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Preface of Cat Thirteen

By: Bob Stubenrauch

Preview and purchase Bob's excellent book about WWII Cat Thirteen. Thank you for supporting the authors of WordShack.

This is a story about America's innocents, the boys of the Great Depression, whose fate it would be to grow into young manhood and to be hurled into the most savage war mankind had ever seen.

The Depression, strangely enough, had prepared them for that war. They long understood and were hardened to the need for the basic essentials of life; food, shelter, clothing, and a warm stove when the blizzard blew outside. Even before the army and combat taught them, they had learned that all pulled together, all sacrificed together, all helped their neighbor, to the best of their ability.

I was one of them, graduating from high school five weeks after Pearl Harbor. I suppose I was more innocent than most, and caught up still in that Depression, when at twelve I had stood before the bakery door until the "After 4 p.m. all baked goods are half-price." sign went up, then was first in the door to stretch my mother's pennies and nickels. As a child, I remember giving my father my treasured cigar box of 750 Indian head pennies to buy food. I remember it not because of the minor sacrifice on my part, but because of the expression of pain on his face as he took it. I will never forget that, though sixty years have gone by since.

Eventually, over those war years, sixteen million men were in uniform, swept together from every corner of the nation. In that America of 1941 we were still stamped with the habits, customs and accents of our respective regions. Strangers all, thrown together, who would learn in time that in our diversity was our strength.

This story is not about the great sweep of the war, nor the strategies of the campaigns. Few G.I.s, the ones who carried the battle, could tell you why they were where they were, or the planned goal of a major action. They could say, "We are to hold here, whatever comes, or take that position, whatever the cost."

The men I write about were with the fighting men, took their losses with the fighting men, but by the unique nature of their mission, were not, and would not claim to be, of the fighting men. Their branch of service was the Army Signal Corps and their job was to photograph and film the war around them. Three men in a jeep, one driver, one still cameraman, one movieman, each unit out to document the war of a 15,000-man infantry or armored division. These Combat Assignment Teams (mine was CAT Thirteen) had a freedom to perform their role that was rare in the services. We made our own decisions, sought out the action of the day, and photographed it. At night we left the front, for the paramount need was for captioned film be rapidly delivered by courier on its long journey to the nation's press and the military leaders in Washington.

Most of what is recorded here really happened, though the characters are fictional. This is my war, a unique war, shared with fewer than fifty other men. From the deep Italian mud to the Vosges Mountain snow drifts; to the shattered wine villages of Alsace; to the total destruction of German cities and ending with those monuments to Nazi culture, the concentration camps and the tens of thousands of silver-gray stick-like people, the walking or crawling dead, just a fraction of the monstrous whole tallied neatly in official German Archives, it all happened.

I remember the comradeship of good men, ours and many other nationalities, on a common mission to literally save civilization. I remember the frequent spells of boredom and of occasional panic. There was danger and daily discomfort, balanced by glimpses of glory, when soldier and civilian alike rose like saints in sacrifice for others.

I still hear the sounds of war. The rumble of summer thunder will always be the mutter of artillery to me. I still see the weary, grimy soldier faces, men trudging along, fatigued into willing robots. I still smell the citric acid aroma of the dusty lemons and oranges that overhung the sweltering road in the summer furnace of Italy. Ahead is Rome, the glittering prize, glittering as though to tell us its liberation is worth all the dead left behind in the mountain passes and craggy heights of the Apennines.

I have tried to be true to these memories, as an obligation to those other young men who sailed off in the uniform, did their duty, and did not come home.

If you find some humor in these pages, do not be surprised. We were still growing up and despite everything, there were still boys among us.

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