443rd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion in World War II

ITALIAN CAMPAIGN

BIVOUAC NEAR MADDALONI

During the nights of 24/25 and 25/26 February, the 36th Division and its attached units were relieved by a British division and moved to the Raviscanina area to recover from weeks of rough combat, plus the mauling received during the abortive Rapido River crossing. The 443rd bivouaced nearby, close to Maddaloni and near a huge, old, three-tiered Roman aquaduct/viaduct. As weather moderated, 443rd officers and men had time to play volleyball and baseball and take rest leaves to Sorrento and to Caserta. Officers were quartered in the Sorrento Victoria Hotel while enlisted men enjoyed the left wing of the Royal Palace at Caserta, 17 miles northeast of Naples and built by Charles III in 1752. Five days of hot showers, three hot meals a day and fine entertainment were enjoyed. The time was also used to receive and train replacements, repair camouflage netting, repair and replace equipment, guns and vehicles. A small arms firing range was set up and used by all personnel and daily aircraft identification classes were held under supervision of the Battalion S-3 Section.

During the night of 17 March, Mount Vesuvius erupted in its most violent outpouring in seventy-two years and continued to spew ash, rocks and lava for three days before beginning to subside. Sulphurous lava covered part of the town of San Sabatino at the foot of Vesuvius and threatened the nearby coast. Lava ash fell heavily and varied in depth from two inches to two feet in some areas. At one point, rocks of from one to five inches in diameter were blown skyward and many fell on the nearby U.S. New Pompeii Airfield, ripping tents and breaking plexiglass canopies on a number of planes. With memories of the disaster that buried old Pompeii in 79 A.D. still strong, Italian residents near the volcano were panic-stricken and Allied troops and medical supplies were pressed into emergency service. As the eruption began to subside, many 443rd men were able to observe the cooling lava flow first hand as well as to visit the portions of old Pompeii that had been excavated since work began in the 19th Century.

The beauty of the Sorrento Peninsula, with its Amalfi Drive along sheer cliffs dropping into the blue sea, with its orange and lemon groves, with its ancient buildings and the nearby Isle of Capri, as well as fishermen bringing in their catches on the beaches, all reflected an idyllic picture that was shattered during mealtimes back at the 443rd Maddaloni bivouac area. Scores of pitiful, poorly dressed and starving youngsters of all ages, including a few older folk, would surround unit garbage cans to get scraps of food from men and officers who had finished eating. Holding out #10 tin cans, scrounged from the garbage dumps, they begged for every morsel they could get to take home to their families. At first, many 443rd men were unable to eat their food and gave it all to the pitiful crowd. Then, most began to eat only part of their meal in order to share the rest.

One very old and feeble woman in worn out clothing came daily to get food, walking some distance from her upstairs, dilapidated lodgings. One day she failed to appear and Lt. Col. Larson questioned some of the crowd, only to discover that she was ill. He sent the Battalion Medical Officer to provide treatment and take her some needed food. It turned out that her son was a well-to-do businessman who refused to help his aged mother.

On another day the 443rd Commander noticed a group of G.I.s on the first tier of the viaduct and, with several of his staff, investigated only to find that the men were waiting with dollar bills in their hands to give to an old Italian woman when their turn came. She sat at the entrance to a room where a young, blond girl, laying on a G.I. blanket, was taking on all comers. Concerned over the spread of venereal disease, he had the two women taken to the nearest town and turned the girl over to local authorities. Some months later, as the 443rd and the 36th Division were moving in convoy to the staging area for the Southern France invasion, the girl and her older companion were observed with a horse and buggy, going in the same direction as the convoy.

At about this time, General Mark Clark initiated the issuing of monthly liquor rations to officers, as was done in the British Army. This practice was continued throughout the European campaigns.

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