July 2, 1944 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

July 2, 1944
Anzio, Italy

Dear Judy and Dave,

            For the last month I have been meaning to answer your very swell letter of May 9, which I received just before pulling stakes in Sicily and heading for this considerably fairer country.

            Sicily really wasn’t too bad, despite its filth, squalor, beggars, etc. I managed to take a couple of trips around the Island accompanying the enlisted men, and saw most of the sights, but, by golly, give me California or, in fact, just give me Palo Alto, Tahoe and Yosemite and you can have the whole rest of the world!

            Italy, we have found, is considerably better than Sicily in many ways. Where we were first situated here, the countryside was very nice and in fact was reminiscent of the Los Gatos-Saratoga area. Now, however, we are a bit more exposed to the elements – trees only in the distance, but are luckily kept somewhat on the air-conditioned side by a mild breeze coming off the water.

            Rome, which I have been lucky enough to visit on two occasions now, was very fortunate in being only very, very slightly hit by bombs or gunfire, and that only in the very outskirts of town. In fact, there was no closing down of shops at all – -they were all functioning the first day that the Americans walked in – far different from the situation when we arrived in Sicily, for there it had taken weeks and even months for the people to even come out of the hills and back into town.

            Different too, from Sicily, are the things that they have for sale – whereas in Sicily they had practically nothing but hand work, linens, jewelry, etc., in Rome they had everything from the little things to luggage, hardware, furniture, etc. In fact, the large department stores (of which they had no such thing in Sicily) that they have seemed to have quite a stock. The Germans apparently didn’t have time to take much with them from there.

            I visited St. Peters Cathedral and the Vatican and was duly impressed. But the Tiber was quite a disappointment for me.  If it were a clean river, it would undoubtedly be very pretty, but it is worse than the Mississippi, just as muddy as can be. But, by golly, the Italians do a lot of swimming in it, and right in Rome, too.  In fact, they even have houseboats and boat-houses on the river right under the bridges of the city, from which they do their swimming.  Not for me, thank you — it’s got to be blue before I do my swimming!

            Outside of the Cathedral, the most impressive building was the Vic. Emanuel Monument, which is of a beautiful white stone and stands out all over the city. It looks down, too, on the balcony from which Mussolini did most of his screeching. The Coliseum, too, is rather an interesting spot.

            When first in our present spot, I bumped into Dad’s ex-assistant, Leon Michels, and my first jaunt to the big town was with him, not too long after the place had been taken. ‘Twas quite an experience. The people were jubilant and wanting to invite the soldiers and officers into their homes all over the place. They were mighty friendly. Now, however, some of that has cooled down and they are out to try to sell all they can at the highest prices they can.

            We are once again in tents, but actually it is sort of a welcome change – something to break what had become rather an appalling monotony back in Sicily. We’ll never again have as nice a set-up, but after all, if we could keep busy we’d be satisfied in any set-up – it’s only when not busy that one has time to complain about things. The only bad feature here at the moment is the sand that won’t stay settled, despite the occasional hot rain, and all our clothes, our sleeping bags, and at times, our food, becomes well saturated with the sand. Actually, we moved right into some of the tents that another outfit left on the spot for us, when they moved out. We gave them tents in exchange for those they left standing for us, and we set up right over the same dugouts that they had been using for some time. See—we’re still rear stuff!! Damn!!

            I’m hoping to be able to get another trip to Rome sometime in the not too distant future, as Irving Berlin’s “This Is The Army” has been playing there, so we are told. Also Jascha Heifitz is supposed to be there soon.

            I enjoyed your letter greatly – in fact more than any letter I’ve had in a long time. It was so newsy and just like you two that it brought back swell memories.

                                                                                        Loads of love,

rene-transparent

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Watch for my next letter
July 4, 1944


René tells Judy and Dave about the tents they are living in on the sand.




He also tells them about the sights he saw in Rome on his two trips – including the Arno and St. Peter’s Cathedral (above).




In front of St. Peter’s Cathedral.




View from St. Peter’s Cathedral.



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July 4, 1944 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

July 4, 1944
No. 34
Anzio, Italy

Dear Folksies,

           Nothing of much consequence in the last few days. Continuing with slow business and also continuing with the usual civilian stuff. Have just now finished giving my French a work-out talking to a couple of French Lieutenants concerning a couple of their patients that I have. They both came from the petticoats of Paris, originally.

            They’ve finally gotten some sense when it comes to the showing of movies in our area. Rather than have everyone swelter in the tent for an indoor showing, and then having to show it two or three times to let all the people a chance to see it, they have now built an outdoor stage and screen and things are so shaded that it does not violate blackout rules. There is, therefore, plenty of room for all to see the show. The only difficulty, however, is that it keeps everyone up somewhat later than they should be, because the show cannot be started until it gets at least partially dark. The moon at this time of the month, too, is no added help, as it has been darn near full. One thing, the days are getting shorter now, rather than longer and we can gradually advance the time of the showing as time goes on.

            Have a good Tahoe Time for me.

                                                                                        Loads of love,

rene-transparent

.

Watch for my next letter
July 20, 1944


Fourth of July at Anzio.



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July 12, 1944 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

Today is Rene’s 29th birthday, but since we don’t have a letter from him, here’s an excerpt from the journal of Dr. Philip Westdahl about the unit’s departure from Anzio.




       By July 12, the day of our departure from Anzio, the old beach head had become a desolate spot, far out of the way of the war. Only the innumerable foxholes and occasional abandoned and wrecked guns and planes remained as landmarks to tell the story of what was once the site of very bitter fighting.

       As usual, when units leave an area, all sorts of old, but usable, equipment was left behind, such as helmets, cans of oil, innumerable gasoline cans, torn, but repairable tents, lumber in abundance. All of these things are small in themselves, but when multiplied by the thousands, their cost – to be borne by taxation for decades to come – becomes a mighty personal problem.

       Our route took us through Littoria into a now famous Highway 7 (the Appian Way) through Itri and Terrancinia and Formia, still masses of rubble, but slowly witnessing the return of their inhabitants. We passed through the Pontine marsh area, and noted that the acres and acres of farmland flooded when the retreating Nazis opened the flood gates were gradually showing their soil above water. Watermarks midway up on the walls of farmhouses served as markers of the ruthless desperation of the enemy.

       Wherever the water had receded, even though it be only a few square yards of soil, the civilian occupants had started its cultivation. Where bridges once crossed the large drainage canals, industrious old men now ferried the traffic across on crude, flat-bottomed boats – carefully avoiding collision with the partially submerged concrete and steel of the former bridge.

       On all major highways the efficient work of our own Army engineers had restored all railroad and highway bridges to accommodate even the heaviest loads. Such familiar landmarks as the Mussolini Canal and Volturno River, scenes of well-known battles, were the sites of our most impressive bridge construction.

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Watch for René’s next letter on
July 20, 1944


Three of the “gals” (nurses) packed and ready to leave Anzio.