Angelo Salerno | Private (First Class), U.S. Army, 103rd Infantry Division | Served in England, France, Belgium, Austria, Italy and Germany | Received the following medals for his service: Bronze Star and Victory Medal.
Mr. Salerno retells a suspenseful story of his encounter during the Allied invasion of Italy, during which a group of politically divided Italian troops were reluctant to surrender.
“My outfit, the 103rd Infantry Division, I look upon that like – I classify them as three armies. The first army was with Bradley and with Patton. They were the… they used to go 50, 60 miles, they could go. They were fantastic. But one used to go, and the Germans used to come back into the pocket, they called them. And we were like the mop up. And we would come through and clean up the towns where all the Germans were left behind. And then behind us came the other ones that would set up the government, set up the mayors and all of that.”
Autumn 1944: The 103rd Infantry Division arrives in Europe. Operation Avalanche, the Allied invasion of Italy, was well underway.
“The lieutenant comes running and calling.. “What the heck?” and I say “Yeah, what is it?” “Come here,” he says, “There’s a bunch of Italians that want to surrender but they can’t.” I understand that somebody doesn’t wanna make them surrender. So he says “We’re gonna go over there,” he says “Do you speak Italian?” I said “Yeah, I speak Italian.” He says “OK.” So they got a jeep, they got a half-track, and they got a tank. We go up there and there’s a big slope. It’s about 100, 150 foot, and it’s all woods at the top so we got the white flag – it was the guy’s undershirt. We put it on a stick and we walk it up, the three of us. Me, the lieutenant and another guy. Here comes four guys, four Italians, they come out. So I says “Hey..” in Italian I said “You surrender? You call the rest of your guys and you bring them out.” We didn’t know how many were there. “You know the Major don’t want us to do it.” I said “Well, look, instead of you going to the Major’s funeral, your wife and kids are gonna go to your funeral because you guys are all gonna die.” I said “Take a look.” And then we had the tank with the gun up there and two machine guns, and we had a platoon of soldiers – of gunmen. I said “You got ten minutes. You don’t come out, you’re all gonna die.” So we went back and they went back. We were waiting 5 minutes, 4 minutes, then we hear boom, boom, boom.”
With German forces resisting defeat, some Italian troops remain politically divided and reluctant to surrender.
“Everybody’s ready to shoot. The lieutenant says “Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot.” In a little while they all start to come out. So I see the guy that had the flag – the guy I was talking to. And I said “What happened?” He said “The major didn’t want us to surrender. He wouldn’t let us surrender and we were brought up in the same village,” he says. “We didn’t have the heart to kill him. But we had two new guys in the thing. We gave them the gun, and they killed him.” He killed the Major, and they all surrendered. I said “Go home to your wife. You can thank her very much that you’re still alive. Otherwise you would have been like the Major.” And we brought them in. There was 62 or 63 in the woods. For one guy?”
May 1945: German forces in Italy surrender. The “long, hard slog” of the Italian Campaign ends not without cost: over 300,000 U.S. and British soldiers were killed, wounded or MIA.