[Editor’s Note: On March 21, 1945, the uncle I never knew was killed just six weeks before the end of World War II in Europe. He was 27 years old, my mother’s oldest brother. She was a student at Thomas Dale High School in Chester, Virginia, when her brother Clarence, the oldest of nine siblings, paid the ultimate sacrifice. She still remembers her mother’s reaction that fateful day when the official government car drove up the driveway of her parents’ Chesterfield County farm many decades ago, and how her mother’s knees buckled as she realized the presence of that car meant her son was not coming home. Mom says her mother, who lived into her 80s, never got over the loss.
After retiring from her job, Mom spent hours researching to fill the void of not knowing exactly what happened to her brother and, through her research, 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. This is her story. I have edited and included links to more detailed historical accounts.]
The Italian Campaign was one of the most difficult of World War II. Some of the most exhausting battles for foot soldiers took place in Italy with its rugged mountains, and heavy snows in the winter of 1943 were followed by extensive cold rains in the late winter and spring of 1944. The ground 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. By the summer of 1944, the dry weather turned the earth to dust which swirled at the least disturbance. The Division veterans’ most vivid memories of the Italian fighting were the weather and terrain.
Clarence was sent from Virginia to the Texas National Guard as they replenished their ranks, and spent 15 months as a First Gunner in the Mortar Squad. Their Division played a big role in the war, joining other American forces in the liberation of the little town of San Pietro, located in southern Italy, from the Germans.
From there they battled their way to the Riviera in southern France, and onward to the northern border of France plus one day in Germany. Clarence was killed in the last great battle of the 36th Division of the 1st Battalion, Company D, 143rd Infantry Regiment of the Texas National Guard.