“The God of War hates those who hesitate.”
Euripides (480 BC – 406 BC)
The waitress circled the table and began collecting empty plates. She was assisted by two busboys who quickly replaced silverware, refilled water glasses and scraped the crumbs from the white linen tablecloth with hollow pencil-like devices. They moved efficiently and when they were done, the waitress placed dessert menus in front of everyone.
As each one decided, the waitress took the order. Frank was last and after he ordered he asked the waitress, “Can you make up a custom drink if I give you the ingredients?”
“I’m sure the bartender can,” she replied. Everyone at the table became curious as Frank rattled off the ingredients.
“Two parts vodka and one part champagne and…”
“You’re kidding,” Sky interrupted with a wide grin on his face.
“Not at all,” Frank continued. “And a touch of lemon juice and a little sugar.”
“Of course,” the waitress was writing the formula down as Frank explained.
“What is that?” Cynthia asked.
Sky answered before Frank could. “That’s called a Prop Blast. The official favorite drink of all paratroopers.”
“Actually, it was the favored drink of officers, but I’m sure the enlisted men joined in the tradition whenever they could.”
“Agreed,” Sky said and looked at the waitress. “Make that two.”
“Why stop there?” Harley interjected. “I’ll have one too.”
J.P. looked at the waitress. “What the hell, we’ll all have one. I’d like to find out what it tastes like.”
“Right after dessert,” Frank requested. The waitress nodded and took the order to the bar.
“So, Sicily was your baptism of fire,” J.P. tried to jump-start the conversation again.
Sky answered. “That’s right. It’s funny I can still remember some of those details. I particularly remember how proud our squad was having come through that first action. No one froze up. We got through our first combat in good shape. It was a great feeling.”
“What happened after General Ridgway passed through your lines?” Cynthia asked. J.P. believed she was trying to help him get more information about his father before the dinner ended.
Sky thought for a moment. “Ridgway came back pretty quick. It was mid morning and there was a big firefight at the Y Objective. So he went back to his headquarters near Gela.”
Sky cleared the remaining objects off of the table. “Here, let me explain.” He carved a crease in the white tablecloth with his finger and sprinkled some pepper along the mark that represented the coastline. It was a fairly straight line in front of J.P. “This is the south coast of Sicily.” He placed a saltshaker on the line of pepper to the left of J.P. “Here is Gela on the coast. You’re looking north. I’m doing this upside down, so bear with me.”
J.P. touched the saltshaker with his left hand. “Gela. Got it.”
“First Division landed here.” He threw a pink sugar packet in front of the saltshaker. Sky then placed another saltshaker to the right of J.P. some distance from the first but inland from the coastline. “This is Vittoria, ten miles inland. I’m drawing a right triangle facing you, and this is the base.” He traced a line in the air from Gela to Vittoria.
J.P. reached with his right hand and touched the second landmark. “Vittoria.”
Sky dropped another sugar packet near the coastline trace. “Forty-fifth Division landed here.” He then took a peppershaker and placed it above Gela, nearer to himself representing a town well inland. “This is Niscemi at the top of the leg. A little more than ten miles.” He traced an imaginary line in the air from Niscemi to Vittoria. “I forget what this side of the right triangle is called.”
“The hypotenuse,” Cynthia chimed in as she lit a cigarette.
“Right,” Sky continued. Then he took his two open hands and held them edge down and inches apart over the Gela-Niscemi leg. “This was our mission. All of our drop zones were in this corridor. This road complex from Niscemi to Gela had to be blocked to protect the beaches from counterattack. The Y Objective was halfway up this corridor. Thirty-four hundred men were supposed to drop right here and protect the landings at Gela.” Sky paused. “We were lucky if we dropped four hundred in the right place.”
Frank nodded. The inaccuracies of the Sicily drops were well chronicled.
“Third Battalion of the Oh-four was scattered mostly too far north and east to do any good. A lot of them became prisoners.” Sky then placed a small pink sugar packet to the south of Vittoria. “The Second Battalion of the Oh-five made a nice, concentrated drop right here. Problem was, they were twenty-five miles away from their drop zone. They made the best of it and took on some of the Forty-fifth division’s objectives.”
J.P. wondered where this discussion was going but patiently listened to Sky as he became more and more animated as the story unfolded.
“Most of Third Battalion under Cannonball Krause scattered and dropped over ten miles southeast of their drop zone,” Sky pointed to the middle of the triangle. “All except us. We hit our DZ dead on. That left First Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Gorham. Most of his battalion landed in the British sector,” Sky pointed to his left over to the next table. “But ‘Hardnose’ Gorham collected a few hundred paratroopers and stopped the Germans cold as they came down the corridor. Then he skillfully withdrew south, took Objective Y and held it until the First Division came up.” Sky pointed to a spot halfway up the leg of the triangle. “Hardnose was a great leader who accomplished the mission of the entire regiment with a few hundred men. He bought it a few days later. Won the DSC posthumously.”
“What about Colonel Gavin?” J.P. asked.
“He landed with a group of headquarter types over thirty miles away from where he was supposed to be.” Sky motioned to the edge of their table. “Boy, was he pissed. Took him almost two days to get back in the fight.”
“And my dad and your squad?”
“Captain Wolff sent our squad out with walkie-talkies to locate the rest of our battalion and report back to him. We had a pretty good idea where they were by then so our squad marched back to the beach and then east and headed for a town called Biscari about halfway between Niscemi and Vittoria on the…hypotenuse.” Sky smiled at Cynthia as he placed a peppershaker at that point. “A road led south out of Biscari to where we were supposed to find our battalion.”
“Did you find them?”
Sky reached for Cynthia’s ashtray with a smoking cigarette still burning and placed it in the middle of the right triangle. “We never made it to Biscari but we sure found Cannonball and Third Battalion. And Gavin found them too. At a place called Biazza Ridge.”