Dad – African Campaign and Sicily: The beginning of his service

by Kim on July 17, 2013

photo-scanning-austin-texasMy Dad was drafted in October, 1942 when he was 20 years old. He reported for duty November 20, 1942 – just days before Thanksgiving and almost a year from the day that Japan dropped the bomb on Pearl Harbor. He was transported to Camp Wheeler, Georgia for his training. This would be his first time away from the farming community in Ohio. He completed 3 months of Motor School to attain his military specialty as an Auto Mechanic, but he also got a commendation for his skills as a sharpshooter.  Little did he know that he would miss a total of 4 Thanksgivings with his large family. His youngest brothers were only 10, 7, and 5 when he left. He joined two of his older brothers in the war effort, one enlisted in the Air Force and the other in the Army. His younger brother Jim lied about his age to enlist in the Navy at the age of 16. There would be 4 Mauk boys overseas for this war, 3 in Europe and 1 in the Pacific. There would be three injuries among the four boys  – all received by my Dad.

In early April, Dad, as part of the 9th Infantry Division, left on a ship for Tunisia and arrived on the coast of Africa only 11 days later under the command of General George Patton.  His brother Frank was already there. Dad was a B.A.R. man carrying a Browning Automatic Rifle that weighed over 60 pounds. His athleticism was put to use.

The terrain in Tunisia was hilly and the battles were won by taking hill by hill. In northern Tunisia, the tightly packed jungle brush 8 feet in height had been transplanted to the hilltops. 10 days after arrival, Dad was in the Sedjenane Valley and encountered his first battle with the Germans. It was one that won the 2nd Battalion of the 60th Infantry a Distinguished Unit citation from General Patton. This battle was over densely wooded mountainous terrain and was won in only 2 days with half the number of men than the Germans had. The overall objective in Africa was taking the city of Bizerte, a coastal town that held the key for who controlled the Mediterranean Sea. By early May, the Germans retreated to Bizerte and the Allies followed to take the town with minimal fighting. For the rest of May, the new duty of the 9th Infantry was guarding the prisoners.

After a quick victory in Tunisia, the troops went on to Sicily to fight Hitler, who had recently arrested the fascist Mussolini, the dictator of Italy.  Initially the Italians surrendered to the Allied Forces, but the Germans were intent on putting up a fight.

On July 1, 1943 Dad wrote a letter to his sister Bert saying that he met Dan Baughan in Palermo, Sicily on a Red Cross Tour. He may have been a movie star at the time. Dad also toured the Catacomb Cathedral with 22K gold ceilings and sent photos to his sister. He reported “Off the record I met a Canadian girl last night and boy was she a knockout. She sings in a show as entertainment for the fellows. It was great to be able to use my English again.”

The battles started in mid-July in Sicily and by August 7th, Dad was shot in the left thigh while on Mt. Etna, the 10,000 foot volcano in Sicily. (He sustained two different injuries from being shot. We believe the leg injury was the first injury). The terrain was so difficult that there was no way to get the injured off the volcano, most wounded had to fend for themselves or be carried down on a mule. He managed to descend the mountain with his thigh injury. He was transported to England to a hospital and stayed in the hospital for 2 months. His unit followed shortly after – they won in Sicily after only 38 days. His brother Harold visited him while he was in the hospital in England. I imagine that was some comfort to see a familiar face. Dad received a Purple Heart for this injury. I don’t know whether he was more proud of that or the actual shrapnel that was given to him that they took from his leg. When I was a child, he showed us both often.

The 9th was taken to Winchester, England for training for D-Day, though they didn’t know about D-Day at the time. Dad was in England for a total of 10 months, 2 in recovery and the rest in training. Dad wrote his sister Bert and said that he had heard from his Uncle Ed, who had served in WWI. He related to him “that war was hell.” My Dad remarked that he didn’t need to tell him what war was like, or even remind him. In May, Dad wrote that he had been to London on leave and was less bashful now. He grew up the hard way.

One more letter dated June 2nd, 1944 asks his sister is she will ever find a hubby. He mentioned a girl who he knew was interested in him and that she was trying to get in good with his sister. He told his sister that he didn’t get many letters and asked about his siblings, and his brothers in war. His letters told a tale of a young man who missed his family and one who still thought of girls in his spare time.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: