From the book "In my father's foxholes and footsteps"

 

From left Cruz and Val      My name is Cruz Rios. I was born on December 15, 1918, in Colton, California. Since 1945 I have been to Italy six times, the first being the most memorable. In January 1945 I was a member of the 87th Regiment, 10th Mountain Division.
We were sent to Italy to help stop and put an end to the tyranny and destruction caused by the German Army. 

This is my story as told to my son Val and now for those interested in understanding.

 

In late June 1944 the 10th Division was transferred from Camp Hale in Colorado to Camp Swift, Texas for further training. In November of 1944 a new commanding general was assigned to our division, General George Hayes. We had already heard of him and of his determination. We also knew he won the Congressional Medal of Honor during the First World War. Finally, a general who will bring us to the battlefield! Not knowing our destination, thinking it would be somewhere in Europe where the general had recently been, we started preparing and talking about what laid ahead.

It was before Christmas that we were given a pass to go home. It was then when I told my family that soon we’d be leaving for somewhere overseas and may not see them for a long time.

We kept training right up until Christmas when we were given our order to pack and load up our things. We loaded up our gear and got onto trains heading south to Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk is a port where we stayed for about two or three days. I was hoping I could get a pass so I could go to Washington, DC because it was so close. But no way, we were not allowed out of the camp, nor were we allowed to tell anyone to which division or troop we belonged. We boarded a ship, the USS West Point, originally known as the USS America, one of the fastest ships afloat at that time. During the war it was painted with war colors and renamed USS West Point. Two of the regiments boarded this ship. I was with the 87th Regiment and the other, I think, was the 85th. After a few days at sea we learned of our destination: Italy. That’s when they tell you! When you’re alone with your fellow mates and know that you can’t communicate with anyone else.

One thing that I remember about the trip over, it was pizza.  It was the first time I tasted it. When they asked me “Do you want to eat some pizza?”  Although I didn’t even know what it was I said, “Yes!” And even to this day I still go crazy over it. The ship was crowded with so many of us, one stacked up over the other. We spent our time either reading, playing dice, cards or looking out and talking

During our journey we met some fellows, one of which I remember especially. I can still remember his name; Louie Ordaz and I think he was from Hanford or Tulare. One evening on the ship we were talking, it was about six or seven. At one point he said, “You know Cruz, I got the feeling, how can I say this, that I won’t make it, that I’ll never return home”. I was convinced that I’d make it but at the same time I was prepared for the possibility of never returning. I thought, “Yes, I’ll make it” but yet you can’t be sure that you really will. However you just say, “Yes I’ll make it”. But in the back of your mind you know that anything can happen. So I said “I’ll come back”.  And I told Louie, “We’ll be okay Louie”. We were in the same regiment and Battalion, but belonged to two different companies and being among so many men us never saw each other again. Later on I learned that he had been killed during the first assault on Mt. Belvedere by German artillery. Louie was killed in Italy but I don’t think he was buried there but rather back in his homeland. When I later returned to Italy with the survivors of the division, I searched in vain for his name but I couldn’t find him, he was not there.  Many of our fallen were sent back home, so maybe he’s buried in Hanford or Tulare, in any case not here. One is constantly making new friends and when young, one justifiably thinks, “It’s not my turn”. When one loses a friend he may feel sorry or maybe even feel slightly indifferent. But now it’s not like before, now I feel different.  Now I think of how many young lives were lost.

 Our sea voyage lasted nine days and landed in Naples on January 13. I can still see the Rock of Gibraltar in the horizon, on one side was Africa and the other, Spain. A few days later we passed the Island of Capri: even from a distance it was an emotional sight. We finally landed in Naples. It was a beautiful blue bay and you could see the volcano, Mt. Vesuvio, from a far. I used to read about the Roman Empire and of Mt. Vesuvio eruption before the birth of Christ.

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Credits

        Link all'accreditamento dell'Associazione discendenti della 10a Divisione da Montagna

                                      

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