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Preservation of American Hellenic History


Greek / American Operational Group Office of Strategic Services (OSS)
Memoirs of World War 2


Part 5
 
Camp Kallitsis and R & R

There but for the Grace of God

The OSS camp in Torre Mare, Italy, was designated "Camp Kallitsis" after Corporal George Kallitsis who had been killed in action and buried in Vis. Upon our arrival at Camp Kallitsis we were issued fresh clothing and a seven-day pass for R & R. The five Californians, Georgalos, Cominos, Alex and Perry Phillips, and I, decided to go to Naples and Rome. We were looking forward to sleeping in a bed, drinking fresh milk, having a decent meal, and we hoped for some female companionship. Although most of our parents and relatives made their own wine or were in businesses that served liquor, the five of us imbibed very little alcohol.

Before leaving on our pass, I visited Bari where another interesting, albeit disturbing, incident and by-product of the war happened to me. I saw local teens and sub-teens roaming the streets trying to make a few lire to feed their families. They would use their guile, begging, shining shoes, and washing fruit in the public urinals' running water to sell to Allied servicemen; some were even trying to sell us their sisters. It was a devastating experience for me to witness. I was very troubled to see this pitiful scene. We Americans did not have to do such things to survive that terrible war.

Naples

Upon our arrival at Camp Kallitsis we were issued fresh clothing and a seven-day pass. The five Californians, Georgalos, Cominos, Alex and Perry Phillips, and I, decided to go to Naples and Rome. We were looking forward to sleeping in a bed, drinking fresh milk, having a decent meal, and we hoped for some female companionship. Although most of our parents and relatives made their own wine or were in businesses that served liquor, the five of us imbibed very little alcohol. From Bari we hitched a ride on a general's plane, a converted B 25 that was returning empty to Naples. It was luxurious by any standards. Two of us sat on the general's plush sofa in the nose of the plane, where the nose gunner would normally be positioned. The plane skirted Mount Vesuvius and landed in Naples. Except for Alex who had taken jump training, this was the first time any of us had been on an airplane. Looking out of the plane we all agreed it would be a piece of cake to jump from an airplane. The arrogance of youth!

Naples was overcrowded with soldiers, civilians, and sub teens selling everything from prostitutes to contraband. Poverty was widespread and the city was in horrible shape, and unlike Rome Naples was ravaged by Axis and Allied bombing.

We arrived in Naples in the morning and were told by other GIs there was a 9 p.m. curfew and if we were picked up by the Military Police (MP) after curfew we would be sent back to our base camp. We half-heartedly searched for lodging believing there would be no problem. Our interest was to find a restaurant serving Italian pasta. We located a bistro and the food was not too shabby. We found no fresh milk, but the Italian ice cream was more than adequate.

James Kaporis Living the Good Life

While attending Salinas Junior College in 1942, I met James Kaporis from Chicago who was stationed at Fort Ord. His home away from home was my Uncle George and Aunt Helen Cominos' house. My uncle and aunt were wonderful hosts to Greek-American servicemen in the Monterey County area; their visitors' book is full of the names of Greek-American servicemen from every part of America who were stationed at Fort Ord. My cousin Sophie Cominoshad sent me Kaporis' address in case we visited Naples. We located Kaporis who was a chauffeur for a brigadier general (cannot recall his name). Kaporis picked us up in an army limousine and drove the five Californians to the general's beautiful villa located on a hill overlooking Naples. Kaporis was cordial and happy to see us. Cominos and Georgalos had met him in Salinas; the Phillips brothers had also met James when he had stayed a few days at my grandmother's home in Oakland.

Kaporis introduced us to the general who showed a great interest in our group, asking us a few questions, but he did not invite us into his villa. We spent an hour or so with Kaporis; we mentioned our difficulty in locating lodging, but James was unable to help us. James Kaporis was another of the many rear echelon soldiers living the good life, but hell, he was a nice guy and we were glad that he had a cush job and did not begrudge his good luck. Because I knew him better than the rest of the guys and he had met all my family, he secretly asked me if I had rocks in my head joining the Greek OG.

When we left Kaporis we returned to the central area of Naples and located 5th army headquarters. What a surprising revelation for battle-weary veterans. The 5th army was headquartered in a former state building, a beautiful edifice. We were not allowed to enter the building. It was late afternoon and we watched countless colonels and majors leave the building carrying their briefcases as they walked down the long steps to their waiting chauffeured automobiles like executives on Wall Street. GIs told us the officers were being chauffeured to private villas which had been commandeered by the 5th army for the duration of the war. Though lower-rank officers and enlisted men working in 5th army headquarters were not assigned automobiles, most had jeeps at their disposal. Our frustration deepened: we could not find lodging for one night while the rear echelon guys were enjoying the good life.

The Naples' Slammer

It was getting late and we could not find any type of lodging. Hell, we would have slept in a basement. Many of the neighborhoods in Naples were off limits to GIs. We were planning to travel to Rome the next morning and did not want to be picked up by the MPs and sent back to Bari. At my suggestion we went to Military police headquarters and told them of our predicament, hoping they could assist us. Like most guys in authority, the MP were initially aloof and not interested in our plight. We told these rear echelon guys this was our first R & R in five months and we just needed a place to spend the night. After a short conversation with the arrogant bastards, I asked the MP if they had an empty cell and a few blankets. They handed us some blankets and walked us down a couple of flights to a cell in the former Italian jail, where we spent the night sleeping on the floor. At least they did not lock the cell!

A Well-Kept Secret

A well-kept secret in the army is the animosity that existed between the frontline troops and the rear echelon guys. The only combat that most rear echelon guys experienced might have been an occasional bombing raid. They were careful not to visit the pubs and hangouts that were frequented by frontline troops on R & R breaks.

My experience with the 5th army reminds me of Patton's 3rd army. After I returned home from the war, I would ask veterans the name of their outfit. Many would answer that they were in the 1st, 7th, or especially Patton's 3rd army. When I would ask the veteran for the name of the division or regiment they would balk and angrily repeat the same answer. Members of elite infantry units and frontline troops proudly mention their division or regiment. Combat veterans who served, for example, in the vaunted 82nd or 101st Airborne Divisions, the 1st or 3rd Infantry Divisions, or the 2nd Armored Divisions state their division and during their time in the service proudly wore their respective patch. Even now, when obituaries or newsletters mention a veteran was in Patton's 3rd Army, they were probably rear echelon soldiers. Since the movie Patton, next of kin mistakenly mention Patton's 3rd Army rather than the veteran's designated frontline unit. Some frontline veterans have also foolishly been caught up in the Patton ballyhoo. The 3rd army, for example, extended from the frontlines where the grunts fought to the rear lines as far back as the United Kingdom, and in some cases even the United States where army logistics companies were stationed.

Five of six army personnel did not experience any combat during WW2, to my knowledge. Most of these personnel were repairing trucks and airplanes or were chauffeurs or parachute riggers, for example. They did not experience the horrors of war. Today as veterans, they are paunchy old timers who frequent the VFW meetings, have a few drinks, and criticize the new generations who are against the immoral wars. They wrap themselves around the flag and encourage the new generations to go to war. They preach that war is about glory and patriotism ~ although they themselves do not have a clue about the real terror of combat.

Rome

The next day the five Californians hitched a ride on a 2½-ton truck to Rome. We traveled on the ancient Appian Way. Although Rome had been liberated the previous month by the Allies, the city was virtually untouched by the war. We found a decent hotel, the Alberta Sinasta, easy to recall the hotel's name because of Albert Francis Sinatra. For the first time since our stopover in Cairo we slept on real beds. We visited many ancient sites including the Coliseum, the Vatican, and the awesome St. Peter's Cathedral. Though we were a few miles from the frontlines, Rome was a sanctuary. We enjoyed visiting the beautiful city of seven hills.

Officers and Enlisted Men

Throughout my memoirs I have written about the huge disparity between the living conditions of frontline and rear echelon troops, and also the gap between officers and enlisted men. The resentment of the rear echelon troops by frontline troops is quite clear.

The antipathy toward officers was due to seeing their grand living conditions while on R & R or on navy troop ships. The frontlines on the other hand were a great equalizer. During one of our recent reunions an officer mentioned the beautiful OSS villa in Naples for the use of officers on R & R. None of the enlisted men had heard of the villa and as I mentioned previously during our one day stopover in Naples we spent the night in an Italian jail.

During our reunions the former officers would listen to the many stories of the enlisted men; fascinated with the great times we had together. Bottom line: the enlisted men had numbers! There were 148 enlisted men and 12 officers in our group. Obviously the enlisted men had more people to choose from, and bond with, men with whom they would be compatible. The officers had the perks, but the enlisted men had more fun.

A year later while training Chinese troops in China I formed a great relationship with a fine officer, Captain George Gunderman from Uniondale, New York. When the parachute training was completed Captain Gunderman was appointed CO of the #10 Chinese commandos. He asked me to join his unit, promising me a battlefield commission. I thanked Captain Gunderman and told him how much I had enjoyed working with him but it was more important to me to remain an enlisted man and join the 15 Greek OGs, the men with whom I had been in battle in Europe, rather than receive a commission.

Parachute Training in Geiou Del Colle

When we returned to Camp Kallitsis from R & R, Group 4 was sent to the British parachute school near the town of Geiou Del Colle in Southern Italy. The instructors were veterans of British parachute regiments who gave us three days of pre jump training and six days of parachute jumping. We did not pack our own parachutes, but the instructors gave us a tour of the Quonset hut where parachute riggers packed the chutes. The school had a great safety record. The British parachute did not have a second or emergency chute unlike the American parachute which has an emergency chute; the British believed, rightly so, this caused more fatalities because there were instances when American paratroopers would panic and prematurely open the emergency chute, causing the two parachutes to entwine. The British chute did not jerk our bodies when it first opened and there were times we would scan the sky to make certain our chutes were open. Our practice jumps were made from the British two-engine bomber Wellington, or Wimpy, as the British affectionately called the plane. In order to conceal parachute jumps behind enemy lines, OSS and British troops were dropped from the aperture (hold) of a bomber, and then the plane would continue on its bombing mission. The aperture is located between the bulkheads, near the front of the airplane.

Our first jump was a "piece of cake" though at 500 feet we barely had time to enjoy the drop. The time from leaving the airplane until we hit the ground was about 45 seconds. Celebrating our first jump that evening, we went into Geiou Del Colle and overindulged drinking Italian wine. The second jump, we were told, was the toughest. Many of us stalled a few seconds before we jumped; of course we blamed the delay on our hangover. The last practice jump was at night at 1,100 feet and it was the most exhilarating of the six jumps we made. It was a beautiful moonlit night and the first time we had an opportunity to enjoy a jump because we were in the air well over a minute. We were fortunate the weather was perfect with very little wind during our training, allowing us to land on our feet during most of the jumps, rather than tumble as we were taught parachute training.


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