American World War II veteran Donald Halverson took part in some fierce battles in Europe, including the Battle of Monte Cassino, a series of four bloody battles that lasted in Italy from January to May 1944, and as a result of which the path to Rome was opened to the Allied forces. Halverson shared his memories.
Halverson is one of twelve American veterans who were scheduled to travel to Russia in May 2020 to take part in the commemorations of the end of the war. Then the trip had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In June, several dates mark the victory days in the Second World War. Thus, on June 5, 1944, the victory of the Allied forces ended the Battle of Anzio, one of some bloody battles in which Halverson took part. “I was one of the lucky ones, they still didn’t hit me. There was a hole in my canteen, the bullets cut through my shoes, but they didn’t hit my body, that’s all,” the source recalls.
The veteran recalls that he had just graduated from high school in 1942 and started working in Minnesota when he decided to join the army. According to Halverson, he clearly remembers September 13, 1943 – the day when he boarded the Liberty ship and went to Italy.
“We landed in Italy, near Naples, on October 13. I was 20 years old when I came to Italy. There I joined the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division. Since then, we have started moving north from Naples,” says the veteran.
For two years, Halverson led his platoon through mountains and minefields. According to him, in Italy, they always said: “Another mountain, another hill every day.”
Battle of Monte Cassino
Halverson remembers the Battle of Monte Cassino as one of the bloodiest-almost the entire unit in which he served was killed here. The Allied losses during the fighting amounted to about 55 thousand people, but Halverson himself did not receive a single wound in the Battle of Monte Cassino.
“I had a rifle platoon of 40 guys with machine guns and mortars. I was a sergeant. After the Battle of Cassino, there were six of us left. We lost so many people that we were sent back to Naples,” the veteran said. According to him, his platoon had to cross a narrow gorge, which was shelled from above by German mortars.
“They (the Germans) were constantly missed the target. Bullets whistled nearby, shells exploded nearby, but they couldn’t hit. I didn’t have a scratch,” Halverson recalls.
The Anzio Ann Railway cannons
After Monte Cassino, Halverson took part in the Battle of Anzio. “In the daytime, we hid, everything happened there at night. We would come out of hiding and they (the Germans) would start firing at us with these long-range railway guns called “Anzio Annie,” Halverson says. According to his recollections, the fighting at Anzio lasted for four months before the Allies launched an offensive against Rome.
Anglo-American troops landed in Anzio in January 1944, but the decisive breakthrough occurred only in May. During the offensive, the Allies captured the railway gun “Anzio Annie,” which had been so annoying to them. The Allies continued their attack on Rome, which the German command declared an “open city” and withdrew its troops. The Allied losses at the Battle of Anzio amounted to 45,000 men, including killed and wounded.
Victory, no more shooting
Halverson considers the best day of his life May 2, 1945 – the day when it became known that the fighting in Italy was over. “We were looking at the Swiss Alps, and the captain got a call:” The war is over!” I looked at the sky, it was good,” the veteran recalls. “We undressed and went swimming in the lake. We haven’t washed in about five months,” he said.
“No more fighting and shooting. And it was the best day of my life-May 2 when they said that the war in Italy was over,” the veteran recalls.
According to him, six days after that, the captain received a call and was informed that the war in Germany was over. “It was a good feeling. No more shooting,” Halverson said.
“After the end of the war in Italy, we were forced to stay there for about five months, we had to restore the railway so that we could return to Naples and home… We went to Monte Carlo and Nice and looked around the country while our train was getting ready to go back to Naples,” Halverson said.
The trip to the United States aboard an Italian cruise ship took just 12 days instead of the 30 it took to reach Italy. The liner left Italy on October 22 and returned the troops to the United States on November 3. “I think we all slept on the deck, it was so great. The weather was so good, we just slept on the deck and relaxed on the way home,” the source recalls.
Enjoying every day
Halverson is now 98 years old and, by his own admission, is enjoying his life and hopes to one day return to Italy and celebrate Victory Day in Russia. “I planned to attend the parade in Moscow last year, but I didn’t come because of the pandemic. I hope that I will be able to go to Italy, as well as to Russia when the pandemic is over,” the veteran said.
Halverson noted that all his friends since the war have already died. He himself is just enjoying life and says that he “has nothing to worry about.” “I want to live to be 100 in the next two years, find out what it’s like,” he said in response to a question about his dream.
The veteran expressed hope that there would be no new world war. “I hope that everyone will calm down. Who needs another world war? I’d like everyone to get along and forget about it. I hope that everyone will calm down and enjoy life, and not fight,” he added.