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.
In mid-March of 1944, Philp and Harry were working the Swing Shift, “from 8 to 12 in the morning and 5 to 12 at night.” In April of 1944, Philip and Harry traded lead for their mechanical pencils because each had bought or received the wrong size for them but the right size for the other.
Oh boys! In his letter dated 22 May 1944, Philip sends his watch home for repair, explaining that “Harry and I were fooling around the other day and my watch was accidentally knocked off my arm onto the ground. The stem was broken so consequently I could not wind it without taking the watch apart and winding it by the broken stem.”
Harry M. Elliott and Philip E. Bergquist must have been quite the pair at Fifth Army Headquarters in Italy! Harry’s name appears in a letter dated 11 May 1944. In this letter, the story with Harry revolves around the treat of ice cream for supper (as do many other letters). Philip had gone to another unit that night for supper, but his unit had all you could eat ice cream for supper and Phil was quick to report that “Harry went back seven (7) times”. In this same letter, Philip identifies the fellows in his office and lists Harry as being a PFC from Baltimore, Maryland with the nickname “Harry the horse.”
In his 25 January 1945 letter, Harry is now a T/5 and listed as fifth from the left in the back row of their group picture entitled “The Road to Rome”. Harry was a PFC in the photo, so he was probably promoted in early January. Philip and Harry had similar schedules for work and hung out with each other quite a bit on off hours. When negatives were sent home on 2 April 1945, the only person mentioned as being in any of the eight photos besides Philip was Harry Elliott.
February 1945 brought more photo taking of the two boys as well as each using the camera to take photos of the other. At this time they were both also spending leisure time at the American Red Cross (ARC) playing ping-pong. (Harry was better at it than Philip.)
In his letter numbered 33, from February 1945, Philip writes home to describe the five day temporary duty that he and Harry are leaving on the next day. The orders were found with my uncle’s papers indicating that the temporary duty was with 10th Mt Division. They were visiting to “see how the place is set up and run and also to try and help the divisions to develop better systems and give them any pointers which may help them out. We are the fourth group to go out.”
Before leaving, Phil and Harry went to the movies and saw “Rainbow Island” with Dorothy Lamour (and her sarong). Upon their return, the temporary duty station was described with these words by Philip:
First of all the town where I went is really one of the most beautiful, and up to date, little towns that I have seen in Italy yet. For some reason or other it had almost completely missed being either bombed or shelled, which is very very rare for an Italian town these days. Most of the private homes were very modern and up to date and they even had electricity still. The offices in which I worked were all inside, that is, they didn’t have anything set up in tents. We (Harry and I) slept in one big room with about 80 other guys, but we didn’t mind that too much as it made it pretty comfortable and warm. The only thing was that we couldn’t go to bed until at least ten o’clock because there was so much noise going on. I took my camera with me and Harry and I got some very good shots of ourselves and some of the beautiful buildings there. They had a very beautiful church—it really was one of the nicest I have seen, and it was very modern looking. The weather was perfectly wonderful the whole time we were there. The days have been just like spring with a nice warm sun shining down all day long. It really makes you want to get out and do things. Incidentally, that is just what Harry and I did. Al¬most every evening and noon hour we would go for a nice long walk up into the hills, where we could get the most out of the fresh mountain air and it also served as a means to pass the time away. You see, they had movies about three times while we there but outside of that there wasn’t much of anything- for a guy to do. They did have a U.S.O. show one night, but it wasn’t so hot.
March of 1945 brings another quick story about ice cream at supper. “Harry and I stayed until everyone had been served and were the first ones to get seconds.” A letter dated 2 April 1945 describes their adventure on Easter Sunday:
I started the day off by rolling out of bed at 3:50 a.m. We (John, Ed, Harry, and I) went down to the mess hall and had a hot cup of coffee and a piece of coffee cake and then, at about 4:45 we boarded a truck and started out for the forward CP. We arrived at the CP about 5:30 and we proceeded to where the Easter Sunrise Services were to be held. I would like to try and describe the spot at which the services were to be held if I can for you. It was held at the foot of a small hill which formed almost a perfect amphitheatre. The hill sloped down, a little steep, but perfect for seeing over the head of the person standing in front of you. At the foot of this little hill they had built a beautiful alter draped with white. The alter was placed on a level piece of ground which was at the bottom of this cup shaped hill. Over to the left and a little behind the alter was small farm house and the family all came out and watched everything that went on. At exactly 5:56 a.m. we went on the Air (the services were broadcast to the United States). The announcer said “this is so and so speaking to you from Advance Fifth Army Headquarters high in the Apennine mountains of Italy. It is now true dawn here in Italy and the first rays of the morning sun are starting to peep out at this world of ours on this Easter Sunday, 1945. I want to tell you, Mom, that just as he was saying these words—which he was reading from a prepared script—the suns first rays started to seep through the clouds in the East and a few minutes later the sun itself started to come over the horizon. I’m telling you it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen, and the service itself was also the most beautiful Easter Sunrise Service I have ever witnessed. In regards to those words of the announcer I wrote above—they may not be his exact words but I believe they are pretty close. Lieutenant General Lucien K. Truscott, Commanding General, Fifth Army, was there and he spoke a few words and read the morning scripture. … After the service the Red Cross was serving Coffee and Doughnuts so I ate 6 doughnuts and drank 2 cups of coffee—I am not a chow hound. They had too many doughnuts and I had to help them get rid of them, didn’t I? We left the CP about 7:00 and arrived back here at 8:10. By 8:30 I was in the office and ready to start out on another day of work as usual.
Perhaps it was during the summer of 1945 that the friendship between these two soldiers really shone through. In June Philip wrote home that Harry had loaned him a set of swimming trunks. In July, it was reported that Harry came to visit Philip in the hospital and brought Philip’s mail. At the end of July there was an office party on a lake steamer (their second of the season). Harry is the only one mentioned by name as Philip wrote home about it on the 26th:
Last night we had another party on the lake steamer. It was fairly nice and cool out there on the lake, at least it was twice as cool as it is here in the office or up in my tent. For some reason or other, there weren’t very many fellows showed up—I’d say about 50. There were about 10 Italian signorinas on board and 2 American Red Cross Girls but I’ll be gosh-darned if I ever even tried to dance. I don’t know why, I guess I’m getting bashful, or else I just wanted to see Harry and some of the other fellows have a good time. We had a 4 piece Italian Orchestra, which wasn’t very good, and that was supplemented by some “canned” music, I believe that most everyone had a better time than the first party we had—there was plenty to eat because there were so few of us!