This work is dedicated to Sam Friedman
Sam Friedman was born on the 4th of July, 1924, at Johnstown PA. Sam's father owned and operated a local grocery store while his mother minded the house and children. Except for an occasional visit to the local synagogue, Sam's early years were like most other American boys. When the US involvement in W.W.II began, Sam was 17 years old and had no idea of what the future had in store for him. In less then four years, however, Sam (while serving with the US Army 3rd Infantry Division) would stand on the door step of the Berghof--Adolf Hitler's private residence.
The 3rd Infantry Division, following a break after World War One, had been mobilized again in early 1941 after US President FDR declared a state of emergency. The 3rd Division filled its ranks and trained for war. A few days after Sam's 18th birthday, the 3rd received orders to prepare for an invasion of North Africa.
The mission, Operation Torch, was to secure the French controlled north-west portion of Africa for the Allied forces in order to conduct operations against the "weak underbelly" of Europe. On November 8, 1942, the 3rd Division stormed ashore at Casablanca supported by 400 ships and 1,000 aircraft. For three days, the Americans fought the French forces (which had an agreement with Germany at that time) until the French agreed to a cease fire and later joined the Allied forces. With Casablanca secured, the Allies could now move men and materiel into the Mediterranean Sea without fear of the Straights of Gibraltar being cut off. After the success at Casablanca, units of the 3rd Division were ordered to move east, across Algeria, to support the British forces attacking the Germans and Italians at Tunisia.
Sam joined the US Army at Johnstown PA on March 17, 1943. Six days later he was shipped off to New Cumberland PA and from there shipped down to Camp Robinson Arkansas to begin basic training.
On May 10, the last of the German and Italian forces in North Africa either evacuated or surrendered to the Allies. The 3rd Division was now ordered to prepare for another amphibious assault against the island of Sicily.
On his 19th birthday (July 4, 1943) Sam was shipped off to Camp Young, Cal for additional training.
On the night of July 9, 1943 the American invasion force in Africa set sail for Sicily. Sea conditions were horrible with 45 mph winds. Nevertheless, early on the next morning the 3rd Infantry Division, reinforced by a Ranger Battalion and part of the 2nd Armored Division, hit the beach on Sicily as the "left flank" of the American (7th Army) invasion force. After securing their beachhead, the 3rd Division moved inland and captured their first objectives within hours.
After the American 7th Army had secured its objectives, they were ordered to stop at a key highway and relinquish it to a British (8th) Army which had also landed and was given priority for capturing the city of Messina. The commander of the 7th Army, at that time, was Gen. George Patton, who did not like being relegated to protecting British flanks; so, with a "Reconnaissance in force," he attacked the city of Agriento. By July 15, Agriento was captured by the 3rd Division. Patton, therefore, was authorized to continue west and capture Palermo, the capital of Sicily.
Patton organized the 2nd Armored, 82nd Airborne and the 3rd Infantry Division into a Provisional Corps and sent them on a 100 mile drive to Palermo, After three days of house-to-house fighting, Palermo fell to the Americans and 53,000 Italian soldiers surrendered. With this stunning victory, the Allies controlled half of Sicily. The 7th Army now received orders to advance on Messina with the 3rd Division playing a key role.
On July 30th Sam was shipped to camp Shelby Miss. in preparation of being shipped off somewhere to the European theater of war. He received a 16 day furlough (the only one he would ever receive during his nearly three years of service during the war) and returned home to spend it with his parents. "Enjoyed ever minute of it," he wrote.
On Sicily, the 3rd Division faced a great challenge when it was ordered to attack San Fratello which was defended by the German 29th Panzer Division. On August 3, the 3rd Division began a series of attacks against the city, but, the Germans fought tenaciously and all American attacks were repulsed. Patton, consequently, ordered the 3rd to conduct an amphibious landing to flank the German position. On August 17, the "7th Infantry" of the 3rd Division entered Messina. Sicily was in Allied hands.
Sicily was always meant to be a stepping stone to Italy and German occupied Europe. Consequently, the 3rd Division (along with others) received its next orders: Take Naples on the mainland of Italy.
The Invasion of Italy:
On September 9, the Allies launched the invasion of Italy by sending their forces ashore, south of Naples, at Salerno. After securing their beachheads, the 3rd Division began their advance on Naples along with the 82nd Airborne and the British 7th Armored Division.
Private First Class Sam Friedman bid his parents good-by and on Sept 14, 1943, disembarked from a Virginia naval port, and the safety of the United States, for Italy.
Naples fell to the Allies in early October. When the Americans entered the city, they found it almost completely destroyed and all ships in the harbor had been sunk. The Engineers went to work and in two weeks the port was reopened and men and supplies began flowing in.
After stops in Africa and Sicily, Sam joined the 3rd Division (7th infantry) on Oct 20th in Italy. Three days later he experienced his first day of combat while assigned to a light mortar company. The artillery duels, from land and sea, between the Germans and Allied forces was ferocious and accounted for the largest number of dead, wounded and "missing." After a particularly heavy artillery exchange, Sam wrote: "I saw my first dead German....Wasn't experienced and thought Combat was FUN....Wanted to be home."
Three weeks later (Nov. 11, 1943), as the 3rd Division drove north of Naples on the city of Foggia, Sam was hit by an exploding artillery shell.
On Dec. 2, 1943, at seven in the evening, Sam's parents received the following "Postal Telegraph":
THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES THAT I TENDER HIS DEEP SYMPATHY TO YOU IN THE LOSS OF YOUR SON PRIVATE SAM FRIEDMAN REPORT RECEIVED STATES THAT HE WAS KILLED IN ACTION ON ELEVEN NOVEMBER IN ITALY
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL
Two days later Sam's parents received another telegram from the War Department stating that Sam was only "WOUNDED." The bodies and wounded were pilling up in Italy and in the confusion, Sam had been evacuated to a hospital in Naples.
After six and half weeks of recovery, Sam was discharged from the hospital on Dec 25, 1943. He was back with the 3rd Division by Jan. 1, 1944 as a light machine gunner. Of the experience Sam wrote: "Everything Flashed before my eyes since the time I was born. What An Experience! Never will forget it." He also added: "I forgot to mention that I was operated on on Thanksgiving (missed a good meal)."
Shortly after Sam's return, the 3rd Division was transferred to VI Corps (5th Army) and pulled back for another Amphibious, flanking maneuver.
On the morning of January 22, 1944, the US 5th Army assaulted the beaches at Anzio 30 miles south of Rome. The landings were successful and the invading Americans captured their initial objectives by noon and began to push off the beach. The 3rd Division, on the southern flank, met only one company of German infantry and made advances inland. The 3rd moved towards Cisterna (an important road junction) but soon encountered stiff resistance and was forced to halt and consolidate their forces. The next day, the Division went forward again and came within 3 miles of Cisterna but due to heavy German artillery fire was repulsed. The 3rd was ordered by 5th Army Command to hold in place as part of a general reorganization and consolidation of the beachhead forces.
For the next week, the Allies, hampered by gale force winds, brought in supplies and reinforcements but made no advances. This delay allowed the Germans to transfer reinforcements to the Anzio area and boost their forces up to thirteen Divisions, around 70,000 crack soldiers.
The situation at Anzio was becoming critical for the Allied forces. Bad weather eliminated the only Allied factor of superiority--air power. On Jan 27, German attacks developed into a full scale offensive. German command was determined to split the Allied beachhead and wipe out the Allied forces. The 3rd Division (along with the 45th which had been brought in after the initial invasion), blunted furious German attacks. Allied naval shelling brought some relief, but German artillery shelling kept the Allies under constant fire. The pressure was severe. (It was here, at Anzio, that the Third would established their record for the most casualties suffered in one day.")
On January 30 the 3rd Division, reinforced by 3 Battalions of Rangers, resumed their assault. The Rangers came within a half mile of Cisterna when they were attacked by an entire German Motorized Infantry Division. The Rangers were driven out into the open by German armor. With no anti-tank weapons the Rangers were quickly cut down. Out of 767 Rangers, only six returned. Bodies and parts of bodies lay everywhere. Sam's Regiment, the 7th, along with the 15th, attempted another assault against the heavy opposition. The Germans fought bitterly and after 16 hours of fighting, the 3rd Division, still a mile from its objective, could not sustain its causalities. After learning that more German reinforcements were on the way, the 3rd Division was again ordered to hold in place and dig in. For days, German shelling rained down on the Third's positions as the Germans continued their assaults.
On Feb. 10, when German victory seemed almost certain, a break in the weather enabled Allied air power to go into action. After 48 hours of constant air and artillery bombardments the German offensive was finally stopped. However, the Allied bridgehead remained dangerously narrow and was under constant German artillery fire.
On Feb. 16, six German divisions, among them the Hermann Goring Division, attacked the Allied lines again after a terrifying artillery barrage. Allied forces were pushed back but another Allied all out air assault restored the situation. Two more days of fierce fighting resulted in a stalemate. "What a life!" Sam wrote.
On February 29, the Germans, with two infantry and two armored divisions, launched another all out offensive against the 3rd Division in the Cisterna sector. US army command, however, had prepared for this possibility by reinforcing the 3rd Division's positions with massed artillery. The German attacks were stopped by the artillery and mortar raining down on them, but the German and 3rd Division lines were so close together the shells also rained down on the entrenched 3rd Division troops. Despite repeated attacks along the 3rd Division's lines, the Germans failed to break through. In the final German assault on March 4, 1944, the Germans lost over thirty tanks and over 3,500 men. The 7th (with Sam) and 15th Infantry suffered heavy casualties also, including Sam, who on the same day, received a wound in the back either from an exploding German or American artillery shell. A lull settled over Anzio. Total German losses in the beachhead area were 25,000 while Allied causalities (3000 would die) were nearly the same. Both sides were exhausted and could not conduct major operations.
After two months of medical treatment, in a beachhead hospital that was under daily German artillery fire, Sam rejoined his Regiment on May 5, just as VI Corps was preparing for another breakout offensive. On May 22, the 1st Armored Division with the 3rd Division in support, broke through the main German line. VI Corps finally encircled Cisterna and attacked the trapped German forces. Fighting was heavy in the town but on May 25, German resistance ended and the Allies controlled the town. The price for Cisterna was heavy. The 1st Armored Division lost 100 tanks in the first day. VI Corps suffered over 4,000 casualties. This time, Sam was not one of them.
With Cisterna secured, the 3rd Division was ordered to link up with the 1st Special Service Force and advance on Valmontone where an attempt would be made to destroy the German 10th Army. After heavy fighting Valmontone was captured by the 3rd Division but the German 10th Army escaped north. VI Corps rejoined the 5th Army and was ordered to advance on Rome. The 3rd Division fought its way north and reached the outskirts of Rome on June 4, 1944. On June 5, the 5th Army entered Rome, the first enemy capital in W.W.II to fall. The Allies had won a victory, but they had failed to destroy their opponents. The Germans had retreated to new, well fortified, positions. "Went all the way to Rome," Sam wrote.
Around this time Sam got a reprieve and was assigned to guarding POWs in Rome. Pope Pius blessed the American troops after Rome was liberated and Sam witness the proceedings. "I saw the Pope," Sam wrote home to his Jewish father.
The 5th Army remained in Rome only a few days, then continued north after the Germans. However, it was all to clear that victory in Italy, due to its mountainous terrain, would only be gained by tremendous losses in life. In August of 1944 (two months after the successful Allied invasion at Normandy in Northern France) the 3rd Division was pulled out of harms way in Italy. "We were pulled back to make landing of Southern France," Sam wrote.
The Invasion of Southern France:
The operations in southern France (Anvil) formed an integral part of the overall strategy in wrestling France from the Germans. Though not as large (or as famous) as the Normandy landings, its success was essential to a rapid continuation of the Allied sweep into Germany. Furthermore, since Allied bombing had not destroyed the railroads in the Rhone valley, nearly half of all Allied war materials destined for northern Europe would be supplied through southern France.
Supported by 1300 medium and heavy bombers, 53 gun-firing ships and 14,000 rockets, on August 15, the 3rd (with two other US divisions and a French armored division) stormed ashore just west of the French Riviera and quickly eliminated the German defenses. The 3rd Division took over 1000 prisoners. Two days later, the port cities of Toulon and Marseilles were cut off from the main German forces. The 3rd Division, under the command of the 7th Army again, began their drive north. They raced to Avignon and the Rhone River. By September 3 they fought their way up the Rhone valley to Lyon. The Germans began a full retreat, fighting at times a fierce rear guard action, but, on September 11, the 7th Army linked up with Gen. Patton's 3rd Army coming down from Normandy. "Saw Paris," Sam wrote, "Saw Notra Dame (beautiful)."
A German pocket remained west of the Rhine in the Colmar area, and attacks by units of the 7th Army were unable to eliminate it. Because of this stiff resistance and logistical problems, the 7th Army was ordered to hold their positions and dig in.
The next month, on December 16th, the Germans launched their Ardennes Offensive. The 7th Army was ordered to remain in place to ensure that the German units facing them on the Rhine could not be pulled out to reinforce the German offensive--the Battle of the Bulge had begun.
For over three months, the 3rd Division, along with the rest of the 7th Army, conducted numerous patrols and raids along their front at the Rhine river. Sam, who had been on the front lines for over a year and a half, was now a hardened soldier and wrote a letter home that was picked up by a local paper. Rarely, even in those days, has a newspaper published such a candid and horrifying individual's story (see newspaper article below).
Most American soldiers of W.W.II never experienced such horrors. For every man on the front lines there were eighteen others backing them up. Furthermore a machine gunner, who had to see what he was shooting at, was as close as one could get to the enemy.
After being hospitalized a third time for "medical treatment....in a hospital in France" Sam was transferred, in February, out of the front lines to transporting and guarding German POWs.
Germany: Finally, at the end of March 1945, the 3rd Division crossed the Rhine and broke through the German lines. "Went all the way through France." Sam wrote. After the breakthrough, the 7th Army was assigned to the 6th Army Group and ordered into the southeast areas of Germany.
Retreating Germans, it was believed, were planning on staging a final defense in the Alps of Southern Germany and Austria. Consequently, any information about German troop condition was considered important. Sam was quoted, through Army intelligence, as obtaining information from two German prisoners that the "hard-put Germans were using huge St. Bernard dogs to haul light artillery."
The 3rd Division moved across Southern Germany capturing town after town as they moved in the direction of Austria. On April 30, Munich fell. Hitler's apartment on the Prinzregenten Platz was in 3rd Division hands. On May 1, 1945, Sam was promoted to Cpl.. Lucky for him, the European war ended six days later just as sections of the 3rd Division (with15th Corps) cleared Berchtesgaden.
Sam's War Route
Sam was Honorable Discharged at Indiantown Gap, PA on Dec. 2, 1945 from Company C, 7th Infantry, 3rd Division--the only American Division to fight the Nazis on every US front in Europe, and had more casualties (35,000) than any other US division; and, was also one of the few American Divisions to have been in combat continuously from the start to the end of the American involvement and still end up in Germany at the finish.--and how fitting, on the door step of Hitler's home in Berchtesgaden.
Shortly after returning, Sam wrote: "Welcome home Party given by Family at home."
Sam, had emotional problems for years after his return adjusting to the new man that leaders (Fuhrers) had made of him. However, unlike later generations he kept it to himself. After his parents deaths he destroyed all of the detached, young soldier's war letters about killing and dying he had sent home. Even his "European, African, Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 4 bronze Stars" and "Good Conduct Medal" were missing. He kept his Purple Heart and W.W.II Victory Medal, however, and curiously German regalia either taken from an alive, or a dead German NAZI party officer. He also kept something his parents had saved.
At stateside during W.W.II there were plenty of propaganda lectures or "shows" during the war since it was essential for the upper classes to "pump up" the grunts and their parents. After attending one such meeting on Dec. 7, 1943 (five days after Sam's parents received a telegram that their son was killed in action--and 3 days after being told that he wasn't) his parents, not knowing the true whereabouts or condition of their son, requested the script.
It was a three page "sketch," supposedly written by an "Unknown Soldier" but contained cues for the "orchestra" and "American prayer" breaks. One section, set between "Music Changes" and "Music Up And Down," must have really frightened Sam's parents--it read:
After naming a few other "boys" who had lost their lives, the piece ends:
Twelve years after W.W.II ended, Sam was still having shrapnel removed from his body. By the time (1965) I met Sam (who shortly after became my father-in-law) he detested young men's romantic notions about combat and hadn't talked about his war experiences for nearly twenty years. If the subject was ever brought up in his presence, he always left the room. After retiring, from a supervisory position with Bethlehem Steel Corp, Sam moved to Yuma AZ. He died there on Nov. 22, 1991 mourned only by his close friends and family.