- Historic Sites
The Jump Into Sicily
“For This Challenge, I Had Come Three Thousand Miles and Thirty-six Years of My Life”
April/May 1978 | Volume 29, Issue 3
After about an hour we were challenged by a small group of ,wounded and injured of the 505th under the command of Lieutenant Al Kronheim. We traded morphine Syrettes for their M-I rifles and ammunition and continued to the west. About two-thirty \ve were challenged by a machine-gun post of the 45th Division, and at last we had reentered our own lines. We learned that we were about five miles southwest of Vittoria. In about another mile we came to the main paved road from the beach to Vittoria, passing by a number of foxholes and dead Italian soldiers. By then I had about eight troopers with me. We heard the sound of armor coming and at once got off the road and concealed ourselves on both sides. I cautioned the troopers not to fire if it was a friendly tank. Everybody was so excited, however, that when the first tank appeared, there was a fusillade; it seemed as though everyone fired on it. It was an American tank, fortunately buttoned up, and no one was hurt.
We then went on to the edge of Vittoria, where I was able to borrow a jeep. I had heard rumors that there were more paratroopers a few miles away in the direction of GeIa. I continued on toward GeIa and to my surprise came across the 3rd Battalion of the 505th, in foxholes in a tomato OeId, and just awakening. The battalion commander, whose nickname was “Cannonball,” was sitting on the edge of a foxhole, dangling his feet. I asked him what his men were doing. He said that he had been reorganizing the battalion and that he had about 250 troopers present. He had landed nearby and had rounded everybody up. I asked him about his objective, several miles to the west near GeIa, and he said that he had not done anything about it. I said we would move at once toward GeIa and told him to get the battalion on its feet and going. In the meantime I took over a platoon of the 30Tth Engineers, commanded by Lieutenant Ben L. Wechsler. Lieutenant Colonel Edward Krause, commanding the 3rd Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, said that there were supposed to be Germans between where he was and GeIa and that the 45th Division had been having a difficult time.
Using the platoon of engineers as infantry, we moved at once on the road toward GeIa. We had hardly started when, as we went around a bend in the road, a German motorcycle with an officer in the sidecar drove up in the midst of us. We put our guns on him. He threw up his hands, said he was a medical officer, pointed to his insignia, and told us he wanted to be released at once. We weren’t about to release him. He was the first live German we had ever seen in combat, and we noticed that he had grenades in the sidecar. Reasoning that an armed medic should not be let loose, we took the motorcycle and sidecar from him and started him to the rear on foot, disarming the driver also. The medic said they had been moving down from Biscari toward Viltoria. We could hear a great deal of firing, so we continued.
By then it was broad daylight, about 8:30 A.M. In less than a mile we reached a point where a small rail- road crossed the road. On the right was a house where the gatekeeper lived.There was a striped pole that could he lowered to signal the automotive and donkey-cart traffic when a train approached. Just ahead was a ridge, ahout half a mile away and perhaps a hundred feet high. The slope to the top was gradual. On both sides of the road were olive trees and beneath them tall brown and yellow grass, burnt by the summer sun. I had no idea where we were at the time, but I later learned the place was called Biazza Ridge.
The firing from the ridge increased. I told Lieutenant Wechsler to deploy his platoon on the right and to move on to seize the ridge. Then I sent word to Cannonball to bring his battalion up as promptly as he could.
We moved forward. I was with Wechsler, and in a few hundred yards the Ore became intense. As we neared the top of the ridge, there was a rain of leaves and branches as bullets tore through the trees, and there was a buzzing like the sound of swarms of bees. A few moments later, Wechsler was hit and fell. Some troopers were hit; others continued to crawl forward. Soon we were pinned down by heavy small-arms fire, but so far nothing else.
I made my way back to the railroad crossing, and in about twenty minutes Major William Hagen joined me. He was the battalion executive for the 3rd Battalion. He said the battalion was coming up. I asked where Cannonball was, and he said that he had gone back to the 45th Division to tell them what was going on. I ordered Hagen to have the troops drop their packs and get ready to attack the Germans on the ridge as soon as they came up. By that time we had picked up a platoon of the 45th Division that happened to he there, part of a company from the 180th Infantry. There was also a sailor or two who had come ashore in the amphibious landings. We grabbed them also.