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May 29, 2006

May 29, 1944.

Continuing the theme... today we Remember.

May 29, 2006. Imagine you are going to Fort Rucker, Alabama, home of Army Aviation. You enter the installation from Dalesville on Fannie Morris Drive heading north. Right after you enter the fort, turn left on Headquarters Road, then make the first right onto Andrews Ave, heading north again. As you pass the barracks and ball fields, keep an eye to your right, passing the numbered roads counting down until you hit 9th, where the Physical Fitness Center is. Turn left again, going west. 9th quickly turns into Red Cloud Road and heads into post housing. When you cross Farrell Road (easy to tell, there's woods off there catty-corner to your right and the duplexes are now facing the road) slow down a bit - you're taking the next right, onto Galt Lane. 28 families live on Galt Lane, Fort Rucker, Alabama. I wonder how many of them know how it got it's name?

To answer that question, let's go back to Italy, 1944, and see what the soldiers of the 34th Infantry Division were doing that day. In particular, this soldier.

Meet Captain William Galt, via his cousin, Castle reader Chris Lock:

Lieutenant William Wylie Galt

There is much more, but I will keep it relatively brief. He was born 19 December 1919 in Geyser, Montana. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, Infantry, through the Army ROTC program upon graduation from Montana State in the Spring of '42.

He was assigned to A/1/168 Infantry, 34th "Red Bull" Infantry Division. He fought in North Africa and Italy and was awarded the Silver Star for action he took during the 3rd Volturno Crossing:

1. Under the provisions of Army Regulations 600-45, as amended, a Silver Star is awarded to each of the following named individuals: ************************************************************** William W. Galt, 0446805, First Lieutenant, Company "A" 168th Infantry Regiment. For gallantry in action on 4 November 1943, in the vicinity of Roccaravindola, Italy. During the night attack Company "A" was the assault company of the First Battalion. Within a short time after the battalion had crossed the Volturno River, the head of the column was delayed by the heavy concentration of mines in their sector. Upon his own initiative and with utter disregard for his own personal safety, Lt. Galt advanced on his hands and knees through the mined area and selected a comparatively safe route to the objective. Lt. Galt’s courageous action enabled the battalion to advance through this mined sector with a minimum number of casualties. The devotion to leadership of Lt. Galt, in the face of grave danger was a credit to the Armed Forces of the United States. Residence at time of induction: Great Falls, Montana

By command of Major General Crane:

Norman E. Hendrickson,
Colonel, GSC,
Chief of Staff


Les M. White,
Lt. Col., AGD.,
Adjutant General

He was promoted to Captain and commanded Able Company [168th Infantry] in the Anzio Beachhead. He was posted to the 1/168th Infantry S-3 position after the Anzio Beachhead (he was in a bad way physically due to his previous wounds which had not healed completely). He was in the midst of some brutal combat throughout his career, culminating in his being at Villa Crocetta on 29 May, 1944. At Villa Crocetta his actions led to the relief of 2 companies of 2/168 that were pinned down, outflanked and were being shot to pieces.

He was awarded the Purple Heart 3 times prior to being KIA, being wounded at the 1st and 3rd Volturno River Crossings(See the Silver Star Commendation), and a 3rd time at Cervaro, Italy.

Because the 3rd time he was wounded required 3 weeks in the hospital (I understand it should have been much longer but he somehow got himself discharged and returned to duty), he was not present for most of the Battle of Monte Cassino. He was in combat in the battles at Sened Station, Kasserine Pass, Fondouk, Hill 609 and Eddekhila in North Africa and at the 1st and 3rd Volturno River Crossings, Push to the Rapido River, Cervaro, Anzio Beachhead and the Anzio Breakout, which led to Villa Crocetta in Italy.

Bill Galt was a very popular, well loved man. He was tough as nails, physically as well as mentally. He was a great soldier and a great leader. His men revered him and he is bigger than life to me. It is only fitting that this year's anniversary of his being killed falls on Memorial Day. He was 24 years old.

Things had been moving slowly in Italy. The soft underbelly of the Axis wasn't so soft with all those damn Germans there... The Allies had just tried an end run around the Germans (something MacArthur would do much more successfully 6 years later at Inchon) at Anzio. The 34th, already in Italy, was given the mission of trying to force the Rapido River north of the Abbey of Monte Cassino, the 36th Infantry having just been pummeled to flinders trying to force the river south of the monastery. The intent was turning the Gustav Line and avoiding a fight for the mountain altogether. That was not to be. Just an illustrative passage from the Division History:

Throughout this entire period, it must be borne in mind, every box of rations, every can of water, every round of ammunition which the infantry used had to be brought up across terrain which was under direct observation from hills still in enemy hands. The Germans, fully aware of this, laid down accurate and continuous fire upon all critical points and especially on the river crossings. Traffic control by the Division Military Police reduced congestion, but within a few days the stench of decaying mule carcasses, the litter of overturned vehicles, abandoned shell-cases and disabled tanks made a scene of modern war which will not be forgotten by any who saw it. On the mountains the battle remained stubborn and progress was slow. Casualties to both sides were very heavy, especially because the fanatical German paratroopers launched frenzied counter-attacks in an attempt to drive us back to the valley. Our ranks became thinner and the problems of evacuating casualties down the treacherous mountain trails and across the shell-swept approaches to the position were very serious. Volunteers came from the service and rear units of the Division to help out.

By the end of 12 February a platoon had succeeded in reaching the outer walls of the Abbey, and capturing prisoners from a cave on Monastery Hill. It was impossible for the platoon to remain, however, and they withdrew. The Germans throughout the operation took full advantage of the fact that the Allies had undertaken not to fire at the Abbey in view of its importance to the world as a religious institution. The relative immunity which the enemy obtained for his observation can hardly be overestimated.

On 14 February elements of the British 4th Indian Division took over positions held by the 135th and 168th Infantry Regiments on Hill 593 and on the other hills overlooking Cassino. Some of our men had stuck it out so long and had suffered so much that they had to be lifted bodily out of their holes. The sadly depleted Regiments went to S. Angelo d'Alife for rest.

[an aside applicable to today's alarums and excursions - how many casualties did we suffer because we *didn't* bomb or attack the Monastery? Answer - impossible to calculate, but a lot. When we *did* finally bomb and attack it... the Usual Suspects got peeved about it, and periodically bring it up still. Even back in the day, no one bitched nearly as loudly about the Germans using the monastery (which makes it a legitimate target and puts the onus for opprobrium on the shoulders of the Germans, according to the much-cherished, selectively read, Conventions.]

After a few weeks of rest and receiving replacements (and nowhere near enough time to properly integrate the new soldiers into the units), the 34th was embarked for the tiny Anzio beachhead, where they relieved the 3rd Infantry Division in the line. The division learned what it was like to live in a bowl, where the enemy had the high ground and was looking down on you. Something the French Foreign Legion and Paras would discover at Dien Bien Phu - except they didn't have the sea for an exit route. No matter, 5th Army did not intend to use that exit - rather, they intended to create their own.

Joining with the legendary 1st Armored Division and the soldiers of the US/Canadian Special Service Force, the 34th Division smashed through the German 362nd Infantry Division and started pushing their way towards Rome.

We're interested in this bit from the Division History:

The 168th Infantry moved to the west, the 133rd Infantry, returning from its foray, moved up to the left of the 168th, and both Regiments formed up for a concerted push to the northwest. On 25 May the 135th Infantry, relieved of attachment to the Armored Division after a magnificent performance, moved into 34th Division reserve. At dawn on 26 May our troops made rapid progress which continued until late on 27 May when stiff enemy resistance was met along a line approximately 1000 yards short of the railroad between Lanuvio and Velletri. It had long been known that the Germans had prepared a strong defense line in this area. Bunkers and mortar positions had been dug into the north face of the railway embankment while machine gun and rifle emplacements were hastily completed by the retreating German troops as they occupied their defenses. Further, the village of Villa Crocetta had been turned into a fortress containing over a battalion of infantry, reinforced with tanks and self-propelled guns.

That's what the Division History says.

What it doesn't mention is this:

A painting by Jean-Pierre Roy depicting William Galt
(Painting courtesy the Congressional Medal of Honor Society)

Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Army, 168th Infantry, 34th Infantry Division. Place and date: At Villa Crocetta, Italy, 29 May 1944. Entered service at: Stanford, Mont. Birth: Geyser, Mont.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. Capt. Galt, Battalion S3, at a particularly critical period following 2 unsuccessful attacks by his battalion, of his own volition went forward and ascertained just how critical the situation was. He volunteered, at the risk of his life, personally to lead the battalion against the objective. When the lone remaining tank destroyer refused to go forward, Capt. Galt jumped on the tank destroyer and ordered it to precede the attack. As the tank destroyer moved forward, followed by a company of riflemen, Capt. Galt manned the .30-caliber machinegun in the turret of the tank destroyer, located and directed fire on an enemy 77mm. anti-tank gun, and destroyed it. Nearing the enemy positions, Capt. Galt stood fully exposed in the turret, ceaselessly firing his machinegun and tossing hand grenades into the enemy zigzag series of trenches despite the hail of sniper and machinegun bullets ricocheting off the tank destroyer. As the tank destroyer moved, Capt. Galt so maneuvered it that 40 of the enemy were trapped in one trench. When they refused to surrender, Capt. Galt pressed the trigger of the machinegun and dispatched every one of them. A few minutes later an 88mm shell struck the tank destroyer and Capt. Galt fell mortally wounded across his machinegun. He had personally killed 40 Germans and wounded many more. Capt. Galt pitted his judgment and superb courage against overwhelming odds, exemplifying the highest measure of devotion to his country and the finest traditions of the U.S. Army.

Why does it perhaps not mention it? Perhaps because despite the effort -

The Germans in the face of our fierce attack succeeded in maintaining their positions. We committed the 135th Infantry from reserve to the left flank of the Division. Even the 109th Engineer Battalion was sent into the line as infantry. Nothing was held back. Rome was the goal - all or nothing. Finally on 2 June, with the town of Velletri captured and his line in danger of encirclement, the enemy suddenly gave way. His units, patched-up remnants of the troops who had borne the shock of the breakout from the beachhead, had fought surprisingly well. The German High Command had used every effort to bolster them with replacements from the butchers, bakers, tinkers, and tailors of rear area units.

And finally, because of the efforts of men like Captain William Galt and others, on 6 June, 1944, Rome fell. An event rather overshadowed by other events on the continent of Europe that day.

Captain William Galt - someone you should know - and today, Remember.

And if you live on Galt Lane, Fort Rucker, Alabama - now you know why your street has the name it does.

Crossposted at Milblogs and Smash's.

John | Permalink | Comments (5) | Historical Stuff
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