Saturday, January 13, 2018

S***hole Story No. 2 (no pun intended)

Bob Rossi, 712th Tank Battalion veteran
   Another story with a very contemporary theme from my World War II Oral History archive. Bob Rossi was one of my earlier interviews, back in 1992. He was a source of many stories in my book "Tanks for the Memories," and his full-length interview is included in the audiobook "Once Upon a Tank in the Battle of the Bulge." He joined the 712th Tank Battalion as a replacement in September of 1944. In this excerpt he recalls an incident shortly before he joined the battalion.
   Bob Rossi: "We wound up, this is a funny story, we wound up in this replacement depot. Now this is my life, living in barns, stables. We were all replacements, and the way they fed you, a section at a time, they would throw all these C rations together, they made like a stew out of it, and you were allowed one scoop of this meal, a canteen cup of coffee, a slice of bread, and a pack of cigarettes. And a tropical hershey bar, or we had some other bar that they gave us which was like a fruit bar. And this one time I wound up with a pack of Lucky Strike green cigarettes. The phrase was 'Lucky Strike has gone to war.' I wound up with Lucky Strike green cigarettes. I was a celebrity. 'Let me see that, let me see that.'
   "They had a mound of cigarettes on a table. As you went by they gave you the cigarettes. You could get Chesterfields one day and Camels the next. The first pack they grabbed they gave you.
   "We had to clean out these stables first to make them habitable for us to live in, and we got our bedrolls on the ground, and finally they assigned us jobs while we were waiting to be shipped out. And they assigned me to be in charge of this latrine. Now it's a little distance from where we're staying in the stable. And what it is, I have to keep this 55-gallon drum full of water, make sure there's toilet paper, they had toilet stalls, no seats on them. And as the guy came in, there was an old slate urinal with the disinfectant powder. And I have to keep this place clean. Hose it down and what have you.
   "Now I'm doing this for two days. And as the guys would come in, they would take their steel helmet off, grab a helmet full of water, use one of the stalls, then flush it down.
   "Now the third day I'm on the job, I've got everything cleaned up, a detail is coming toward me. They're walking toward me, they've got buckets. So I'm standing in the doorway, and one of them, I don't know if it was a sergeant or an officer, says to me, 'Okay, soldier, you want to get out of the way?'
   "Underneath me, I was standing on a trap door, is all the crap in God's world. That they're flushing down. These guys had to scoop it out into the buckets. I said that was a real s*** detail they were on.
   "That's the type of latrine I was in. Further away, they had what looked like sentry boxes, but they were on a platform. And the guys would take a crap, and it would go into cans, and they'd just keep changing them.
   "We were all ready to leave, we've got the full field pack on, we're not allowed to take our stuff off, because we don't know when the trucks are coming. And who pulls up in a staff car, Marlene Dietrich. And she looked like hell. She had the helmet on, olive drabs. So maybe ten, fifteen minutes later, she comes out on stage. She had a beautiful red gown, a shimmering gown, she sits down, pulls up the gown, she shows off those famous Dietrich legs. Then she sang. Then we got on the truck, we had to leave."

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   Bob Rossi's full two-hour interview is included in the World War II Oral History audiobook "Once Upon a Tank in the Battle of the Bulge," along with a group interview with four of the five crew members of a tank that was knocked out on Jan. 10, 1945, and individual interviews with the other four crew members.
  

Once Upon a Tank in the Battle of the Bulge