Part 30: Bread, water, wine and war
By Sergeant Marvin A. Palecek and his son, Glen Palecek
In Anzio, there was a bakery that employed 80 men during the war. This bakery turned out hundreds, if not thousands of loafs of fresh bread every day. Soldiers and officers at or near the coast enjoyed this luxury and Ernie Pyle even mentioned that they made him a pie. This was all well and good for the lucky ones near the coast, but they were not about to send any to the front-line troops miles inland. To Dad and his men, the fresh bread was only something to dream about. Dad decided to do something about this and sent two men back for supplies with instructions to bring back as much bread as possible. The men sent risked life and limb to get the bread and supplies, but all agreed it was worth it. I don’t have specific information on the danger they went through, but it was probably similar to Bacon’s story below.
You wouldn’t think fresh bread was worth risking your life to get, but oh, how precious it was during this war! Dad wrote to Mom when he was in the hospital in North Africa that he was given two whole slices of bread each day. He told her that while he was in combat in the Central Alps of southern Italy he was lucky to get half a slice. Dad remembered how good that bread was in Africa, and he decided his battle-weary men deserved some. Bacon tells a similar story, a little different from Dad’s. I’ll give you Bacon’s written account from a letter written to Jim Burns Jr. for his book. It is about his experience getting some bread with his friend, Jim Burns. Notice the humor as Bacon tells the story:
“Once again, we had to go back for supplies and there was a stretch of road up a hill that was wide open. As trucks and equipment would try to get over this ground, the Germans, I think, used it for target practice. We knew we would get some excitement. I told [Burns] to let ‘er rip! And he truly did. (They shot way behind us — a big relief.) But we would have to come back the same way, the same old broad daylight.
“As we came up to this area, we saw two or three jeeps hiding behind some trees not knowing what to do. [Burns] gave the Captain a little beep and said, ‘Watch the hero from West Virginia’ (heavy on the hero part) and away we went. I don’t think there was much weight on the tires. All I could do was hang on and hope (with a little praying, too); but again, they didn’t get close. I don’t know what happened to the three jeeps behind us. That’s the exciting part of the story.
“Now for the shameful part: I had begged for some home-baked bread back at the kitchen. I think I had to get down on my hands and knees — but anyway, they gave us about a dozen rolls for our platoon. It was starting to get dark by the time we got back. I had to find some excuse for my terrible blunder.
“Anyway, as I started down the trail down into the drainage ditch — I was almost to the bottom where we could walk without getting into the water and I stubbed my big toe and almost went into that miserable contaminated soap and dropped my load of beautiful brown baked bread – I thought every one of them would go into the drink. [Burns] and I grabbed what we could get our hands on, cut off the wet part and ate the rest. I was very popular for some time.
“We spent about five months in those ditches before we finally broke out and took Rome.”
If Bacon’s account above sounds a little mixed up, keep in mind he is recalling events that happened decades ago. Also, Dad was 81 when he wrote to Jim Burns Jr., and Al Bacon was about the same age as Dad. As you can see, Dad’s account of a bread run is a little different. I am sure they were separate events.
At the Anzio beachhead, and indeed throughout Italy, the Allies ran across large casts of wine the locals tried to hide from them. At least once, one of the soldiers uncovered a barrel of wine while digging a foxhole at Anzio. Some of the men filled their canteens with wine instead of water. Some drank so much it stained their teeth red.
As I told you before, Dad didn’t drink alcohol. No one wanted to drink the polluted water in the streams and ditches. Even the water that oozed out of the ground was no good for drinking without boiling it first. Dad got some water by collecting it from the rain. He boiled water in the can the little Coleman stove came in and drank coffee when he could get it. Even so, he got too sick to function for two days at Anzio. One wouldn’t think water would be a big deal with so much rain, but it was. In this war, men could often be seen carrying several canteens of water (or wine).
Dad and his men spent most of their time at Anzio away from the coast and away from the Army kitchens. Mostly they ate meals from cans called C rations and K rations. The makers of the C rations bragged in magazines about suppling food for the troops. They asked readers to remember this and to buy their goods. The men remembered all right. They remembered how much they hated C rations. The K rations were just as bad, but the makers of them had enough sense not to brag about it. Overall, as it was near Salerno, supplies inland were a luxury. Even the olive-colored Army toilet paper was in short supply.
One thing many of the men longed for was romance. Throughout most of the war, many men, both married and single, wanted to find women willing to sleep with them. At Anzio, such women were very few, if any. This fact only added to the frustration of those men. Everyone knew Dad was keeping his virtues and often asked Dad for advice on this subject. I’ll tell you more about this when this series gets to France.
That’s all for now. In the next episode, I’ll include Dad’s written account of some of his days in combat at Anzio.