The Allies were finally on the move in Italy, following the breakout from Cassino and Anzio, suddenly the front lines became much less static.
Harvey Reves was a Medic with Company B, 111th Medical Battalion attached to the 142nd Infantry. On the 30th May they set on patrol into the Alban Hills as the US Army’s advance got under way. They were within sight of Rome – where they could see the German artillery blinking in the distance. The area they entered was contested – and it turned out that they were patrolling behind German lines. They were in the middle of bringing some US wounded down the mountain when they suddenly ran into some German troops:
There were about 40 Jerries all spread out coming up the hill and talking loudly back and forth (about then I was ready for some toilet paper). The only word I could make out sounded like NIX. Seemed like they said NIX or NISCT very often whatever they were saying. Then I turned to look at Borkvist and without making a sound indicated to him where the Jerries were. He turned ashen white when he saw my face. So we lay quietly until we could hear their footsteps right upon us. Then it was bedlam for a few seconds. I can only tell you what I observed from my position. I’m sure each of us had a different experience.
The first thing I heard was “Hands Ho!” and this freckle-faced kid who looked to be 14 or 15 years old shoved this Burp Gun in my face and demanded “Pistola! Pistola!” I said, “no Pistola! no Pistola!” and then there were a dozen hands all over me. They took everything except some of my medical equipment and my clothes. I always carried two canteens and extra rations, cigarettes, etc. Boy, they really cleaned me out. While they were going through my pockets I heard this voice from the direction of the other litter yelling, “Italiano! Italiano!” As it turned out, one of the Jerries thought Tony Gomez was an Italian and was going to shoot him. He yelled, “Italiano” and fired a burst at Tony’s feet, missing him as Tony Gomez yelled, “No, No, ESPANOL! ESPANOL!”. So the Jerry backed off a little as their Lieutenant came forward.
He was the typical German officer (from the movies), still and erect, clean shaven and totally in charge. With our broken German we tried to convince him he should allow us to proceed to the aid station with our wounded, but he didn’t seem to understand until the new man remembered a few words of German and spoke to him. The Lieutenant replied with one perfectly spoken word in English, “Impossible!” Then he started giving orders and two young Jerries herded us together and started us down the side of the mountain toward Velletri while the rest of them disappeared on the trail we had been traveling. Never saw any of them again.
It was tough going down the side of the mountain with the wounded, but eventually we made it down to the edge of town. We stopped there near a little farm house and saw a few other Germans moving around and everyone seemed pretty relaxed. No shelling or small arms fire and our two captors were very friendly and showed us pictures of their families, etc. Then this German sergeant came running up with a few other men and that was the first time I started worrying about our safety since we left the original group. This guy was tall, muscular, a big scar on his face, about 30 years old, I think. He had a very unfriendly look in his eyes and his voice and attitude got everyone’s attention. Our two guards stiffened immediately and paid strict attention as he rattled off a bunch of dialogue. Then with just a hint of a smile he took off on the double with his men. Boy! I was glad to see him go.
Then our guards steered us into the little farm house. It had two bunks and a dirt floor. We put the two litter patients on the bunks and the rest of us sat on the floor against the walls. The guards sat on chairs in front of the door and they told us (mostly in sign language) that we would be put on trucks and taken to Rome that night. That almost sounded good. Then in the early afternoon a couple of our Mustangs came over and strafed everything in sight. None of us was hit but it was close. We had noticed earlier that a house about a half a mile away had a big Red Cross flag on the roof. So we asked our guards if we could get it and put it in our house. They didn’t want to get shot anymore than we did so they went over there with us and we made the switch and we all felt a little safer. There wasn’t anyone in the house we took the flag from.
Soon a few more Germans came by and talked to our guards very calmly and left. Then one of the guards motioned to two of us to come outside and we followed him into a cellar near the house. It didn’t take long to find out why. When he opened the door to the cellar, the stench was terrible. There were about thirty wounded Germans laying down there and most of them had gangrene. We gathered together what little medical supplies we had and did what we could for them (which wasn’t much). It was really pitiful; even though they were the enemy you couldn’t help feeling for them. So it wasn’t easy to leave them as most were really suffering and their eyes were pleading for help. I’ll never forget their faces.
It was getting dark now and we were all huddled in the farm house and we hadn’t had any food or water since they captured us. So finally one of the guards brought in a bottle of wine and we passed it around and all had a sip or two and I guess all fell asleep. The last I remembered was the two guards at the door with their rifles and a candle burning between them. The next thing I remember was a big “BOOM!” and as I opened my eyes, red hot sparks, bullets ricocheting off the walls and ceiling, dust and smoke everywhere and a voice from outside saying, “Come out of there you Dirty Bastards”, and by this time even though we could hardly see, we were yelling, “Don’t Shoot, Don’t Shoot. Americans. Americans.”
As I came out the door, the first thing I saw was a Tommy gun pointed at me but the guy behind was smiling. There were G.I.’s everywhere. One guy with a Bazooka pointed at us and plenty of rifles. We were lucky they didn’t blow us all to Kingdom Come. Several of us were wounded; mine was not serious. As far as I know everyone survived the ordeal except the two guards who were at the door, but I’m not sure about them. Our new replacement who spoke German had his radial nerve severed by a bullet and was eventually sent home.
Read the whole of Harvey Reeves account at 136th Infantry Division Association