Though Guadalupe Coy was drafted into the Army during World War II, he was pretty excited about the chance to go overseas. Born in Juarez, Mexico, he’d grown up in the small town of El Campo, Texas. He’d seen the world and the war through movies--glamorous, noble, fun.
“I had watched a lot of movies about the war,” Coy said. “I thought it was going to be fun. It wasn’t, but - you know how teenagers are. I was one of ’em.”
He understood so little about what war would be like that he asked to be put in the infantry.
“That’s what I knew about the military.”
In Anzio, Coy realized what combat was really like. It wasn’t like the movies.
“When I was there I was scared. I was really, really scared. Of course, I was trying to make out like I was brave.”
As part of the infantry, he didn’t take part in the landing, but instead arrived later, as part of the 3rd Infantry Division, sometime in March 1944. He was 19.
“It wasn’t what I thought it was,” he said. “I didn’t think it was fun after a while. When we first got there, we slept in a barn that night, the next night they put us in trucks and took us to the front line . . . . When we arrived there, we went into a house, and they started shelling the house."
“And that’s when it started getting kinda scary. That’s what war was like.”
Coy remembers hearing that a cook was killed on the front line after U.S. artillery had opened up on the Germans. “So short-of-hand even a cook was in the front line. When I heard this guy got hit, I thought, ‘Okay, stop. Stop now - somebody got hurt.’ But they don’t do that.”
Every day at Anzio held its small, repeated terrors. Men were dying. The Germans were on high ground and so Americans stayed hidden during the day, only coming out at night. A passing plane could signal an oncoming explosion.
“After we broke through the Anzio line there, we got bombed from an airplane, and later on that was something - I had nightmares about it. I would see airplanes and wake up pretty scared because I thought that they were going to bomb us.”
Once, Coy looked up and saw a bomb was coming down - close. He froze for what must have been only a moment, then bolted. When a bomb came, soldiers weren’t to run, but to hit the ground.
In his hurry, he dropped his helmet. He bent down to grab it and could hear the bomb begin to whistle. He hit the ground. The bomb detonated.
Where the bomb had landed is likely where Coy would have been if he had kept running, had he not lost his helmet.
His commanding officer was furious. Coy wasn’t the only one who had run; it had been almost every man.
“He would have had to court martial the whole battalion.”
Finally, after months of fighting, the Allies were able to defeat the Germans by going on an extreme offensive on the ground with supporting air strikes, beginning on May 23, 1944.
“In a matter of minutes, Germans were surrendering. They were shouting, ‘Me polish! Me polish!’” (Even if they weren’t.)
“There were hundreds of them that surrendered almost instantly. I happened to look back to where we had been; and I could see the whole Mediterranean Sea.”
The town fell to the Allies later that week, and they continued to charge toward Rome, which they liberated in June.
Then Coy and his division were pulled back to Naples for more training.
“On my birthday Uncle Sam was really nice with me. He decided to take me on a cruise.”
They were shipped from Naples to southern France. After Anzio, France didn’t seem so bad, Coy said. “The first day we advanced over 100 miles.”
There they met a French woman who could speak five languages, though her accent in English was thick and hard to discern at times. Because Coy could also speak Spanish (it’s all he did speak until grade school), he talked to her. She offered to have the men come to her apartment and eat a meal.
“She gave each of us a sardine. Of course, some of the soldiers thought it was poison or something.” But Coy wasn’t going to turn down food, especially after the hard months in Italy.
“Then she came out with a big ole' pot of mashed potatoes. And golly, I must have been starving because I’ve never tasted such good potatoes in my whole life.”
She brought out a clear liquor that the men scrambled to taste. She told them to eat first, then drink. It was a jolly affair. Except Coy noticed something a little strange; the woman’s husband, it seemed, was a German soldier. But luckily, for whatever reason, he turned a blind eye to the festivities.
The woman asked the Allies to visit again, but they never made it back. Next thing they knew, they were fighting in Montelimar, France, which earned the whole division, including Audie Murphy, a Distinguished Unit Citation.
On a patrol in Vesoul, France, Coy and seven other soldiers were caught in a gun battle, spotted by the Germans. Coy was serving as a B.A.R. assistant, feeding clips first to the B.A.R. man then to his sergeant, who had taken over the B.A.R. rifle.
Then the Germans opened up with machine guns.
Coy was hit in the right thigh and arm. His sergeant was hit in the stomach and died immediately. Another man after that was killed. Later, Coy would find his friend, Guy Ryder - the man who’d had soup cooked in his helmet as a prank, who didn’t fear when his time would come, had also died here.
Coy flipped over onto his stomach to adjust his back, which was in a lot of pain. Incidentally, this change of motion caused him not to bleed out.
He lay there in the rain and everything became quiet.
Later, men came out with a stretcher to get him. Coy moaned in pain, but for fear of the Germans hearing them, one of the men carrying the stretcher told him to shut up. “So I shut up.”
Out of the eight men on that patrol, three were killed, Coy was wounded and four men escaped.
“Believe me. God was with me all the way,” Coy said.
After his recuperation in hospitals in Europe and the United States, Coy worked at the post office and returned home to his wife, Susie, with whom he had a 65-year marriage and a family in Texas.