My uncle, Philip E. Bergquist, served the USA at 5th Army Headquarters from October 1943 until October 1945. These stories about his colleagues come from letters he sent home from Italy to his family.
There is no doubt that John E. Richardson from Pico, California, and my uncle had some adventures together at fifth Army Headquarters. Pvt. John E. Richardson joined the group in May of 1944. A cabinet maker in civilian life, John took to fixing up the office when things got a little slow in August of 1944. He repaired “all our boxes” and my uncle painted the finished products. In a letter dated 29 August 1944, Philip described John’s carpentry skills with these words: “he really make an old piece of wood, a hammer, a saw, and a few nails talk. The finished product will look like one of the nicest objects that you could buy anywhere’s in the states, (C-Ration boxes are his specialty) John and I have been building and painting in our spare time for over a month now and we now have a very up to date office. We are almost running out of things to build but the other offices are starting to submit orders so maybe it will be a permanent affair.”
In December of 1944 there was a group photo taken of the office staff. It is described in a letter dated 25 January 1945 as “The Road to Rome” and in that letter all the participants are identified. John Richardson is identified as a Pvt, eleventh from the left in the back row. 22 February 1945 was the day that John Richardson and Ed Evans returned from a five day temporary duty at “a division and regimental headquarters.” 26 March 1945 was the day that John Richardson was promoted to PFC.
In early June of 1945, John and Philip were two-thirds of a trio who had a full day off and decided to travel to Milan. Here is how my uncle described the experience in his letter dated 10 June 1945:
I had a full day off Thursday so Wednesday night, at 4 p.m. (I skipped the office an hour early) John, Leonard & I started out for Milan. We got a hop with a truck from the 442d Inf (the Japanese Boys) from here to Brescia and after about ½ to 1 hours wait we got another ride with some Brazilians in a ¾ ton the rest of the way to Milan. We arrived at 2210 just 20 minutes too late to eat in the GI Restaurant. We went to the IV Corps billeting office and they gave us passes (Frpl) for a night’s stay in the Fifth Army Enlisted Mens’ Hotel. Boy! It was pretty nice. They had twin beds in the room with thick mattresses, sheets, pillows, etc. and had two cots with mattresses, sheets, and pillows. We let Leonard have on bed, as he is the oldest, and John and I drew for the other. John won. I slept on the cot. The next morning we went downstairs to the dining room and had cooked cereal, fresh fried eggs, bacon, hash browned potatoes, tomato juice and toast, butter, and coffee with an Italian Waiter in a long coat serving it to use. (Boy! Did we have it made!) We spent the morning walking around town and took a ride on a streetcar from the center of the city to the outskirts and back through the city to the outskirts on the other side and back to the center of the city again. The conductor said it was 23 kilometers (round trip). It’s free to soldiers. (1 Kilometer equals 5/8 of a mile)
We went to the GI Restaurant about 12 for dinner and had Pork Chops but the rest of the food wasn’t so hot. We then decided to go back to the hotel as we had seen the menu on the bulletin board the night before and it had looked darn good although we couldn’t remember what it was. We went up to our room and laid down for about a half hour and then we went down for our second dinner (don’t tell me, I know I’m a chow-hound!) here we had Ham with all the fixings, and everything was cooked swell. What a difference it makes when you only have to cook for a few instead of hundreds. You see people with day leave passes aren’t supposed to sleep there overnight but the Corporal at the Billeting Office was very nice (There were no officers around at the time) and he let us stay. Otherwise, if we had found a room or something, we wouldn’t have had any breakfast. We walked around some more after dinner and then started aback about 3 o’clock. We thought we could get a ride with a fellow from the APO but he had discontinued going to Milan the day before. We stood on a street corner and finally an enlisted man and a Captain came along in a jeep. They took us, by way of the Autostrada (a beautiful straight, modern, and well build road, with no crossroads–all overpasses and underpasses—something like the Merritt Parkway) half way to Brescia-I can’t think of the name of the town. We waited a little longer and another jeep came along driven by a 1st Lt and a M/Sgt who took us right into Gardone and deposited us right in front of the building at 6 p.m. (We got our first hop out of Milan at 4) We were back in time for supper and also in time for an enlisted men’s party held at the officer’s Mess that evening.
By the time a letter was written on 28 August 1945, John was the Colonel’s driver and another adventure for the pair was described as:
Sunday afternoon the Colonel asked John—did I ever tell you that John Richardson is now the Colonel’s driver—to deliver some things for him up at Stresa, on Lake Maggiore—about 50 or 60 miles northwest of Milan, and he told him he could take someone with him if he wanted. As it so happened I was fortunate enough to have Sunday Afternoon off–—so he invited me to go along with him. Leonard Enelow also went along. I’m telling you, it was just like going out for a ride on a Sunday afternoon back home. The Car is German but it is one of the better German cars and it rides very nicely. The highways are really superhighways most all the way and when you get up towards Stresa the country is beautiful. If you have a map you will notice that the lake runs into Switzerland and that the town of Locarno, where I spent my last night in Switzerland, is located on the edge of that very same lake. (I think I have the name of the lake spelled right—I don’t have a map myself). On the way back we stopped in Milan for supper at the GI Restaurant and then went to a movie. We didn’t get back here until 1 o’clock in the morning. The gas line on the car clogged up on the way back and we thought for a while we weren’t going to get back but if we kept our speed down to about 30 or 35 miles an hour the car ran along pretty good. The next day John cleaned out the fuel pump and the gas line and got about 2 spoonful of dirt out of it. It really was a very nice ride though, mostly because we didn’t have to sweat out a ride with our thumbs every time we came to a cross road.