World War II

Vignettes of World War II

 ... Humorous side of U.S. Navy service

By Jim Driscoll

With the current military campaign constantly in the news, it brought back some memories to me of the three years I spent in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946. Here are three short stories that I can still recall quite clearly.

Here's mud in your eyes!

After "boot" camp, quartermasters school and training on a Landing Craft Tank (LCT), I was assigned to an army base in or around Norfolk, Virginia, prior to shipping out to the Mediterranean Sea area. The final ordeal: a series of shots to be taken, including the double tetanus injection which was quite potent.

One of the members our group was "Red" from Revere, Massachusetts, who was a character in many ways; well-built, shocking red hair, and a real "salt", especially in his language. However, he had one problem - he hated needles, was deathly afraid of the double tetanus shot and was threatening to desert the Navy. I somehow talked him into going to the medical station with me. There was a long line waiting and I went in first; he followed me and also got the shot.

As I was walking out of the building, I kept telling my buddies that the needle was - no problem. Then I promptly fainted and fell flat on my face in about three inches of mud outside the medical building. The next thing I remembered was waking up in my bunk and having to take abuse from our friend "Red", who of course came through the ordeal unscathed. As often happened, I lost track of "Red" along the way and still wonder what happened to him.

The natives were restless!

Some time in March, 1944, we were temporarily tied up in the harbor of Palermo, Sicily, after our LCT had been towed from North Africa. While there, I "volunteered" to serve one day as a member of the Shore Patrol in the town. As we left the police station, we heard shooting and quickly ducked for cover. We were advised by a native 'not to worry'. This was just opposing gangs of the Mafia; they had only been feuding for 10 years - no problem. (Of course, they were shooting real bullets.)

Now for the good part: my tour of Shore Patrol duty was in a USO facility, which among other features had a full bar. Needless to say, this was - no problem.

Out of uniform! This photo of shipmates was taken at Naples, Italy in June 1944. Navy regulations required hats be worn square on foreheads subject to court martial, although rarely enforced in war time. From left: Jim Driscoll, Melrose, MA; Justin Martin, Saddle River, NJ; Tom Whalen, Massena, NY; and, L.C. Field, Lynchburg, VA.

They also serve who stand and gaze!

The D-day invasion of Anzio Beach was January 21, 1944. When we arrived at the scene in April or May of 1944, the area was under Allied control, but the position still was not completely secured. There were continuous rumors of the Germans planning to retaliate by sending parachutists to disrupt the rear lines near the shore where LST's and LCT's were operating. As a result, we were on 24-hour alert and I (of course) had the midnight shift.

Since our LCT was pulled right up to the beach, I was patrolling the area directly in front of the craft with an eye to the heavens searching for billowing parachutes in a pitch-black night. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder and froze. Then I heard: "Do you have a cigarette, Matey?" It took me a while to recover - not only did I give him a cigarette, but I gave him the whole pack - no problem.  As it turned out, my new acquaintance was a Sengalese soldier assigned to a British Commando team and he was also patrolling the area on a similar assignment. I never saw the fellow again but will always remember his size - at least six feet, four inches tall and he spoke English beautifully, in a wonderful clipped tone.

Did the Germans ever drop parachutists at the Anzio Beach? Not to my knowledge, although our LCT and two others were diverted shortly afterwards to Salerno, Italy to prepare for another landing at the famous Island of Elba. This can be read by clicking on article entitled "The days that followed were a blur..."

January 4, 2002

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