Mexican American Infantry Company at Cassino
The “Texas” 36th Infantry Division had spearheaded the Allied landing at Salerno on September 9 1943. They had fought at Mt. Rotondo, and took heavy casualties during the attack on the village of San Pietro. From San Pietro, the 36th Division fought towards Mt. Porchia and then Mt. Trocchio where they could visually see their next obstacle, the Rapido River. In January of 1944 and in a span of forty-eight hours, the 141st and 143rd Regiments of the 36th Division would lose over two thousand men in the failed attempt to cross the Rapido River at the heavily defended Gustav Line.
The 141st Regiment of the 36th Division traces their roots all the way back to the Texas Revolution at the Alamo, their regimental motto being: Remember the Alamo. One of the more unique units of the 141st Regiment was Company E in 2nd Battalion. An original National Guard unit out of El Paso Texas, every enlisted man in Company E was of Mexican American heritage. The men were from the barrios of El Paso. In January of 1941 new men had arrived to Company E from the barrios of south Texas, all of them of Mexican American heritage. They came from towns like; Uvalde, Del Rio, Sonora, Pearsall, Laredo and Kingsville. Most of them being farm hands had joined the Texas National Guard for a little extra income had now found themselves in Italy in the middle of World War II.
Pedro T. Soto of Kingsville Texas and Ruben Rodriguez of El Paso Texas had both been killed in action above Mt. Rotondo. Rogue Segura from El Paso Texas had been the best swimmer in Company E. When Company E members were asked to patrol the Rapido prior to the crossing, Segura had jumped into the icy river to swim across to attach a rope to the other side. This enable the men to get across to patrol. During the attack of the Rapido River in January of 1944, Segura was killed in action after silencing a German Machine gun nest. Of the one hundred and fifty-four men of Company E that crossed the Rapido River only twenty-seven would return.
Staff Sergeant Santiago Jaramillo and Alex Carrillo both of El Paso Texas served in the Weapons Platoon of Company E. They had both been captured on the German side of the Rapido River. One German soldier was asked to keep an eye on them, when he became distracted from a rifle shot and dropped his weapon, Jaramillo sprang into action and jumped towards the rifle. Jaramillo got to the weapon and killed the German soldier. Both Jaramillo and Carrillo escaped back across the American side of the Rapido River.
After the disastrous Rapido River crossing, the 36th Division was pulled out of the front lines on February 6th 1944. It would be a short rest, on February 8th they were on the move again. This time they would join the fight for Monte Cassino. Lt. Colonel Aaron Wyatt who enlisted in the U.S. Army from New York was now in command of the famed 141st Regiment. Lt. Col C.L. Adams of Philadelphia became the new 2nd Battalion Commander. They moved to the village of Caira to relieve 3rd Battalion’s 135th Infantry "Red Bulls" of the 34th Division. It was of no comfort to the soldiers who were told to pack two blankets per man. They could only travel by night the 15 miles to Caira because the Germans held all the high ground. It rained hard the two nights it took to reach Caira.
From Caira they moved high above the southern end of Mt. Castellone known as Hill 706. Looming high above Mt. Cassino sat the 6th century monastery known as the Abbey. 1st and 3rd Battalion had taken positions at what they were calling Snake Heads Ridge. On February 11 the 141st Regiments made their attacks on the German forces positioned on the surrounding hills of Cassino. Company E and 2nd Battalion attacked Hill 468 located west across a small draw from Monte Cassino. 1st and 3rd Battalions attacked Hill 374 and Hill 569 just south of Monte Cassino. They suffered so many casualties that Lt. Col. Wyatt had to combine the 1st and 3rd Battalions two to make one unit.
On February 13th Lt. Col Wyatt was in his command post at Caira, he was being notified that his 141st Regiment was to be relieved by the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Sussex Brigade. German artillery started raining down on their position. A shell bounced off the roof of the adjoining building and the projectile slammed into the front door of the command post and exploded. The explosion killed Lt. Col Wyatt and wounded the executive officer Lt. Col Andrew Price.
On February 14th a shell containing leaflets exploded above the monastery on Monte Cassino. The leaflets were a warning to leave the monastery immediately. For months allied forces had suspected that the Germans were using the monastery as an observation post. German Artillery and Nebelwerfer rocket fire was far too accurate for them not to be using the monastery. After much debate the dreadful order had been given. In what would later be described as one of the most regretful orders ever given, allied forces had chosen to deal with the monastery. It had been the symbol of their failures to break the Gustav Line and its shadow loomed over the valley floor.
In the early morning hours of February 15th B-17’s of the 96th Squadron 2nd Bombing Group, 15th Airforce took off from Amendola Airfield. The Red Devils of the 96th Squadron would rendezvous with a total of over one hundred and forty B-17s. Company E was still dug in on Mt. Castellone when the morning air was broken by the roar high above. The T-Patchers of the 36th Division had a ringside seat when the first bomb impacted near the monastery. All of the bombers unloaded their payloads on the monastery. Allied soldiers cheered every explosion on the symbol that blocked their path to Rome. The B-17 bombing run was followed by B-25 and B-26 medium range bombers. They too unloaded their bombs on the monastery. Once all the bombers had cleared the area, all of the artillery that had been forbidden to fire on the monastery now fired at will.
On February 17 Company E was patrolling the area when they came across German machine guns. The patrol called in the weapons platoon and they answered with mortar shells to silence the machine guns. The Germans were now dug in the rubble of Monte Cassino. They still held much of the high ground and could easily see where Company E had launched their mortar fire. On the morning of February 19 German artillery landed in the weapons platoon area of Company E. Artillery fire wounded Staff Sergeant Santiago Jaramillo in both legs and he was evacuated.
Aside from the forty-eight hours after the Rapido River, the 36th Division had been on the front lines since January 12th. They had taken in new replacements before and after the Rapido River. On the 26th of February they were finally pulled out of the front lines. Exhausted by both the enemy and the elements, they slowly marched to the rear. A convoy of trucks showed up to take soldiers to the rear. Usually it would take approximately twenty-five trucks just to move one full company from point A to point B. When the 141st Regiment was removed from Cassino it took only twelve trucks to move the entire regiment to the rear. That was all that was left of the 141st Regiment after Cassino. Truck drivers returned empty back to their motor pool.
Several of the original Texas National Guard unit of the all Mexican American Company E made it back to Texas after the war. Some were wounded, some spent time in German POW camps but made it back home. The men stayed close and started a Company E Club where they held dances and social events. The wives and children all knew one another in El Paso. Their true WWII story is chronicled in the book, Patriots from the Barrio.
Dave Gutierrez is a Speaker, Writer, and Author of the book Patriots from the Barrio. The true WWII story of the men that served in the U.S. Army’s all
Mexican American combat unit. Dave’s relative Ramon Gutierrez from Del Rio Texas served in the Company E.
Dave’s articles have been published in newspapers, magazines, newsletters and online publications.
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