We stand on the backs of their sacrifice. Their history is our tradition, as long as there are Americans to remember...
My name is Jack Beaty. I grew up on a farm just outside of Nash. My early schooling was at Nash, but later I transferred to Forreston, where I graduated.
I joined the Army in September 1942 and trained at Camp Wolters, which is an infantry-training center just east of Mineral Wells. In late ’42, I was transferred to Camp Gruber in eastern Oklahoma. I finished my stateside training in Louisiana.
As a combat engineer, I served in Company A of the 235th Engineers Combat Battalion. Whatever it was you needed, we could build it, or blow it up, and fight our way in and out.
In September of ’43, they sent us to New York by train and then shipped us out for North Africa. We stopped at Gibraltar on our way to Casablanca. We trucked our way across Morocco and Algeria, where we set up camp in the Sahara Desert. We lived out of pup tents and went through several more weeks of training. What an awful and strange place this was; hazy, hot and nasty weather.
Eventually, we were sent to the Mediterranean coast in Tunisia and from there, shipped across to Italy where we joined up with the Fifth Army. This is where our real war began.
The Germans were masters of destruction. They destroyed everything in our path. We spent a lot of our time removing obstacles, building bridges and repairing roads; whatever it took to keep our armored vehicles and trucks moving forward. Whenever our troops came upon a minefield, we are the lucky ones that had to clear a path through it.
A lot of times we worked under enemy fire, either sniper fire, mortar, or artillery fire. It was nerve-wracking work. You always had to be on the lookout. In late ’43, our Platoon Sergeant was killed, and I was promoted to take his place.
As we advanced toward Rome, there were lots of roadblocks that had to be breached and many craters in the road that had to be filled. Landmines buried in the roads were always a threat. Rain and mud were a constant problem.
In early 1944, there was to be an attack on Mount Porchia. On the night of Jan. 4, the Sixth Armored Division attacked, but by daybreak, they had been beaten back to their starting point. My battalion and the 48th Engineer Combat Battalion were sent in as infantry with the second attack.
In the midst of the fighting, we moved forward up the right flank of our armored column to clear the obstacles that blocked the road. We came under intense fire from small arms, machine-guns, mortars and artillery fire. Twice during this operation, we had to drive the enemy from fortified dugout positions just to reach the obstacles. Men were getting hit and going down all around me, but we made it somehow, some way, and we blew those obstacles.
After several days of bloody fighting, we took the mountain. For this, my Battalion was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, but there wasn’t much feeling of celebration because of all the casualties we had. This went on for months on end, all the way up the boot of Italy. Rain, mud and cold… what terrible country this was for fighting.
By February of ’45, we were near Florence in northern Italy and had come upon a streambed that we needed to bridge. We brought up the bridging equipment and started unloading. There were about 60 of us working there. The Germans fired off a few mortar rounds at us from over the ridge. So we stopped work and moved a few hundred yards to the rear, where we bedded down for the night beside the road.
The next morning we went back to work. Those Bailey bridges were built a few feet at a time and then we had to push it forward by manpower. It took all 60 of us to move that thing.
Without warning, we heard a mortar shell whistling in from above. Everybody scattered… It hit before I could get down.
I remember my commanding officer, Alton Williams, called out to me “Jack are you hurt?” I answered, “Yes sir, pretty bad.”
It was a Wednesday morning, the 28th of February 1945, and I was 22 years old.
There were 20 wounded and 4 of us killed.
Remember us, for we were soldiers once, and young.