February 15, 1944 – A teenage WWII hero ships out to Naples

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February 15, 1944 – A teenage WWII hero ships out to Naples

In Oran, Phil was among 200 infantry lieutenants who boarded the Highland Queen, a small British steamer bound for Naples, Italy. He was part of a priority shipment of replacement infantry lieutenants urgently needed in Italy.

The young lieutenants were shipped to Naples in smaller groups for two reasons: there was no ship in the Mediterranean at the time large enough to take them all, and crossing the Mediterranean was extremely hazardous with the threat of German air, U-boat, and E-boat attacks. The men jokingly said it was the only time junior officers had priority in anything.

Just before daybreak, the Highland Queen arrived safely in Naples, but the harbor’s condition shocked the men. Sunken ships were everywhere, three-deep around the docks, some capsized, others resting on the bottom.

The Highland Queen was tied to the outer ring of wrecks, where army engineers had welded angle iron framework up from the holds of the sunken ships and built a six-foot-wide boardwalk to get to the pier.

As the men stumbled to shore in the predawn light, a deep sonorous rumble penetrated the atmosphere. The sound seemed to emanate from a large thunderhead on the shoreline to the southeast of the city. Phil could see massive lightning bolts flashing, one after the other, from the cloud to the ground while the entire cloud seemed illuminated from behind by a Halloween-orange florescence.

As the sun began to rise, he realized the cloud was actually a massive plume of steam and smoke over the cone of Mount Vesuvius. Phil didn’t know it at the time, but he and his fellow soldiers were witnessing the birth pangs of the first major eruption of Vesuvius since 1872.
The volcano’s rim lit up the waning darkness with bright orange lava flowing down a portion of the mountain. Gazing at the fiery tableau, Phil wondered if that was what hell would look like.

But as he would find out in due time, hell was located about eighty nautical miles to their northwest.

In case you haven’t read or listened to Dad’s book, you can learn more or order it here.

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