U.S. general ‘stops’ a melon as cheering populace tosses flowers and fruit at Americans
By C. R. Cunningham, United Press staff writer
Palermo, Sicily, Italy – (July 22, delayed)
With half a dozen shots fired in anger and as many more in pure celebration, this Sicilian capital of 400,000 fell at dusk today to U.S. armored forces piling into the city from two sides.
Our reception by the citizens of Palermo was the wildest of any of a hundred I had seen, far outstripping anything in Tunisia. Thousands of persons lined the main road into the city, waving white flags, cheering, clapping hands and stopping our vehicles to indulge in the curiously Italian habit of expressing their welcome by flowery speeches.
It seemed a waste of money to move so many troops and their equipment, particularly armor, into this operation when a single infantry division could have done the job with ease. However, it will take a large number of troops to look after the thousands of Italian and few German prisoners and to police Palermo and other towns taken en route.
Everywhere there were shouts of “Evviva Americano” and “Evviva libertà.” I asked a citizen what the later cry meant and he replied:
The people are cheering you Americans as their liberators from Fascism which they detest after 15 years of it. They hate Mussolini and his government.
I reached Palermo after a 100-mile drive from Agrigento. It was the wildest and dustiest ride I have ever had, with great clouds of Sicilian dust blinding and choking us in the wake of rumbling tanks, halftracks and other vehicles.
Outside Monreale, we were halted by a burst of enemy gunfire in the hills to our right.
‘A little trouble’
An American brigadier general who had carried the surrender terms to the Germans at Bizerte last May and now commanded a combat team told me:
There is still a little bit of trouble tip there, but we can clean them out before dark.
In Monreale, we found the populace just returning to their homes from the hills. Everywhere there were white flags, old people crying for joy, younger ones cheering with excitement and others seeming not to know what was happening.
There was no sign of resistance as we drove through streets where crowds were lined 20 yards deep on both sides. In one captured command car was found an Italian brigadier who wished to see someone in authority so he could surrender the next town. We left him under guard of a second lieutenant.
Our little convoy proceeded to the accompaniment of an ovation that was just a little too exuberant in spots. In Tunisia, the people tossed flowers. Here they tossed not only flowers but fruit, and such fruit. Not because our performance was bad, either.
General stops a melon
The general stopped a watermelon with his hand. Lt. William K. Goodrick, gunner on a halftrack, stopped another with his helmet, I caught a luscious melon on my shoulder and it splattered seeds and juice all over my clothes.
At the edge of Palermo, we ran into what appeared to be a roadblock but was only the leading elements of an American armored division coming into town from the east. They had captured an Italian major general, one of the local commanders, and were having a rather difficult time with him.
Our general took over and the Italian proved most affable.
‘We’re finished,’ Italian says
“Congratulations, sir,” he said, then turned to 100 Italian soldiers lined up at the side of the road and told them:
Soldiers, we are finished. Throw down your arms and surrender. We have lost the battle to a superior force.
Asked whether there would be resistance in Palermo, the Italian general replied:
I am sure there will not be, but perhaps there may be sniping and some resistance around the port.
He explained that a lieutenant general outranked him as Palermo commander. So, packing him into his command convoy under convoy of two halftracks and a jeep, all carrying white flags, we drove on into town to demand formal surrender of the city.
We rolled into the heart of the city at a fast clip, meeting three jeeps from another division. At first, there were hardly any signs of life but people soon swarmed from their homes to cheer us.
Our Italian, Gen. Giuseppe Molinero, directed us to the huge building which housed the Palermo district headquarters. Not finding his superior in, Molinero said:
I don’t know where the general got to, but if you want the formal surrender of the city, I’ll give it to you.
So, with Molinero still sitting in his command car, the formal surrender was affected.
The surrender negotiations had been a little difficult because Molinero could not speak English, our general could not speak Italian and there were no interpreters around.
Photographer Robert Capa eased the situation by finding out that both he and Molinero spoke French, and so the negotiations were carried out in that language with Capa as interpreter.
In answer to our general’s demand for full surrender of the troops, city and port, Molinero replied:
You can have everything as far as I am concerned.
Molinero is short, stocky and above middle age. He wore the pale blue uniform of a major general with more service ribbons over his life tunic pocket than I have ever seen on one man.
He was clean-shaven, so a huge scar on both cheeks, running through his mouth, stood out.
Earlier in our journey to Palermo, I talked to a group of German prisoners. One told me he had been in Sicily only three weeks after being transferred from Russia and that in passing through Germany he had heard expressions that Germany was finished.
These prisoners were all veterans of the last war and, although firm followers of Adolf Hitler, were terrifically Germanic in the old mold.