My father, Maj. Arthur L. Ludwick M.D., earned the Silver Star for “gallantry-in-action” on Mt. Pantano, Italy during the winter of 1943., an unusual combat commendation for an unarmed Medical Officer. Over the course of 5 days, he treated and evacuated the wounded who had been pinned down on top of the mountain, by heavy enemy mortar fire. I knew, that in planning my trip to southern Italy to retrace my father’s routes and battlefields during the war, (“A Daughter’s Pilgrimage”) I wanted to visit this site and see it for myself. Here’s some context:
Before Cassino, the 168th had to first capture Monte Pantano, the anchor in the German Winter Defense Line. The high command in Berlin had ordered the Winter Line held at all costs. This seemingly impossible objective assigned to the Iowa boys of the168th Regiment, was to become its defining test of courage and will.
On November 29, 1943, about 15 miles south of Cassino, Italy, the 168th Infantry Regiment was given the assignment to take Monte Pantano along the Volturno Valley. My father described it as a very steep rocky hill, about like Saddle Rock, a popular hiking destination in Wenatchee, Washington. “And the Germans were on an adjoining little mound, dug in with machine guns and mortar shells. They had fortified their position with concrete and steel bunkers. Once again, the enemy had the advantage of occupying the high ground, looking down our throats.”
--Maj. Arthur L. Ludwick, M.D.
The Germans pounded Mt. Pantano viciously with mortar and artillery fire, then strafed the area with fighter planes. Over the course of seven days and nights, battle casualties for the 168th Regimental Combat Team on the approximately 3,600 foot Monte Pantano, amounted to 35 officers and 429 enlisted men. Non-battle casualties were extensive because of the harsh elements and because the Fifth Army troops had not been issued winter uniforms at that stage. Many suffered from frostbite, trench foot, pneumonia, and the flu.
“As it turned out,” embedded Des Moines Register journalist, Gordon Gammack wrote, “the battle of Monte Pantano, fought high above the clouds in December 1943, was one of the fiercest battles of the bitter Italian campaign. The gallantry of the veteran Iowa and Minnesota soldiers (National Guard units) and the many men from the other states who fought with them, was extraordinary.”
Luciano Bucci, our gracious host and guide in Venafro, arranged to take us to Mt. Pantano in his rugged 4x4 vehicle (or was it a tank?). It was a wild ride!
See the captioned photos for details of our adventure. You can read more fascinating details about this critical battle, in my father’s own words as well as journalist Gordon Gammack's extensive reporting for The Des Moines Register, in my book, A DOCTOR’S WAR.
Posted December 20, 2023
Luciano Bucci, of the Venafro Winterline War Museum, and his colleague, Donato Pasquale, picked us up at 8:00 am to visit Mt. Pantano, S'ant Angelo D'Alife, Alife, and Piedemonte, all important locations for my father during WWII in the winter of 1943-44.
As you can see, Luciano is a delightful and engaging man, very generous with his time as well as being very knowledgeable about the WWII Italian campaign in his area. He's wearing a "Red Bull" 34th Infantry Division t-shirt, in honor of my dad and our visit.
Mt. Pantano is in the distance, above my head. This is where my father earned the Silver Star medal for "gallantry-in-action" while treating and evacuating men from his 168th Infantry Regiment, who had been pinned down by the enemy's heavy artillery fire. 80 years ago, there was no vegetation on this mountain. Luciano will take us as far up the mountain as we can go.
This was the beginning of the rock-and-roll ride up Mt. Pantano. Luciano could only take us 1/2 up in his 4x4 car. It was an exciting ride!
Mt. Pantano was essentially bare of most vegetation 80 years ago. It was mostly rock. This is the German side of the mountain's battle.
We're with our fearless leader and generous host, Luciano Bucci and colleague Donato Pasquale. Our mascot was the ever vigilant, Otto. Luciano took us up the mountain as far as his 4x4 vehicle would go. It's hard to imagine that 80 years ago, there was no vegetation - just rock. Being here, under heavy incoming mortar fire, must have been terrifying. My father never understood how he came through it all unscathed.
What goes up, must come down. Our descent down the mountain was terrifying. "This is the worst place," says Luciano. You can hear my groan. I was hanging on for dear life. I thought for sure we were going to flip over and/or get stuck, with no cell phone coverage.
The Apennine Mountains where in the winter of 1943/44, engagement with the Germans was heavy and fierce.
We're now headed into the village of Pantano, where the 168th's command post was located. 80 years ago, Col. Frederic Butler and CO of the 168th, said to my dad, Maj Arthur L. Ludwick, M.D. "Doc - we've got to get those wounded men off that mountain." My dad, who would never ask anyone else to do something he wouldn't do himself, said "I'll go," and led teams of litter bearers up the mountain under heavy artillary fire. There, he treated and triaged the evacuation of his men, over the course of 5 days. This was the setting for earning the Silver Star medal, an unusual combat commendation for and unarmed Medical Officer.
In late November/early December 1943, this was the 168th's command post in an old winery in the village of Pantano, at the base of Monte Pantano.
14 March 1944: Major Arthur L. Ludwick Jr, M.D. of Waterloo, IA, is decorated with the Silver Star by Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark in a ceremony at Fifth Army Headquarters in Benevento, Italy. A member of the 34th Infantry Division, Major Ludwick was honored for his "gallantry-in-action" at Mt. Pantano, Italy, having treated and evacuated wounded soldiers, under heavy enemy fire. See full Silver Star commendation narrative in my book, A DOCTOR'S WAR.