Pasquale "Pat" D'Amato
Experience of Cpl Pasquale J. D’Amato Co "E", 3rd Ranger Bn
Source: After the Battle (Ranger Evasion and Escape)
by Lt. Colonel Clarence R. Melteson, pp 77- 82
On 12 February the team of Cpl Pasquale J. D'Amato and Pfc James Adamson walked out the front gate, in the day, in civilian clothes, and disappeared from the German POW records. They began a hegira lasting until 9 June as they slowly worked their way south toward Rome. They were liberated by our 34th Infantry Division, debreifed in Civitavecchia and reported as returned to military duty on the 2th of June 1944.
Out the Front Gate of Laternia
Pasquale, "Pat", J. D'Amato, Cpl, 31383888, and James Adamson, PFC of E Company, 3rd Ranger Battalion were buddies in combat and buddies in escape. After the Ranger Battle of Cisterna on 30 January 1944 they were captured, went through Castel Romagna, marched through Rome, went by truck to Fara in Sabina and on to Laterina, Campo 82.
They were looking for escape chances and didn't stay long enough in one place to attempt one. Their memory of the march in Rome includes the photo opportunity passing in front black uniformed Fascisti and bemedaled Nazi officials. The Nazi caption of the pictures was "the first Americans to march through Rome", and meanwhile the Italian peasants cried as they marched by.
At Fara in Sabina they looked only stayed the night, to leave on a closely guarded truck for Laterina. Here they spent the first two days studying intently the situation around their barracks. They were in barracks #8 of a line of 14 barracks. Each barracks held about 150 pews. Meanwhile they were learning the routines. Liquid nourishment was a daily bowl of soup. Some water was brought in the camp by the Germans in barrels. For one hour a day, a single water pipeline was turned on and the pews could line up for a drink, all 2100 of them. Our escapers didn't bother to even get in line.
The first plan was to escape at night. This was ruled out as they found that anybody emerging from the hutments at night were shot "without questions". The plan then turned to daylight and leaving in disguise as Italian camp laborers. When asked, an Italian had refused to help them, saying, "He was afraid of what the Germans would do to him if they found out."
The Italian civilians were allowed to come and go with some counting at the gate but no showing of passes and so on. The necessary clothing came in a swap. Two British POWs would exchange their soiled civilian togs for their soiled uniforms. The Brits had been captured at Tobruk and freed after the capitulation. In the course of events they had bought the suits they were wearing on the market before being recaptured.
In preparation they closely observed the gate procedure and intended to pose as Italian laborers hoping to look natural enough when doing it. D'Amato spoke Italian quite fluently. Adamson couldn't speak a word of it, so he was told to nod and answer "Si, si" to everything. They shaved wi th the only razor blade in camp, the property of Captain Joe Larkin, their company commander, and also our battalion commander. Putting on their civilian clothes and final rehearsal completed this phase.
They set out for Hut 13 where Indian, Arab and Scotch POWs were quartered. A buddy had given them the word that there was a piece of tile pipe in front of the Hut. They moved from #8 to #13 by watching the movement of the German guards pacing the front of the hut area. They moved as the Germans turned their backs. The tile pipe ws in front of #13. An American sergeant sensed their purpose and nudged the pipe several feet closer to the door with his foot as he walked on by.
They secured the pipe and left the Hut by the rear door to avoid the front guards who seemed more familiar with work parties and so on. They had about l50 yards to go to the gate, to them it was like 150 miles. On the way they had their first surprise, they had to pass a detail of five young Italians, 16 year olds, working by the Infirmary with a German guard. They were worred by this. The guard remained unalarmed. His detail, knowing they weren't local laborers, dropped their shovels and simply gawked at them. Also, they were still wearing their own combat shoes. With a deep sigh they passed on to the gate.
D'Amato motioned to the gate guard that they wanted to lay the tile outside. The gate swung open and out they went into the midst of more Nazis doing various chores and a few yards from a POW work detail. Some of their buddies were on this detail. One of them recognized Jim and was about to speak out when "he caught on" and held his silence.
They put the pipe down gently near a broken down German truck and then headed for a lumber pile close to a tool shed. Now they picked up some lumber to build the illusion and sauntered into the shed. Through the windows they checked to see whether their movements had been suspected, and now they planned their next move.
They went out the rear door and crossed an open field, which was a mile and a half wide, without looking back. They figured now that they had until the roll call at 1730 hours before an alarm would be raised. Wi th about a three hour head start they could hope to evade search parties. A POW who escaped later while being taken to Germany by train from the camp, told Pat, after hi s return to our own 1 ines, that the Nazis never did figure out how they got away under their noses in broad daylight.
They walked for about three hours on a main road and then were hailed by two male civilians working in the field. Adamson and D'Amato ·hesitated, but with some German trucks approaching they went off the road and wllked rapidly toward the men to get out of sight from the road. One of the men said, "I'll bet you fellows escaped from the prison camp!" Then they got some of the most valuable information they were to hear in their five months in German-occupied territory. The man said he knew they weren't Italian civilians because they walked too fast, and he warned them to take their time if they were to continue to stay out of enemy clutches.
Thus enlightened our team took to the hills. They were guiding by the sun and traveling south towards Rome as best they could. Here and there a civilian- would provide food. Now and then they would find someone who, not fearing Nazi punishment, would give them beds to sleep in. One of their hosts, overj oyed at seeing American liberators, provided a bed with three mattresses.
They planned to walk every day, but it was too risky wi th so many Fascists around. They feared the Fasci sts more than the Germans. They learned that the Germans rounded up Italians for labor on certain day's. Since they had no identification cards wi th photographs, which the Italians were required to carry at all times, they had to be continually on the alert.
Several times they had offers to join guerrilla bands roaming the hi lIs, but declined because their plan was to cross over the lines. In the bands they found South African, British, and even some Russian soldiers. Among them were six Germans who had deserted their own forces to fight for the allies.
By the first week of March Pat and Jim had marched to a town called Farnese. Here they found five escaped prisoners of war South African soldiers who were living together in a cave.
By this time the local weather had deteriorated. The South Africans invited them to stay on for a few weeks. They accepted the invitation. On days that felt safe to do so, they ventured out to get all the food they could from local sources. When the civilians had nothing to offer, they might go two or three miles away at night and steal a sheep or two. One of:the South Africans was a farmer. It was he who killed and skinned the sheep. They built low fires to make a sheep stew and gathered up herbs and the new green grass to give it a flavor.
They decided to move on, in the first week of April with the intention of going by way of Viterbo. By this time, the Germans had heavily fortified the area and wouldn't let unidentified persons through. It can be noted here that this is the area that Lt Newnan had the most difficulty passing through. It speaks well for the early German preparation of a strong delaying posi tion when the allies broke out of the Anzio beachhead, as well as increasing their antiaircraft protection for the air field in the vicinity of Soriano.
They returned to their cave. Then in a couple of weeks they moved to another grotto. Again in a matter of days they moved on to another grot to. Each move was to the south and was following a line on the west side of a series of lakes and hills. The other side was the drainage into the Tiber River and also had the main supply route by road and rail for the German Forces. Each day was more frightening than the last. Allied air was bombing and strafing various targets of opportunity. Their grottos would become dangerous as German troops were moved around and into new bivouacs in the same neighborhood. The presence of more German and Fasci st uni ts directly influenced the abili ty of the. contadini to aid the escaped prisoners of war.
At about this time, they learned that two of the South African soldiers they had shared a dank cave wi th had been recaptured. It turned out that they were shot on 6 June. They should have been sent to a stalag in Germany. What had happened was that one, in celebrating his 21st birthday, had too much "vi no" and dared to go into Farnese, ignor ing the advice of hi s friends. In Farnese he "bummed" a cigarette from a German who was seated in a grassy area, and stooping over to get a light his gun had dropped from his pocket.
The other South African, his buddy, heard of his comrade's capture. He entered Farnese that night hoping to free his friend and was captured in turn. As prisoners of war they would have had a German court-martial and on review and approval of the sentence they would have been executed.
Starting on 29 May 1944 our escape team spent an even more terifying week. They were nearing Rome. They met an Italian speaking British escapee and joined together to go to Rome.
On their first day, they walked into a German bivouac rea and were immediately spotted by two soldiers. They hit the dirt in some bush, and for ninety minutes tried not to nove a muscle. It worked.
The next day they arrived in Allumiere and met some atpoep who fed them and begged them to stay on until the \mericans reached the town. US Fifth Army had reached Rome dna made a bridgehead on the north of the town by evening of 5 June 1944.
When the report reached Allumiere, that Rome had fallen to the allies, it seemed too good to be true to the escaped POWs. When an Italian youngster came running through town screaming that the Americans were in and beyond Rome, and now advancing rapidly, our escapees finally came out of hiding. Then word spread like wildfire that two escaped prisoners in Allumiere were Americans and they became the center of a long remembered ovation.
The first Americans to arrive in town were two officers and a private riding in a jeep. The sight of our soldiers in uniform brought tears of relief and joy to Pat and Jim. At this time, the US 36th Infantry Division was advancing on the inland road net, skirting the line of lakes, and pursuing the withdrawing German forces. The US 34th Infantry Division was advancing by the coast route. It seems likely that the party in Allumiere had come from the 34th Infantry Division and out of Civitavecchia. This was probably on 9 June, and could have been a staff party to coordinate division movements when the two units started using the coastal road.
Our two Rangers now reported to the officers as escaped prisoners of war and then went into Civitavecchia for a G2 level of interrogation. Here they reported seeing a dummy airport complete with wooden planes they had passed within 100 yards of near a small town. Now when it was no longer important they found out that if they had been captured in civilian clothes during the last five months they could have been shot as spies. As Pat has said, "We believed God was on our side, and he was, all the way!"