ITALIAN PRISONERS-OF-WAR

Le Havre, France

February 1945

The white-helmeted MP entered our Liaison Office and asked. “Is Sgt. Johnson here?”

I stepped forward. “I’m Johnson. What can I do for you?”

“Sir. I have some Italian prisoners, but only verbal orders to hand them over to you.”

I was amazed. The Army is famous for its over-abundant paperwork. I said, “What? Who told you that?”

The MP showed his hands, palms up. “That’s the orders I got when I picked them up a couple of days ago near Paris.”

I shook my head. “Well, someone must be pulling your or my leg.” I paused. “Anyway, let’s take a look.”

He led me to the far train platform. Sure enough, there were about thirty Italian- uniformed prisoners sitting against a wall. They all looked at me.

I’m sure they wondered, “Now what is this twenty-year-old American GI going to do?”

This was a new situation for me. I had no orders and so, no idea where they were supposed to be going. The MP didn’t know and I’m sure the prisoners didn’t!

I pulled a procedure out of my head and turned to the MP. “Have they been searched?”

He shrugged and said, “Don’t ask.”

I looked at the Italians and said, “Ciao.” (Hello/ goodbye)

Then in English, I asked, “Have you eaten lately?”

The men just stared at me, so I switched to French. “Manger aujour’hui?”

Some of them evidently understood French and shook their heads.

I began naming some foods. “Pizza? Salamini? Nochies? Polenta? Spaghetti? Vino?”

They seemed to perk up when I mentioned, “Vino.”

I went back to the office and told Capt. Blackmore about the missing orders. I added, “I will begin a search for them.”

First, I had to do something about the prisoners themselves. I called the MP Battalion and told them what I had. As I hung up a Lt. Colonel stomped in. In a heated tone he announced, “There were a bunch of Italian prisoners out there, and no guards!” He glanced around us. “Who is supposed to be in charge of them?”

I said, “I am, sir.”

He frowned and repeated, “There are no guards. They could take off!”

I replied as calmly as I could, “I don’t think they will. Where would they go?” I paused and added, “Besides, they haven’t eaten lately and I promised them food.”

The Lt. Colonel huffed and walked off.

A short time later, another white-helmeted MP officer came in. “I’m here about the Italian prisoners.”

I took him to where they were still sitting and said, “They are all yours. I don’t know if they have been searched.”

Le (May ‘15) says: This was the first time I met Italian prisoners, but would soon meet prisoners of other nationalities, too.”

20-year-old   Sgt. Johnson

20-year-old Sgt. Johnson

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