Loot

Lynch, John A.

T H E L A S T W O R .: Jt'r... '.Ti't~'*f :Arr "WF :.vk.$Sti'.F, _. LOOT John A. Lynch n Tuscany, at Palaia, on a July morning in 1944, I entered a shelled, roofless, and deserted church and...

...Shrapnel broke my left leg, fragmenting the femur...
...I reluctantly turned over my pistol, my ammunition and spare barrel, and took up a bloody stretcher...
...After the war I called him in Rhode Island and he said he had never heard of me...
...The wounded were increasing in number and more litter bearers were needed to carry them down...
...Bunkers were more numerous, pillboxes more artfully concealed, the fought-over ground was laced with RITA CORBINsnipers...
...Shards of glass pierced my trousers and I knelt on them to feel the small sharp pain...
...A listening post had already been established farther out with two men and a radio...
...At a medical aid station on October 18, I ducked into the doorway to pick up a couple of replacements who could serve as litter bearers...
...Standing up clumsily, I stumbled back to the door, picked up my ammunition and gun barrel, glanced at the poor box fastened precariously to the wall, and went out...
...I never summoned the energy to walk to the castle, and before long we moved to the front again and I had lost the opportunity...
...I knelt on the floor amid the debris of stone and wood and glass and the roof's broken red tiles...
...From Bassanello a week later we moved out of the line and were trucked south to a rest area at Albano...
...A truck far off...
...Had I been leaning forward it certainly would have torn out my heart...
...We slept in mangers, in huts, in caves, in ditches...
...It was not the job I would have chosen...
...When we came off the front for two days I was given leadership of a four-man litter squad...
...My partner in our two-man tent went into Albano, broke into a house, and came back with a pilfered stamp collection...
...I didn't smoke but I brought cigarettes for the wounded...
...The bridge of my glasses, broken in a fall, had been repaired with adhesive tape...
...My feet hurt...
...We came into an isolated barn one day and members of my former platoon were there, the teacher from Illinois, the herder from Montana, the stamp collector...
...They had discarded one ma-chine gun...
...As he had been, I was responsible for a box of belted 30-caliber ammunition and a spare gun barrel...
...John A. Lynch, a frequent contributor, lives in Framingham, Massachusetts...
...By September, the Fifth Army had crossed the Arno, but by then the Germans had tightened up their final high mountain positions before the Po River valley...
...On my knees I crawled toward the ruined altar...
...The division re-grouped, lines were straightened, re-placements were brought up and integrated, patrols went out at night...
...I was a miserable and unlikely soldier and I had disgraced myself as a GI and a Catholic...
...A year after leaving college, I had joined a machine gun squad in Italy as a replacement for an ammunition handler named Joey Hudon, who had had a hole blown in his head two days earlier during a mortar barrage...
...It was the first time I had ever visited a church without saying a prayer...
...On the morning of June 4 we entered Rome...
...Ti't~'*f :Arr "WF :.vk.$Sti'.F, _. LOOT John A. Lynch n Tuscany, at Palaia, on a July morning in 1944, I entered a shelled, roofless, and deserted church and looted the poor box of three crumpled bills and a handful of change...
...Later that day, my leg bloody and splinted, I was flown with others out of the mountains from a hidden airstrip...
...A dog barking, then abruptly silenced...
...Once in a while a man got up to relieve himself...
...If we had to converse, we whispered...
...There we set up tents within sight of Castel Gandolfo, the pope's summer residence, sharing the ground with a battalion of Moroccon tribesmen, the "Goums" of the French Expeditionary Corps...
...Commonweal 39 February 13, 2004...
...I had just sat down against a far wall, my legs drawn up, when a shell hit the door jamb and exploded into the room...
...An accordion player playing softly onthe German side...
...By a simple deflection of millimeters through the atmosphere, through sun and cloud and wind above the landscape, out of an arc of miles, God in his wisdom and mercy had granted me an additional fifty-nine years in which to reflect, as I have every day, on the looting of the poor box and the violation of the church at Palaia...
...Sporadic fire somewhere to the front...
...I wore a .45 pistol on my belt, a uniquely unreliable weapon...
...I lay breathing in the sounds and smells of night...
...It rained and streams swelled, mud washed out trails, mules and jeeps fell into rivers, trucks churned the mud deeper...
...At Palaia we went out in the late afternoon to set up a roadblock, to dig fox-holes and a gun emplacement, and site a bazooka...
...The metal passed within an inch of my chest...
...Returning at dawn I slipped into the church and stuffed the stolen money back into the poor box...
...We fought to San Miniato, west of Florence and the Arno...
...I knew that in the morning I would have to return the money to the church...

Vol. 131 • February 2004 • No. 3


 
Developed by
Kanda Sofware
  Kanda Software, Inc.