July 4, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

July 4, 1943
No. 45

Bizerte, Algeria
(His parents still think he is in Casablanca)

Dear Folksies,    

          Today being the 4th, I can remember “when” — when we were all much younger and everyone participated in the 4th of July games and contests on the lawn of the Feather River Inn — and then in the later years, the more sedate ping-pong tournaments at the Tahoe Tavern and the Bines watching the younger kids with their games. No, we never really became more sedate, but they just wouldn’t let us in the kid’s games anymore.

          I can just picture you today at the Tavern. As it is a weekend, and, despite tire-rationing, the San Francisco crowd has probably taken time off, the golf course is undoubtedly crowded so that this must be your day off from the course. I also have before me a picture of Mom and Dad comfortably reclining on their beds, reading. I sort of hope that what I see in their hands are letters from me, or perhaps from Lois. I’ve been wondering if there are going to be any auto races up there this year, but sort of imagine that the race fans would rather be using gas for things other than racing. Gee, I didn’t know that I could lapse so, and become that reminiscent, but at that it does feel sort of good.

          We have been doing considerable resting, reading and sleeping the last few days. Have greatly enjoyed the book you sent me for Xmas, “This Is My Best”. It really is swell and helps to pass the time away most comfortably.

          Yesterday, a funny coinkidinky, as Marie-Louise would call it, occurred. I was reading Robert Benchley’s “Treasurer’s Report” in that book and when I finished I remarked to the fellow next to me that Benchley really was a screwball. He replied that he certainly was, and then we both suddenly discovered that we had been reading the exact same story in different books – he in one of those Pocket Editions. Strange, eh?

          Yesterday I went with one of the officers who had to visit a nearby town for some materials, and it turned into quite a sight-seeing tour. We got into one spot, however, that felt as if it were the jaws of hell, ‘twas so hot. There was a slight breeze, but it was so hot that it nearly burned the shirts off our backs. It has been hot, here, but when we got back yesterday, we welcomed this heat.

                                                                                                                                                  Loads of love,



Watch for my next message on
July 5

(Click on the image above to enlarge enough to read)

In this article, published in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 4, 1943, Charlotte Bambino eloquently and honestly describes the many challenges she and the other nurses faced.

Charlotte Bambino

René reminisces about happier fourths of July –  when the family celebrated at Feather River or Lake Tahoe. Pictured here (left to right) are René Sr., Alma and Marie-Louise in 1935 at a lake near Feather River.

July 5, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

René’s journal entry for July 5, 1943…

            After the pontoons on our ship were hoisted on the sides, it became obvious that the ship I was on was really the experimental ship, for they started building a “flight-deck” for Piper-cub planes. They had to build this forward of the cabins and wheel house and over the top of the ventilators. As they naturally had to extend it clear to the bow of the ship, this eliminated from action the 40mm gun on the bow, as the runway covered the gun. Finally, after they had the runway built, they put one plane up on it and we took the ship out on the lake for a trial launching of the plane to see whether it would be possible for the plane to actually take off.

           To prevent accidents or, rather, to prevent the pilot from great danger in case the flight wasn’t successful, the Captain had fire-fighting parties on each side of the bow end of the ship and had Q and myself in the small boat out ahead of the ship to pick up the pilot in case he crashed. General Truscott came aboard to witness the performance. Then the young Captain who was to try the plane and runway out, climbed nonchalantly into his plane, and when the ship was going full speed into the wind, he set off in the plane. He used up the full length of the runway for his take-off, but he had told me that he intended to use the full length to impress the General with the difficulties of the situation. However, as he hit the end he took a little bounce downward and I thought for a second that I was going to have business. But, he kept on flying, went up nicely, circled around us a few times and then headed in to land on the field, while we headed back to the dock.

Click on images above to enlarge.


Watch for my next message on
July 6

General Lucian King Truscott, Jr. pictured (center) above took command of the 3rd Infantry Division in March 1943, and oversaw preparations for the Allied invasion of Sicily, code-named Operation Husky. Between 1943–45, he successively commanded the 3rd Infantry Division, VI Corps, Fifteenth Army and Fifth Army.

The ship René was on was really an “experimental ship” with a “flight-deck for Piper-cub planes.”

July 6, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

René’s journal entry for July 6, 1943…

            We had several air-raid alarms, generally one or even two a night, and some during the daytime, but nothing happened until the early morning of the July 6th. “General-Quarters” sounded around 4 A.M. and it wasn’t long before all hell broke loose. We were in at the dock, had a nice white line down the runway and made a very nice target. On top of that, the ship next to us was loaded with ammunition on her top deck and considerable gasoline below. A nice situation. We could see the planes in the spotlights and all the guns poured out the lead at them. We later heard that there were some 50 planes. When I heard a bomb come whistling down I ducked back inside, as did the other Army Officers who were aboard. That whistle was no pleasant sound. All the guns on our ship were cutting loose and it really jarred us plenty. There was such a din outside that if anyone were trying to think, he couldn’t have even heard himself think.

            Soon, Mr. Mitchell (one of the Sea-Bee officers, who had been in the Coast Guard in San Diego and who was also a Construction Engineer) came running in saying that he had a wounded boy with him and that something had exploded up by the forward guns. I looked at the soldier he had brought back to the ward room, saw several shrapnel wounds in the back of his leg and then went off forward, amid all the din of the firing, to see what had happened up front.

          They already had one of the fellows down in the port troop compartment, and it didn’t take more than a glimpse to see that he was finished. He had a wound over the left occipital region, had a wound on his face, near the nose, and also one by his neck. He breathed his last as I reached him.

          Then Cisco was brought in with a deep gash in his right groin. One of the boys had slapped a handkerchief above the wound as a tourniquet and the bleeding was thus controlled O.K. When the tourniquet was removed there was very little oozing, so we gave him some morphine sulfate and put a large bandage over the wound after the magic powder.

            Then, I was called to the other side where there was another fellow who had been hit. I found him with a big gash that took away most of his left ear and a good chunk out of his occipital and temporal bone, exposing the occipital lobe to view. He also had a penetrating wound in his right upper abdomen. He was breathing only spasmodically, about one per 20 seconds. I gave him some caffeine and then tried to get into his heart with some 1:1000 adrenalin. The needle, however, was woefully lacking in length and consequently could only give the adrenalin in the tissues. The caffeine worked temporarily, as it stimulated his respirations for a few minutes, but then he relapsed again and soon was finished.

            Then some of the smaller wounds started coming in, the firing having ceased as I remember, though, I’m not really sure what time the firing stopped. Lt. Jr. Mockbee (the executive officer, an old-time Navy man with 23 years in the Navy behind him) had a crease along the left side of his neck — a close call, and we were so busy with others, that it wasn’t until things were all over that we got around to him. He also had a big tear in the back of his field jacket, and he later remembered that he had been knocked to the deck and must have hit his shoulder at that time.

            Just what landed up by that forward gun was never really figured out. There were shrapnel holes through the ammunition box there, and there were a couple of 20mm shells and also some Italian shells, but whether it was American or enemy shells that landed and caused the damage was never decided.

            Lt. Beddoe quickly got the tank-deck cleared enough so that a vehicle could transport the injured to the hospital, and he himself took the boys to the 56th.

            It was later found out that at least four planes had been shot down here and it is the consensus of opinion that our three-incher brought down one right in the harbor behind us. It was the only gun shooting at the time that the plane faltered and started down, and the boys were pretty proud of that. Some of the enemy pilots were later on picked up out in the outer harbor.

            Apparently our ship suffered the worst damage to personnel, though some of the others had wounds of various kinds also. Apparently numerous bombs had been dropped, one right behind the hangar where the boys had been sleeping when they were here — but this one turned out to be a dud. Others were dropped near various dumps, one exploding in the center of a ration dump but ignited only one pile of food.

            I went up to the 56th later in the morning and the boys there, Craven and Hurd, said that they had plenty of planes over them, but only some shrapnel landed near them. They were having plenty of business that morning – some 75 casualties from 4 A.M. to 11 A.M., five in all dead that were brought to them.


Watch for my next message on
July 7

As René writes in his journal, “‘General-Quarters’ sounded around 4 A.M. and it wasn’t long before all hell broke loose. We were in at the dock, had a nice white line down the runway and made a very nice target.”

July 7, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

René’s journal entry for July 7, 1943…

            On the 7th, as we were completely loaded we had orders to go to the outer harbor and anchor, so I went up early to the 56th and found that three of our boys could come back to the ship, so I brought them back with me.

          By that time, our load was quite a sight. We had two half-tracks with mounted 50mms on them — one on each side of the deck up by the elevator. They had both fired considerably during the air raid and one shell had landed on the hood of one of them, going through a bed roll that was there, and just tearing it to bits. That was where the soldier got his shrapnel, as he was on the half-track gun at the time.

          We had our “flight-deck” with two Pipers on the top and one on each side on the main deck. These were covered with camouflage from some of the trucks below. The camouflage had been the joint idea of Captain Ruud and myself and had been seized upon rapidly by all concerned. They even took my own idea of putting the two planes that were on top with their propellers facing each other instead of with tail to nose as they had been.

            Below the “flight-deck,” between the planes and the half-tracks, were 30 Arab donkeys. What a sight!! There was plenty of hay for them on the deck also, and strangely enough, they seemed to enjoy the trip very much, not getting near as sick as did many of the soldiers and even sailors.

            As equipment below, we had a various assortment – trucks, half-tracks, tanks, amphibious 6 X 6s, jeeps, etc. etc. Just before we pushed off from the dock, who do I bump smack into but Col. Westmoreland. I was glad to see him, and vice-versa, and I was only sorry that he was not traveling on our ship.

            We anchored out in the outer harbor on the 7th and then the whole tremendous convoy shoved off at about 5 A.M. on the 8th. The trip the first day wasn’t bad, not too rough at all and I managed okay. That day we sighted, behind us, the whole gang from Tunis – they were too far behind for me to be able to pick out any of the numbers of the ships, but we knew they were the rest of the gang. Eddie’s ship was right beside ours for the whole trip to Sicily.



Watch for my next message on
July 10

As René writes in his journal, Below the ‘flight-deck,’ between the planes and the half-tracks, were 30 Arab donkeys. What a sight!! There was plenty of hay for them on the deck also, and strangely enough, they seemed to enjoy the trip very much, not getting near as sick as did many of the soldiers and even sailors.”

July 10, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

René’s journal entry for July 10, 1943…

           On the night of the July 8th and all during the day and night of the 9th, the weather was fierce — the water was rough and there was a 40- to 60-mile-an-hour gale blowing the whole time. I decided to spend most of my time on my bunk, as the outside was rather crowded, and though it was rather hot indoors, the recumbent position was far less conducive to getting rid of one’s meals. Ate O.K., however, and never really was nauseated, but just didn’t feel right. Stayed on the bed and read all day.

            We sailed quite a ways out of our way, going clear to Malta, apparently to confuse the enemy. On the night of the 9th we had constant “general quarters.” Then, in the early morning, just what time I never noted, things began popping. We were some ways off shore and bombs started falling around us and there was plenty of firing from the shore batteries. But the cruiser and destroyers with us did all the returning of the firing, and some of the other ships did also, but we didn’t fire a shot, not having the opportunity.

            Apparently at some point, one or two of our own planes were shot down, but just how true that story was — they were supposed to have been shot down by our own fire — no one has ever found out. Anyway, just before dawn, our #1 Piper took off, and as we were not heading absolutely directly into the wind, he had a little trouble and went out over the side some 20 yards before he came to the end of the runway. However, he stayed up and circled around successfully. He was at first shot at by one of our ships who mistook him for the enemy, but he wasn’t hit. Then, immediately afterwards, the second plane took off, this time most successfully.

            Following that, we headed into the beach and set loose the pontoons. We were the first large ship into the shore and the first to have their pontoons launched. The weather had, suddenly around midnight, changed favorably – and there wasn’t much wind and the sea was relatively calm, so the small boats had no trouble getting in. Apparently there were no mines on the beaches at all and the only trouble came from shore batteries and snipers. We found that there had been four deaths caused by snipers.

          The cruiser and destroyer were pounding shells into the town. Every once in a while we would see shells coming out from the town and then pretty quick a burst from the cruiser (Brooklyn), and then no more bursts from that particular part of the city.

          It took quite a little while to unload the ship as one of the half-tracks got stuck and couldn’t get traction on the pontoon for some reason or other. But soon everything went rather smoothly.

            Our donkeys had quite a time getting off, as they tended to fall in the spaces between the various sections of the pontoons. They went off the sides into the water on several occasions, but that didn’t seem to phase them and they kept on swimming into shore. The end of the pontoons were in a couple of feet of water, so all the jeeps, etc. that went off got a nice soaking, and so did the men.

           Over on our left we saw a tank and a caterpillar that were sunk — apparently they had come off an LCT while it was still too far out in the water. Just the tops of the vehicles were seen. The men coming off the LCTs were having trouble getting ashore, and two almost drowned as we watched, for the ship could not get in quite close enough and had to let the men off in six feet of water — with packs and all that was pretty difficult. So they started unloading onto the causeways after a while, and it was certainly a heck of a lot easier and less dangerous for the men.

            After we had unloaded the equipment and donkeys and water, we pulled out and let one of the other ships take the causeway. After we had pulled out a little ways, Mr. Mockbee and I were standing on the bridge and we saw a plane come down over the mountain. We both thought it was a P40 at first, and then just as we both recognized the black cross and let out a yell of enemy plane, that plane let go with three bombs right where we had been but a few minutes before — missing an LCT and LCI that were close together. There were several other planes around also, but they vamoosed over the hill when the destroyer let go with all her guns.

            While we were still hitched up to the causeway, Capt Ruud and I had gone to the edge of the causeway, but as there was no reason to go ashore, we decided not to get soaking wet. But just then a wave came up and over the causeway and we found we had spoken too soon — for we were both drenched.

            Mr. White, who had been aboard for several days, an A.P. photographer from Washington D.C., had gone ashore when we first landed and got plenty of good pictures and then returned to the ship before we pulled out. He took several pictures on the ship, getting one of all the officers and some of the men. He also got pictures of our donkeys and of our planes. He was quite an interesting and darn nice fellow, and we only hoped that he would get back to Algiers in time to get his pictures to Washington before any other photographer made it.

            After pulling out from the beach, we launched our other two planes and they took off beautifully and with no trouble. We sat around out in the water for a few hours, and then finally a convoy was formed and we started back to Bizerte.


Watch for my next letter on
July 12

Photographs from the Invasion of Sicily – July 10, 1943

View from René’s ship as it approached the shore.

René described how the pontoons were deployed: “These pontoons were carried over lashed to the sides of the ship – then were dropped overboard some time before reaching the beach – ‘sea-bees’ manned them. The ship went full steam ahead, hitting the sand of the beach and the pontoons keep going to land. They are anchored to shore and then pulled into position so one end is at the mouth of the LST.”


On July 10, Dr. Philip Westdahl, still in Casablanca, wrote in his journal, “SICILY INVADED! We hope it’s the beginning and most of all that we will finally be in it. A letter from the gang up north would indicate that they may be part of a hospital ship in the original invasion. Who knows, maybe they are at work this very day.” 

July 12, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

July 12, 1943
(René’s 28th birthday)

No. 46

Bizerte, Algeria
(His parents think he is still in Casablanca)

Dear Folksies,    

            Well, today it’s my birthday, and, in normal times I would be up there at Lake Tahoe with you celebrating it. I had at least hoped that I would be with Lois. But no, luck was to some extent against us there, so, actually, I’m not considering this as being my birthday at all — it shall be delayed. However, I must say that my boys came in this morning and serenaded me with “Happy Birthday.” It was darn nice of them.

            As you no doubt can realize, there is little about which I am able to write. You will be interested to know, however, that I seem to have a knack for bumping into people that I know, or who know someone whom I know.

            The other day I almost ran head-long into “Westy,” Bam‘s friend who none of us had seen for several months. We were both so glad to see each other that we practically yelled out each other’s names to each other and some of the high ranking gentlemen around us were sort of amazed.

                                                                                                                         Loads of love,



Watch for my next communication on
July 14

René tells his parents that he “almost ran head-long into ‘Westy'” – William Westmoreland – who was a Colonel at the time and had dated Charlotte Bambino (Bam) while they were in Casablanca. “Westy” is pictured above years later, when he had risen to the rank of General.

René misses Lois on his birthday. Here she is on the left, in a convertible with Bam (Charlotte Bambino) in downtown Casablanca.

July 15, 1943 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

René’s journal entry for July 15, 1943…

           We got back finally late on the night of the 11th, the commander of the convoy having wandered around and taken longer than he should have — and we had to anchor out in the outer harbor, going in early on the morning of my birthday. The Capt. had sent in the amazing report of: wounded–none; killed–none; amount of damage to ship–none; amount of ammunition expended–none. He was pretty proud of that — it really was something.

            Later that day (the 12th) I went to the hospital with Mr. Mockbee and found he had a chip fracture of the head of the humerus – Capt. Galt, the orthopod, told me what to do with him, but Mr. Mockbee refused to wear a sling for more than 5 minutes, and somehow he has been lucky and his arm hasn’t hurt him much at all, despite all the climbing up and down on the ship.

            That afternoon we got a shock — we found that we were to have a still stranger cargo on the next trip — Moroccan troops complete with horses, mules, fleas, lice, etc. You should have seen the mob of them. I think one other ship got some of them, but we got the large majority and all the animals. It was quite a sight to see them trooping aboard. That dock was full of spectators watching the quaint sight. They had piled a tremendous amount of sand and hay aboard so that the animals could eat and wouldn’t wreck their feet on the hard tank deck and when they were crowded in it was something that can not be easily imagined. And the smell is hard to imagine also.

            Our cargo of Moroccan soldiers came from Marrakech, it turned out, and they had some very nice French Officers in command. They all had lived in Africa most of their lives, all except the one who was official interpreter and liaison between the French and Americans. One of the officers was a young doctor who had his training at Lyon. I got along fairly well talking to them.

            Some of the things were most interesting. Supposedly these troops are really red-hot fighters and do not take prisoners, as the story goes that they get paid by the number of enemy ears or big toes they bring back. Nice, eh!

            We had lots of trouble at first, as the men didn’t know what a toilet was for. And though they might go to the latrine, they used the floor instead of the bowl. Finally we got them somewhat educated, and actually, when they left, the troop-compartments were a lot cleaner than after the soldiers we had on the first trip.

            The odor that come up from the ventilators from below was terrific. I prayed all the way over that they wouldn’t have the temerity to wish poor patients on us for the return trip, as the whole ship needed fumigating.

            When we got to within sight of Licata, the Moroccans let out the weirdest hollering you ever would want to hear. They had been doing a lot of singing on the way over, particularly at night when there were nothing but blue lights on on the tank deck, but this was different.

            This time we landed, first again, at the dock of Licata. When the medical officer in charge of evacuation of patients came around and took one look at our tank deck, he hesitated no longer and said we would get no patients. As it was, there were only about 50 to go, so he loaded them on two other ships. Some of the ships also took prisoners back, but we again returned empty.

            We sat around in the water for a few hours, gave some of our water supply (which we had planned leaving at the dock – but they had no containers for it – 60,000 gal.) to a small British ship. We invited the British Officers aboard while the water was being pumped into their ship, and they were very nice and very interesting. We gave them several loaves of bread, for which they were most appreciative, as they had been living on “dog-biscuits” all the time. They asked me aboard to see one of their men who was spitting up blood at the moment. It turned out that he had a red-hot tonsillitis with some erosion of the superficial vessel. Their Pharmacist-mate was a very intelligent fellow, and all I could do was advise a larger dose of sulfa than he was giving, as he was giving a small dose.

            Finally around 11 P.M. the night of the 14th we left and headed home to Bizerte, thankful that we didn’t have to stay all night there, as they had told us that they had nightly bombing.


Watch for my next letter on
July 16

French troops in Bizerte getting ready to board the ship on the way to Licata, Sicily

View of Licata, Sicily from René’s ship.

Moroccan soldiers unloading their horses in Sicily.

In Licata, Sicily