Silver Star — The hard way, part 5


(1/2/2018)

Sergeant Palecek’s written account of the Sicilian D-day Invasion

By: Sergeant Marvin A. Palecek
From: Glen Palecek

I’ll begin this episode with Dad’s words about the bombardment of and near the city of Scarlatti, on the southern coast of Sicily, in preparation for the beachhead invasion:

When our cruisers opened up with their four-inch gun batteries with their eight-inch shells, each battery fired one gun at a time, so that a white-hot shell was just landing while two more white balls were following each other through the air while one was just leaving the gun. The Italians thought our ships had automatic cannons. When our planes started to dive-bomb and strafe, the air was filled with flak and upside-down red fountains because Italian machine guns, like ours, used a red tracer bullet for every fifth shell, and the machine gun nest covered its own section of the sky so that planes would fly into them. It might have been a tremendous July fireworks if we hadn’t had the ominous feeling that any time now we would be rushing in to try to smash that horrendous show.

They let troops out of the holds one wave at a time. The waves left one minute apart. One of my signal deck operators and I were in the third wave with a small group of company runners, a battalion message center man, plus enough soldiers to make the boat’s quota, which was 35 men without equipment. They figured some of the third wave would start to stick and establish contact with regimental headquarters back on the ship. The Army came up with the utterly stupid idea of making us carry our full field packs (in addition to all our fighting equipment) and drop them on the beach. They never tried that again! They nearly drowned too many of us!

The cargo nets we climbed down to the boats on were made of foot squares of one-inch ropes, which swayed at every step and every movement of the ship. The ships made half circles to cut the tops of the waves, but the waves were still huge. You had to jump into the plunging ship at the bottom of the net, timing it as the invasion boat was going down. Private Placko from Chicago was on the net just below me. The landing craft plunged up and smacked his foot against the ship. In a split second, he earned his Purple Heart and was out of the war.

I was loaded down with one of my jeep’s 51-pound, completely rubberized radios, full field pack, rifle belt and canteens, plus six or eight extra bandoleers of ammunition, and a 1903 bolt-action rifle. (We would get M-1s later.) I had to let a lot of it hang over the side to fit it into the badly overcrowded boat. (Mortar men, for example, would carry base plates, barrels, and shells, plus full field packs.)

Halfway in, we started passing boats that had turned crossways between shallow waves and filled with water. The man ahead of me jumped into a billow and disappeared. I jumped between two waves into only knee-deep water, waded as fast as I could, then bounced as hard as I could to clear my head above the next billow.


Dad wrote and told me many stories and accounts of the actual landing. For the sake of space, I will summarize them as follows:

As the landing boats neared shore, some of them hit large mines meant for ships. The result was that the ships and men were tossed into the air like they were only toy boats and tin soldiers. Dad was only minutes behind the first boat to land. Some of the first men to set foot on land stepped on mines which blew them into tiny bits in what Dad described as blood volcanoes. Dad told me horrific accounts of how blood and bits of human flesh rained down on him and his fellow soldiers.

When the movie “Saving Private Ryan” came out in 1998, Dad was asked if this was a realistic account of what a beachhead was like. Dad replied that he didn’t see anyone carrying his own arm, but he did indeed see everything else depicted in the movie – and more, as mentioned above. The men and boats in the movie were not grossly overloaded like Dad experienced in Sicily. There was no way Spielberg could make things in the movie as horrific as they really were – you would have had to have been there to experience that. The intense noise of machine guns, incoming shells, low-flying planes, and exploding bombs; the cries of agony from wounded and dying men, the feel of death all around you – how do you get all of that into a movie? You can’t. I can’t even put it into words, as it was much more than what I just wrote.

The next part will start with Dad’s account of what happened after he first landed in Sicily, and continue with Dad’s account of U.S. ships, sailors, and troops shooting down our own planes and paratroopers.

 

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