From New Orleans to Anzio

On and Off the Lines in Italy

Walking Across Italy

The End of the War

Psychological Changes

Knowing Judo

Shelled for the First Time

Nothing Fit

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Walter Barnes was born in New Orleans and grew up on Webster Street in the Uptown neighborhood. Life was good for him. His father had an insurance agency and did well through the depression. Barnes was the youngest of three boys. He went to work for his father’s insurance agency, Calhoun and Barnes Insurance Agency, and worked there until the army came and got him when he turned 18. He took his basic training at Camp Fannin, Texas. Barnes has ADD, attention deficit disorder, and does not know how he even made it through school. Barnes was a Boy Scout and had training in marching but got lost easily. That got him in trouble a few times when he was in Italy. Both of his older brothers were in the service. The brother closest in age to Barnes went to Germany and his oldest brother was in the navy and stationed in Algiers after spending some time in Panama. Barnes had fun in basic training and even when he got into combat. In basic training there were a few guys who had come from the bayou area which separates Texas and Louisiana who could not read or write. Barnes would write letters for them. He did the same when he was overseas. He would write letters for guys who could not or did not want to write home. After basic training Barnes ended up in northern Louisiana. From there he was sent by train to Virginia where he boarded a troopship. The bunks aboard ship were in three tiers. Barnes got a bottom bunk. The smell aboard ship was very bad. It took 13 days for the troopship to get to Italy. When they arrived they got off of the troop ship then got on another boat that took them to Anzio. They were given very good instructions before going into the beachhead. When they got to Anzio they were told to put their bayonets on their rifles and to make a lot of noise when they hit the beach. They went ashore yelling and screaming only to find that there were no Germans there. Other American units had landed two days before and pushed the Germans inland. At some point someone asked a group of guys that Barnes was part of if any of them knew how to shoot a BAR, Browning Automatic Rifle. Barnes stuck up his hand and ended up carrying the weapon. After the second or third night Barnes realized that every time he fired the BAR all of the German shot back at him. When a group of replacements came in Barnes lined them up. He walked up to the tallest guy and asked if he had ever fired a BAR. The man replied that he had so Barnes gave it to him. He never saw that man or that BAR ever again. From there Barnes was assigned to a mortar squad. He did well with the weapon so he was made a gunner. The mortar squad was 100 yards or more behind the front lines. The only thing he had to worry about back there was artillery. Barnes was wounded three times. All of his wounds were caused by shrapnel. When he got hit the guys in his squad would tell him to go to the rear to get stitched up but he would not because he was afraid that they would leave him. When artillery fire came in they were able to tell where it was coming from. When the artillery rounds came in on them they would hunker down and put their helmets over their faces. One time Barnes did not put his helmet over his face and ended up with a bunch of rocks stuck in his head. Again they tried to get him to go back to the medics but he got one of the guys to dig the rocks out with a bayonet. Another time a mortar round went off by him and a big piece of shrapnel hit him in the chest and ripped his clothes and skin but was not seriously hurt.

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Walter Barnes and his fellow infantrymen did a lot of walking. Some of the men were not used to walking that much and would drop their gear. They would drop their canteens and Barnes would pick them up. They always needed water. Some men even dropped their rifles. The M1 rifle weighed 12 pounds. Barnes picked up a carbine which only weighed four and a half pounds. Barnes never did know many of the men in his group but he was constantly having to help them carry their equipment. Barnes had some target practice with the carbine he had picked up. When one of his officers saw that he was a good shot with the carbine they let him keep it. At one point Barnes was made a runner. He was in good shape. Barnes was given directions but got lost anyway. They were never supposed to be alone. He was always supposed to have someone with him. His partner was a man named Primo Rebeck [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling]. He taught Barnes Italian. Barnes could also speak a little German. One night Barnes was running information from one place to another when he heard voices he thought to be Italian. He yelled out in Italian and discovered that he had stumbled onto two machine gun nests when he was responded to in German. He turned around and covered the reflective tape on the back of his helmet and continued on his mission. When he finally got back to his unit he was fired as a runner. Barnes never thought he would make it home. He always thought that he would die during the war. He did not care so he did some stupid things. At one point he was put in charge of a commissary. While they were off the lines everybody had to break out at six o'clock in the morning then would return at six in the evening. As the commissary boss he did not have to go. Barnes was supposed to open the commissary at eight in the morning and close at six in the evening but opened it up at six in the morning and closed at six in the evening then opened it up again at night. One lieutenant found out what he was doing and fussed about it. This lieutenant borrowed money from Barnes and eventually owed him 180 dollars. When the lieutenant told Barnes that he could only keep the commissary open at the scheduled times he agreed but only if the lieutenant paid him back all of the money he owed him. The lieutenant changed his mind. On another occasion near the end of the war in Italy they were looking for someone to lead sheep through a mine field. The lieutenant picked Barnes. The men suspected that the lieutenant chose Barnes so he would get killed and he would not have to pay him back. Barnes got his money back. Since Barnes had been placed in charge of the commissary he was allowed to check out a jeep. Barnes could speak enough Italian so every time they went into a new town he would ask where the local whorehouse was located. He was a virgin and would never go into one but he would take his men to them. His men asked him when he was going to join them and he replied that he would go in when the war was over. When it was announced that their part of the war was over four of the GIs picked up Barnes and took him to a whorehouse and that is how he lost his virginity. When they were going home the man in charge of the trucks did an audit and discovered that he had five more trucks than he had been allotted. They also had a German ambulance. When the man asked Barnes what he should do Barnes told him to bury them. The man took his advice and did so.

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Walter Barnes was sent to pick up some German prisoners. When he got to the enemy troops there were about a dozen of them and they were still armed. Barnes did not have any ammunition so got real tough with them and they cooperated. Barnes shot a few people. He did not like having to do it at first because he was a Christian. Since he was shooting people he thought that God would punish him by having him die in combat and not making it back home. Barnes was never hit by a bullet. Some men he knew shot themselves so they could go home. When Barnes first got to Anzio there were no Germans there. Their positions were not like what are seen on television. They dug slit trenches and two or three men would stay in them. Barnes could not stay in slit trench with them because he could not sleep with someone touching him. The guy Barnes was partnered with was a man named Primo who was as short as Barnes [Annotators Note: Barnes is five feet tall] and built like a rain barrel. While they were in their positions on the front line they could see the Germans and they knew the Germans could see them. They knew that if they shot at the Germans the Germans would shoot back at them. The terrain in Italy was tough. They never passed through any towns and only rarely came across a farmhouse. They just walked and walked. The terrain was very hilly where they were in the western part of Italy. Barnes does not know where he went from Anzio they just kept walking. They did pass through several towns. Occasionally they would take a break. Every three months they would get to take a bath. They would also get three hot meals per day for three days. The men also got furloughs. Barnes took a 15 day train ride. The countryside was beautiful. It was all grass and trees. That was completely different from the area Barnes had come from where it was all rocks and mud. They never slept in tents. They slept on the ground even in the rain and snow and sunshine. When Barnes was at the commissary he made friends with the head cook. The cook knew Barnes could speak Italian so he would get him to go to Italian homes and ask the people living there if they would trade some Italian food for the American GI food they had. Many times they would. Some of the men would throw away their canteens then would later beg for water. Barnes carried two canteens. Sometimes guys would try to steal water from him. When Barnes went on the train trip he found a kerosene lantern. Barnes did not know the difference between kerosene and gasoline. He filled an extra canteen with gasoline and 1 night someone tried to steal a canteen of water from him and grabbed that canteen. When the man took a swallow of the gasoline he choked. Nobody messed with Barnes canteens after that. While they were in Italy they could receive packages from home. The packages could not weigh more than three pounds. His mother knew that he liked the Saturday Evening Post so she would send him three pounds of the Saturday Evening Post. His father asked him what he wanted and Barnes told him that he wanted cheese and crackers. Barnes got three pounds of cheese one month and three pounds of crackers the next month.

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When Walter Barnes got back to the United States they had to get to their homes on their own. A guy he served with had a car and Barnes hitched a ride with him. When he got home his mother just looked at him and told him to sit down and she would make him breakfast. Barnes boarded the ship to come home on 12 December [Annotators Note: 12 December 1945]. It was his 21st birthday. The trip over to Italy had taken them 21 days because they had to zig zag. The trip home took 11 days. For both the trip to Italy and the trip back to the United States Barnes volunteered for KP [Annotators Note: kitchen police]. Since he was assigned to KP he could go anywhere on the ship he wanted. He also got to eat what the Merchant Marine crew was eating. In Italy they rarely saw Italian civilians until right at the end of the war. After the war there were blue gangs and red gangs. The gangs were out looking for Germans and left the Americans alone. The German 34th Infantry Division surrendered to the American 34th Infantry Division. The Germans surrendered with the stipulation that they would be allowed to keep their weapons so they could guard the rice fields they were occupying and the Americans would not be allowed in the area. After the surrender Barnes borrowed a bicycle and rode it to the rice field. He would bring cigarettes and would trade the Germans for their pistols. One day the guard told Barnes that the lieutenant was looking for him. Barnes met with the man who told him that his sister was worried about him and asked if Barnes would mail a letter to her for him. Barnes took the letter and agreed to mail it after the war was completely over. After the war Barnes mailed the letter. The man’s sister sent him a nice note and the lieutenant gave him a small .25 caliber pistol. The GIs were not supposed to take anything home with them when they boarded the ships to come home but Barnes snuck it home in his watch pocket and gave it to his son who was not yet born. Barnes does not recall exactly when he started carrying a BAR. It was on the side of a road somewhere. He had been in Italy for about two weeks. He decided that he did not like getting shot at so he got rid of it. Barnes went to Monte Cassino. They were ordered not to shoot at it but the Germans had snipers up there shooting at them so they shot back. They went all the way up to the edge of France and that is where the war ended for them. They would go AWOL and go to the beach and watch the girls. They were some bad boys. One very dark night Barnes was in his position with Rebeck [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling]. He was not supposed to have his weapon cocked but Barnes always did. On this night Barnes heard a noise and looked up to see a large German soldier coming right at him with a rifle with a bayonet on it. Barnes grabbed his gun and shot the man in the throat. The man fell down on top of him. Barnes is claustrophobic and kept yelling for someone to get the man off of him. Barnes and the others had fun. He kept two decks of cards and when the artillery shells came in they would sit down and play cards.

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Walter Barnes and the other American forces in the area moved both during the day and at night. They were constantly chasing the Germans who were just fighting delaying actions. Having to shoot a man was terrible for Barnes. There were a number of Germans coming at them. Barnes knew killing was wrong because he was a Christian. Everyone else was shooting at the enemy soldiers so Barnes took aim and shot. He killed a man and thought that god would strike him down with a lightning bolt because of what he had just done. After that first time killing meant nothing to him. One time a few of them were sitting on the side of the road when a news crew came by and told them not to shave. The news crew wanted the GIs to look dirty. Then the news crew moved off and a few moments later Barnes heard the sound of marching. He looked up and saw a group of Germans marching north. There were dozens of them. One of the guys wanted to start shooting at them but they told him not to. The Germans just moved on past them. Walter Barnes served in the 135th Infantry Division, 34th Army [Annotators Note: 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division]. Barnes has some little pictures. [Annotators Note: Barnes and the interviewer discuss the content of the photographs] One of the photographs is a portrait of Barnes that was taken by an Italian. Barnes paid the Italian man two or three dollars for the man to take the photograph then mail the image to his home back in the United States. Barnes does not recall where he was when he heard about FDR’s [Annotators Note: 32nd President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt, also known as FDR] death. Barnes thinks he was at home playing in the school yard when he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. After returning home from the war Barnes went to work for his father until the next semester of school started. He already had one year of college. Barnes went back to Tulane. He does not know how he got through. Barnes does not feel that the war changed him. He did not suffer from any psychological problems. If anything it improved his confidence with regards to talking to women. Barnes feels that it is important for future generations to study World War 2. When Barnes got back from the war he spent every minute he could in the gymnasium. He was a weight lifter and competed in the 132 pound weight class. He was invited to Dallas for the AAU and broke a number of records which held for many years.

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Walter Barnes did not see much of a change in New Orleans when he returned after the war. Before the war he and his family lived in a working class neighborhood. The members of his household owned five cars. Some of the neighbors did not own any cars. Barnes now lives in Metairie and feels that the city has really changed since the days when he lived there. After returning from the war Barnes had no trouble talking about his experiences except with his mother. She did not want to hear about it. He did have two close friends in the neighborhood who had been lieutenants. Barnes did not know how to handle them. He did not know if he should throw a rock at them or salute them. Barnes was a staff sergeant when he was discharged. During basic training he was recommended for officers training but he declined it. In Italy Barnes was in charge of an enlisted men’s beer parlor. Barnes did not feel that there was any difference in dealing with German and Italian prisoners of war. They very rarely saw Italian prisoners. Whenever Barnes and his unit set up a rest camp the Italian children would come beg for food and coffee. Some of the GIs were nice to them and some were not. Barnes learned judo before he went into the service. Whenever Barnes got in a fight in basic training he would use his judo. Word got around and most people left him alone. By using judo Barnes was able to keep his nose in good shape because it kept him out of fist fights. Most people left Barnes alone because they knew that he knew judo and that he wrote letters for the soldiers who could not read or write.

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Walter Barnes suffered from ADD [Annotators Note: Attention Deficit Disorder] but the war did not affect it. One time Barnes was in a convoy. He was driving his jeep with some other people in it. It was dark out and they were driving with no lights on. At some point the guy in the seat next to Barnes asked if he realized that there not any vehicles ahead of them. Barnes got nervous. The following morning they located the convoy and fell in with them. The first time they were shelled by artillery was terrible for Barnes. They could hear it coming so they got into a ditch. The shells were hitting very close to them. When the shelling stopped he went looking for a friend of his and only found his shoes and his helmet. That bothered Barnes but he thought to himself that that was the way he wanted to go. The wounds Barnes sustained do not bother him now. He was treated for them at the time. He sustained his wounds over a period of time. A lieutenant who Barnes did not get along with told him to clean his rifle. Barnes told him no since it was something personal. The man found an infraction against Barnes and had him did a hole six by six by six [Annotators Note: six feet long, six feet wide, and six feet deep.]. When Barnes was working in the commissary he never buckled the buckles on his boots. An officer yelled at him to buckle them but he said no. Barnes did not want to buckle the boots because his feet were hot. In basic training there was a man with a marvelous eye who could look at the guys and tell what sizes they wore. He told Barnes that he would not be able to go overseas unless he wore a size five or larger and Barnes only wore a four and a half. A lot of the guys in Barnes’s unit were going to the west [Annotators Note: to the Pacific Theater]. When it was discovered that Barnes needed special glasses for his gas mask he was held back for many weeks. He was eventually sent to Italy. Right before Barnes got his BAR he was told to dump his gas mask in a pile which he did. He never saw it again.

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The uniform pants Walter Barnes wore were baggy and the jackets hung out. The uniform was made of a canvas type material. They got two pair of socks and two pairs of underwear in basic training. That was supposed to be it. When they were in Italy Barnes carried extra socks in his backpack. He also carried hand kerchiefs and would take a sponge bath every day regardless of the weather. The winter over in Italy was cold. They were wet most of the time even though they did have some sort of a rain coat. Their boots were always wet as well from walking through streams and snow. They carried a backpack and a blanket and Barnes always carried two days worth of C rations and two canteens of water. During the winter everything was wet. During the summer they were able to dry themselves out. Many of the men got fungus on their feet. Some of them shot themselves in their feet so they could go home. The unit Barnes was assigned to was already over in Italy when he joined it. He kept in touch with a number of the men he served with after the war until Katrina [Annotators Note: Hurricane Katrina]. Barnes feels that museums like The National WWII Museum are very important. The thing Barnes wants remembered the most about his service is that his feet hurt all the time. If he was young he would do it all over again. Now a days Barnes thinks that war is ridiculous. A friend of Barnes was the head of the history department at Newman. He kept on Barnes until Barnes agreed to let his friend interview him.
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