On this day in 1945, the uncle I never knew was killed in Europe just six weeks before the end of World War II. He was 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, died. 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.
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.