I am writing this memo to y’all from a location in the Mediterranean Sea steaming back towards the Straits of Messina. We are heading back to Italy, and eventually the port of Civitavecchia. It has been a long but memorable, historic, and unforgettable cruise to sites in Greece and Turkey.
I think my favorite place was Ephesus, knowing that I had walked the ground where the Apostle Paul once trod, and where he preached. I looked upon the massive theater in Ephesus which held 24,000 and just imagined Paul preaching the message of Jesus Christ, the message of personal salvation. Yes, seeing the birthplace of the Olympics, the Parthenon, and Rhodes were phenomenal, but their history was rooted in the myths of gods . . . who have long since passed away.
But, the words of Paul and the message of Jesus Christ live on, and are as real today as they were back then.
However, I want to share something even more personal than my salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that is our final port call, Salerno, Italy.
As you know, my dad was a US Army Corporal in World War II. He started out in North Africa, then was part of the Allied operations to liberate Sicily. And, then, my dad, 76 years ago in September of 1943, landed in Salerno, Italy, as our forces began the endeavor to take down Hitler’s Fortress Europa.
The last time I was in Italy was back between 1984-1987 when I was stationed in Vicenza. I never got the chance to travel far down south. I really wanted to have my dad come back to Italy while I was stationed here as a young Airborne Paratrooper, but his health precluded that from happening. It was during my tour here in Italy, in 1986, that my dad passed away in the Veterans Administration hospital in Atlanta, where he had been a Nurses Assistant, due to a massive stroke.
Tomorrow morning, I will get the chance to land in Salerno where Dad did all those many years ago. I will get to walk in my dad’s footsteps and just imagine what it was like for that young fella from South Georgia to face the tyranny of Nazi Germany, and fight to bring freedom and liberty to the people of Italia.
No, Dad didn’t earn a bunch of medals for gallantry, valor, or heroism. Matter of fact, Dad’s specialty was logistics, but he made sure those frontline soldiers got the supplies they needed to achieve victory. He did his duty, and for a country that did not afford him like rights and privileges, for which I never heard him complain. See, my dad earned his Valor Award for being my dad, a real American man, who inspired one of his sons to become a Marine Infantryman, and the other an Army Artilleryman . . . and a grandson who bears his name, Major Herman West, III.
The Battle of Salerno was a tough battle, and oft-times we forget the landings here in Sicily, and Italy. I would offer that y’all take the time and read about places like Anzio, and maybe your dad also landed here.
Never forget the stories of Darby’s Rangers who stood before the Hermann Goering Armored Division. Or how about the exploits of the First Special Services Brigade, “The Devils Brigade,” the precursor to our US Army Special Forces? There was the 442nd Infantry Regiment with whom US Senator Daniel Inouye served, an all-American Japanese Infantry Regiment which distinguished itself. Of course, we all know that former US Senator and presidential candidate, Bob Dole served honorably, and was wounded, here in the Italian Campaign.
The year before the D-Day landings of Operation Overlord, there was Operation Avalanche, the landing on the Italian mainland in Salerno. I am looking forward to visiting the War Memorial and cemetery here for those brave dads that didn’t get to come home.
Thanks for your service Dad, Buck West. Your son continues to walk in your footsteps.
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