Photo: Major Ralph Hotchkiss and major Frank Pellegrin in Naples, Italy August, 1944. Photo taken by Sherman Montrose (ACME Photo)
February 25, 2017
I have spent a great deal of time in the last year researching a specific topic that I had no idea fate would place in front of me. I’m speaking of the Italian Campaign of WWII. More specifically, the activities of General Mark Clark’s US 5th Army from September 3, 1943 to the liberation of Rome on June 4, 1944. Even more specifically, following the footsteps of my Grandfather who largely spent time embedded with the 36th Infantry Division from Texas that was one part of the 5th Army.
OK.That’s pretty narrow but not when you consider what happened in this eight-month time frame. Suffice to say it was historic, bloody, controversial and left roughly 450,000 casualties in the history books.
Since my Grandfather was an intelligence and liaison officer, part of his duties was writing stories from the front line. As with any war, fictitious or real, bonds among fellow soldiers is of a nature only they can describe and folks like most of us just offer, “I can’t even imagine.” That may be the only accurate way of understanding what one has not experienced.
But I digress. From the multitude of stories, letters, Army correspondence and a plethora of personal pictures left by my Grandfather, it is safe to say that he and Major Frank Pellegrin became that unfathomable characterization of brothers-in-arms. Their correspondence – during and after the war – suggested they joked around, pranked, drank and misbehaved with the best (or worst) of the “Doughfoots”. Yet, the real relationship, the discussion of eminent death, missing family and what the future holds were absent from the documents. They were recorded in their hearts and minds and not meant for sharing on a Grandson’s blog nearly 75 years later.
One such hint of the darker side is shown below. A scanned copy of an original lyric written by Major Pellegrin after the arguably worst disaster suffered by the US Army in all of WWII. The 36th Infantry was sent to a slaughter field called the Rapido River, south of Rome. As these words below suggest, my Grandfather and Major Pellgrin had a front row seat.
Author Duane Schultz has written an excellent book about the battle at the Rapido River in late January, 1944. It is called Crossing the Rapido.