A World War II Veteran’s Fight in Italy

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,” were the words of the 121st Psalm which often comforted Virgil Moss on the mountains of Italy. He is one of our treasured World War II veterans.

Moss was born on a 640-acre homestead in Wyoming to pioneering parents on April 13, 1924.

In Moss’ words, “At the highest point of 6,052 feet in Campbell County at Pumpkin Butte our homestead was on the north slope which water shed flowed into Beaver Creek where I was born. There we raised sheep on the rolling sagebrush covered hills.”

Like David, the biblical shepherd, Moss spent his youth on star-filled nights tending his sheep, protecting them from coyotes and the harsh elements. He worked them on open range with no benefit of sheds or corrals.

Moss attended Fairmont School, a one-room school house, for eight years. Out of necessity he completed his high school education by taking three years of correspondence courses from home. This allowed Moss to financially help his dad and mom on the farm.

“Dad needed a full-time man to live on the open range with the sheep so dad agreed to my arrangement to work for no money in exchange for all the calves from our cow herd and a sheep wagon for me to live in. I had my own horse and used the family’s dogs. Many times I studied my school books behind sagebrush while herding sheep.”

During the bleak winter months to earn extra money, Moss, while herding sheep would kill and skin jackrabbits which brought 20 cents a pelt.

In 1942, at age 18, Moss informed his dad and mom that he needed to help his country which was engaged in World War II. He sold his calves, sheep and other possessions, keeping only his horse, Blaze, to give to his younger brother to ride.

Moss caught a train out of the nearest town, Gillette, and traveled to Sheridan, Wyoming to enter the Army on March12, 1943. He began communication school in preparation to enter the signal corps. He then attended basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

While at Fort Sill, Moss thought that he had found hell on earth. “I dearly missed the hills and starry skies of Wyoming.”

After basic, he was off to 10,000-foot-high Camp Hale in Colorado to learn mountain warfare and how to survive under the most brutal conditions.

There, he said, “We spent our time in freezing weather testing new Army equipment including everything we used, wore or ate. We were up the mountains, down the mountains, and around the mountains carrying 90-pound backpacks,” said Moss.

This training led Moss to become a forward observer radio technician in the 10th Mountain Division of the 616th Field Artillery Battalion attached to the 5th Army fighting in Italy.

On November 23, 1944, Moss met a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient on his way to take command of the 10th Mountain Division, Brigadier General George P. “Seven Horse” Hays (he had seven horses shot out from under him in WWI) who would be Moss’ commanding officer in Italy.

On January 6, 1945, Moss sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and anchored in Naples, Italy on January 18th. By January 27th, he was on the front line of battle in the north Apennine Mountains.

Moss said, “We wee not far from the rugged Riva Ridge which overlooked the lofty Mount Belvedere, our main target. The object of the 10th Mountain Division was to conquer mountains and liberate the Apennine Mountains from the hold of the German Army. They controlled the peaks and we began taking them one after another.”

The 5th Army began its last great campaign to push north to the Alps. According to Moss, armed with a carbine and carrying a 50-pound radio strapped to his back, he ended up the first man atop Mount Belvedere alone, having started the mountain mission with four other men climbing at night in pitch dark. The others had received shrapnel wounds and fell behind.

“The 5th Army pushed the Germans out of the Apennine Mountains. They fiercely fought as they retreated north through the Po Valley and into the Brenner Pass,” said Moss.

“I saw their burning tanks, stranded railroad cars loaded with huge unused artillery shells. There were dead German soldiers lying all around. I was pained to see a German Shepherd dog standing watch by his dead master’s side.

“As we traveled north one early morning, I entered to search a farm house with a few other soldiers. When I stepped inside I found myself face to face with armed German soldiers and an officer. To our surprise, they surrendered.”

In 15 days of hard fighting, the 10th headed north covering 105 miles. They broke through the German defense and forced them into a state of confusion.

“By April we reached and crossed over Lake Garda in the foothills of the Alps,” Moss said. “Me and another forward observer were able to spend four nights in Mussolini’s villa in Gargnano. While there on May 2nd we received news that the German Army in Italy officially surrendered at noon. The German General, Von Senger, surrendered to Major Gen. George P. Hays. I saw the German general the next day when he passed by guarded in one of our jeeps.

“By May 20th, we were camped at Caporetto, Italy on the Yugoslavian border for two months to help keep peace.”

Moss mused, “I was surprised to see that most of the Yugoslavian ladies carried guns and knew how to use them. They were quite the warriors by the looks of them.”radio strap

At war’s end, Tech Sgt. Moss was awarded the Bronze Star on May13th and returned home with the 10th to Camp Carson, Colorado. Moss was honorably discharged on November 27th, and the 10th was disbanded on November 30, 1945.

 

 

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