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Kirks first patrol

Close call

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Mancel Grant Kirk was born near Finger, Tennessee in 1925 and spent his whole life there except when he went away for the war. Kirk was a farmer. Kirk lived about 2 miles from his parent’s home and was there when he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Kirk was drafted in 1943 and went into the service in July 1943. He was drafted into the army. He could have enlisted in the navy or the army. His dad had been in the army in World War I and wanted Kirk to go into the army too. On 30 July 1943 Kirk left Tennessee and went to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. He stayed there for 2 weeks then went from there to Fort Riley, Kansas where he took 17 weeks of basic training. The first day of January 1944 they left for Fort Meade, Maryland. He was given a delay in route and spent 10 days at home with his family before reporting in at Fort Meade. From Fort Meade they went by train to Patrick Henry, Virginia. After a week there they went down to Newport News where they boarded a ship. They were aboard ship for two days while it was being loaded before they shipped out. On the evening of 23 February 1944 they shipped out. On 3 March they landed in Casablanca, North Africa. There they boarded a train for a two day and two night trip to Oran. After a week or so there they boarded a boat and convoyed to Naples, Italy. They landed in Naples late in the afternoon of 14 March 1944. There were balloons and cables [Annotators Note: barrage balloons] all over the place to keep the Germans from dive bombing the harbor. They got off the ship around dark and walked to a train that took them to the Dairy Farm [Annotators Note: the dairy farm or Mussolinis Dairy Farm was the nickname given to the 2nd Replacement Depot] close to Cassino. They could hear the artillery going off at Cassino. They were close to the front. During the night the area was bombed. The next day they were assigned to units and Kirk went to the 34th Infantry Division as a replacement infantryman. The 34th Division had fought at Cassino and lost a lot of men. Kirk saw a lot of bombed out towns. Kirk was assigned to Company G of the 168th Infantry. It was pretty cold where Kirk joined his unit and the mud was half a knee deep. They stayed there for a couple of days before going back to Naples. After a couple of days in Naples then boarded an LST and shipped out for the Anzio beachhead. Kirk had gone to Italy as a replacement. When Kirk arrived at the Anzio beachhead there were shells falling around as they offloaded in the Anzio and Nettuno area. They walked past the cemetery where American soldiers were being buried. Kirk saw German prisoners doing the work. They walked two miles inland and stayed there for two days. Shells were falling in the area but not too close to them. Kirk’s unit replaced the 3rd Infantry Division on the front line. They went up at night and Kirk recalls walking past burning trucks and artillery shells falling. Some of the guys Kirk had taken basic training with were wounded before they ever even got to the front lines. Kirk was in a field with a guy from New York who went all the way with the 34th Division. He had been wounded a few times in North Africa. They were in a slit trench. The trench had a top on it and the guys could not stand up in it. There was a tank right next to their slit trench that the Germans were always trying to hit with artillery. Kirk experienced a lot of artillery fire and feels lucky that he was never hit.

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Mancel Kirk was selected to go on a 10 man patrol to snatch a prisoner. They passed through the German lines and made their way a short way into the enemy area. The lieutenant leading the patrol decided that he did not want to go any deeper into German territory. He told the men on the patrol to just shoot the place up. They started shooting and the Germans started firing back. The men on the patrol ran and left Kirk standing there but he made it back to his own lines. Nobody on the patrol got hurt. They were on the front line for about 3 weeks. They took a lot of shelling in their area. They kept a smoke screen up but it was too dangerous for them to get out of their holes at night. It was nice for them to get pulled off the front line. It was not too safe where they were pulled back to but they did not get any artillery fire there. They night they went up there [Annotators Note: to the front line where they relieved the 3rd Infantry Division] if Audie Murphy was up there one of the guys in Kirk’s unit got his foxhole. Audie Murphy was in the 30th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division which is who they relieved on the front line. They stayed down on the Mussolini Canal for about a week. Then they relieved the 135th Infantry of the 34th Infantry Division. They went on the line on 1 May and did not come off the line until 23 May when they made the big drive to Rome. When the drive on Rome started there were five infantry divisions taking part. Kirk’s unit was in reserve. It was the most artillery and bombing barrages Kirk had ever seen. They were between the 36th Division and the 1st Armored Division near Lanuvio, Italy. It was the biggest battle Kirk was ever in. They fought the Germans for about five or six days in that area. The battle took a toll on Kirk’s battalion. By the time they were pulled off the line there were only 12 men left in his platoon. They pulled off the front a little for about three days. All of the other units continued on towards Rome. On 5 June 1944 they boarded trucks and went into the outskirts of Rome. After dinner they drove through Rome to the north side of the city and unloaded there. The next morning they got the word from some tanks that the invasion of Normandy was underway. Kirk landed at Anzio unopposed. He did meet up with some guys from his county. One of them who he had gone through basic training with was killed on 29 May in that big battle they fought in. The Germans had them surrounded at one time. Kirk did not realize the situation he was in at first. A guy Kirk was with shot his way out with Kirk and another GI following. The company commander was about to give up what was left of the company. While they were trying to get out they ran up on some Germans. Kirk did not fire at them but the other soldiers he was with shot and killed the two Germans. This was Kirk’s first time in combat. That opened a way for Kirk and the others to get out. There were dead and wounded Germans and dead Americans all over the place. There was a big artillery shell they called the Anzio Express or Anzio Annie. Some called it the Flying Boxcar [Annotators Note: Kirk is referring to the two Krupp made K5(E) 280 millimeter railway guns the German Army used in the Anzio area. The Germans referred to these guns as Robert and Leopold.].After they took Rome on 6 June they left and went up the coast about 60 miles and captured the big railroad gun the next morning. Kirk never got very close to the gun but does have some pictures of it. They stayed in a wheat field in that area for a couple weeks to regroup and they got replacements. At this time Kirk was made an assistant squad leader. One of the guys Kirk went through basic with was promoted from private to staff sergeant and Kirk was promoted from private to buck sergeant [Annotators Note: a three stripe sergeant or E4].They continued their push toward Pisa, Italy [Annotators Note: sounds like he is saying Pisa] and Florence, Italy. They crossed the Cecina River about 25 or 30 miles south of Pisa. They rode into the town in trucks. The Italians covered the soldiers with wine and some of the guys got drunk. On 4 July they were ambushed near Castilian, Italy. The German soldier shot and killed Kirk’s buddy and squad leader. He also killed the platoon runner and a medic. The German was supposedly a colonel in the German Army who was on a hillside by himself. Kirk took over the squad and spent the rest of the war as a squad leader. On the last days of the war he was made the assistant platoon leader.

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Mancel Kirk and his unit continued to move up toward Pisa, Italy. They were moving pretty good did not have much trouble with casualties. About 10 or 11 July [Annotators Note: July of 1944] they were waiting to move up. They were dug in on side of the road when a motorcycle approached with two Germans on it. They let the Germans pass. A road block farther down the road called Kirk’s position and asked why they had not stopped the motorcycle. Kirk told them that they had been taken by surprise. The two Germans had gotten drunk and sobered up in a wine cellar and were trying to get back to their lines when they were captured at the road block. Kirk and his friends did have to contend with some snipers in the area. After entering a small town Kirk went to the outskirts of the town to take a look at the terrain. The Germans dropped some 88s [Annotators Note: 88 millimeter artillery rounds] in and hit the building where Kirk was at. The blast knocked him down a flight of steps. He thought he was severely wounded but after checking himself out he realized that he was not. They went up to the Arno River around 3 July. The part of his unit that was on the left took the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Kirk never got to go in it. They were pulled off the front line for a couple of weeks. They were camped right next to the ocean and could go swimming whenever they wanted to. Some of the guys got passes to go to Rome for a day. Kirk was one of them. Kirk went to Rome for one day for some R and Rafter a few weeks they moved into positions just south of Florence. They were on a hillside watching a movie one night when a German plane flew over and dropped a couple bombs on the hill. The GIs scattered in every direction they could and nobody was hurt. From there they went through Florence and attacked into the Gothic Line. The Gothic Line stretched across Italy. They watched the American planes bomb it for a couple of days before Kirk’s unit moved out into the mountains. They broke through the mountains without too many people getting killed. The mountains were unbelievable. There were other troops who followed behind to make new trails and paths through the area. The 91st Division went up Highway 65. They were in the middle and went towards The Po Valley and Bologna. Kirk’s division was on the left and the 85th and 88th Divisions were on the right. About 1 October they broke through the Gothic Line. They wanted to get to the Po Valley before the wintertime got there. During the second week of October they moved Kirk’s unit over to the right hand side of 65 going toward Bologna. On 16 October Kirk had one of the closest calls he had during the war. They had gotten new field jackets. It was smoky and hazy and his platoon was the lead platoon. They were trying to get into the Po Valley. It began to rain that evening. Kirk’s company made a frontal attack. They had tanks back behind them. It was foggy and rainy. The only reason the Germans did not shoot and kill them all was because they had those new field jackets and the Germans thought that they were other Germans moving up. They got into a pretty good shoot out back towards the tanks. In the fog and haze the American tank crews though Kirk’s platoon was German and fired into them. When the tanks shot into them everyone took cover and was on their own. Kirk ran back the way they had gone up. Kirk ran into two Germans who were aiming their rifles at him and a fellow GI. Kirk rolled off down the hill. He stayed where he stopped for a while the pulled a white hand kerchief out of his pocket and waved it. He did not get a response so he made his way back up the hill and picked up his rifle and helmet then made his way back to his unit. When he got back to his unit he encountered a friend who thought he had been killed. The lieutenant who had gone up with them stayed up on the hill with his men. There were two guys who had just come to the company as replacements. They were both killed. The next day they went back up into the village. A couple of Kirk’s buddies were taken prisoner up on the hill. They stayed there for three or four days. They were supposed to make an attack but their lieutenant refused. The lieutenant was sent back to the company headquarters for a while and when he returned they made the attack. There were artillery shells falling all over. They advanced about a quarter of a mile then dug in on the side of the mountain. The Germans started dropping big mortar shells on them and one of the shells wounded their lieutenant. The lieutenant had a million dollar wound [Annotators Note: slang term describing a wound that was bad enough to remove someone from combat for good but not life threatening].

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Mancel Kirk and his fellow Company G, 168th Infantry Regiment GIs stayed in that area for four or five days then they pushed off again. The first and second platoons got together. They attacked the ridge next to where the mortar shells were falling on them. A sergeant from the second platoon was wounded and when the medic went to give him some water he accidentally gave him gasoline and it killed the mania lieutenant who had been with them since the Anzio Beachhead was also wounded. Kirk’s platoon sergeant was wounded too. Kirk was a squad leader. They made to a small building farther up the hill and set up a machine gun position. About three o'clock in the morning some German showed up. There was a pretty bad shootout and there were grenades being thrown everywhere. Kirk was in a room in which a German concussion grenade went off. He could not hear for a couple of days afterward. They stayed there for three or four days after the fight. A fellow squad leader asked Kirk to stand guard in a room an Kirk refused because of the condition of the room. That night the ceiling collapsed. It would have killed him. After three or four days they were relieved and sent back to Florence, Italy. They spent a couple of weeks in a rest area. Kirk did not go back on the front line until the first week of January 1945. There were about 12 men with Kirk when they were surrounded at Anzio. About 50 men from his company got out of the encirclement. His captain had torn up his maps and was preparing to surrender the company to the Germans. Kirk read a story about a lieutenant named Sheehy [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling] who took a tank out there and was awarded the Medal of Honor for taking the tank and shooting up a bunch of Germans. He was killed. When they moved into the area around 28 May they ran out of water. It was very hot so when they came across a well next to a grape vine Kirk and another GI used an old German sauerkraut can to get to the water. The water was drinkable so quite a few of them filled their canteens. While they were filling their canteens some tanks came up and started shooting up the area. The tankers did not know they were up there. Kirk waved his white hand kerchief and got the tankers attention. The tanker told him that he was about to blow up that well. Kirk does not know how many men they lost when they were surrounded at Anzio. He knows that the captain escaped and that his platoon lost a lot of men there. The 34th Division suffered a lot of casualties in that area. There was a railroad track on a small hill at Lanuvio. The only place the men in Kirk’s unit ever put their bayonets on their rifles before an attack was the day they were surrounded. Their advance only made it a few feet before German fire turned them back. Rome was in good shape when Kirk saw it. The Germans had taken care of it. There had been no Germans when the Allies landed at Anzio. They took the Germans by surprise. Kirk knows a man from Finger, Tennessee who was in the 1st Armored Division who told him that they had sent patrols to Rome on the day they landed at Anzio. The Germans did not respond until after the initial landings. Kirk landed at Anzio a few days after the initial landings. The 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Armored Division made the landings. Darby’s Rangers [Annotators Note: the 1st Ranger Battalion] went in too. Darby [Annotators Note: US Army Brigadier General William O. Darby] lost all of his Rangers in the Anzio beachhead. Darby went to the 10th Mountain Division and was killed during the last few days of the war. The 34th Division had made the landing in North Africa. They were also the first National Guard unit to go into the war.

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The Gothic Line goes all the way across Italy. The area where Mancel Kirk and his Company G, 168th Infantry Regiment went through was very steep cliffs but they made it through pretty good. On the northern slopes going into the Po Valley was the worst part of Italy. Kirk and his unit went back on the front line on 1 January 1945. It was snowing very hard that day. They relieved the 88th Division there. They walked for a long time on the right hand side of Highway 65.Around 10 February Kirk’s company was tasked with conducting a raid on the German lines to try to grab a prisoner. During the initial raid a lieutenant from another platoon was killed. About a week later Kirk’s platoon was sent out there. One of Kirk’s buddies stepped on a mine and lost a foot. They got into a pretty good shootout with the Germans. Kirk lucked out. When they made their way to the village below their lines Kirk and another GI were posted to a house on the outskirts of the village to act as guards while the rest of the platoon made their way into the village. There was another shootout in the village. The next night they were pulled out. Kirk’s platoon had suffered quite a few casualties. One of those was a friend of Kirk whose body was never recovered. After Kirk returned from the war the man’s mother ran an ad in the VFW Magazine asking for information about her son’s death. Kirk wrote to her telling her all he knew and suggesting that the man may have gone into a cave or dugout that was hit by and artillery shell which would have buried him. They came off the front around 20 February. They were sent to a rest area near Florence. They went back to the front a little after 1 March. They went up the left hand side of Highway 65. The weather had begun to thaw a little and the snow and ice had started to melt. Kirk led his squad on a few patrols. They took up positions in front of Mount Adone in a valley. There were some hills surrounding their positions. They stayed there until around 1 April. Kirk’s unit was sent on a patrol up the mountain to try to grab a prisoner off of Mount Adone. There were two trails up the mountain. Kirk’s group set off around four in the morning and went up the left trail. A radioman and another lieutenant went up the right trail. The trail the other lieutenant had gone up took him right to where the Germans were. They started shooting at him and he had to run back down the hill quickly. The next day Kirk’s group was sent on another raid to the same place. Kirk’s lieutenant killed one German and shot another one. Right before that happened Kirk told the lieutenant that he smelled cigarette smoke and that there were Germans around. Five minutes later his lieutenant killed the German. Kirk has a story in one of the 34th Division magazines about that raid. They were pulled off the line again and got about a weeks rest. The war was going well in Europe and Italy. They were supposed to move out on 12 April. That was the day Roosevelt [Annotators Note: 32nd President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt] died. They stayed in the area for another 3 days and nights sleeping on the ground. On 16 April they moved back up to the same spot they had been in before to prepare to push into the Po Valley.17 April was Kirk’s 21st birthday. He spent the day hoping he would not be hurt or killed on his birthday. They jumped off the next morning. Johnny Noveret [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling] from Memphis, Tennessee had been with Kirk since the Anzio beachhead. He made assistant squad leader after the Gille [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling] boy got killed. Noveret was in the second platoon and his squad was the leading squad that took off that morning. The Germans put up a fight but Kirk’s unit gained about 1000 yards that day. They dug in late that evening two or three hills over. They had suffered quite a few casualties but only three or four had been killed. The next morning everything was quiet. What was left of the Germans opposing them had pulled out during the night. They stayed in the area for three or four days. They were happy to be out of combat for a few days.

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On 23 April [Annotators Note: 23 April 1945] Mancel Kirk and his fellow 168th Infantry Regiment GIs were taken by truck to Bologna. They stayed there a couple nights then moved out up the Pop Valley to the Medina area. They were by the edge of the Po River. A pontoon bridge was put up over the Po River north of Bologna. Kirk’s unit was pulled back and crossed the Po River. They travelled mostly at night. There were Germans everywhere. Around 27 or 28 April Milan, Italy was captured. Kirk’s unit was north of Milan near the Swiss border. The night Milan was captured it was raining and sleeting. The weather was bad that night. Kirk’s unit was positioned about two or three miles from where the partisans killed Mussolini and his bunch. They were right on the Swiss border. The Germans were trying to get as many as they could across the border. Kirk remembers the night very well that Mussolini was killed. The partisans shot and killed him then let him hang in Milan for three or four days before they buried him. Kirk’s unit moved to the small town of Biella, Italy which was right next to the Swiss Alps. It was a beautiful area that had not been bombed. The halted on the roadside outside of Biella on about 30 April. On about 2 May they were told that war had ended. They stayed on the side of the road for a couple of days before moving into Biella itself. There the German 34th Infantry Division surrendered to the US 34th Infantry Division. Everything went off very smooth. They disarmed the Germans who all seemed to be happy that the war was over too. After three or four days in Biella they moved a large number of German prisoners back to the Po Valley in trucks. They would convoy every day. Everything went well. Kirk stayed in Saluzzo for a while. He was there in August when the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. They had already started sending the younger people back to the States. People were being sent back by points. Kirk had 65 points. Some guys were being prepared to go to the Pacific to fight the Japanese. Kirk was proud to stay over in Italy. He had had all the war he wanted. Kirk was in that area for about a month then got moved to the Yugoslav border to the town of Tarvisio. They were right on the corner of Yugoslavia, Italy, and Austria. Kirk was there until about 30 November. Some of his friends had already gone home. It took three days and nights on an old train to get from Tarvisio to Naples. He was in Naples for about two weeks before the USS Randolph [Annotators Note: USS Randolph CV15] arrived to pick them up. On 15 December he went aboard the Randolph. The Randolph took about 5000 of them home. Kirk was the first man to go aboard the Randolph in Naples and the last off in New York. When Kirk sailed out of Naples he had been in Italy for 21 months to the day. He had arrived in Italy on 15 March 1944 and arrived in New York City on Christmas Day 1945. They were put aboard boats that took them over to New Jersey. Three or four days later Kirk left and went to Fort Knox in Kentucky. Kirk remained there until 31 December when he was discharged. He was put on a Greyhound bus that took him to Nashville, Tennessee. He had been gone almost two years to the day. It was some experience.

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Mancel Kirk survived the war well. He did not get shell shock like some others did. The worst thing he suffered was the night a German soldier threw a concussion grenade that detonated in the room Kirk was in. He is hard of hearing now. The VA gave him some hearing aids. Kirk saw many men get shell shock. Kirk had a lot of dreams when he got home about fighting the Germans. On 19 July [Annotators Note: 9 July 1944] Kirk saw a German soldier lying in the road with just his head and one arm on him. That was an image that Kirk remembers to this day. When they had to go off and leave their buddies it was tough. Someone always came behind them to pick up the bodies. If they were wounded those who were not hurt tried to help them get out. The closest Kirk ever came to getting wounded was when the rock hit him the day he was blown down the stairs [Annotators Note: Kirk tells this story in Segment 3].Johnny Norveret [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling] from Memphis, Tennessee was wounded a couple of times. He was an Italian and they used him as an interpreter. After the war they Kirk and Norveret both became platoon sergeants before they shipped home. Norveret was awarded the Silver Star for his actions during their last battle into the Po Valley. Medical care at the front was always real good. The Germans would shoot and kill medics. At the Anzio beachhead they threw 10 artillery shells at the Germans for every 1 the Germans threw at them. Kirk heard Germans crying for help at night. Most of the Germans Kirk fought were just like him. If they ran into soldiers from the Hermann Goering Division or SS troopers they knew they were in for a fight. Kirk saw Germans cry and beg for their lives. When they pushed out of the Anzio beachhead elements of the 1st Armored Division pushed through their positions. The 1st Armored guys would just send prisoners back to where Kirk’s unit was dug in. Kirk just wanted to live like everybody else did. He tried to do his job the best he could. Most of the Germans were just kids but every now and then they would run up against the Hermann Goering Division or the SS and those guys were mean. Kirk never gave too much thought to what the Germans were like before he encountered them. Then after the war he was not around them too much. Kirk carried am M1 rifle all the way through the war. That was all he wanted. He felt safer with his M1. They carried a lot of ammunition and hand grenades.

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Mancel Kirk was a squad leader. When he would send people out on a patrol or mission he would usually out on point. If a house had to be cleared he was usually leading the way. The front line usually was not a solid line but the Gothic Line was. It stretched from one side of Italy to the other. Kirk was a squad leader until they were about to move into the Po Valley. Just before they pushed into the Po Valley Kirk was made an assistant platoon sergeant. The squad leader had more responsibility. They were trying to keep their men alive. The lieutenants were mostly rookies coming right out of Fort Benning, Georgia [Annotators Note: Kirk is referring to the three month officer candidate school at Fort Benning which churned out replacement lieutenants referred to as 90 day wonders]. It was not really army in Italy. They did not salute their lieutenants but they would salute a general if he came to the front. The general commanding the 34th Division went up in a Cub plane [Annotators Note: Piper Cub light observation aircraft] to get a better view of the front line. He got too low and the Germans shot him down and he was killed. They were buried on the Gothic Line. When they would pull off the front line they would do a little training and get a little rest. Around the middle of July after his squad leader got killed Kirk’s squad was sent on a patrol a ways away from their company to a highway. They got to the highway late one Saturday night and the next morning tanks came rolling through shooting up everything in the area. The 442nd Japanese Regiment [Annotators Note: 442nd Regimental Combat Team] had been beaten by the Germans a few days earlier and were moving back up into the area to exact some revenge. They did not know that Kirk’s group was there and luckily none of them got killed. It was a slow go going through there [Annotators Note: up the Italian mainland]. It was a couple hundred miles or so. Kirk spent a lot of nights in and out of foxholes and in burned out buildings. The Italians would usually leave the area when they knew the Americans were coming. A lot of the Italians had wine cellars and many of the American soldiers would check them out when they arrived at a farm. Around the middle of July they moved into a town. They expected to just walk out of it but the Italians came out and brought them wine. Kirk did not drink but a lot of men did. They had to leave them in their foxholes when they moved out. They crossed the Cecina River that night. It was the only time Kirk ever got his feet wet over there. Their platoon sergeant got drunk and they had to leave him in a hay stack. They were about five or six miles inland. 135 [Annotators Note: 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division] was down on the coast and took the brunt of the fighting going up through there. After crossing the river that night they dug in on side of a hill. The following day they shelled the hill before they came down it. Kirk’s platoon sergeant was drunk and a higher ranking officer found him. After cussing out the officer the platoon sergeant was busted down a couple ranks. They were given beer rations while they were in the Gothic Line. They dug in one night. They dug slit trenches to keep their bodies below the ground. That night the man let a grenade go off in his hand. He was evacuated and they never heard from him again.

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When Mancel Kirk was in the Anzio beachhead the only time they could get out [Annotators Note: of their foxholes] was at night. That is when they would go get their rations and water. They had to go about a quarter of a mile or a half a mile to get their rations and water for the next day.1 night before Kirk was getting rations. At the time he was still a private. Another soldier who assigned to a heavy machine gun that was providing security for Kirk’s unit asked him where he was from. Kirk replied that he was from Tennessee and the other GI said that he was too. That soldier was wounded later on but survived the war. The only time Kirk got drunk was after the war when they were in Saluzzo, Italy. They were brought cognac in a five gallon can. The GI from Tennessee came over by Kirk and they got drunk. The next day Kirk was so hung over he could not go out. Luckily nobody came by to do an inspection. Kirk told his buddy not to come to him if he was looking for someone to drink with. Kirk’s commanding officer was Captain Kenyan [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling]. He was with them throughout most of the war. heir assistant company commander was Lieutenant Stellinger [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling]. Many of the other companies like F Company lost their commanding officers and assistant company commanders. Some of the officers would go out on the front lines and would get caught in artillery barrages and got killed. When Captain Kenyan got orders he would gather his platoon leaders and would plan everything with them. They were always going north. If they got turned around and wanted to get back to the American lines all they had to do was head south. While they were in the Gothic Line they moved into a position one night. Everything was quiet when they got in there. The next morning they got up and found that there Germans right out in front of them. Then fighter planes flew over and marked the area where the Germans were. They worked in pairs and after they marked the target they flew back over and strafed it. That was the closest Kirk ever came to a bombing and strafing attack. The next night they moved to a different area and dug in. The 91st Artillery had registered in on the area where Kirk’s company was dug in. When they fired on that area they wounded a lot of the guys from Kirk’s company. Another unit had a number of men hit and killed. That happened occasionally. This was about in October [Annotators Note: October 1944].Kirk was going back to a hospital for a checkup. Right before he left another GI gave him a watch. This was on 16 October and the GI who gave Kirk the watch was captured that day. After the war Kirk tracked the man down and offered to return the watch but the man told him to keep it. Kirk lost a lot of friends during the war. There were 12 guys from west Tennessee who Kirk took basic training with. five of them were killed over there and the rest were wounded. Kirk was the only one who was not killed or wounded.

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Mancel Kirk was selected to go on a 10 man patrol to snatch a prisoner. They passed through the German lines and made their way a short way into the enemy area. The lieutenant leading the patrol decided that he did not want to go any deeper into German territory. He told the men on the patrol to just shoot the place up. They started shooting and the Germans started firing back. The men on the patrol ran and left Kirk standing there but he made it back to his own lines. Nobody on the patrol got hurt. They were on the front line for about 3 weeks. They took a lot of shelling in their area. They kept a smoke screen up but it was too dangerous for them to get out of their holes at night. It was nice for them to get pulled off the front line. It was not too safe where they were pulled back to but they did not get any artillery fire there. They night they went up there [Annotators Note: to the front line where they relieved the 3rd Infantry Division] if Audie Murphy was up there one of the guys in Kirk’s unit got his foxhole. Audie Murphy was in the 30th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division which is who they relieved on the front line. They stayed down on the Mussolini Canal for about a week. Then they relieved the 135th Infantry of the 34th Infantry Division. They went on the line on 1 May and did not come off the line until 23 May when they made the big drive to Rome. When the drive on Rome started there were five infantry divisions taking part. Kirk’s unit was in reserve. It was the most artillery and bombing barrages Kirk had ever seen. They were between the 36th Division and the 1st Armored Division near Lanuvio, Italy. It was the biggest battle Kirk was ever in. They fought the Germans for about five or six days in that area. The battle took a toll on Kirk’s battalion. By the time they were pulled off the line there were only 12 men left in his platoon. They pulled off the front a little for about three days. All of the other units continued on towards Rome. On 5 June 1944 they boarded trucks and went into the outskirts of Rome. After dinner they drove through Rome to the north side of the city and unloaded there. The next morning they got the word from some tanks that the invasion of Normandy was underway. Kirk landed at Anzio unopposed. He did meet up with some guys from his county. One of them who he had gone through basic training with was killed on 29 May in that big battle they fought in. The Germans had them surrounded at one time. Kirk did not realize the situation he was in at first. A guy Kirk was with shot his way out with Kirk and another GI following. The company commander was about to give up what was left of the company. While they were trying to get out they ran up on some Germans. Kirk did not fire at them but the other soldiers he was with shot and killed the two Germans. This was Kirk’s first time in combat. That opened a way for Kirk and the others to get out. There were dead and wounded Germans and dead Americans all over the place. There was a big artillery shell they called the Anzio Express or Anzio Annie. Some called it the Flying Boxcar [Annotators Note: Kirk is referring to the two Krupp made K5(E) 280 millimeter railway guns the German Army used in the Anzio area. The Germans referred to these guns as Robert and Leopold.].After they took Rome on 6 June they left and went up the coast about 60 miles and captured the big railroad gun the next morning. Kirk never got very close to the gun but does have some pictures of it. They stayed in a wheat field in that area for a couple weeks to regroup and they got replacements. At this time Kirk was made an assistant squad leader. One of the guys Kirk went through basic with was promoted from private to staff sergeant and Kirk was promoted from private to buck sergeant [Annotators Note: a three stripe sergeant or E4].They continued their push toward Pisa, Italy [Annotators Note: sounds like he is saying Pisa] and Florence, Italy. They crossed the Cecina River about 25 or 30 miles south of Pisa. They rode into the town in trucks. The Italians covered the soldiers with wine and some of the guys got drunk. On 4 July they were ambushed near Castilian, Italy. The German soldier shot and killed Kirk’s buddy and squad leader. He also killed the platoon runner and a medic. The German was supposedly a colonel in the German Army who was on a hillside by himself. Kirk took over the squad and spent the rest of the war as a squad leader. On the last days of the war he was made the assistant platoon leader.

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Mancel Kirk and his unit continued to move up toward Pisa, Italy. They were moving pretty good did not have much trouble with casualties. About 10 or 11 July [Annotators Note: July of 1944] they were waiting to move up. They were dug in on side of the road when a motorcycle approached with two Germans on it. They let the Germans pass. A road block farther down the road called Kirk’s position and asked why they had not stopped the motorcycle. Kirk told them that they had been taken by surprise. The two Germans had gotten drunk and sobered up in a wine cellar and were trying to get back to their lines when they were captured at the road block. Kirk and his friends did have to contend with some snipers in the area. After entering a small town Kirk went to the outskirts of the town to take a look at the terrain. The Germans dropped some 88s [Annotators Note: 88 millimeter artillery rounds] in and hit the building where Kirk was at. The blast knocked him down a flight of steps. He thought he was severely wounded but after checking himself out he realized that he was not. They went up to the Arno River around 3 July. The part of his unit that was on the left took the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Kirk never got to go in it. They were pulled off the front line for a couple of weeks. They were camped right next to the ocean and could go swimming whenever they wanted to. Some of the guys got passes to go to Rome for a day. Kirk was one of them. Kirk went to Rome for one day for some R and Rafter a few weeks they moved into positions just south of Florence. They were on a hillside watching a movie one night when a German plane flew over and dropped a couple bombs on the hill. The GIs scattered in every direction they could and nobody was hurt. From there they went through Florence and attacked into the Gothic Line. The Gothic Line stretched across Italy. They watched the American planes bomb it for a couple of days before Kirk’s unit moved out into the mountains. They broke through the mountains without too many people getting killed. The mountains were unbelievable. There were other troops who followed behind to make new trails and paths through the area. The 91st Division went up Highway 65. They were in the middle and went towards The Po Valley and Bologna. Kirk’s division was on the left and the 85th and 88th Divisions were on the right. About 1 October they broke through the Gothic Line. They wanted to get to the Po Valley before the wintertime got there. During the second week of October they moved Kirk’s unit over to the right hand side of 65 going toward Bologna. On 16 October Kirk had one of the closest calls he had during the war. They had gotten new field jackets. It was smoky and hazy and his platoon was the lead platoon. They were trying to get into the Po Valley. It began to rain that evening. Kirk’s company made a frontal attack. They had tanks back behind them. It was foggy and rainy. The only reason the Germans did not shoot and kill them all was because they had those new field jackets and the Germans thought that they were other Germans moving up. They got into a pretty good shoot out back towards the tanks. In the fog and haze the American tank crews though Kirk’s platoon was German and fired into them. When the tanks shot into them everyone took cover and was on their own. Kirk ran back the way they had gone up. Kirk ran into two Germans who were aiming their rifles at him and a fellow GI. Kirk rolled off down the hill. He stayed where he stopped for a while the pulled a white hand kerchief out of his pocket and waved it. He did not get a response so he made his way back up the hill and picked up his rifle and helmet then made his way back to his unit. When he got back to his unit he encountered a friend who thought he had been killed. The lieutenant who had gone up with them stayed up on the hill with his men. There were two guys who had just come to the company as replacements. They were both killed. The next day they went back up into the village. A couple of Kirk’s buddies were taken prisoner up on the hill. They stayed there for three or four days. They were supposed to make an attack but their lieutenant refused. The lieutenant was sent back to the company headquarters for a while and when he returned they made the attack. There were artillery shells falling all over. They advanced about a quarter of a mile then dug in on the side of the mountain. The Germans started dropping big mortar shells on them and one of the shells wounded their lieutenant. The lieutenant had a million dollar wound [Annotators Note: slang term describing a wound that was bad enough to remove someone from combat for good but not life threatening].
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