draftees to build us up to strength in the summer. Since they were called inductees, we called ourselves seductees. I passed a test to go to Ft. Belvoir, Va. to a school on surveying by splitting my toe with an axe while cutting trees to build a log bridge. Spent a month in the hospital and missed the school.
Most of us had a week furlough in the fall and drove home in borrowed (or begged) cars. I had made Sgt. in December and was sewing on my Sgt. stripes on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 when we heard about Pearl Harbor. We started loading out within the week and were in Camp Dix, NJ., by early January. They put us in tents with small coal burning stoves. The soft coal sent up a lot of sparks and we burned several tents but no one was hurt since it don't take long to crawl under a tent wall when fire is right behind. They were giving shots and taking passport pictures on a 24 hour basis. They woke us up in the middle of the night and had us line up in snow and cold for our pictures. You can imagine what we looked like- dirty, cold, unshaven, mad, sore arms, sleepy, and wearing all the clothes we had.
At that time you could take a train to New York in the late PM, spend the evening there, and come back at about midnight. I went twice, saw the Glenn Miller and Gene Krupa bands at the Paramount, got an autograph of Jack Dempsey, and saw the lights of 42nd St. Big time for a small town guy!
The first contingent (Co. A, from Madison and the rest of the 133rd Inf. Combat team) left in mid-January for what we learned later was North Ireland. They reorganized the Division at that time and about 40 of us Co. B men were transferred to Co. A who we would join later in Ireland. Since we considered ourselves the elite of Co. B, there was a lot of griping in the next year as they sent most of those who didn't go overseas to officers school. We shipped out in February '42 on the USS American Legion and about a day out our ship broke down. This was at the height of the submarine activity and the north Atlantic is a cold dark sight at that time of year. The convoy went on and left one small warship running around us and dropping depth charges every so often. More was going on then we knew. (see page 21) We got back to Halifax, N. S. where we sat in the harbor for two weeks while they made some temporary repairs. We had sent most of our money home or blew it in Camp Dix or on an evening pass to New York. The only thing to do was sit in the ship or go to the NAAFI canteen on top of the hill but we couldn't buy anything. Almost every day a ship would come or be towed in with a big hole in the side and one time only half a ship. Gave us a real feeling of confidence.
Two weeks later we dashed back to Boston in a big storm which was supposed to keep the subs down. Went to Camp Edwards on Cape Cod with our rifles and one barracks bag and still no money. We finally got enough that I had an afternoon in Boston and saw Ted Williams and the Red Sox. In April, we took a train to NY and tried again on another convoy. Had no trouble this time although a depth charge or torpedo went off close enough one night to put out the lights on the ship. No panic but when the lights came on we were lined up with life preservers except Snuffy Smith at the head of the line with his pillow in his arms. He gave a squawk, jumped off the ladder and made the switch in record time.
We reached North Ireland in early May and joined Co. A at Camp Killadeas near Enniskillen on Lough (lake) Erne in the south west corner of the country. I made staff Sgt. at this time and was the non-com in charge of a platoon of four squads of about 12 each. If we strayed over the border we would have been interned. We weren't that smart! Spent the summer and fall getting organized, learned bailey bridging, lots of marching, and one maneuver which didn't do much except wreck the local roads and fields. We engineers spent most of the fall patching them. Since they were usually a layer of stone and blacktop over peat, we hauled rock for weeks from the quarries. Learned a little about rock blasting but an old Irishman came up one day and watched us for awhile. Finally he said "Yanks, we've been quarryin' rock here for 30 year and this is the first time we iver had stones bouncing about the village."
Co C and the 168th Inf. went to Scotland in the fall and they surfaced again in North Africa at Algiers on Nov. 8, 1942. We went to England and spent Christmas on the HMS Orontes in Liverpool harbor. Had to sleep in hammocks which we strung up in the holds at taps. The rest of the time we sat at picnic type tables and ate English rations. Oatmeal porridge and tea in the AM; fish, scalloped potatoes, and bread for lunch; dinner wasn't much better. We went by Gibralter in blackout except the ships were silhouetted against the bright lights of Tangiers across the Strait. Landed in Oran and got our trucks and drove about 200 miles south to Tlemcen and camped in a race track. The rest of the Division were all in the same area training and getting gear together and we started to move by truck some 900 miles to Tunisia along a road about 1-200 miles from the coast. Most of the towns had Arab or French names but one was called McDonald. Always thought there was a story there somewhere.
Some British troops and Commandos (a mixed group which some of our guys had volunteered into- Kenny Scissions for one) had tried to take Bizerte but the Germans had stopped them. The lines were extended rapidly south along a ridge of small mountains and we got plugged into some passes east and north of Kasserine. We were all spread out and still only had 37 mm antitank guns and no bazookas so the German armor had little trouble breaking through south of us at Faid Pass and capturing most of the 168th Combat Team including one platoon of Co. C of the 109th Engrs. They were eventually stopped (or ran out of gas!) as they started to move up the valley about 30 miles behind us. We got a commendation for building and finding about 30 miles of road to pull our Combat Team back and established a line to keep them to the south and prevent them from widening the salient to the north of Faid and Kasserine.
The US Army got a lot of criticism over the defeat but at least they finally started getting tanks with more than 37mm guns and gave the antitank companies some British 57mm. We didn't get Sherman tanks until Italy but the Grants had 75's even if they didn't traverse! The Engrs. finally got a chance to work with mines and booby traps- more then we wanted. We dug up and disarmed the German and Italian mines and booby traps that were used to train the rest of the Army. Had a few casualties but the big loss was when a whole truckload of British mines blew up and wiped out Wayne Satree's squad of 12 men from the third platoon. Many of them had been mobilized with me.
The Germans had air superiority at this time and we got strafed a few times and had to run for the ditches a time or two. Had one bad shelling from some 88's while we were dug in a cactus patch but only had one or two killed. The shrapnell would cut of some of the cactus and the joke afterwards was the guy who yelled "I'm hit! No, only a cactus!"
We went over onto the offensive and moved back through the passes but Montgomery's Eighth squeezed us out so pulled back and moved north to a road leading south and west of Tunis. The big battle there was when the 34th took Hill 609 and broke through to the west of Tunis. The whole thing collapsed then and we took many prisoners and spent the next few weeks cleaning up minefields and hauling truckloads of bombed and partially destroyed ammunition dumps out of the Arab towns. Had some hairy times. We would take it up into a ravine somewhere, put about 10 minutes of fuse on some of the mines and get out of there! Some of the stuff would fly for hundreds of yards and explode when it landed. Set an Arab wheatfield on fire from a bunch of 20mm HE antiaircraft banana clips and I had to sign a release to the Arabs to keep from getting lynched! Maybe not that bad but they were definitely unhappy. I doubt if it had any value to them but it calmed them down at the time.
The 34th skipped Sicily and moved back to Oran to train for Italy. We weren't in the assault team but when the 36th Texas Division couldn't get off the beach, we loaded in a hurry. But by the time we got there the beachhead was secure and we moved inland and started up the Italian boot. Little did we know that we would be doing that for the next two years!
We leapfrogged infantry battalions against rearguard action. The Germans would blow a culvert or bridge and hold us up for a few hours with an SP gun and then drop back to the next spot. Our platoon was leapfrogged up one night and told to bypass a culvert where the 133rd Inf. had taken some casualties in the afternoon. Lt. Belensky who had taken over my platoon in Ireland pulled out his 45 and said "OK Sarge, lets go look at it" but thought better. The next morning before daylight, we went through the outpost line, swept for mines and took the bulldozer and platoon to the bridge. We were back in a valley on the hillside and the SP gun couldn't reach us but the 100th Hawaiian Battalion moved past us and drew fire at the next corner. This was their first action. After a few more of these, we came up to the Volturno river and had to make an assault crossing with boats and build pontoon bridges later. The resistance was stiffening and the Infantry were taking casualties but not so many for us. That river wound back and forth across the valley and we had to cross it twice more. At least it was getting smaller as we moved up into the mountains. An Engr. platoon had three line squads and a heavy weapons squad in a half track for protection against planes. We had air superiority now but they would still send in sneak attacks in the mountain valleys. Most of my weapons squad was killed or wounded in one of these attacks. We had been together about 3 years by then.
In December the cold and snow made the roads a big problem and we did a lot of pick and shovel work. We were trying to cross the large mountain in front of Cassino and the resistance got stiff. The Infantry lost a lot of people and we lost a few to plane attacks and mines. My platoon and company commanders were lost to a bouncing betty mine. They were both top-notch and had come to us in Ireland. I was in charge of the platoon after that although one or two green 2nd Lt's went with me for experience on a few missions. One night we were ordered to repair a blown bridge. Our Infantry held one ridge and the Germans the next along the side of the mountain. The bridge was back in the valley between the two. I took the platoon through the outpost and we scouted and swept the road for mines up to the gap in the road. Since I needed to know how much water was in the stream, I crawled through the dirt and rubble to the waters edge feeling for mines in the dark. I waded the small stream to get an idea of how big a culvert we needed. We went back and built it and the next night we took the bulldozer and the culvert back in following the Infantry. We got the bypass in by noon but we knew we were under observation and they gave us the most concentrated artillery workup I had in the war. We eventually moved up the stream and got on the reverse side of a hill that was apparently the same slope as the incoming shells. They just seemed to shave us and explode about 50 yards past. Had two guys wounded and my jeep driver, Ole Davis, had to be carried out. That was his third wound but the only serious one.
The Division was relieved after 75 days on the line for Xmas and I had my first 3-day pass since going overseas. Had 3 days in Naples and got to see Pompeii but not much else to do. We went back into action by New Years and walked over the mountain from Venafro toward Cassino. We were up on the rocks and snow for about two weeks with one blanket and a shelter half building mule trails and checking for personnel mines. Since we couldn't dig in, we would make forts with rocks but actually didn't get shelled much there at all. It took us a full day to walk back for our trucks and equipment and we drove around and caught up with the Infantry who had walked on down and closed up to the Rapido River in front of Cassino.
Books have been written about that battle so I won't go into much detail. After the 36th lost the best part of two regiments trying to cross in the valley below Cassino, the 34th had to cross the flooded Rapido above the town. It was a very tough crossing and we lost a lot of people to mines and artillery. We were only at part strength anyway but got across after several days and got a toehold on the mountain. While the rest of the Division worked on up the mountain, the 133 Inf. with "A" in support turned left along the edge of the mountain and pushed into the town itself. This was our first experience at house- to-house and even room-to-room fighting. Tried the old flame throwers but they wouldn't ignite when we needed them. There was a drainage ditch along the north side of town and we spent one night passing stones from hand to hand laying on our backs to make a tank crossing since the Germans were in the next building.
Spent another night depositing 3 wooden box culverts further down the ditch.(see page 18) Arnold Brown and I had slipped in and reconned it the night before so the 3 culverts fit nicely. A tank wrecker would bring in a section and we would help lower it into place. We would then duck back under the concrete slab bridge the Germans had blown because the noise brought in all kinds of fire.
After the third section, they really hit us with rockets and artillery but with the concrete slab over us and the ends forted up, we had no trouble. After about 10 minutes they stopped and the new Lt. asked me if it wasn't time to go. I said not yet. This was partly hunch but I knew that they might recognize the pattern after the 3 trips of the tank wrecker and expect a fourth. I was right since about 10 minutes later they hit us with another mess of stuff. When it stopped, I said lets go now and we didn't get a single shot as we pulled out. We were in an olive grove across the valley from the Monastery and about level with it and went into the town during darkness only.
I had probably my closest shave there. The road into town from the north was the supply line and the Germans had machine and SP guns at the end of the road and could sweep it clean. We would leave the road and come in over the rubble and through the walls that still were standing. As I came through one doorway, a shell, probably 20mm, went by my neck so close I could feel the heat at a single point. It exploded behind me but my reflexes were good and I was already flat on the ground. Shells pick up a lot of heat from air resistance in a long trajectory.
We had a perfect spot to see the bombing of the Abbey and it did a lot for our morale since we were sure the Germans were in it and looking right at us. History says otherwise but the Div. lost over 2000 men on that mountain and after 6 weeks of the mud and snow and shelling, the Abbey didn't seem very important to us. The Infantry took most of the casualties as always. The last battalion of the 133rd that was relieved in the town had 45 walking out of about 900 normal strength. Of course many of those were wounded and came back and some were lost before we got to the Rapido as well. The folks sent me a letter that a Dale Henderson who had married cousin Allen Hullinger's sister Myrtle, was in the 34 Div. Infantry. I went to see him and found that he had made Sgt. and been wounded and shipped back in about a months time so I didn't get to meet him till after the war. Myrtle, her mother and little brother were killed in a train accident near Butler, Ind. about this time.
We were relieved in mid February 1943 and went back for replacements and got our equipment in order. We then went to the Anzio beachhead but the heavy fighting was over there by that time. I made First Sgt. then and had a relatively safe job spending most of my time in Company Hdqtrs. about 2 miles inland. The platoons went out at night to lay wire and mines in front of the Infantry and it was so flat that we lost several non-coms and old timers due to machine gun fire. A different type of war negates the experience factor.
Sgt. Dan Harding who took over my platoon when I made First Sgt. had them laying concertina wire in front of an infantry position one night. They saw these two soldiers in a foxhole and moved the wire out to include them. Dan went over to them and asked them how it was going. They answered in German! Turned out it was a German outpost with two very scared recruits in it. He promptly took them prisoner and the barbed wire line made a sharp bend at that point. (See page 19)
We had several air raids there but the ack-ack was so intense that the Luftwaffe stayed high and didn't hurt much. They had a 15 inch Railroad gun in a tunnel up in the mountains that made a lot of noise but didn't hit much most of the time. It was about 25 miles away and you could hear a boom when it fired, the sonic boom when it broke the sound barrier on the way back down, and the explosion when it hit. It took about 5 seconds for all this to happen and you can do a lot in 5 seconds when the motivation is right!
In May as we were getting ready to break out, I had an appendicitis attack and was operated on the tent hospital. The ward boy who came in to shave me used a double edge blade in a pair of forceps. In addition he was shell shocked and every time a shell came over he would flinch and look up at the top of the tent. I knew it would be a funny story to tell if a shell didn't get too close but I didn't laugh until later!
I was sent back to Naples on a hospital ship and got back to the Company in July after they had moved through Rome and on up close to Leghorn. Col. Coffey (the football coach from SDSC who had been a Captain in the guard, stayed in and made general after the war) offered me a field commission to 2nd Lt. So I gave up my safe spot as 1st Sgt. and went back to platoon leader in "B" Co. which was originally men from Huron and Hot Springs. Went to Rome with Don Byerly of Huron who had also been a 1st Sgt to get officers uniforms and see the sights. I got another break then and got 3 months as Asst. Adjutant assigned to Div. rear which was really out of danger. In the meantime the Div. moved through Florence and on up into the mountains to the north to another defensive line. They had some hard fighting and almost broke through into the Po valley. I rejoined "B" Co. in Nov. but we were about fought out by then and after some attacks which didn't go anywhere, the generals went on hold until spring. We still got involved in patrolling, mines, and maintaining roads and mule trails and had a few narrow escapes but nothing major.
Morale was pretty low, especially in the Infantry. By this time they had most of the 21,000 casualties that the Div. had by war end. The few oldtimers that were left had been overseas 3 years and knew that the only way to survive was to get wounded bad enough to be sent home. From where we were in the mountains, we could look north and see the tops of the Alps on a clear day. We figured we would be there for the next winter and they were higher and colder than anything we had seen so for. Anyway, quite a few would deliberately do something to be court martialled and put into the stockade. For a while, we would take details of stockade prisoners out to work on roads but they knew we had no way to make them work and we hated the job anyway.
Some of them were battle fatigued enough so they should have been sent back. As soon as a shell came in they scattered like a covey of quail so Headquarters stopped that practice. We had been a very good division when we came to Italy but were never very good after Cassino. But after a winter of not much fighting, and with the weather warming up, things started looking up again. I was promoted to 1st Lt. which was fairly automatic at this time.
The European front started to collapse in the spring and by the time we jumped off in May, the Germans didn't have much left and we broke into the Po valley and it was a rat race from then on. We first swung left up to block any Germans in the mountains west of Bologna, and then made another loop across the Po to trap the Germans who had been on the France/Italian border west of Milan. The whole division was on the road with our lights on as we moved west towards Milan when we met a convoy of Germans in trucks driving in blackout. They were full of soldiers heading for the Brenner Pass. There were no guards or anything and we never knew if they had already surrendered or not. If not, meeting a full division with lights on coming from what was your supply line and homeland, would be a real morale buster.
They had started giving furloughs a few months before to about one man per company per month. My name came up then and I flew back to Naples in a DC-3 about 3 days after the surrender in Italy and had VE day in a transient camp in Naples. They wouldn't let us go into town to celebrate! We were given a choice of going home by ship or plane. I chose plane but should have been warned since the Air Corp men were choosing ships. They left shortly but we waited weeks for planes. Finally they loaded us onto a B-17 that had been stripped of bomb racks, turrets, and had benches along the side. As the only officer, I was asked to ride in the jump seat behind the pilot. They had replaced the top turret with a flat piece of plexiglass which blew out when we got going and shards flew all around but didn't seem to hurt anything. The bomber pilots were very unhappy since hauling people was way beneath their dignity. The co-pilot changed seats with me so he could sleep and the pilot put the plane on automatic and dozed off too.
I was enjoying myself until I saw another B-17 converging from the right. I eyeballed it and estimated that we would probably miss by at least 200 yards so wasn't too concerned. But after years of traveling at a maximum of 30MPH, I had no concept of closing speeds at 350MPH. When he crossed in front of us at about 400 yards, the pilot woke up very quickly and stayed awake all the way to Casablanca.
No one had bothered to tell Casablanca that we were coming and that they were going to get 10 plane loads a day at this transition point to the Zone of Interior. So it took a week to find another plane, a regular transport C-54 with plush seats and the works. We flew south over the Sahara to Dakar, refueled at night, and were in Natal, Brazil by morning. While refueling, a baggage truck backed into the plane and we waited 3 days for a bucket seat C-54. We took off and were over the Amazon estuary when an engine gave out. We still had 3 but turned back and landed at Belem, Brazil and waited four days for another engine. Finally got to Miami, took a train to Minneapolis and Vivian, SD in June, 1945. It was almost 4 years since I had been there and had been overseas 3.5 years. I had over 500 days of combat and never wounded and no psychological problems. (in my unbiased opinion!) I had a lot of good luck. Soldiers that survive the first few days of combat learn a lot. You listen all the time to know what's going on and where the action is. You watch constantly to stay out of observation and to have a hole or a ditch or even a depression picked out to get into if necessary. You develop some automatic practices that stay with you for months or years. Thunder storms gave me some trouble for a while and I listened to every plane that came over since the German multi-engine planes had a different sound that we could identify.
I really enjoyed 30 days at home. I then reported to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio where I stayed about three weeks, and was then sent to Belvoir, Va. with a delay in route to go to SD again. Stayed 30 days to help Dad and my brother Jack and little sisters get the harvest in. The atom bomb and VJ day at this time made my expected assignment to the Pacific moot and I was discharged on October, 1945.
Fini le Guerre, Fini le Armee.
Except for the killed and severely wounded, it didn't seem to hurt us permanently. We hadn't heard of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome so were not alarmed when loud noises or low flying planes made us jump or hit the ground. I couldn't stay still in violent thunder storms for about a year but got over it as did most of the rest of the men. Most of us had fathers or uncles in WW I and sort of expected that reaction. Drugs weren't an option but alcohol consumption was considered normal and several of the men have since died from alcoholism. However I have never seen any evidence that alcoholism was any more common in veterans than in comparable populations. It sure doesn't seem to be related to the amount or severity of combat experience.
After the war, I re-enrolled at SDSU in the middle of my junior year right where I had left 5 years before. I thought I might be rusty so cracked the books hard and got better grades than I ever had. The GI bill made it possible to go farther than I would have. Got my BS and MS at SDSU and got a fellowship to Purdue where I completed the academic work for my Ph.D. in biochemistry. Went to work at American Maize in Hammond, Indiana in 1950 and stayed 32 years as Research Chemist, Dir. of Research, and Production Manager before retiring in 1982. I have had several consulting jobs overseas since, and play a lot of golf and bridge.
I married Louise Liffengren from Draper, SD while we were at SDSU on June 6, 1946. The fact that that was the first anniversary of D-day has no significance! We had four children. One has passed away but two are near Chicago and one in Montana. We see our six grandchildren frequently and have lived in the same house in the south west corner of Chicago since 1950. We have traveled to all the states and many foreign countries including Italy. It looks a lot better now than it did then.
10628 S. Lawndale
Chicago, Il 60655Clifhull@juno.comWritten June 6, 1995
Revised slightly September 1999
Emails of some of the relatives
Name: Hullinger, Anne
Name:Hullinger, Mo & G
Name:Jansen, Bud & Ida
Name:Jansen, Jani & Joe
Name:Ruyle, LeighAnn at work
Name:Smith, Gord & Mary
Name:Smith, Lorne & Carolyn
Name:Smith, Pat & Dawn
Name:Smoot, Alan & Jackie
Name:Wasilik, Steve & Renee