As Charles went through boot camp at Ft. Stewart, Ga., and prepared for war, it never entered his thoughts of what he would eventually have to endure. For Charles, everything was going by so fast.
While he did undergo all of the training that was required of him, he seemed to feel like he was just a simple soldier, not having any special training or knowledge that would possibly be useful by the enemy, if captured. This thought brings me to Charles’ first encounter with the enemy, which turned out to be the Germans in Italy.
If you have never been in the military, whenever a soldier arrives at boot camp, everything is at a break-neck speed. Everything that you do at this point is hurry, hurry and hurry. Charles shared with me that the long trip to Italy was very tiring, with no time off in between, not much sleep or just taking it easy. Now stay with me; I am trying to set the scene for a moment in Charles’ life that would affect his future forever. I don’t want to leave out that he was still only 18-years-old.
Charles was assigned to the 45th Division of the U.S. Army. Charles would be sent to South Africa and Casablanca before arriving at Anzio, Italy. As the battle of Anzio was heating up, Charles and the rest of his squad were being hit by enemy mortar rounds. The long days and nights were taking their toll on every one of his squad. As Charles sat as low as he could in his fox hole, a mortar round exploded right in front of him and pieces of the shell struck Charles in his right hand. As the battle raged on and things seemed to slow down a bit, all of the fatigue began to take over Charles’ body.
Charles was fighting sleep at this point and began to doze off when he felt something hit his helmet. A German soldier was standing over him, making movements for him to get out of his fox hole. I probably misspelled the German word, but I think you get the idea what is taking place here. All of this was taking place during the nighttime, and Charles said it was very cold that particular night.
For Charles, the war was pretty much over. He was placed in a boxcar with several other captured American soldiers. The journey would take them to Florence, Italy, to a P.O.W. camp. Charles said that there were so many soldiers in the box car that they had to stand up the entire trip. After arriving in Florence, they were marched to a building which turned out to be an Italian film studio. This was to become their P.O.W. camp for the duration of the war.
The life at the camp was typical of other P.O.W. camps — harsh and brutal. Charles, along with a few other prisoners, was assigned to work for local Italian farmers. The food he was given was nothing more than a potato and sometimes a piece of bread. Charles said he was already a small young man, and the diet given to them would just about starve them. The working conditions on the farm were very demanding. The weather turned extremely cold, and Charles had no winter clothing; many times he had no boots to wear and worked the fields during these extreme conditions bare-footed. The extreme cold took its toll on Charles, and he had frost bite on his lower legs and feet. Charles had lost 30 pounds during his time working the fields for the Italians. The days were long, and he would return to the camp at night where 15 prisoners shared the same barracks, sleeping on straw-covered bunks. This is just some of what Charles Vargo and the other prisoners endured during their time in a P.O.W. camp.
For Charles, the rest of the war until 1945 would be spent at the prisoner of war camp in Italy. As the war began to wind down and Germany surrendered, Charles noticed that the guards were leaving the camp in large numbers. They were afraid that they would be captured by the allies. A German guard walked by the building Charles was being held in and unlocked it on his way out. The war was over, and Charles began his long journey home to Ohio. There are many stories in between and after that Charles Vargo can reflect on, and we covered just one of those stories. Charles did arrive back home and bought a new Mercury automobile with the back pay from the Army while in the P.O.W camp. The total amount came to $1,500.
While the war was over back in 1945, for Charles Vargo and his never-ending days of pain from the frost-bit legs and feet, the war still goes on.
I do thank Mr. Charles Vargo for his service to our country. I would also like to thank Mrs. Dona Giarrizzo, Charles’ daughter, for her assistance with her father’s story.
Remember Charles and all of the other living veterans in your prayers; for them, the war is never over.
Roger Sherrill lives in Ringgold. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.