James Wilbur Lovell, February 6, 1907 – April 15, 2001
Author: Ben Tamashiro, D Company
Puka Puka Parades, August 2001, #2001-7
(This concludes the two-part overview of Jim Lovell’s story published in the 1980 PPParade. Last month’s overview ended on a high, anticipatory note: “The test for the bastard outfit was at hand,” We take it from there.)
The battle for Salerno beach marks the start of the Italian campaign for the Allies. What they had hoped for was a quick advance from Salerno to Naples to Rome. But instead it became a static war of position, leading to the stalemate at Cassino and ultimately the amphibious operation at Anzio.
The 5th Army had made an amphibious landing at Salerno beach on September 19, 1943, and now, on the 22nd, the 100th itself was clambering down the sides of the troopship into landing crafts and heading for the beach. And, like a scene straight out of a war movie, Jim says, “Even the jeeps landed in water which covered over the body of the jeeps. It was quite an experience seeing those jeeps catapulting off out of sight into the water.” As for the men themselves, “For those that got stuck in the sand offshore, many of the men went into the water over their heads. I personally went in up to my shirt pockets, where I had moved my wallet and my tobacco, to keep them dry.”
So even in these moments of high tension, certain essentials had to be taken care of first-like moving his precious pipe tobacco from his pants pocket to his shirt pocket.
With men and equipment safely off the beach, E and F companies were taken away—one to guard an airfield and the other to guard an ammunition or gasoline dump. Lovell states, “There were lots of explosions all around but no unusual incidents,” as the Allies began the big push to get out of the Salerno pocket. The men went through the towns of Eboli, Battapaglia, Montemarano, Avellion, and San Angelo, towns which the enemy had had to abandon under the relentless push of the Allies. Then Chiusano, the morning of the 26th, with Company B leading off down the road, and the first fatal casualties for the 100th.
Turning to the book Ambassadors in Arms to refresh his memory, Jim read the following: “Sergeant Shigeo (Joe) Takata said, ‘It’s the first time, so I’m going first.’ Spotting one of the Jerry nests, he walked toward it, firing his automatic rifle. A piece of shrapnel caught him in the head. Dying, he managed to tell one of his men, who had crawled close, where the German gunners were. Before the enemy pocket was silenced, another soldier had died and seven more had been wounded.”
Continuing, Jim tells of the 100th moving on up to Montefalcione, Montemiletto, and the hell of Benevento where streets were covered with 34th Division dead, the town itself in complete shambles, and the first of many river crossings. Then, he says, “We moved back to a place near San Giorgio and we stayed there about eight days. During that time, both General Eisenhower and General Clark (Commander of the 5th Army) had issued orders that the 100th Battalion had gone into action and had accredited itself very gallantly. And although it had suffered casualties, it continued to advance on schedule.” That was all, but the messages were indicators that the bastard outfit had passed its baptism of fire with approbation.
Not only that, but the boys seemed to be living it up at the same time. For instance, Jim tells of an incident in the town of Caiazzo where an Italian man wanted to know who were the officers in charge; he wanted them to pay for some turkeys which had disappeared during the night. Jim says, “I sent him to see somebody, I don’t know who, just to get rid of him.” And at Montesarchio, “We had been there only a little while and the men were coming in with their brass pots and they had eggs, green peppers, onions, and what not.” These are subjects which the field manuals on fighting a war do not discuss. The GI is on his own here.
Then on to Alife. “That’s when I was hit the first time, in my right leg—from a fragment of a screaming- meemie.” Evacuated to Bizerte, North Africa, for recuperation, he then goes into a song-and-dance about trying to hitch rides on airplanes, accompanied by several others from the 100th also recuperating in Bizerte, in attempts to return to their unit in Italy. They finally make it. . . and into the fire of Cassino. Jack Johnson has just been killed and Jim relieves Major Clough in as much as he is senior to him So Jim becomes battalion commander. (Turner had earlier been relieved as commander during one of the mountain battles leading to Cassino.)
The battle for Cassino beginning mid-January 1944 was certainly one of the toughest battles of the war. The city lies about 75 miles southeast of Rome, and with the Benedictine Monastery atop Mount Cassino, it has been guarding the southern approaches to Rome for centuries. Jim recounts the fierce struggle to capture the monastery; how in one instance “we found ourselves in an almost untenable position above the town and below the monastery. They were firing down upon us from the monastery and even one tank came up, and Awakuni knocked it out”
Then, “somebody up on the castle must have been able to see me behind a wall and got me in the back of my legs with a machine pistol. I had four or five holes in me …took a long time to get out of there that night, to the hospital.” And from there it was evacuation again to Bizerte, then a hospital ship to stateside, then home to Hawaii.
In the 1980 interview, among other things, Jim tells of a visit by “Old Man” Turner. And of his (Lovell’s) clashes with nurses and doctors in stateside hospitals because of their bigoted views about the boys from Hawaii, referring to their biases as “the same old bull-shit.” Also, he expresses a note about Jack Johnson, and praise for outstanding members Doc Kometani, Chaplain Yost, doctors Richard Kainuma and Isaac Kawasaki.
And so we close this overview of Jim’s story as told in his 1980 piece. But we have one leftover note, Jim’s pipe. In the months of combat that followed the l00th’s landing at Salerno, it was not easy to get tobacco so Jim would stock up whenever he’d run into a Red Cross wagon. But getting his favorite brand, Edgeworth, was the greater problem.
And according to Wilma, Jim has stayed with Edgeworth throughout his life. As for his pipes, when she pulled out a large desk drawer to show us his collection, his hundred or so pipes nearly spilled over. A hundred? She has never stopped to count them. Perhaps it’s best to leave those things alone anyway.
For in reality, like those uncounted pipes, it is almost impossible to account for all the wartime adventures and associated stories that lie within each of us. . . a trace here, a blot there. . . thoughts lie within each of us . . . thoughts that often give us that ‘”chicken skin’ of the soul” feel for that bastard organization that was us.