INVASION OF ITALY
In August 1943, the Regiment was reassembled in Algeria and again commenced amphibious training. On September 9, 1943, the Regiment participated in the first invasion of the Europe mainland. It went ashore near Salerno at a small town called Paestum. The Regimental Cannon Company, now the Mortar Company, destroyed the first German Tanks by the American forces on the European continent. As historical records indicate, one of the bloodiest of battles was fought on the sands of Salerno Bay.
Two days later, 11 September, the First Battalion, then Division Reserve, was dispatched to assist the US Rangers in the Amalfi area. This battalion remained with the Rangers until the first week in October. As part of the Ranger force, the battalion was the first American force to enter the City of Naples.
In the meanwhile, the balance of the Regiment fought savagely in the Altavilla area, but suffered severe losses. During this time, "Commando Kelly" of Company L was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic deeds. With the loss of the Sele and Calore River "anchor", the Second Battalion was severely mauled by overwhelming German Forces. At that time, the entire beachhead area was exposed and it was not until the 14th that the beachhead was secured in spite of German reinforcements. It is noted that T/Sgt Charles E. Kelly's fabulous exploits started the fad of hero welcomes in the United States and he was the first American to receive the CMH for action on the European continent during World War II.
The Regiment regrouped in October at Pianura, near Naples, and moved north shortly afterwards and relieved the 15th Infantry Division who were facing Hitler's formidable "Winter Line".
Of the battles and of the winter months that were ahead, Major General Fred L Walker, then Commanding General of the 36th Infantry Division, said upon their conclusion, "I do not recall any campaign in the whole history of the United States Army in which soldiers have had to endure greater hardships or have performed greater deeds of heroism than this campaign in Italy."
The Regiment assaulted the Winter Line on the afternoon and starless night of December 8th, 1943, by scaling the 4,000 foot Hill 1205, (Mount Sammucro) which overlooked San Pietro. This was one of the steepest heights scaled by Allied troops during the war. While the 2d and 3d Battalions attacked San Pietro from the valley, the 1st Battalion crawled up the slopes silently and surprised the Germans in their pill boxes and emplacements and assaulted each gun position until the dazed Germans withdrew. With the capture of this commanding mountain, the regiment continued its attack on San Pietro and captured it, breaking the Winter Line. This one battle, filmed under the direction of John Huston, is considered to be the finest combat film made by the Department of Army. The First Batalion received a Fifth Army Commendation for its part of the operation. The 143d captured San Pietro and opened the Liri Valley to the Allied Forces, but not without terrific losses.
On December 30, 1943, the Regiment was pulled out of the line for rest, regrouping and replacement, and two weeks later was put back in the line at the Rapido River. Here, the Regiment did not have the strength and experienced personnel they relied on at San Pietro and Mount Sammucro. Records indicate that about 80 per cent of the riflemen of the Regiment had been pipeline replacement until two weeks before, when they were assigned to the Regiment.
Fifth Army strategists decreed that the Rapido River be crossed frontally and flank Monte Cassino and the 36th Infantry was given the job. After two nights of patrolling and probing for never-found-weak-places the Regiment tried to cross the river on the night of January 20-21, 1944. This action failed and the Regiment was ordered to cross again during the daylight hours of the 21st. This was delayed later until darkness when the Regiment again made a supreme effort to breach the River. With surprise lost, the Regiment received all the pent-up fury of the Germans who were waiting for them in well-prepared positions. The 1st and 3d Battalions crossed the river before midnight and the 2d Battalion followed. Caught in the daylight without protection from machine-gun and artillery fire, the battalions could not be resupplied with ammunition and were forced back across the river. In that 48-hour period, the Regiment suffered more casualties than it did in any like period either before or after that ill-fated engagement.
Without delay, the Regiment was shifted to the northeast and participated with the French Colonial troops in the exploitation of gains around Mount Cairo. Finally, on the night of February 24th, 1944, the Regiment was relieved by elements of the French Forces and was trucked to Avellino where replacements were furnished and equipment was secured to outfit the Regiment for further action. In this position, the Regiment could exploit any gains made by a breakthrough of the Fifth Army, or be moved to Anzio where another beach head was opened. This was the first real rest the Regiment had since November 15th.
And so it was on the 18th of May that the Regiment sailed from the port of Pozzuoli near Naples and closed in at the Anzio beach head on the following day. On the morning of May 23d, the Regiment jumped off in an attack to break out of the beach head and entered the line on the road to Rome near the town of Velletri.
The Division, in a daring maneuver, sent the 142d Infantry and the 143 Infantry from the left flank squarely across the Division front under cover of darkness and the two regiments infiltrated to the rear of Velletri, up a 2,000-foot peak before the Germans realized what had happened. With the capture of the hills in rear of Velletri, the town folded and the race to Rome was on. Charging through the Alban Hills, the regiment arrived in the outskirts of Rome about 4 p.m. on the afternoon of June 4th, 1944. Since the Division had out-paced other troops of the Fifth Army, orders were received to hold up outside the city and it was not until the next day, June 5th, before the Regiment was permitted to follow the latecomers through the Holy City.
As Eric Sevareid, CBS News Analyst once said, "If Generals Alexander and Clark received the key to the city of Rome, it was General Walker who turned the key and handed it to them."
The Regiment relentlessly pursued the broken and dazed German Tenth and Fourteenth Armies without any rest in Rome. It was finally on June 26th that the Regiment was relieved at Piombino and sent by truck back to Paestum, the dot on the Italian coastline where she had landed months before.