Rome.. First, second, and third, July 1944.
I do not remember where the army billeted us on these three days, but I suspect it was in a school or some type of hall. No matter, we were in the great city of Rome and I for one had my mind made up to see the sights especially the Vatican and the Coliseum.
Three of us hired a horse drawn taxi to take us around but here I must stray again, Rome had tens of thousands of Americans touring the streets in jeeps loaded with beautiful girls. These Yanks were in summer dress as we were, only they wore slacks while we were wearing shorts and short sleeved bush shirts. The fighting Yank wore his battle dress long sleeves and collar buttoned up. These chaps had an infantry badge on their left breast that showed they were combat types. The jeep riders were base types and these base types would stop a GI in his battle dress and correct him and give him hell for his collar being unbuttoned - real smart ass guys, then get back in the jeep and think it was a big joke taking a fighting man to task.
Oh yes there were two types of Yanks, the smart assed base type, and the good fighting GI. Back to the story. Sgt Alex Ross was one of the three in our horse drawn carriage and Alex was getting fed up with seeing old Roman ruins (saying let us get booze and some girls). Probably well put but I maintained let us see the Vatican first as we may never have a chance ever to see it again. Well for Alex he saw the Vatican but was killed on 13th September 1944 [my 23rd birthday]. So after staying with us at the Vatican, Alex probably ran down the booze and girls. Good on you old friend. We have visited your grave on two different occasions. On to the Vatican. What a sight! Famous statues, paintings and marble everywhere, and thousands of servicemen from all the allies plus the civilian population sightseeing the Vatican. This was truly an awe inspiring sight for this farm boy.
We had found out that you could climb a set of stairs up to the brass ball atop the Dome of St. Peters. We had a go and started the climb. Some said it was 700 steps but I think it was 300 steps and these stone steps were worn down with the thousands of people using them over the last century or so. Oh it was a blistering hot day and when we reached the ball we found there were three or people already in it. The Ball looking small from the ground was likely at least ten foot in diameter with walls of brass at least five inches thick. Talk about being in a steam pressure cooker! We soon were drenched in perspiration.
What made up for this steam bath was the view all over Rome and across the Tiber River .This memory stuck with me all these years so much in fact that on trips back to Rome in 1984 and 1999 that I had no inclination to make that climb up into that steam bath.
Following a guide we entered a chamber where Pope Pius the Tenth was on display. He had been dead for thirty years and we were told this was the custom to bring the mummified body out on display. Crowds were handing their rosaries to five or six priests to have the rosaries touched to the mummy's hands, blessed and returned. I think there was an alms box or so handy for donations. I had bought three rosaries but I 'm sure I did not have them blessed although Lucienne Le Marellec who I gave one of the rosaries to said I did. The other rosaries were given to Dorothy Brister and Marie Bedard when I returned from overseas, Lucienne still has her rosary after all these years.