We always had a problem being Americans as part of a largely British army and after Rommel's surrender in the middle of May we became odd-men-out and ended up as garrison troops guarding all those prisoners of war until the invasion of Sicily opened up and we became real soldiers again. We were detached from the British Eighth in July of 43 and, because we had chased Rommel all over Tunisia, we were considered "combat savvy" and were the headquarters troops for Operation Husky - the invasion of Sicily. We were the first force of Field Army size to see combat in the war. The I Armored Corps was redesignated the Seventh Army aboard the USS Monrovia and handed over to General George S Patton, thus our motto was "Born at sea, Baptized in blood" and after we ended up capturing Messina, "Crowned in glory" was added to our motto. We weren't as entirely liberated from that damned Montgomery as we thought. We formed the left flank of the British Eighth but we played a very important part in the liberation of Sicily and ended up doing most of it ourselves and overshadowed Monty, first by capturing Palermo - there's a funny story about that - the General staff gave in to Monty and had second thoughts about Americans capturing the city and our orders to take it were countermanded but Patton told the British those orders were "garbled in transmission" so we went ahead and captured Palermo anyway - and ultimately, we beat the British to the gates of Messina itself. Monty really wanted to liberate Messina but so did Patton because of the stinging remarks the British made about our competence early in the war - they never let us forget that fiasco at Kasserine Pass in North Africa. We got our noses bloodied right out of the chute, which, when you got right down to it, was our first real action in the war and the race for Messina was on! There was a motley collection of Germans and Italians in front of us and the Germans had an ulterior motive in their resistance: they wanted to buy time for as many troops and equipment as could be evacuated to the Italian mainland through the straits of Messina and they put up just enough of a fight to get those troops evacuated and then poof! - they melted away. Patton was suddenly able to move while the combination of the miserable terrain, and the damnable heat kept Montgomery bogged down as he approached the city from the Northwest and the best Monty was able to do was "rendezvous" with Patton after we had already entered Messina and we finally were able to get out of Monty's shadow by our achievement of those goals and to establish an American - screw the British! - an AMERICAN stamp on the Sicilian campaign.
But by then that damned Drew Pearson had told the world about Patton smacking a kid who was in the hospital with battle fatigue - Patton had a really low tolerance for anybody other than tough guys and he always liked to visit the wounded after a major battle - he referred to them as "his heroes." Patton was not very enlightened when it came to psychological problems and when he heard that some kid was in the hospital ward because of his nerves - man, he just exploded, kicked the kid in the ass, slapped him around some and ordered the doctors to send the guy back to his ouftfit forthwith. The whole affair turned into a fiasco for the Allies and public opinion turned against Patton when it was learned that the soldier had malaria. We were never sure that Drew Pearson hadn't made that little item up as that part of the story came out "conveniently" later than the original story. Drew Pearson hated Patton, we all knew that, so we wouldn't put anything past him. What was ironic about this whole mess was that the Germans could not believe that the Allies would relieve a general of Patton's caliber just for slapping around some private and they kept waiting for the other shoe to drop but it never did. Patton eventually regained the status he had before the slapping incident but only after the invasion of Normandy when he was given command of the Third Army. The High Command used his noteriety as a perceived pariah to decoy the Germans. By this time, however, those of us whose MOS was Aircraft Maintenance ended up being re-assigned to Mark Clark's Fifth Army. Patton's old command, the Seventh, ceased being a front-line organization and was used for various mop-up details and Aircraft Maintenance personnel were not a necessity for them. It was like a three-ring circus in those days, for true. We had soldiered with Bernard Montgomery, we'd soldiered with George Patton then, finally, we had soldiered with Mark Clark. There was a big difference in the personalities of those three guys, I'm here to tell you, and we saw plenty of action in 1943 and '44. We thought the invasion of Italy was going to be a cakewalk. I remember what they used to say about Mussolini during that time that he "made the trains run on time." He was deposed during the Sicilian invasion and we opened negtiations with King Victor Emanuel but got nowhere. Italy took the better part of a year to conclude and cost us a quarter of a million men and, as it turned out, our ultimate victory there was overshadowed by the Normandy invasion which took place roughly about the time that Rome fell so what credit we deserved was lost. I remember after the war I was told we missed all the action because we weren't part of the DDay landings and the breakout! I don't think we missed a damn thing because when we landed at Salerno three days into the invasion of Italy we were still under one hell of a lot of fire."