338th Field Artillery Battalion Insignia

338th Field Artillery Battalion Insignia

My Dad served in the 338th Field Artillery Battalion, in the 5th Army, under General Mark Clark in Italy in WWII.

He entered the War in 1943, came through North Africa, went to Sicily, then on to Italy. His outfit participated in the entire Italian Campaign, culminating in the crossing of the Po River in Northern Italy, about 30 miles or so from the Swiss border.

My wife and I took a ride down to Washington DC in October 2004 with her parents to see the World War II and Korean memorials, because her Dad was a veteran of the Pacific theater (Navy), and then served again in Korea. While I was there walking around the WW II Memorial, there was a section devoted to the “Po River Campaign.” I didn’t realize that it was such a major theater.

My father had saved a lot of memorabilia from his service days, and he’d told me quite a bit about those times. He never went into detail about the combat, but I heard all about various experiences he and his buddies had with finding fresh food (always a major goal), driving jeeps all over the place, trying to save and bring home the little Coleman stoves they were issued, etc. Lots of great stories.

He also told me about their experiences with the 105 mm howitzers. There were four batteries of 6 guns. (He was in “B” battery, commanded by Captain Tillman and Lt. Lipton. I used to pretend to be them when I played “Army” as a young boy.) There were seven bags of powder connected together that were put into the barrel after the shell. Depending on the range of the target, the loaders would put in the full 7, or cut off one or two or three bags, whatever was needed. The crews became so proficient at loading the shells, cutting the bags, loading the bags, firing, and repeating, that captured German soldiers thought the U.S. had automatic cannon! That one always amazed me. A friend of mine at work is ex-Army, and he has a brother who was in the Marines artillery. He told his brother this story, and he was absolutely incredulous.

Unfortunately, none of my Dad’s Army paraphernalia survived the move when my mom sold the house after my Dad passed away and she went into her condo. There were pamphlets, his cap, his duffle bag, an Italian Army dagger, all kinds of things. One of the best items was a pamphlet issued to the returning soldiers (like him) who would be traveling back from Italy on the aircraft carrier Wasp. The booklet explained that the Wasp was the fastest way possible (other than flying) to return to the States, and it went on to detail the rules, regulations, guidelines, etc that returning soldiers could expect on the journey. The hanger deck was cleared of planes and bunks were installed for about a thousand soldiers.

I remember my Dad telling me that the best thing about the trip was the freshly-baked bread and real butter. They ate so much of it that the Wasp had to ration it, because they couldn’t keep up with the demand. My Dad also told me how smooth the Mediterranean Sea was, and how choppy and rough it was once they broke out into the Atlantic Ocean.

But the best item my Dad brought home with him was a book that the 338th FAB issued to all soldiers at the end of the War chronicling their operational history and exploits. The book was called “Direct Support.” It listed all the personnel, had maps and stories of all the engagements, listed all the casualties and citations, everything. My dad was wounded in battle, so he was listed in the book as having received the Purple Heart.

I really felt bad that the book was gone. We’ve looked for it in my Mom’s storage area in the basement of her condo, hoping that the items are there in some unlabeled box, but they’re not. They’re gone. (She does have the Purple Heart, though.)

Then one day, for whatever reason, I decided to do a Google search for “Direct Support,” 338th Field Artillery Battalion. I got a hit! Some guy out in Washington state or Oregon—I don’t remember—actually had the book scanned and burned as a PDF onto disk and was offering it on E-Bay. His E-Bay site had a picture of the book’s cover, and Yup! That was it. Unbelievable. He was asking $10. I probably would have paid $1000. My wife, our oldest daughter and I were out at dinner that night when I found the disk and I said that Dad would be so pleased, I can’t believe I found it. My daughter said, “Your Dad found it for you.”

So, I have the disk. I plan to print it out at a nearby custom/professional photography store and get it bound nicely, to recreate the book itself. However, I did print out the pages that list my Dad as a member of “B” Battery (“Abraham Feinstein—Hartford, Connecticut”) and the page that lists him as a Purple Heart recipient, and I gave those pages to my mom.

The best part about the book is that it has maps and stories and it follows the route the 338th took during the War. One of these days, I will retrace my father’s wartime travels, starting in Sicily, and going all the way up Italy to the Po River. It will be the trip of a lifetime. Make that two lifetimes.