Off the Coast of Salerno, Italy – Sept 8, 1943
Armistice! Italy has declared armistice with the Allies! The crackling noise from the loudspeakers of the USS Chase had never been so well received. Instant jubilation erupted from the soldiers aboard the lead boat for Invasion Group D. The cheers were mostly infantry from the 36th Division from Texas, “T-Patchers”. It was less than 24 hours before H-hour when they would jump waste deep into the Tyrrhenian Sea and wade to the shores of Paestum, Italy as the first American boots on the ground in continental Europe. It was not often there was cause for celebration in war, so the enthusiasm was real and infectious when it occurred.
Captain Ralph Hotchkiss and Major Frank Pellegrin were propped against a capstan when the cheers broke out.
“How about that Hotch?” yelled Pellgrin.
“I guess the Wops got smart.” said Hotchkiss. “They musta saw you coming.”
Frank laughed and drew on his cigarette. “This calls for a celebration!”
Frank reached into his satchel and produced a silver flask. He had filled it with contraband cognac purchased on the streets of Algiers prior to their departure. He took a slug and passed it to his buddy.
“I never had shit so awful taste so good,” said Hotch as he drew his own gulp.”
“VEE-ESS-OOO-PEE,” responded ‘Pelly’ mocking the street merchant who had sold him the liquor for two bucks.
They laughed and shook hands firmly.
“Let’s go find Phinney,” said Hotch, “He’s got cigars.”
Carl “Finns” Phinney was an officer with the 36th Infantry. Despite his gruff outward demeanor most of his men knew, Carl was a fun-loving man; same as the two friends now approaching him on the aft deck.
As the two officers approached, Hotch said, “Hey Pells, he must have been reading our minds. That Mick bastard is already with lit cigar and a Pabst.”
“Howdy y’all!” Phinney shouted as the two Soldier-Journalists approached. “Things up front as good as back ‘ere?”
Carl was all Irish, but born and bred Texan and had the drawl to prove it.
“Howdy Fins!” said Hotch, “We came back here to share a belt and grab a stogie from ya.”
“Well c’mon over. I got three good ‘uns left and I reckon you guys can have two of those.”
The three shook hands as Fins doled out two cigars to his friends. Pelly offered the flask to Fins who waved him off.
“I prefer warm suds to that rot gut you got in Tunis any day.” Fins said.
Pelly replied, “It was Algiers, but what the fuck is the difference?”
The men chatted and laughed about some of their recent exploits in Northern Africa. All of them had arrived after most of the fighting was over. Carl was busy preparing his battalion for the invasion while Hotch and Pelegrin, who met in Algiers at the Officer’s Club, made idle time and were figuring out what it was they were supposed to be doing as “Liaison Officers”. Pelegrin had proclaimed them to be “Laying” Officers as it would be their sworn duty to “engage the local population in acts of preparation, and integration with Allied forces moving through their homesteads.” Both in their thirties, they laughed at the sophomoric humor bred from hanging around twenty-somethings during a couple of months of inactivity.
“I gotta tap a kidney,” said Hotch and left his two friends to their cigars and drink of choice.
Capt. Hotchkiss went straight to the cramped bunk room he shared with Pelegrin and two other non-combatant officers. This armistice news meant something very different to the covert OSS Operative. He latched the door, fished under the blanket on his metal cot and grabbed the Italian phrasebook all soldiers had received over one month ago; none knew why at the time. Unbeknownst to all aboard, Capt. Hotchkiss had undergone an intensive three-month Italian course at Yale University before his deployment over a year ago. He was taught to speak Italian like a native, which was a requirement for an assignment he knew nothing about at the time. There was other rigorous training he underwent in the craft of spy-work.
He pulled an encoded message from a well-disguised pocket between pages 22 and 23. The tiny document contained new instructions in case a “change in situational parameters” occurred prior to reaching land. Ralph’s superiors knew something could (or would) happen. I guess that’s why they’re running the OSS he thought to himself.
He deciphered the note in his head. His original plan was to locate a man code named Bufalo, who was working with the anti-fascist underground. His mission was to recruit Italian soldiers to the resistance. Now that Italy had switched allegiances, the mission had to change. The message said:
“Scrap Bufalo. Proceed to Ravello location.”