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Chapter 15: "Patrols Were Active"

(WINTER LINE, pp. 46-48)

Looking north along the Delle Formiche ridge. Collina to the right front.

Fortunately, a great many fighting men in the 351st will clearly remember those "static front" days on the line in the Mount DELLE FORMICHE and Highway 65 sectors of the Winter Line. At first there was rain and mud and industrious construction of caves and dugouts for protection from the weather and German shells. But by Christmas, snow and blizzards added to the general discomfort of the men up front. A soldier could look forward to a few days in Montecatini, or, if he were lucky, a pass to Florence or Rome. While the papers and the radio spoke of our "forgotten front", little bands of determined men went forth by artificial moonlight to fight the German.

Highlighting a long list of courageous and heroic patrol actions were two Lieutenants, Ralph E. Decker and Linnsey L. Wheeler, the winners of the Distinguished Service Cross for closing in on German strongpoints to kill and capture the elusive enemy. Men clad in shoepacs and parkas patrolled through minefields to probe enemy positions, while others shivered in the winter night on lonely outpost. "Zipper Pete" near COLLINA, the

church at GORGNANO, the rat-trap at BARCHETTA, OST NUOVA on 65, and the IDICE valley were very important. places to the white-clad riflemen who crunched there through crusted snow. Service Company soldiers will remember the time when seven hundred rounds struck their area near "Cripple Creek Bridge" in fifteen minutes to take a heavy toll in dead and wounded-while Regimental Headquarters lost Lieutenant Colonel Walter B. Yeager, Regimental Executive Officer and one of the greatest fighters in the 88th Division. Colonel Yeager was seriously wounded while near the Regimental Command Post, and Lieutenant Colonel Franklin P. Miller of the 913th Field Artillery Battalion came to take his place.

U.S. smoke generators in action at Livergnano on Highway 65.

In February 1946 the celebrated 351st Infantry Ranger platoon was formed. Volunteers were requested from the companies of the regiment to specialize in patrols with the mission of killing or capturing Germans. Lieutenant Ralph E. Decker was commander of this original unit, assisted by Lieutenant Lester F. MacDonald and approximately forty enlisted men. Their success was immediate and a virtual reign of terror was visited upon the enemy.

On 12 February 1945 Colonel Champeny received orders transferring him to the United States, terminating his two and a half year association with the 351st Infantry Regiment as its commander. With his departure, the 351st lost a colorful and outstanding leader who had transformed the regiment from a group of civilian soldiers through two major campaigns to a position as one of the most successful combat regiments in the United States Army. In assuming command of the 351st, Colonel Miller expressed his confidence in the men and officers who had fought so long and so well.

Throughout February and early March the regiment occupied its holding position in the LA GUARDA, LIVERGNANO, and LOIANO areas. Nightly patrols in miserable Italian winter weather and ferocious artillery duels were the order of the day in this period. It was during this time that the famed Life Magazine photographer, Margaret Bourke-White stayed with the 351st regiment, taking countless views of harsh winter fighting on the Italian front.


From: 351st Infantry Regimental Information and Education Office (1945). History of the 351st Regiment, World War II.


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