Today is the 73rd anniversary of V-E Day — victory in Europe — marking the end of World War II in that part of the world. Six weeks earlier, on March 21, 1945, a Virginia soldier was killed by Germans while battling along the Siegfried Line. He was 27 years old, my mother’s oldest brother.
His name was Clarence Osborne, the oldest of nine siblings. My mom was the baby of the family, a student at Thomas Dale High School in Chester, when her brother was killed. She still remembers her mother’s reaction that fateful day when the official government car drove up the driveway of their Chesterfield County farm many decades ago, and how her mother’s knees buckled as she realized the presence of that car meant her son had been killed. Mom says her mother, who lived into her 80s, never completely got over the loss.
After retiring, Mom spent hours researching to fill the void of not knowing exactly what happened to her brother and eventually found Clarence’s sergeant, Dock Roberts, living in Texas. Another soldier buddy, Emelio Albert, lived in California. She traveled to both places to talk with them to learn about her brother’s journey as a U.S. Army soldier through war-torn Europe and his final hours, and she documented the treasured research for our family history. Here are her words about her oldest brother’s final months at war … by Eula Osborne Randall Lucy.
The Italian Campaign was one of the most difficult of World War II, and some of the most difficult battles for foot soldiers were in Italy which was very mountainous with heavy snows in the winter of 1943 and heavy cold rains in the late winter and spring of 1944. The earth turned into a quagmire and foxholes were filled with water. Mud was so deep it was nearly impassable for vehicles as well as men on foot. In the summer of 1944, the ground turned to dust which swirled at the least disturbance. The unit veterans’ most vivid memories of the Italian fighting was the weather and terrain.
Clarence spent 15 months as a First Gunner in a Mortar Squad, part of the American forces who freed the little town of San Pietro in southern Italy from the Germans. From there they battled their way to the Riviera in southern France and on to the northern border of France, plus one day on Germany. He was killed in the last great battle the 36th Division of the 1st Battalion, Company D, 143rd Infantry Regiment of the Texas National Guard.
Clarence’s first battle was December 15, 1943. Starting December 8th, the 36th Division had been trying to take 4,000-foot Mt. Summacro (Hill 1205) so they could liberate the little town of San Pietro at the base of the mountain. Dock Roberts, Clarence’s sergeant, and Roy Goad, Commanding Officer of the 143rd Regiment, were wounded on Hill 1205. San Pietro was at the entrance to the Liri Valley and was heavily fortified by the Germans. It had to be taken by the Allies before they could enter the Liri Valley in the drive to liberate Rome.
The men of the 36th Division had come into Italy after fighting in the deserts of North Africa and were still wearing their summer uniforms. They were not prepared for the bitterest winter Italy had experienced in years. Most had no overcoats, raincoats, or even gloves.
Much of the fighting for Hill 1205 was by climbing, literally hand over hand, straight up the side of the mountain which was very rugged with sharp, jagged rocks. Germans were entrenched on the top, protected by large boulders along the edge of the top of the mountain. When the first Allied soldiers reached the top and surprised them, the Germans started rolling large boulders off the mountain.
The 1st Battalion of the 143rd Infantry Regiment moved on from Hill 1205 to the battle to liberate San Pietro at the bottom. Clarence was a replacement for the 36th Division and entered the fighting on December 15th. The next day they finally succeeded in capturing San Pietro but a high price was paid with 1,100 casualties.