36th Infantry Division Association

It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

The 1998 Battlefield Tour
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Ray Wells
Company H
141st Infantry Regiment

It was difficult to come up with an appropriate title which would accurately describe our fabulous trip through Italy, France and Germany in April, 1998. Maybe another title might be THE CADILLAC OF ALL TOURS. It is hard to say but maybe this statement that I heard time and time again "Things can't get any better than this" and sure enough the next day was even better.
A series of events caused the success of this tour. Planning began almost three years before the tour commenced, contacts were made throughout Italy, France and Germany. Stacks of letters were sent out to the Mayors and Government Officials, E-Mail and FAX's went out almost daily. We were lucky to contact Galaxy Tours who specialize in Battle Field tours and personnel from Galaxy actually traveled to most of the places we would see and made arrangements for hotels, meals and the many incidental things that go towards a perfect tour. We were very fortunate that one of the premier tour guides, Dennis Ross was available to take us in hand and care for us during the tour. Dennis has his own company but because he knew 36th Division people and had taken them on tours before he made himself available even though he had just completed a long tour and the day after he saw us off at the airport in Munich for our trip back to the USA he had to immediately fly to London and pick up another group the very next day.

Ray Wells with the Mayor of Cassino, Italy during the welcoming ceremonies for visiting 36th Division Vets, April 1998.
Last but not least there never could have been a greater group of Veterans, wives, sons, daughters and Granddaughters gathered together than these fine people. We had a Veteran who was 81 years of age down to a granddaughter in her early teens. We had a veteran who brought his wheel chair along and his two sons. Usually on every tour with a group of people it is expected that there will be gripes and complaints but not this group. From the 17th of April when the first part of the tour group gathered at the Airport in Rome after flying all night to the 1st of May when we flew out of Munich airport, not one complaint did I hear, it was "It just can't get any better than this".

Seems like just about everyone began their journey from many airports in the US, some went through London, some Brussels, Belgium and others to Frankfort, Germany. The first day at the Rome Airport with flights coming in at all hours, some in the morning, noon and the latest in the afternoon. If there was anytime to gripe this would of been the time.

At the Rome Airport we were met by an Italian lady who was an official licensed guide and she had the authority to pass us through customs. After everyone was accounted for we boarded a bus for the first leg of our tour of Italy on our way to Caserta by way of Cassino, San Pietro, Mt Rotondo and Mt. Lungo, all famous battle grounds known very well by the Veterans of the Italian Campaign. We checked into the Jolly Hotel where we had a great dinner then off to some much needed sleep.

The next day we boarded our bus on the way to Cappacio where we were scheduled for a Mayoral reception. We traveled through Naples, along the beautiful Bay, through the City of Salerno and on to Paestum where we were met by a very nice looking Italian Lady who would be our guide for the day. Some of the single men instead of enjoying the view from the window I know were looking at this Lady all the time. It didn't matter if she was a Senora or a Senorita, she was one "Hot Mama". We were escorted to the town hall of Cappacio where the Mayor and his Staff met us at the front door of the Town Hall. The usual speeches were made by the Mayor and some of the Officials welcoming us to his town.

Laying of the wreath at the 36th Infantry Division Monument, Paestum, Italy, April, 1998
We were all presented a copy of a declaration that had been made up by the town council celebrating our visit This was the beginning of how we would be treated the entire time of the trip in every village, town and, yes, City. And the champagne and wine, always that and food to go with it. When the ceremony was completed, we boarded our bus and with a police escort, with their lights flashing we were escorted to Paestum where ceremonies had been planned at the 36th Division Monument.

There with the dignitaries and visitors a wreath was laid at the base of the monument in remembrance of our fallen comrades. A prayer was said by Torn Dunne and we were then on our way through the mountains on the way to the mountain top village of Alta Villa where a very intensive battle had been fought soon after the landing on the beaches of Paestum.

While in Alta Villa we were very fortunate to be able to visit the town palace made famous by Commando Kelly where he made his stand and won the Medal of Honor. One of our Group, Gordon Rose, also experienced the very vicious battle of Alta Villa where he had captured a number of Germans and spent several days fighting off numerous counter attacks. Just before the battle started the Germans had removed the family who lived there and it so happened that a little girl who was a member of the family, now a grown woman, unlocked the door so that we could look in. When the two got together with the help of an interpreter and exchanged stories it turned out to be a very touching scene. Just this chance meeting the trip to Alta Villa was well worthwhile. Could things get any better? You bet your life they did.

36th Vets at San Pietro, Italy, with Mt. Rotondo in the background
On the way back to the Jolly hotel in Caserta we stopped off for a tour of Pompei. Back at the hotel we had time to freshen up for a bus trip to a very famous restaurant on top of the mountain where we could look over the city and miles beyond Another great meal and back to the hotel to prepare for the ride to Cassino and another Mayoral reception.
First we stopped on Highway 6, "Via Roma" to view the park which contained tanks and artillery pieces and overlooked the Italian Military Cemetery where laid hundreds of Italians who were killed trying to take Mt Lungo. As we all know, the 142nd took the mountain and with the pressure of the 143rd attacking San Pietro from the East and the 2nd Battalion making a frontal attack the enemy had to finally withdraw. The bus driver was able to get us up to the old town of San Pietro but the years had taken it's toll, none of the old Veterans wanted to attempt the steep climb to the church. We all remember that Church of St. Peter, we stared at it for weeks and knew that the enemy was looking down our throats. We were to meet the Mayor of Cassino at 11:00 AM and had to cut the visit to San Pietro short, but everyone was ready to go anyway.
Upon arriving at the town hall of Cassino we were again met by the Vice Mayor and town Council members. More speeches, champagne, treats etc. Upon leaving the town hall we were met in the plaza full of US and German jeeps, command cars and men dressed in authentic uniforms of WWII era. All over Europe Reenactment Groups have been formed and they must wear authentic uniforms and have working authentic vehicles. It was quite impressive and all of this including about 25 Vehicles and 50 or 60 men was for the benefit for our little group.

I think there were about 21 of us then and we were to be met in Nice, France by the rest of the group, Again with an escort we traveled to San Angelo another wreath ceremony was performed and the appropriate prayer by our acting Chaplain, Tom Dunne. We had dinner in a cafe overlooking the Rapido River then boarded our bus for the trip to Anzio where we booked into the Grand Hotel Dei Casari, dinner and a nights rest.

Cassino, Italy, April 1998, jeeps from the Re-enactment Group

While masses of German prisoners are marched back for transfer to POW camps, the 36th Division, held in reserve at the beachhead moves up to Cisterna, Italy, as a mop up force and to push down Route #6. May 25, 1944. US Army Signal Corps photo.
The next day a visit was made to the American Military Cemetery where we had a beautiful wreath laying ceremony, a prayer by our Chaplain and several hours to visit our fallen comrades. We had met the curator of the Museum in Anzio while he was one of the dignitaries at the ceremony in Cassino and he had told me that the Museum was closed on Sunday but he would make arrangements for the Museum to be open just for our group. Another plus added to our visit. Things are still getting better; you betcha!

Then on to Rome where we had a little time for sightseeing then next morning we went down for a continental breakfast which turned out to be a spread of food you wouldn't believe which, among other things, contained scrambled and boiled eggs, bacon, sausage, cereal, many kind of rolls, fruit juice of all kinds and a dozen other articles of food. That afternoon we had a tour of the historical places in Rome which contained a full tour of the Vatican. That evening we visited the fountain made famous by the movie "Three Coins in the Fountain" and the Spanish Steps. From there to the train station where we would be catching the train for an overnight trip to Nice France.

We were all furnished a private sleeping room. The trainman cautioned us all to keep our doors locked but he didn't tell us why. The next morning we found out why we were cautioned to lock our stateroom doors. The night before, on the same run, a serial killer had killed five or six women. If we had known that, do you think anyone would of been able to sleep?  I don't think so.
When daylight came we found ourselves cruising along the Mediterranean on the Riviera. Talk about a beautiful sight as we traveled through the small country of Monte Carlo and other towns along the sea. We soon ended our train trip in the large City of Nice on Wednesday, April 22nd where the rest of the group joined us for further adventures. Did things get better? You will find out in the next issue of the T-Patcher.
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