We arrived mid-afternoon in Salerno where we were to spend three nights. Our goals were to see the site of the Allied Forces’ September 9, 1943 landing (following their victory in Sicily), marking the beginning of WWII’s brutal Italian campaign; to visit the Museum of Operation Avalanche (MOA) in Eboli; and with luck, locate where our father’s 168th Infantry Regiment (of the 34th Infantry Division) had landed, from North Africa, about 30 miles south of Salerno about three weeks after the initial invasion.
We had booked a walking tour of Salerno at 6:00 pm with a guide who didn’t show up. So, we wandered around on our own, looking for the restaurant my friend had recommended. We spent a good ½ hour trying to find the place, only to realize that the restaurant had been replaced with a new one, whose logo was a “red bull!”
This seemed like a serendipity “cosmic convergence,” in that the “Red Bulls” was (is) the nickname of my father’s 34th Infantry Division. We were also learning, that the earliest time Italian restaurants open for dinner, was 7:30 pm. Finally, after more walking and waiting in a small park across the street from the restaurant, we were seated at the “L’ Osteria” restaurant, where we had, perhaps, our best dinner in all of Italy. Photos 1-6
The next morning, we found our way to the Salerno bus station, and after many questions about which bus to take to Eboli (and through miscommunication, missed the 9:00 am bus), we boarded the 10:00 am bus. We were off to visit the Museum of Operation Avalanche (MOA). “Operation Avalanche” was the code word for the Allied Troops’ landing in Salerno and invasion of Italy on Sept 9, 1943. Allied losses for that poorly planned invasion were 2,349 killed, 7,366 wounded, and 4,100 missing.
MUSEUM OF OPERATION AVALANCHE (MOA) in Eboli:
At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, Allied leaders decided to follow successes in North Africa by invading Sicily; success in Sicily led to landing in Italy. Allied objectives were to clear the Mediterranean Sea, force Italy out of the war, divert German forces threatening Rocca, and weaken the Germans prior to the 1944 Cross-Channel (Normandy) invasion.
In the second week of September 1943, my father’s 34th Infantry Division sailed from North Africa to Italy, landing 30 miles south of Salerno.
From an interview with my dad: The initial invasion of Italy had been made about two weeks previously, and had pushed the Germans back ten miles or so into a semi-circle. That was a bloody battle with major losses on both sides. So we, the 168th, did not actually land under fire; but the Germans were about ten miles away—we could hear their artillery fire, and they could have shelled us if they had wanted to. We didn’t see any action for a while, in person.”
From the bus station in Eboli, we walked about 20 minutes uphill through the narrow, winding cobblestone streets of old Eboli to reach the museum, housed in an ancient monastery. There were colorful handmade art flags hanging everywhere in the streets, that might have been remnants from a recent festival or community celebration.
When we finally arrived at the massive wooden doors of the MOA, we were excited to see the exhibits and learn more about the U.S.’s invasion of Italy in September 1943. However, we were disappointed to see that none of the museum’s signage/photo captions were in English. The volunteer attendant spoke no English and was unable to answer any of my questions. My father’s 168th Infantry Regiment had landed south of Salerno, in Paestum, about 2-3 weeks after the Allied Troops ‘ landing in Salerno. This was the location my brother and I wanted to learn about and maybe even find. But alas, the Museum had no information about the second landing of U.S. troops. Photos 7-24
In an attempt to help us, the volunteer called one of his “bosses”, Luigi, Art Director of the museum and event organizer. After several phone conversations, Luigi showed up in person to answer our questions. (he lived close by)
Luigi Nobile, a professional musician, musicologist, music teacher, and passionate WWII historian, was gracious and knowledgeable and spoke very good English. After a few minutes of conversation and my giving him information about the general location of our father’s landing in Paestum, he announced, “I must take you there. I think I know where that is.” Paestum is about 20 minutes south of Eboli, and we were thrilled he was willing to drive us.
At this point, it was ~ 1:00 pm and Luigi dropped us off at a wonderful little restaurant close by while he went home to fix lunch for his daughters, 10 and 14. He said he’d be back at 3 pm to take us to Paestum. True to his word, he picked us up and off we went. Of course, the added bonus was conversing with him all the way and learning so much more about his work with the museum and Eboli-related WWII history.
I showed Luigi the notes I had taken from the 168th’s After Action Report referencing and misspelling “Fock” or was it “Rock” del Sela as the precise location of the landing. Luigi immediately knew what I was talking about and said “No, it’s “Foce del Sela,” which translates to “Finish of the River Sela,” or where the Sela River runs into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Luigi knew how to access this beach through a private camping ground that was equivalent to a trailer park.
After making our way through the camping trailer park to the beach, we arrived. I couldn’t believe it. We had found the precise location of my father’s and his 168th Infantry Regiment’s landing that had been incorrectly recorded in the military records.
It was emotional standing on that beach and thinking about all the young and courageous young men who lost their lives during the brutal and bloody Italian campaign.
I am forever indebted to Luigi for his time and commitment in making it possible for us to get a glimpse of our father’s first days in Italy. Little did we know that we would spend another entire day with Luigi, who devoted his time and navigational skills in helping us find another important location in our father’s perilous journey through Italy. (see Caserta/Volturno River Crossing)
Back in Salerno, we visited the Museum of the Landing and Salerno Capital, which didn’t seem as impressive as the MOA in Eboli, but perhaps Luigi’s charm had cast a spell over us?
Posted October 05, 2023
#1 Salerno is a beautiful city in southern Italy, on the coast of the Tyrrenium Sea. It felt less "touristy" than other cities we visited in Italy.
#3 We accidentally stumbled upon this "Red Bull" restaurant in Salerno, but it was meant to be. The nickname for my father's 34th Infantry Division, was (still is) the "Red Bulls." We took it as a 'sign,' and had one of the best meals there in all of Italy.
#4 The 34th Infantry’s nickname, “Red Bulls,” originated back to the Mexican War in 1917, when Marvin Cone, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa and a member of the Iowa National Guard, saw Indian jars and steer skulls during desert training in New Mexico. The Red Bull shoulder patch that my father wore on all his uniforms was a red bovine skull on a black Mexican water jug. It was easily recognizable. The 34th Inf Div was the first U.S. troops sent to Europe after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Dec 1941. You will see this image throughout WWII's history in Northern Ireland, North Africa, and Europe. The 34th Infantry Division holds the U.S. Army's record of most days in combat (over 500) during WWII.
#5 We found a convenient and close by laundromat to do a load of wash. It only took 5 minutes to dry our clothes!
#10 Lots of colorful banners hanging throughout the older section of town, uphill from the more modern streets below -- from a recent festival, or community celebration?
#13 The MOA hosts a variety of community, social, and cultural events, organized by Art Director, Luigi Noble.
#15 The MOA showcased many powerful images of the Allied Forces' landing at Salerno in September 1943, and the battle that ensued. The Germans had the advantage of being in the hills, overlooking the beach, contributing to the many casualties.
#25 Our delicious lunch in Eboli at il Panigaccio, while we waited for Luigi to pick us up. We ate at an odd hour (~1:30 pm), and the owner chef and his family were eating also, prior to the lunch and dinner rush. Dinner service in Italian restaurants never starts before ~7:45 pm. I'm pretty sure Gustavo and his family lived above the restaurant.
#28 The campground at "Foce del Sele," where the 168th Regiment of the 34th Inf Div, landed from North Africa in Sept 1943.
#32 And here it was - the beach near Paestum, Italy, where my father had landed more than 80 years ago, to begin the brutal and bloody Italian campaign.