The last letter I transcribed is one of those that includes a certain poignancy, knowing that he’s not going to make it out of the war. There are several like this, in which he makes reference to plans, ambitions or conversations he intends to have after the war.
“It isn’t a long time,” he says of the year he’s spent overseas, “but it is well spent time and I have gained valuable experience though it — experience I hope to use to advantage some day.”
These are the lines that keep me pushing to try and figure out what really happened beyond the clinical references I have in one official document, noting that Babe’s cause of death was drowning after “the vehicle in which he was riding (was) forced into canal.”
I’m grateful to have heard from Jeff Brown, curator of the website 34thinfantry.com, who has done research at the Gold Star Museum in Des Moines, where he got copies of a museum’s “casualty death biographies” from the 34th Infantry Division in World War II. The bios are paragraph-long explanations of the circumstances of each soldier’s death.
“My understanding is that a man put this together over years of reunions and meeting with vets,” Brown wrote to me in an email exchange. “At one time, the lists were posted in full online, later amended to just the rolls as the details might have been a little much for the public. The Iowa Gold Star Museum, home of the 34th in Ames, Iowa, has a hard copy of the entire work which I was able to scan in its entirety.”
Brown was kind enough to send me a copy of the pages that include Babe’s bio. Unfortunately, it didn’t shed much light beyond what I already knew, or had heard. The last update of the document, according to the footnote, was in 2001, after I wrote about Babe in 1995. The information in the bio seems to come from my own article, some of which isn’t backed up by any documentary evidence. It was speculation from my uncles.
“651 – Mauro, Frank D. – Technician 5th Grade – Anti-Tank Company – Company Headquarters – Radio Operator (Mount Kisco, New York): Frank Mauro was assigned to Anti-Tank Company of the 168th Infantry in the latter part of July or early August, 1943, Technician 5th Grade Frank Mauro was awarded his Combat Infantryman Badge on April 28, 1944. It was May 4, 1945, near Novorro, Italy, when the vehicle (believed to be a jeep in which Mauro was riding) was forced into a canal and Mauro drowned. One story has Mauro’s jeep across a mined bridge and into the water. Another has the jeep being forced into the water by a sniper who wasn’t ready to give up yet.”
This entry did tell me when Babe received his Combat Infantryman’s Badge. And it suggests to me that perhaps the sniper story isn’t plausible, because his death was definitely labeled “non-combat” in the official records. I guess it depends on what is considered “combat,” however.
I did want to be sure to mention the source Jeff Brown shared with me, however, because it might be a resource for others, and I’m truly grateful that he shared it with me.