Honoring our soldiers
This Memorial Day I would like to recognize the 36th Infantry Division that until recently, little was known about its combat exploits. Also, of what many veterans and other military experts came to call the costliest failed attacks made by American Military Forces during World War II. The 36th Infantry Division was ordered to cross the Rapido River in Sicily, this was a heavily defensive positions that the German Army had on this section of the river. The Rapido River was part of what was called the German Winter Line.
The terrible conditions for the crossing of the Rapido River had been pointed out and discussed with General Mark Clark who was the commander of the 5th Army. General Clark insisted on proceeding with the attack, General Waller, the commander off the 36th Infantry Division was relieved of his command and ended his military career. After the war, Veterans of the “Texas Division” demanded an investigation be conducted of the failed attack, which cost hundreds of 36th Soldier’s casualties. However, the investigation resulted in failure to find fault with General Clark’s decision to go forth with the attack. His decision against the advice of soldiers and officers of the 36th, resulted in them testifying as to the horrific combat conditions in which they were ordered to attack.
The 36th Division consisted of Mexican American Young Men from the Texas barrios as well as men from Oklahoma. Four months earlier, when the 36th spearheaded the attack of the Italian Mainland, at the beaches of Salerno they became the first U.S. Troops to land in European Soil. This division was what is known as a “Crack Division”. They were highly trained, motivated and consisted of excellent officers.
At the Rapido, the German Forces waited until many of the 36th had crossed and were moving across open ground then proceeded to attack them with well-placed artillery and mortar barrages. The division suffered 1,681 casualties, including 143 killed, 663 wounded and 875 missing. One company commander remarked, “I had 184 men … 48 hours later I had 17.”
For its outstanding valor against over whelming German Forces at the battle of the Rapido River the division was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. This Memorial Day we honor not only the brave men of the 36th but all the soldiers that have given their lives in defense of our county in faraway places.
A sidenote, my Father, from Pecos, Texas Wenceslao Calderon was drafted into the U.S. Army when he was 36 years of age and fought in Europe with the 36th.
“Some gave, Some Gave All”, Rest in Peace.