Monday, June 11, 2018

A Surprising Encounter at Rapido

Via Ol' Remus

Brutal fighting near Italy’s Rapido River led to tremendous American casualties—and an unexpected gesture by the enemy
Lieutenant Harold L. Bond had never seen a real German soldier before, only actors playing them in Hollywood movies and U.S. Army training films. But the ones he saw on the other side of the Rapido River near Monte Cassino, Italy, on January 24, 1944, were alive and real—and they were heading toward him.

Bond, 23, was a newly commissioned lieutenant fresh out of Officer Candidate School; a 90-day wonder, as the GIs called them. He had joined the 36th Infantry Division—known as the T-Patchers, a Texas National Guard outfit—the night before they attacked the Germans in their concrete-and-steel defenses on the far side of the Rapido in the shadow of Monte Cassino. His superiors told him that he was too new to be assigned to command a unit—he would only get in the way—and so Bond watched and waited.

For the next three days, he saw his fellow soldiers try to cross the river three times, only to be beaten back again and again. Most of the troops never made it across, and among those that did, few returned. The ones who survived never forgot it. In 1999, more than a half century later, Private Bill Hartung of the 36th said that he “felt like I had turned into an old man overnight. I know I was never the same person again…The nightmares make it seem like it all happened yesterday.”

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