January 3, 1944
This is the first letter that I have written
since Christmas and I hope that you are all well. Did you have a nice Christmas? I left N. Africa and am now in
Italy, so you can see why I haven’t been able to write. Some of the fellows I’m with received some mail
in Africa and I would have gotten some any day, but since we shipped out of there, I’ll have to wait a couple of more
months before I receive any. When you write me, send the pictures that I told you to and send them by air mail.
You needn’t worry about me, as everything is swell, except that I miss you and the babies something terrible.
Have you heard from Rudy or Eric lately? Write and tell me how everything is with everybody, and take care of yourself
as I love you very much.
Love and kisses,
January 6, 1944
The last letter I wrote was from another
place, so you can see why I can’t write as often as I used to. I’ll try and write as often as I can, but
if you don’t hear from me once in a while, don’t worry about me as I’ll probably be going to another camp.
Don’t worry about me because I’m in Italy, for I won’t see any action for quite some time. We got
paid the other day, but luck wasn’t with me, as I lost it all in a crap game. Did you get all of the money that
I sent you a while back? How are the children coming along? Write and tell me how everyone is as I’m pretty
anxious to know what’s going on at home. I love you and miss you very much, so take care of yourself and the children.
Don’t forget to send some pictures of yourself and the kids, as I’m looking forward to receiving them. Things
look pretty good, so this war ought to be over pretty soon. I love you very much, and don’t worry about me as
everything is alright.
Love and kisses,Dutch
Note from WOLF: The above letter
was written Jan.6 Dutch was in Italy. Got paid.... lost all in a crap game. He
didn't think he would see action for a long time He predicts to Cass, ''The war will be over soon.''
Note from WOLF: On January 11, 1944, Rudy Hildenbrand
[1st Bombardment Division from England] was flying a mission over Germany to attack Vidal aircraft factories,
On route they encountered many enemy aircraft. The gunners met these attacks with accurate fire destroying 210 enemy aircraft
in the air and ground. At the end of this mission the Division lost 42 heavy Bombers many returned heavy damaged
430 officers and enlisted men failed to returned 2 were killed, and 32 others wounded. For this, the unit earned Distinguished
Unit Citation for Mission to Oschersleben, Germany.
SEE RUDY'S ROOM
Note from WOLF: In the letter immediately
below, dated January 15, Dutch admits to Cass that he is sleeping with another Soldier; says he got a fruit
bar for Christmas, and that he is hearing about a trip to the Cassino. "Everything's looking good"
he says. This is the last letter he wrote until he got to his new Resort Camp -STALAG- Room 2 B
January 15, 1944
How’s everything with you and the
babies? I haven’t much to write about myself except that I’m well and safe. This not getting any mail
from you worries me a lot, so I hope I get some soon. The fellow that I sleep with got some mail today, so I guess I’ll
get some soon too. Did you get the money that I sent you for Christmas? Write and tell me what you bought with
it and what the babies got for Christmas. The Red Cross gave us a little box for Christmas and in it they had a fruit
bar, two packages of candy, box of chicklets, notebook, two pks. of cigarettes and a checker game. It was pretty nice
and I got something for Christmas anyway. By the way, if your thinking of sending me cigarettes, I wish you wouldn’t,
as we get more cigarettes here than we can smoke. That’s all the room I have to write in, so take care of your.
Love and kisses,
Note from WOLF: Below
is a description of the crossing of the Rapido River on the date Dutch was captured. Dutch was part of the 36th Division,
141st Infantry, 1st Battalion, Company A. His Company made the first crossing and was stranded without ammunition or
support. This description is taken from te Texas Military Forces Museum. The full site is accessible
"On the dark nights of January 20 and 21,
the Division, in an attack designed by the Corps and Army Commanders to gain control of the Liri Valley and outflank Cassino,
crossed the swift-flowing Rapido River. The Germans anticipated the assault and they were ready.
After a murderous struggle the initial bridgehead,
slight holdings a few hundred yards inland on the flat western side, became untenable with supply and follow-up impossible.
Weary, exhausted, with ammunition gone, men fought bravely until the weight of German counterattacks forced a decision. The
Rapido had been a failure.
When the 36th Division sought valiantly and vainly
to establish itself across the icy Rapido River, it suffered losses that look heavy to American military history. It was the
boys of the 36th who stumbled through night-screened, minefields, with assault boats on their shoulders and down to the Rapido--suffering
immensely en route. It was the boys of the 36th who crawled across a thickly-iced rail-less bridge over a bloody little stream
and fell under a bail of gun, mortar and automatic fire in the gallant but vain attempt to establish a bridgehead.
They call the 36th a 'hard luck' division because
it has never had an easy assignment. This writer saw one of its battalions when what was left of it clambered back across
the Rapido. They were tired but they remained, in essence, fresh-faced boys from Texas. Their eyes mirrored no peace." The
Rapido River running generally north-to-south from Cassino to the Garigliano River formed the German line of defense blocking
entrance into the Liri Valley. It was across this open ground that the 36th Division stabbed vainly in an attempt to secure
a bridgehead and capture San Angelo during the two-day period after nightfall of January 20 1944
Although only about 15 yard's wide, the Rapido
River was a swift-running, mountain-fed gorge. Its steep banks drop off sharply, and in the center its depth is often 15 feet.
A haze of chemical smoke hung over the valley during the operation. The attack of the 141st Infantry crossed at the S bend,
seen in both views top and bottom (bottom view is a continuation of the top). The ruins of San Angelo along the Rapido edge
can be seen in the upper left. The 143rd Infantry attempted to cross farther south, out of the picture on the left. Those
men who succeeded in crossing bore the brunt of the Germans' vicious mortar and artillery fire while trapped in the low flatland.
German counterattacks in strength during afternoon of the second day were beaten off until ammunition ran out. The sound of
American weapons gradually faded into the night A few survivors swam the icy waters to return. "Were you at the Rapido? "
An affirmative answer draws a respectful hush, a reverent understanding. The name resounds with blood, that of the men known
only to be "many," who became casualty in that fateful operation. Few seek to inquire what happened there, because the effort,
however great, did not succeed. Why it did not is clear in the recount of the two-day nightmare.
The fall of Mount Trocchio, last height before
Cassino, had pressed the Germans back onto a prepared defense line anchored at Cassino and blocking entrance to the Liri Valley
along the Rapido River. Here the Germans were strong and alert, favored on the defense by the winter weather, by the terrain
-- flat, open, soggy ground. Not only did they withstand the assault of the 36th but major bids by the British on the left,
and the 34th on the right during this same period were likewise repulsed. They held that line for five months until the mighty
May offensive was launched.
The two-pronged 36th Division assault aimed at
the capture of San Angelo, across the Rapido, and the establishment of a bridgehead. The attack was carefully prepared in
detail and preceded by reconnaissance patrolling, the spotting of bridging equipment, the clearing of lanes through known
minefields to the crossing site, and a plan of strong artillery support. But the physical odds were too great. This was apparent
before the attack to all experienced soldiers.
Thirty minutes before 2000 hours of January 20,
fourteen battalions of artillery signaled the opening preparation. But this did not hinder the enemy from sensing the attack
and returning the fire in volume. Dense fog blacked out the night completely. As both 141st and 143rd infantrymen approached
the crossing sites, the story was the same: Incoming artillery and mortar fire, men moving over reportedly cleared lanes stumbling
upon German anti-personnel mines, many casualties, shell and mine fragments ripping and rendering useless the rubber boats
being carried for the crossing, guides losing their way or taking the wrong turn in the pitch black, precious time consumed
in repeated reorganization. In one company alone, the company commander was killed, the second-in-command wounded, and thirty
men were casualties before reaching the river.
At the water's edge German machine guns and small
arms close to the shore spattered into first elements attempting to cross. Boats overturned in the swift waters or were punctured
when the mortars fell. A brigadier-general rooted out an attached bridge-building party from foxholes one and one-half miles
from the crossing site where they belonged. Just prior to daylight small forces of both regiments got across on makeshift
bridges. The Ist Battalion of the 143rd found itself pocketed in interlocking German machine gun fire with the river to their
backs. The bulk of A and B companies, 141st, dug in and stayed on the west bank throughout daylight of the 21st. But no communication
could be had with them and no follow-up could occur over the exposed river site during the day.
The Corps commander ordered the attack for the
Rapido bridgehead to be resumed by a daylight assault. There would be no surprise, now. Germans, too, were bringing up reinforcements,
and calling down continuous fires upon the river areas. First set for 1400, the late arrival of more boats delayed the time
until 1600. The 143rd Infantry, 1st and 3rd Battalions, again jumped off at that time. Though the river was smoked heavily
for the attack, the Germans again countered with strong defensive fires. Both battalions, with the exception of Company C,
were over by 1830. Casualties were heavy. The 2nd Battalion moved across after midnight and reached the flank of the 3rd Battalion
about 500 yards inland after daylight. Trapped in grazing German machine gun fire, a network of wired defensive positions,
and under heavy concentrations of mortar and screaming meemies, the men were unable to make any headway. The 3rd Battalion
reported running out of ammunition at 0900. Resupply from dumps along the river, established during the night, was made despite
the blanket of enemy fire. The 1st Battalion, after the loss of its battalion commander and each rifle company leader, became
badly disorganized. The gallantry of the 2nd and 3rd Battalion attempts to break through the German line was spent vainly.
The attack was crippled and then driven back.
The second 141st Infantry attack had been delayed
until after dark of the 21st. The extreme difficulties encountered the night before were identically repeated, but by daylight
the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were over. Every possible effort to reorganize and continue the attack was made under the deadly
curtain of German fire. Use of the river crossing was denied soon after daylight and gradually all foot bridges were destroyed.
Supply and evacuation were impossible. Still, the men hung on.
Then at 1700 the Germans launched a heavy counterblow, striking our forces simultaneously on three sides.
Although ammunition supplies were already low - and there had been no resupply - the first German attack was repulsed with
heavy losses to the enemy. Yet again, in half an hour, the attack was resumed. American fire, in constantly diminishing volume,
was heard three hours longer. By then it was entirely German. But German machine pistols continued to speak against American
resistance until midnight.
About fifty haggard 141st Infantrymen struggled
back and swam the cold Rapido that evening."
Nightmare at Rapido