US veteran of World War II Donald Halverson participated in a number of fierce and costly battles in Europe, including the Battle of Monte Cassino that led to the loss of 35 soldiers out 40 in his platoon, and he shared with Sputnik the vivid memories of those brutal military campaigns and the feeling of luck to remain alive and unwounded
WASHINGTON (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 22nd June, 2021) US veteran of World War II Donald Halverson participated in a number of fierce and costly battles in Europe, including the Battle of Monte Cassino that led to the loss of 35 soldiers out 40 in his platoon, and he shared with Sputnik the vivid memories of those brutal military campaigns and the feeling of luck to remain alive and unwounded.
The Battle of Anzio that ended with the victory of the Allied forces was one of the many very fierce and very costly battles Halverson fought in.
"I was one of the lucky ones, they kept missing me," Halverson said. "They just kept missing me. I had a hole to my canteen and artillery cut my shoes with bullets but they kept missing my body, that's the only thing."
Halverson is one of 12 American WWII veterans that was scheduled to travel to Russia in May 2020 to celebrate the anniversary of the Great Patriotic War victory in Moscow. But the trip, sponsored by The Greatest GENERATIONS Foundation, was canceled because of the pandemic. Foundation' President Timothy Davis told Sputnik in April that the majority of the US veterans are doing well and are prepared to travel when the restrictions are lifted.
Halverson recalled that he had just graduated high school in 1942 and started working in Minnesota when he decided to join the war effort.
"That's when Uncle Sam said he wanted me. So, I went down to Fort Snelling and got signed up," the veteran said. "From there, I went to Camp Blanding in Florida for about five months training. From there, I went to Camp Robertson near Little Rock Arkansas and trained there for 10 days, before heading to the East Coast for deployment overseas."
"We landed in Italy, by Naples, on October 13. I was 20 years old when I landed in Italy," he said. "That's where I joined the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division. From then on we just started moving north from Naples."
For two long years, Halverson led his platoon over the mountains and across the minefields. "For two years I went up and down the mountains," he said. Halverson noted that it was always said there in Italy "one more mountain, one more hill every day."
Halverson noted that outside of Naples, they had to cross the Volturno River and we headed for Mount Pantano. "Our mission was to knock the Germans off of that mountain," he said, noting that it took them some four weeks to rid the Nazi forces from that location.
"One company was up there for a week and we were the second company to go up there," he said. "Long way up and when you get to the top of the mountain, you're looking down at the clouds below you. The Germans were holding just a narrow, rocky plateau up there, and we were just throwing hand grenades at one another. We were up there a week and another outfit came up and relieved us."
Halverson's next battle was at Monte Cassino, near a monastery.
The veteran recounted that the Cassino battle was one of the worst battles because they lost most of their company there, Halverson said, adding that "the Germans were dropping mortar shells from the mountain as we traverse a narrow ravine, that killed many of our soldiers."
"I had a light weapons platoon with 40 guys, machine guns and mortars. I was a platoon sergeant," Halverson continued to say. "After the Battle for Cassino, I only had five left. We lost so many men in the platoon that they pulled us off of there and shipped us back to Naples. I am one of the lucky ones, they kept missing me."
Halverson was lucky in the other battles as well. He did not receive any wounds.
"They kept missing me. Bullets come close for me, artillery come close but they missed me," he said. "I was never injured."
The Battle of Monte Cassino, also known as Battle for Rome, was one of the key battles between Allies and Germans in Italy in 1944. German positions were placed on hilltops, giving them control of the surrounding areas and blocking the way for Allied troops to the Italian capital. After several unsuccessful fierce assaults by Allies over five months, Germans pulled of their troops. The Battle of Monte Cassino costed Allies approximately 55,000 dead, while the Germans lost 22,000.
After the Monte Cassino battle, Halverson took part in the Battle for Anzio.
"During the days you stayed hidden and at nighttime everything happened there. You go out and they start shooting at us with these big long-range rail guns" named Anzio Anne. The veteran noted that they fought for four months before pulling out of there and headed for Rome.
The Battle of Anzio took place concurrently with the Battle of Monte Cassino. It began in January 1944 with an Allied amphibious landing on an Anzio beach successfully creating a beachhead for the future reinforcements but Allied efforts to break through the German lines were proved futile due to constant counterattacks and fierce resistance of Nazi troops. The Allies broke out only in May 1944 and started an assault on Rome which was captured on June 4, 1944. But Germans were able to pull their main forces and regroup to prepare the next defensive line. Approximately 45,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded during Battle of Anzio. German losses are estimated at 40,000.
"From Rome, we got about halfway to Pisa, and that's when we heard that the troops landed in Normandy, France," he said. "We'd been fighting in Italy about nine months by then. We finally got up by Pisa they let us go back to Rome for a little bit because we've been on the move for quite a few months. We had a short rest in Rome, around the Coliseum and Vatican," he added. "And then, back up to the northern Apennines, so we spent the winter of 1944-1945 before we broke out of there and headed up to the Swiss Alps."
Halverson fought in a number of significant campaigns, including Naples-Foggia, Rome-Arno, North Apennines and Po Valley. At Po Valley, near the town of Biella, the 34th German Corps surrendered to the 34th American Division.
When asked what was the scariest moment during the war, Halverson stated, "none of them are any good. In one place or another, either a mountain, village or valley, you've got to keep fighting. Keep moving."
"I got letters from them, but you couldn't write nothing home because you couldn't say nothing about the war or where you were going. So you couldn't write much back as far as news goes," he explained.
"We were looking at the Swiss Alps and the captain got a phone call, 'The war was over!' I looked up at the sky, it was nice," the veteran remembered. "We stripped off and went swimming in the lake. We had not had the bath for about five months."
"No more fighting and shooting. And that was the best day of my life, May 2, when they said the war in Italy was over," Halverson shared. "And then, six days later, the captain received a call that the war ended in Germany... It was a good feeling. No more shooting."
"After the war ended in Italy, we had to stay there for about five months because they had to rebuild a railroad to get us back to Naples and home. So we got to go to Switzerland, two groups at a time. And we just went down to Monte Carlo and Nice, and saw the country until they got the train ready to go back to Naples and then ship to home."
"I think we all slept up on the deck, it was so nice. The weather was so nice and just slept on the deck and relaxed till we got home," he said. "We got back to the United States on the 3rd of November, we left Italy on the 22nd of October and it took 12 days to get home. Back to the States."
Talking about his life nowadays, Halverson said, "I just enjoy living, don't have to worry about nothing."
When asked about his dream, the veteran said, "Just getting by another day. I'm trying to make 100 in the next two years here, see what that feels like."
Halverson also expressed hope that there is not going another world war.
"I hope everybody settles down. Who wants another world war? I wish they'd all get along and forget about it," the veteran said. "I hope that everyone settles down and enjoys life rather than having a war."