82nd Airborne Division Blog

Italian soldiers happily surrender to Sgt. Aronowitz

Sergeant Paul Aronowitz gives some insight into the fighting of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Sicily and Italy.

Sicily

Landing in Sicily “we were so scattered over the countryside that we were lucky if we found one or two other troopers to join up with. Even then the chances were that they were from another company.” Aronowitz notes that he spent as much time with men from A Company and C Company as he did with his own E Company men.

Aronowitz received the Bronze Star in Sicily. As he says, “it is a strange story and I am not really sure why I received it.

“Very early in the Sicilian campaign there were a number of us (20 – 30) from various companies of the first and second battalions along with Lt. Long. We had just taken shelter in an old school building. We were running low on water, so Lt. Long told me to take a man and go into the village and find a source of water for us. I think the village was named Ragusa but am not sure.” (It was actually Marina de Ragusa and was right by the coast.) Aronowitz’s good friend “Amorose was on perimeter guard duty so I took Fay. As we entered the village we saw two Italian officers with there hands in the air shouting Paison (surrendering). They indicated there were others waiting to surrender so Fay took one to find the water and I went with the other to get his men. As we approached a large barn I saw about 40 men lying about. They all got up and put their hands up in surrender. I had them line up in a column of twos and had them put their weapons in a small donkey cart (complete with donkey). The NCO’s had 9mm Beretta pistols (a prized souvenir). Those I took and belted them under my blouse (all six of them). The prisoners were very happy as we went through the village to our camp. At the camp Lt. Long herded them into a large room, then turned to me and asked how I had gotten so fat. I opened my blouse and I saw his eyes light up. He asked me what I intended to do with so many and I replied that I was going to give one to my C.O. (him). He smiled, held out his hand and thanked me. I gave one to Amorose, one to Fay, one to our friend from Virginia and one to someone else (?). I lost mine when I was wounded (later in the war) and went to the hospital. (Also later in the war) I met my Virginia friend at the replacement depot in Africa and he told me he lost his when he went to the hospital.

“So for that I got a Bronze Star. Was it for capturing prisoners (which was no big deal) or was it for giving my C.O. a souvenir pistol? I don’t think either one is worthy of a Bronze Star.”

There was a big battle at Biazza Ridge between the 82nd Airborne paratroopers and German troops backed by a few tanks.  “I got there after it started – long enough to be involved, but it was toward the end of the battle. I was delayed (en route to the battle) because the small group I was with was ‘captured’ by soldiers of the 45th division (specifically, an Oklahoma National Guard unit known as the Thunderbirds).” The 45th had made an amphibious landing and was working their way inland. “They thought that our paratrooper’s uniform was a German uniform. They said we spoke good English, but thought it was just a ruse. They kept up overnight until their battalion commander realized who we were. I guess that was lucky for me as it kept me safe from Biazza for a while.

“During the mop up of the ridge I was with a group of four or five men led by Lt. T.W. Long when we came upon a German campsite that was hastily deserted. All personal items were left behind, even warm coffee. Among the items I found a German medal which I still have. It is called Der Deutchen Mutter and was given to women who produced (four or more) children for the Reich. I have no idea why the soldier had it.

“During the evening I was in a forward position and stayed alert all night. It changed me. I had to think of the enemy soldiers as some kind of animals. Not humans.

“After it was all over on the Ridge – Colonel Gavin ordered all of us to line up in a column of two’s, officers and men alike (forget rank). We were ordered to march parallel to a stone fence which was about four feet high. Colonel Gavin was standing in front of the fence – feet apart – arms folded over his chest – and looking at us with a very stoic look on his face as we passed by. On each side of the colonel were our dead. They lay at a 45 degree angle to the fence with their heads at the fence. At the time it seemed to me there were hundreds of them. There were not, of course. It just seemed that way. I think all of us were trying to hide tears unsuccessfully. There was not a dry eye – and to this day tears well up in my eyes when I think about it. I cannot tell the story to my family without having to pause for tears.

“I don’t know if the colonel was trying to harden our resolve or to march by in a show of respect. It accomplished both. Gavin sure knew what he was doing!!!!!

“That stone fence I mentioned was one of hundreds all over Sicily. They had something to do with drainage problems. They were also responsible for a great deal of casualties on the night of the jump.”

Italy

“The jump into Italy was a little better as we were not so scattered, but it seemed to me it was a little less brutal as well – at least (it was) where I landed.”

The 505 helped secure the Salerno beachhead in Italy and later attacked North toward the city of Naples. After that, the 2nd Battalion was involved in very bloody fighting on the approach to the Volturno River.

This was when “I was blown out of a foxhole (most likely by a German 88 round) and suffered a chipped bone in my left knee as well as a severe concussion. I was in a coma for three days and wound up in a hospital in Cairo, Egypt. They were flying supplies in and then the planes would pick up wounded and take them back to wherever the plane was based.

“Apparently I received some shrapnel wounds, but they were not readily noticeable. However, over the years little (very tiny) slivers find their way to the outer part of my skin and over the years doctors have removed them using tweezers. They don’t hurt and most of the time they are discovered by the doctors during examinations.

“Because of the concussion they would not allow me to return to a combat unit so I stayed with the rear echelon in Sicily while E Company was still in Italy.

“Orders came down that the 505 was to leave so we boarded a French ship (Filthy Filthy Filthy!) at Augusta Sicily and set sail. After leaving port we were told we were going to England to prepare for another invasion.

“As we were sailing in the Mediterranean Sea I came down with a case of Malaria so as we passed by Algiers they lowered me and others down to a smaller craft which took us to a hospital.

“After recovering I was sent to a replacement depot in Oran where I was segregated with other soldiers, all recipients of the Purple Heart. New units (non combatant) like Quartermaster, Signal, and Ordinance where being formed and they were called Purple Heart outfits since all enlisted men were recipients of one. I went to a Quartermaster outfit as Sergeant of the Guard. After a few months President Roosevelt ordered all Purple Heart units returned to the United States. I returned in late 1944 and discharged in early 1945.”

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