Herald JournalHerald Journal, May 16, 2005

A surprise inspection to remember

By Russell Gilmer
Formerly of Waverly

Years ago, during World War II, I was part of an inspection while serving as a member of the medical detachment attached to the 752nd Tank Battalion at Cormons, Italy during the summer or late fall of 1946.

The battalion was quartered in an old Italian compound, just at the edge of town. The complex was built in a square with a large field in the center used for inspections, etc.

Most of the medics’ duties were finished by three or four in the afternoon, at which time we would amble across the field to the showers to get ready for the evening. I never bothered to lace up my combat boots after showering because I would change to dress oxfords when I got back to our barracks. My wet towel, dirty underwear, and socks were rolled up and stuffed into my helmet liner on the way back to our quarters.

Well, I was in the middle of the compound, on the way back to my quarters, when I heard many soldiers yelling, “Attention,” and much confusion at the main gate.

A 1939 robin’s egg blue Buick touring car with three officers standing, holding onto a parade bar, drove into the center of the complex, and out stepped General Eisenhower, Field Marshall Montgomery, and General Lee, the theatre commander; followed by Major Urrutia, the tank battalion commander. Needless to say, this was a surprise inspection.

Ten or 15 of us, on the way back from the early shower, were caught red-handed and stood out like “flies on white paper.” There was nothing for us to do but fall in line and hope for the best; dirty underwear, unlaced combat boots, and all.

Gen. Eisenhower talked to each one of us, asking us where we were from, what we intended to do after service, etc. Gen. Lee simply followed Ike; and Field Marshall Montgomery walked around our motley group, holding his riding crop. I had the distinct feeling he was looking at my unlaced boots and dirty towel, now tucked under my arm. Major Urrutia apparently understood our predicament as he never chastised us for our appearance after the incident was over. After inspection, we went on our way.

I believe the medical officer at the time was a Captain Stone. Sgt. West was the non-com in charge of the medics, and there was also a Sgt. Christy from St. Louis. The 752nd Tank Battalion was deactivated during the winter of ‘46-‘47, and three or four of us medics were left to pack up the medical supplies and guard the medical alcohol, etc. before being transferred out.

In the spring of 1947, I was moved to the medical detachment attached to the 2nd Battalion of the 351st Infantry quartered above Trieste at Opicina. Sgt. Nishimoto was the non-com in charge of the medics. Captain Saint, now deceased, was the medical officer.

Some of the names of friends I remember from Trieste are Bovankovich, who married Nishimoto’s wife’s sister, both Italian brides; a Pvt. Harris from Iowa, Steve Sontag, and John Herzog, a good friend with whom I am still in contact. I’d welcome the chance to correspond with any of them if they happen to read this.

Being a part of the occupation of Trieste was good duty. I had the good fortune of being assigned to the aid station at Cortina, Italy and Venice to take care of GIs on R&R for several weeks, and also a three-week furlough in Switzerland, visiting with Herzog’s relatives.

I returned to the states and was discharged in October 1948. My only regret is that I didn’t have the wisdom to become fluent in Italian while I had the opportunity.

After discharge, Gilmer went back to school at the University of Minnesota, married, and spent his entire working career in the commercial collection business.

The Gilmers brought their home on Lake Waverly during 1959. Following the death of his wife, Russell moved to Edgewood Gables, Cokato, in November 2004.

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