Seems Strange That We Kind of Know Where He Is Now

In the last letter, dated June 21, 1944, Babe reveals that he had pictures taken of himself taken in Rome, and in the same letter he notes that the people “in this part of the country are pretty lucky. There isn’t half as much destruction here as there was in the southern part of Italy. Even the people themselves up here are a lot better off. They have plenty of good clothes, plenty to eat and good living facilities.”

We know that the 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, came ashore in Salerno, just south of Naples (and nearly 170 miles south of Rome), in September 1943. It is still a little unclear to me whether Babe moved into Italy with the division, which, according to the historical record from the army itself, landed in Salerno at D-plus 13 days, or Sept. 23, 1943. That is about a month after Babe had proudly written about his assignment to the Rainbow Division, the 34th.

In June 1944, 10 months later, Babe notes that he was in Rome and had pictures made there. This strikes me as interesting given the zeal with which the military censored the mail of servicemen. I wouldn’t have thought that kind of information would have been allowed — not that it appeared his letter was revealing any state secrets.

According to the “Numerical List of A.P.Os” document that I have, the 34th Division got to Rome on June 17, 1944, a few days before his last letter. By Aug. 1, the division will be in Follonica, another 140 miles north. This all has me realizing that I’m still very fuzzy about how the 34th Division contributed to the Allied defeat of the Germans in Italy.

It’s not for a lack of information; there’s plenty out there. It’s a lack of concentration.

2 thoughts on “Seems Strange That We Kind of Know Where He Is Now

  1. Hi, Arnie Pritchard here again. On June 17 Rome had been in Allied control for almost two weeks and the Germans were in retreat to their next defense line further north, so the presence in Rome of American troops would not have been a secret. This doesn’t solve your puzzle though, because the movements of specific units might still have been of interest.

    My father’s letters home from the Western Front in WWII ( and from England before the invasion) never reveal his unit’s location beyond the country they were in – but some pretty amazing other stuff got by. The letters include several incidents that could be seen as reflecting poorly on the Army – for example one when two men in my father’s unit refused to follow him into a dangerous assignment, and another in which his unit destroyed a house in France solely so that an Army Public Relations photographer could get some photos he wanted for a story. I will have to try to find out the what the rules were on this kind of stuff.

    My father was an officer, which may mean his letters were not censored as rigorously as enlisted men’s were.


  2. Arnie, great to see you commenting here again. I’m very grateful that you take the time to read this, as well as comment.

    You’re right; at the time I wrote this (I often work days ahead of the “publication” date), I hadn’t realized it, but I have since read some of the army pamphlets about some of the campaigns in the Mediterranean theater and now realize that the Allies took Rome on June 4, two days before the Normandy invasion. There are fleeting references to the 34th Infantry in those publications. I need to put those references on a timeline and compare them to Babe’s letters.

    I have also learned that in many respects, the Italian campaigns didn’t color the Allies in glory inasmuch as they seemingly had little to recommend them beyond drawing the Germans away from the primary theater in Europe. Not long before this point, the Allied armies in Italy were losing resources to the build-up for Operation Overlord.

    Again, much thanks for your contributions here.


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