Soles of 6 pairs of shoes emphasize cost of victory
They’re visible in rear of truck, showing that those Americans gave their all in Sicily
By Hugh Baillie, United Press staff writer
Hugh Baillie, president of the United Press, wrote the following dispatch after a tour of the entire front in Sicily.
With the Allied armies in Sicily, Italy – (Aug. 4, delayed)
The town of Agira has fallen and Canadian troops, many of them stripped to the waist, are going through the streets collecting weapons.
Their lank brown torsos are gleaming with sweat and many of them are carrying Tommy guns ready for immediate use. They all looked well pleased. I saw one swinging along wearing an ordinary felt hat at a jaunty angle. He had on shorts and wore a bandana handkerchief on his neck. His Tommy gun seemed the outstanding portion of his costume.
The Fascist Party secretary sat glumly, refusing to answer questions. There were other officials wearing Fascist regalia, some cooperative, some not.
However, most folks in Agira were rapidly returning to their peaceful pursuits, reopening shops, chattering excitedly while troops, guns and supplies poured through the narrow, tortuous streets of the medieval city. The town’s chief magistrate went about his duties wearing the word “mayor” in crudely-lettered English on an arm brassard.
The Germans were then shelling a road beyond the town, causing an eight-mile traffic jam before their batteries were silenced. The grunt of their gun could be heard, then it seemed like a long wait before the missile arrived, whereupon a plume of coal-black smoke would shoot up.
Gives orders under tree
The commander of the Canadians, youngish and brisk, was seated under a tree receiving one officer after another who snappily saluted and reported, getting orders in rapid fire fashion from the general while studying maps and sipping tea.
Entering the American zone, I encountered “the Yanks,” as they are universally termed here. At a road intersection a tall, lean young American, iron-hatted, uniformed against the cold Sicilian nights, gives directions in a familiar Midwestern accent. The fact that every man must wear an iron hat as part of his fighting uniform gives the Americans a grim, tough, purposeful aspect. And they have had some of the toughest, grimmest fighting of this campaign.
Prisoners in trucks
Near the American front, I met streams of prisoners riding trucks to the rear. The Germans outnumbered the Italians in this particular batch. They did not seem downcast. In fact, the prisoners seemed to be enjoying the ride, reveling in the refreshing breeze caused by the trucks moving rapidly over the bumpy road. They stared around curiously and interestedly. They seemed either youngish or oldish, not in the prime 20s like most of the U.S. troops.
All of them were plenty grimy, covered with the gray Sicilian dust. However, that is not confined to prisoners. Everybody gets a coating of Sicilian chalk. You eat it, breath it, also carry it in your eyebrows and ears. It is inescapable, even for generals.
Another town, almost abandoned, seemed a sinister place. About a half-dozen residents remained, one aged woman munching her gums in a doorway apparently oblivious of the shells whooshing and exploding in the next block after which debris pattered, glass tinkled and the noise of the explosion reverberated and echoed in the deserted alley-like streets.
However, the church was still alive. The bells rang at noontime, sounding sweetly amidst the various ugly noises. I entered and found the church unattended, also undamaged except for a few broken windows from which glass littered the marble floor.
The cost of war
Outside through the city square passed jeeps carrying lightly-wounded young Americans, some with arms, legs or heads neatly bandaged in the field, now en route back to dressing stations.
They had crimson-stained, grim, preoccupied expressions. Our casualties are described as light, but nevertheless it gives you a strange feeling to see the soles of six pairs of army shores visible in the rear of a truck and comprehend that there are six more Americans who have given their lives to halt German aggression.
It somehow carries more wallop about what should be done to prevent Germany from repeating the crime after another few years than many speeches that will probably be made at the peace conference. The poignant shoe soles were scratched from scrambling over rocky hillsides. Well, they have made their war contribution, giving everything, including life itself.