| Pfc. Donato
M Company 347th, 87th Infantry Division
This is not the usual war story that one is most
likely to read in this column of "As I Remember It". More
often than not those stories relate to the soldier's participation
in the harsh realities of battle, telling of his experiences entwined
with those of his fellow squad members. The stories speak of battle,
hardships, pain and at times, the pangs of loneliness one endures
in the front line of duty. This is a story of two boys of diversified
backgrounds, one born American of Irish heritage, the other a naturalized
citizen of Italian parents; both caught up in the throes of war,
from which they became good friends. They hailed from the state
of Massachusetts, one from Worcester the other from Malden, some
45 miles east; were inducted into the army on the same day and after
being outfitted in army olive drab at Ft. Devans were quickly railed
to Macon, Georgia and Camp Wheeler to undergo basic training in
John McAuliffe was born in Brooklyn, New York
with his brothers and sisters, the son of a sculptor, in the employ
of an even more prominent sculptress, Mrs. Gertrude Whitney, daughter
of the millionaire Vanderbilt of the railroad dynasty. He returned
to Worcester, the home of his father, after his parent's deaths
at his early age, and became a student at Holy Cross College there,
when the war was declared against Japan in 1941.
Donato Marini was born in the little town of San
Donato val di Camino just outside Rome. The town's heritage goes
back many centuries to the days of the emperor Caesar and the formation
of the Roman Empire. Donato indeed was named after the ancient town's
patron saint. He was the son of Gaetano, a stone cutter in Italy,
now faced with entering the equivalent of our high school at the
age of 14. Rather than undergo the forced military indoctrination
under the Fascist system of Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, his caring
father wisely took him from school and directed him to live with
some relatives in America. This was in 1935 during the buildup of
the Fascist Party and Mussolini's left wing army.
John McAuliffe attended the boarding schools of
the Catholic sisters and brothers after his parent's deaths, and
now was pursuing a premed course at Holy Cross College, while living
with his school teacher aunt and uncle. The nature of the course
allowed him a deferment from being drafted into the selective service
and one by one he watched many of his classmates enter the military
service, and being envious of them. He wanted so much to be in uniform
with his friends but it was his folks' wishes that he continue with
his studies as long as possible. The day came when he graduated
but was immediately drafted into the Army in June of 1944 to fill
vacancies in the long line of infantrymen. This was about the time
that the ASTP folded and the boys in that program went in to the
On the other hand, Danny, as he was now called
in America, was attending night school and learning the English
language while working days at the Fore River shipyard in Quincy,
Massachusetts as a welder. He was helping to build the new carrier
Lexington after the former was sunk in the Battle of Midway, and
also was helping to build the battleship, Massachusetts. The nature
of Danny's work also provided him with a deferment from the draft
into the military, as his work was classified as essential to the
war effort. Like in the case of John, the day came when his job
was superseded by the need for infantrymen over that of new warships
and he also was called into active service with the army.
The two draftees with the surnames beginning with
the letter "M", were assigned to the same company in training
and bunked in the same aisle, one at each end of the row of beds.
The seventeen weeks of training together brought them even closer
and they found themselves on January 1, 1945 on the converted luxury
liner, Queen Mary, on the way to Europe and the Battle of the Bulge.
The trip over was uneventful as the big ship laden with troops zigged
and zagged alone, without convoy across the cold Atlantic. The three
days across France in unheated boxcars, herded like cattle in freezing
temperatures was a foreteller of conditions that were to face us.
All amenities and comforts were left behind at the Port of La Havre.
We now were faced with the life of soldiering at its worst. As the
numbers would have it, the two "M" boys were assigned
to "M" company of the 347th Infantry in the 87th Division,
in the same mortar section but in different squads. This was in
the city of Echternach just after the battles of Moircy, Tillet,
and Bonnerue were fought. This is not a story of soldiering, as
I mentioned earlier, but being soldiers in combat in the Ardennes
we were subjected to the frigid temperatures, the hardships, the
shelling and the machine gun fire and struggles of every day hazards
in the life of an infantryman.
This story begins in Springtime April, about a
month after we crossed the Rhine River. I do not recall where it
all started nor is it important. Many are the times that we didn't
know where we were, as the drive across Germany was at such a rapid
pace. Our squads were approaching a small hamlet in typical infantry
fashion, at spaced intervals on both sides of the road. Suddenly
we came upon foxholes that were dug in along the roadsides at some
thirty feet apart. They were not the usual type holes, but more
like graves, deep and with neat square cuts and equal sides. They
were dug with precision and meticulous care as if ordered and watched
over in the process. We became suspicious of their uniqueness and
our attention was quickly diverted to the movement and assembly
of people up ahead in the road. They posed no threat as we knew
they were not enemy troops. As we approached they came forward as
if to greet us, and on closer look we found that they were displaced
men in civilian clothes. In greeting them, we learned that they
were Italians. Immediately Danny came to the fore and engaged them
in his native Italian tongue. Their happiness in making contact
with American soldiers was exceeded only by being able to talk with
one of us in the Italian language. Danny jabbered with them for
a half hour and I was completely left out of it.
One of them asked why I was so quiet and I poked Danny and said,
"You Italians sure do talk a lot." At one point there
was lots of arm waving, shouting and laughing. Danny detected a
familiarity in the man's dialect, and we learned that he was from
San Donato val di Camino, Provincia Frocinone, Danny's birthplace.
They were ecstatic to say the least! The man's name was Antonio
Massa, a first lieutenant in the Italian army of his majesty the
King. Not in Mussolini's army. These men were a pan of those troops
that were captured and disarmed and made to fight with the Germans
against the Russians. They were also pressed into the German work
force and were the ones that were forced to dig the grave-like foxholes
we saw in the road. They were left behind by the retreating Germans
as the American troops approached the town.
Danny's letter home mentioned all this and his
girlfriend began to get more worried about his being on German soil.
It was during a break in the fighting when we had our tents pitched
in a field that Danny asked me to write to his girlfriend in an
attempt to allay her fears, saying that he was OKAY AND NOT TO WORRY,
that the war would soon be over. I didn't know Josephine but Danny
had shown me pictures of her and had mentioned me to her in his
letters home. Let me take you ahead in time about 44 years. In 1989
on a visit to the Marini's, now living in Newtonville, Massachusetts,
Josephine took out her box of letters that she had saved during
the war. Among them was my letter that I had hand written, along
with all of Danny's. The letter read:
Somewhere in Germany,
April 1, 1945
You've never heard from me before, nor have you ever seen me, but
I'm from that dear old state of Massachusetts, the city of Worcester.
Dante and I were at Devans and Wheeler together and here we are
again in the same outfit chasing the Huns. He was just writing to
you over at my tent so he asked me to drop a line. We've talked
over old times a great deal and what we'd like to be doing back
home in old Mass. He has shown me your picture many times and you
sure do make a nice couple... (that is, if I don't break it up.)
Dante just ran after his rifle so I guess I better take it easy.
Anyway, I'll be at the wedding with a pound of rice or two. We just
got back from a movie this afternoon and had a pretty good time.
You see we're taking a rest now and can enjoy life a little, as
best we can with what we have. This country is pretty - too bad
the inhabitants aren't peaceful people. But we hope to make it peaceful
soon. Well it's getting dark now so I think I'd better close. Hope
you don't mind me writing to you but we Massachusetts people have
to stick together.
One of the boys,
I don't know how much my letter helped but I hoped
it would have helped put her at ease. Also among the letters was
the wallet that Danny had carried through the War with the picture
of Josephine and a lock of her hair. She had saved these mementos
through the years. I didn't know until this time, or else I had
forgotten, that Josephine was also from the town of San Donato.
Both she and Danny attended the primary school in the village and
both had the last name of Marini but were not directly related.
Danny had taken a liking towards her.
In 1940 when Danny was working at the shipyard,
his father told him one day that a Marini family had just arrived
from the old country and was residing in nearby Newton. Would he
like to drive out there with him to meet them? To his great surprise,
he was met at the door by Josephine, her mother, aunt and grandmother.
Josephine was now twenty years old and had developed into "a
very nice young lady." The relationship that was broken off
five years earlier, by their separation, was now taken up again
but in a much different dimension. This very nice young lady who
worried so much about a young soldier in Germany and to whom his
buddy wrote to, was to become his wife forever. Back with the 87th
Division of Patton's Third Army in their pursuit across Germany.
It was now the middle of April and the armies
were on a roll along the Autobahns deeper and deeper into the Deutschland.
It was springtime and the soldiers had shed their winter overcoats.
You would see them along the roadsides, here and there as the warmth
of the day wore on the men. Getting rid of them made one less item
to bear with. It was a long way from Oberhof (the sports center),
to Oelsnitz near the Czechoslovakian border. We passed through Bad
Blakenburg Salfeld, Schliez and the railroad and industrial center
of Plauen, the largest of cities and now completely leveled. It
was in the small city of Theuma that the war ended for us on May
8, 1945 just outside of Oelsnitz.
Our company pitched tents on a hillside along a road into the town.
From here we watched the endless parade of defeated and surrendered
German troops file by to set up their camp not far away and across
from a small pond that separated the two camps. It was a warm Spring
day, the water was inviting and we were off and down to the pond
to the strains of Lily Marlene, that famous song of the war. A handful
of German soldiers were already there on their side of the pond,
singing, soaping up and I suppose, celebrating the end of the long
war for them.
We quickly jumped in and splashed and swam around
reveling in the sun. It was a great day, the war was over, it was
V-E Day and the water was fine. Someone got hold of a bottle of
cognac, we had a campfire that night and did some celebrating of
our own. A few weeks before this, Danny had picked up a camera someplace
and came back to the squad area with his shirt stuffed with rolls
of film. He went about snapping pictures of everybody. Now that
hostilities had ceased, he was off into town on a picture shoot.
If it moved, he shot it! And much more. He was fortunate to be able
to bring the rolls of exposed film back to the States and when I
visited him shortly after the war, I was surprised to see all the
pictures he had taken. Included was one of General Culin posing
with his foot up on his jeep, "Arizona". He had others
of German officers surrendering, pictures of the German camp and
troops and also many of his buddies in the field. Today they provide
a wonderful album of memories.
With time on his hands, Danny remembered the note
from our newfound friend, the Italian Lieutenant. He now had a scheme
to get our commanding officer, Captain Pierceall's permission to
visit the camp where the Italian was and look him up. He not only
found him but also he got his picture, which he has to this day.
Lieutenant Massa had been away from home for a
long time and had not heard from his family back in San Donato,
where Danny's mother still lived. Massa had no way of reaching his
parents to let them know he was alright, still alive and just liberated
by the American soldiers. If he could only write a note to his father
and have Danny insert the message in his letter to his mother in
San Donato. The captain gave Danny permission to write the letter
and approved the letter with his signature of censorship. Of course,
there was no way that Massa would know that the message got to his
father and very improbable that a return letter would be forthcoming.
Danny said "good-bye" to Massa, wished him the best and
returned to our camp.
We were kept busy doing ten mile hikes, and performing
simulated firing orders with the 81 mm mortar, as well as performing
close order drill. At one recreation period, Danny and I put on
boxing gloves and went at it for a good half hour. It was the format
of the future Jake LaMotta Sugar Ray Robinson matches. Danny, big
boned and heavily muscled, somewhat awkward and sluggish versus
the slightly built, wiry John, with quicker reflexes. Starting at
the company headquarters tent, we sparred, pushed and shoved, slugged
and groaned our way along the line of tents to the end of the row,
to the cheers and jeers of our resting buddies. It was a draw! We
returned to our tents a bit roughed up but arm in arm and still
the best of friends.
From then on the order of events passed quickly.
The boxcar trip back across France to Camp Lucky Strike, St. Valery
on the coast to board the West Point and the five day voyage across
the Atlantic. From Fort Meade to Fort Devans and home on a 30 day
furlough. I did not return to Fort Benning for the deactivation
of the division. I was sent to Deshon General Hospital in Butler,
Pennsylvania for treatment of a service connected disability. It
was here that I got the invitation to Danny and Josephine's wedding.
I was not able to attend and sent my regrets. Soon we were both
discharged from the army and sought separate ways. Danny went to
work as a welder building bridges over the rivers in and around
Boston and John went back to school in pursuit of a career in dentistry.
Donato Marini as written down by his friend John
The 87th Division Patch.
FPfc Donato Marini, somewhere in Germany.
Front (L-R): Lester Zimmerman of Cheyenne,WY; Donato Marini of Malden,
MA; Thomas McAbee of Spartenburg, SC Back (L-R): John McAuliffe
of Worcester, MA; Glen Deel of NC. All members of lst squad, lst
mortar section, 3rd platoon.