Wednesday, Dec. 1, 1943, at 16:00 hours: 2nd Regiment of the First Special Service Force, the Black Devils, was trucked from Santa Maria, Italy, to a place 10 miles from their objective, Monte la Difensa. The mountain is halfway between Naples and Rome in the Liri Valley. A steady rain continued as “the Force” hiked 10 miles in the dark to the foot of la Difensa, a “cake walk” for the Force.
Thursday, Dec. 2: They rested during the day light hours. As soon as it was dark, the 600 men of Second Regiment began to ascend the mountain in the rain with the temperature a few degrees above freezing. The mountain was too steep for mules or donkeys. Problem solved, each soldier carried up to 90 pounds on his back. The Force quietly carried all their supplies, water, food, ammo, mortar rounds and automatic weapons with 3rd Battalion, 104th Panzergrenadier and one-half of the 3rd Battalion, 382nd Panzergrenadier Regiment, experienced troops, at the top ready to kill.
Friday, Dec. 3, 1943, at 05:00 hours: 1st, 2nd and 3rd Companies attacked the completely surprised Germans. Within two hours 600 of the Black Devils had secured the mountain top. They killed or captured almost all the German troops.
In battle, each piece of real estate is expensive, men killed in action or wounded. First Company lost eight men out of 77, T/4 Bernstein, Pvt. Daigle, T/4 Deyette, Sgt. Edwards, Pvt. Gath, Sgt. Kotenko, Pvt. Suotaila, and Pvt. Wade.
Each of our 405,000 boys killed in action has a story. The following is Pvt. Richard E. Daigle’s story.
My mother had three younger brothers; Richard was her middle brother and my uncle. I was the first grandchild on Mom’s side of the family. On his 21st birthday — Dec. 20, 1942, Mom took a picture of me and sent it to her brother. He decided to carry the picture in his helmet for good luck.
Uncle Richard’s personal effects were sent home including the picture of me. From my earliest recollection, my mother and her two sisters told me, “Uncle Richard carried a picture of you in his helmet when he was killed.” As I grew older I wondered how an uncle could love a nephew, until I became a father.
In 2002, I joined the First Special Service Force Association and began my quest to discover my uncle. At 65 in 2006, I decided I would travel to Italy and climb Monte la Difensa. The mountain is in a rural area of Italy, the Liri Valley, between Naples and Rome. I took four semesters of conversational Italian. On May 30, 2008, we flew to Rome and met 35 association members on the Follow In Their Footsteps Tour. On June 1, 2008, we climbed Monte la Difensa and spent three hours exploring, taking pictures and toasting our fallen relatives.
I have no personal recollection of my uncle. However, every hour I studied Italian, attended five FSSF Association Reunions, two trips to Italy, climbed Monte la Difensa twice, the hundreds of people I have met in Canada, Italy and the USA and all the hours reading, requesting or searching the internet to discover information about my uncle has been a priceless gift.
While cleaning out my parents’ apartment after they passed, I found the picture from my uncle’s helmet. I had it framed, my most prized possession.
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.