January 1944

In line with the anniversary theme of this issue and previous reminiscences about World War II, we recall celebrating a cold New Year's Day twenty years ago on mountain top #1083 high in the Appenines above the town of Venafro, about thirty kilometers east and north of Cassino.

Handicapped by weather, terrain, and German defenses, we had inched our way upward to this pinnacle in laborious fashion and had covered a miserly distance of about two miles in all over the two months immediately preceding. The weather during that time had been constantly cold and wet, and not at all like the sunny Italy advertised by the Mediterranean cruise folders. The mountains were rugged and rocky, and the paths and trails were so uniformly narrow that all movement or progress was necessarily made on foot. The Germans retreated grudgingly and by plan; always to higher ranges and peaks from which we were ever under direct observation and effectively immobilized by their artillery fire. Supplies and equipment had to be hauled in by pack board on our own aching backs, or by our reluctant mules. The wounded and sick could only be evacuated by litter relay teams down the dangerous foot paths in an eight to twelve hour carry before the nearest jeep or ambulance, could be reached.

The snows began shortly before Christmas, and on New Year's Day we were isolated atop the barren #1083 in a small stone farmhouse that looked northward across a bleak, white panorama to higher, snow-covered peaks ahead. For the first time, however, in the two uncomfortable months that had climaxed the 114 days of continuous combat since Salerno, our spirits were high, and the New Year held promise of better days ahead. The rumor had been confirmed that we were to be relieved shortly by the French 3rd Algerian Division.

The new year had been ushered in just at midnight by every gun and artillery piece on each side of the lines, and from our vantage point it was a spectacular show. After the demonstration, as if by mutual agreement, hostilities ceased, and there was quiet for the rest of the day. We had a roaring fire going in the farmhouse fireplace, and two of our enterprising scroungers in the aid section had discovered and subdued four young pigs that the paisanos and previous occupants had failed to evacuate. During the prolonged and ceremonial cooking, we combined all of our aid station supply of grain alcohol with an equal amount of lemon drink prepared from the powdered packages in K-Rations, and served a continuous hot grog in canteen cups. It was a memorable and drunken feast. The roast pork and hog jowls were a gourmand's delight. The only thing missing was black-eyed peas.

(c) The Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", Jan 1964, Vol. XI No.1, p.10

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