Archive for September, 2018

On the Run.

Floyd Dumas (L) and two other escapees, Bill Robb of Scotland and a South African, pose for a portrait while behind enemy lines in Rome, 1944.
Courtesy Floyd Dumas.

Last night I gave a talk about my books and focused on the new one, The Things Our Fathers Saw-The Untold Stories of the World War II Generation-Volume IV: Up the Bloody Boot-The War in Italy (Volume 4).  It was well received and I shared the story of my 98 year old friend Floyd Dumas, who was captured at a German counterattack during the battle for Anzio in early 1944 and spent the next 4 months after escaping on the run behind German lines.

I’ll share a few more stories from the book in the coming weeks.

From the deserts of North Africa to the mountains of Italy, the men and women veterans of the Italian campaign open up about a war that was so brutal, news of it was downplayed at home. As we forge ahead as a nation, we owe it to ourselves to become reacquainted with a generation that is fast leaving us, who asked for nothing but gave everything, to attune ourselves as Americans to a broader appreciation of what we stand for.


Floyd Dumas was a soldier in the 45th Infantry Division. The author had heard about Floyd’s story and called him up to invite him in for a World War II prisoner of war symposium at his high school. Mr. Dumas was gracious and thankful on the phone, but initially declined. Then he had a change of heart. He had something to say.


[The day I escaped], it was in the afternoon and we were in the big building where they’d lock us in at night, after they gave us the loaf of bread. During the day they kept it unlocked, so you could be in the building or out in the yard. There were a bunch of us playing cards in the big building when an air raid sounded. All the guards were looking up at the sky and watching our Air Force bombing near the prison camp. One of the men who was in the yard came in while we were playing cards and said two men ripped the fence and escaped. He asked if anyone else wanted to try and get out. I said, ‘I’ll go,’ and a British guy said, ‘I’ll go,’ but no one else would try.

We went out in the yard. The fence was ripped open and a large group stood around to block the guards’ view, and the Englishman and I went through, but we were still inside the prison camp! We scouted around and found a small room with fake scenery in it, I suppose as a part of the movie industry. We hid in this room until dark, [and miraculously] a storm came up and it started to rain hard, with thunder and lightning, which was good for us—I don’t know how we got that lucky. Now I don’t care if you’re an American soldier, a British soldier, or a Japanese soldier, but when you’re on guard duty and it’s raining, you’re going to look for a spot where you’re not going to get too wet, and that’s what the Germans did—they never saw us going through the yard even with the lights on.

The Germans must’ve been doing some work next to the [outside] wall, and they had thrown dirt up against it just high enough so we could get up to the top of the wall and throw ourselves over. They had barbed wire and broken glass on top of the wall, but the two of us got over and fell down on the other side.

We ran across the countryside, and on the way we were so hungry, we’re pulling up carrots and stuff and eating the dirt and all. We came upon a farmhouse and knocked on the door, and an old Italian couple was sleeping next to a fireplace on the floor, an old man and the old lady. We knocked on the door, they came, and we had little [Army] booklets with Italian language phrases, you know, so we said, ‘Americano soldato’ and ‘Inglese soldato.’ They said, ‘Sì,’ and let us in. We were wringing wet, but we were able to dry out our clothes; they had us sit by the fireplace and dry off and gave us some bread and ricotta, which the woman warmed up. The old man spoke a little English, he said, ‘You no can stay here tomorrow, the Germans catch you here, they kill us.’
We said, ‘Well, what are we going to do? Where are we going to go?’

He said, ‘Half a mile away down the road there’s a bombed-out house. You can go down in there and hide for a while.’
At daybreak, the Englishman and I left and found it, but then he wanted to try to get back to our lines. Can you imagine that? [Laughs] Here we are, way behind the German lines, and he wants to get back to our lines.

I said, ‘What are you, crazy? You can’t get through all those German soldiers!’
He said, ‘Well, I think we should try.’
I said, ‘You want to try, you go ahead.’

He tried, he got challenged by a German outpost, and they shot him right there. I heard the shot.

I stayed at that bombed house for three or four days, and I still had an American uniform on. I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to do something pretty soon.’ There was a small town not too far away. I said, ‘I got to take a chance and when there’s no Germans around, I’m going to have to walk into the [town] and tell them I’m an American soldier.’ The people all hated the Germans anyway, so they greeted me, and I was all right.

They got me into civilian clothes. I traded my combat jacket to a sheep herder for his long black coat, [and the family I stayed with gave me] a silk shirt and an old pair of shoes with holes in the toes; I wish I had a picture of that. I held on to my dog tags and put them in my shoe, to prove I was an American GI, and I stayed there quite a few days. I heard there was another soldier nearby—an Indian soldier who spoke English, so they got me in touch with him. I don’t know if he was [an escaped] prisoner of war, I don’t know what he was. He was staying with an Italian family and had learned a lot of the language, and we got to talking.

Each morning, the Indian and I would go to a neighbor with a bucket to get some ricotta cheese. There were a lot of Germans manning anti-aircraft guns in the area. One morning, one of the Germans asked the Indian, ‘Why doesn’t your friend with you ever talk?’
The Indian responded, ‘He was in the Italian Army and a bomb fell near him, and he became deaf and dumb.’
The German said, ‘That’s too bad.’ So this is what I did. After living in this little village for about a month, more and more German soldiers arrived in and around the village. I started to get a bit scared that I would get caught; maybe one of the villagers would squeal on me. I said to the Indian, ‘I don’t like staying in the country here like this.’
He said, ‘Well, I’ve been here quite a while, and they haven’t been bothering me at all.’
I said, ‘Well, you’ve got to notice that the Vatican was taking in escaped prisoners of war, so you suppose you could get me into Rome and over to the Vatican and I could try to get in there?’
He said, ‘Yes, in a couple of days.’ So we headed for Rome.


Getting to Rome was not a picnic. We had to go through a number of German roadblocks [to get to the train station], but they did not bother us as hundreds of people went into Rome each day to bring their produce to the open market. Some walked the eighteen miles; some took buses, drove horses and carts in, or took a train. We walked to the train station and got on the train. The train was always packed with people bringing in pigs, hens, and vegetables for the market. When the train stopped in Rome, we took a bus to Vatican City. We went up and the Indian talked to one of the Swiss guards at the Vatican.

He said, ‘No, they’ve not allowed any more prisoners in the Vatican. We’re neutral and we’re not allowed to do it.’
I said, ‘Well, we’ve heard that there were escaped prisoners in here.’
He said, ‘There are, but they’ve put a stop to it.’ They wouldn’t let us in.

He said, ‘But you’ve got to go back to the country where you were, and after three days, you come back here, and right over to the left here, there’s an alleyway. When that clock strikes twelve there, you look across the street. There’ll be a man standing there with a black overcoat on, and in his right-hand pocket he’ll have a newspaper. When he takes the newspaper down from his face and puts it in his pocket, you go across the street and say, ‘Americano soldato,’ and that’s all you’ve got to say.’

We went back to the country, and then three days later we went back there, and that’s exactly how it happened. The man I met with the newspaper was a priest; he worked with the Italian underground. The priest went ahead and I followed him onto a bus. He paid the tokens and we got on the bus, rode for a while, and then transferred to another very crowded bus. Finally, after about an hour of busing, we got off and walked two blocks and came to a big building surrounded by a high wall, with a huge iron gate and a bell on the side.
The priest rang the doorbell, and soon a nun came to the gate and let us in. We walked in a side entrance and opened a door that led to a small room. A small table for two was set with a loaf of bread and a bottle of red wine. The priest closed the door and put out his hand and said, ‘You did fine, and we got here okay.’
He said, ‘Tomorrow you will be introduced to a Scotsman who is here, and you will be together until Rome falls to the Allies.’

The Scotsman’s name was Bill Robb, from Aberdeen, Scotland. He was taken prisoner at Tobruk in the desert of North Africa by the Germans. [In Italy], the Germans piled him and a large group of prisoners into a train to send them to Germany. He tore the bars off the boxcars and jumped off the train. He broke his left leg in the jump, but the Italians hid him and nursed him back to health. He had been behind the lines a long time and learned the Italian language fluently. So, we met in that convent and would stay together until the war in Italy was over.


We went back up to [that cave near] Tor Sapienza. We had the young Italian kids on guard while we slept at night. Finally, one morning at 5:30, two of the young guards came in the cave and hollered, ‘The Americans are here, in the town next to us. There are dead German soldiers all over the place!’
We said, ‘Ahh, you’re crazy, they’re not here yet. They aren’t going to take Rome yet.’

‘Come here, come here!’ They showed us a package of Camel cigarettes, and Holy Jesus, right away I knew it was true! I’ll never forget it. Sure enough, the 88th Infantry Division was coming through, so we walked right in with them. We talked to an American officer and told him who we were; I showed him my dog tags and we followed them into the city of Rome. There were German tanks burning in the streets and snipers shooting all over the place in the city, but in six hours, Rome was completely taken.

We were interrogated by American officers and told them our story. They turned us over to a British outfit; I guess they were going to stay in Rome to keep things under control. The British said we had to get out of the civilian clothes. So, they gave us British uniforms, shorts, knee socks, heavy shoes, a shirt, and a beret.
They gave me the name of a captain who was in Naples and said I was to report to him as soon as possible.
I said, ‘How do I get to Naples?’
They gave me a map and said, ‘Hitchhike. We have no transportation for you.’

So, with my nice new British uniform on, I did just that. I found the address I had been given but it took some time, as Naples is a large city. The captain I was to see ran a PoW camp with hundreds of German prisoners. He asked me a lot of questions about what we did behind the lines and what we saw, then told me to get out of the British uniform and he would supply me with one of ours.
I was in Naples about a week before he could get me a plane to Oran on July 21, 1944, a mail plane with bucket seats and everything. From North Africa I was put on a ship for Hampton Roads, Virginia, for about ten days. Eventually I was flown with three other soldiers from Camp Pickett, Virginia, to Washington, D.C. The Army put us up in a beautiful hotel and gave us money from the American Red Cross. For two hours each morning, we had to answer questions from high officials at a building in Washington. After that, we were on our own to do whatever we wanted; we had a great time, drank a lot of beer, and ate in nice restaurants—but the next morning we had to go back to interrogation.


I was out of the Army in 1945 and was working for a milk company, and there was an ad in the paper for a men’s clothing store. I went and applied for the job; I had to learn tailoring, store management, window trimming, and all that. I got the job and I picked up the tailoring really quickly. I learned it in six months; they couldn’t understand [how I picked up the trade so fast]. I’m telling my sister this, and she said, ‘Well, your Uncle Eli was the top tailor in Malone here years ago, maybe he’s brushing off on you.’ After my training was done in the Malone store, they gave me a store to run in Danbury, Connecticut. Then they transferred me to Glens Falls, Steins’ Men’s Clothing Store, and I have been here ever since; now I do tailoring out of my [basement shop]. Do you know that I have had three millionaires as my clients? That’s right, Charley Wood used to come over to my house to get measured up. Then I started going to his place…


Bill Robb went back to Aberdeen, Scotland, and we kept in touch over the years. He had got married and had a child, but couldn’t find work in Aberdeen. [Unbeknownst to me], he moved to Montreal, Quebec, just an hour and a half from my hometown, Malone, New York! He was in a pub drinking beer in Montreal and these old guys were talking about Malone.
‘Jesus,’ he said, ‘that guy Giovanni behind the lines with me in Italy said he was from Malone!’ [Laughs] In Italy, my [alias] was Giovanni Ganzi; there’s no Floyd Dumas in Italy. [Laughs] So he said to his wife, ‘I’ve got to go see him,’ and jumped in his car and went to Malone. He found my parents on Brown Street, and my parents said, ‘No, he now lives in Danbury, Connecticut!’ They told him how to get there.

He came and stayed two weeks with us; can you imagine that? [Laughs] Everything panned out good. And I used to hear from him here and there. In the last Christmas card I got from him quite a few years ago, he was a steel worker in Chicago working on bridges, but that was the end. I haven’t heard from him since; [he probably] died like a lot of them. I don’t know of one other person who is still alive in the company that I was in; I don’t even run into anybody in my division.


The war affected my life, sure, but I would say that I got over it good. Yes, I’ve thought a lot about it. I used to have wicked dreams, but I wouldn’t talk about it for a long, long time. Finally, I sat there with my wife and I said, ‘What’s the matter with me? They’re not teaching this in school. I better start opening my mouth.’ So, I went to Hudson Falls High School and I gave [several] talks over the years, and Mr. Rozell tells my story.

Vol. IV The War in Italy

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Looking out of my writing studio, Oct. 2017. Pic by me.


Matthew Rozell will have a book launch, talk and signing at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Easton Library, 1074 State Route 40, Easton, NY. Signed books will be available for $20.

As I write this, it’s rainy and cool here in upstate New York after a long hot summer. I haven’t posted in a while as I find myself making the transition from classroom teacher to full-time writer, and the seasonal changes are almost a metaphor for what’s going on in my life, though at heart I’ll always be an educator with something to say. So, I keep writing, and it’s that time of year to introduce a new book to the world. But first…

I’ve been fortunate that my books have resonated with people on a national scale. The other day I did an assessment and over 75K copies of my books have been sold, mostly ebooks but plenty of paperbacks, and some audiobooks as well, on a trajectory with some better known, more traditionally published authors. And it’s seven days a week hard work. I’m amazed, too, that I wrote the first three and a half while I was also teaching full time. This time of the year though, I like to set the pen down and go out into the world to meet the people who read them.

I did a session of meet and greet in our village park last Sunday, a beautiful second day of fall—brisk in the morning, warming by afternoon, bright sunshine and blue skies. Traffic was light, but people showed interest in the books and I had some great conversations. My fourth-grade teacher happened to pass by, and said she was downsizing last week and found a booklet of our class’s writings (1970-71) that she had ‘published’ on the old blue mimeograph paper, I think, including some words by yours truly! You know, I suddenly remembered all that, and how proud I was, how proud my mother in particular was, at the time. Unfortunately, Mrs. F tossed it in the dumpster, something I would have regretted if I were her [ha ha]… but don’t be surprised if I packed it away somewhere, too.

A young girl appeared, picked up my books, wondering incredulously if I had written them all. I told her I did. She was impressed, and had many questions about the process, even the cost, which I answered. “Make sure you hire a good cover artist, for one, and a proofreader!” She picked up the heftiest one, ‘A Train Near Magdeburg’, and asked flat out how long it had taken to write. “Ten years”, I replied. Her eyes bulged out of her sockets as she exclaimed, “Ten years! That’s how long I have been alive!” I chuckled at that, explaining that I had to learn a lot in order to understand what I was writing, and asked her if she liked to write. She nodded, and I asked her if she liked to read. “Good”, I said as she nodded again. “Because that is how you become a great writer.” She got it, thanked me politely, and scampered off to join her family, though she peppered me with questions for so long that they were no longer in sight!

A former student or two came by again, including one who told me she had been at the Red Lion Inn in a town in the Berkshires, in western Massachusetts, about a hundred miles away, a place my late mother loved to go to on her forays to the Berkshires arts scene. This former student, now a mom herself, overheard a group of women discussing a read about the Holocaust that they had undertaken together (as a book club probably), and she realized they were discussing ‘A Train Near Magdeburg’. I’ve been thinking of putting out a discussion guide for a while now, so maybe this was the sign to get moving on it. There is a lot to talk about…history is sooo not dead. To quote William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Some more of my superfans came by to pick up the ‘must have’ books that they missed, including a guy I was talking to for quite a while before he reminded me of his name, one of my sister’s first boyfriends going back to the days when he would help my father split wood at camp! Humbled and honored that people are touched enough by my words to come out and talk to me, and my next talk is in a couple days.

Anyway, thought I would give you an update. The new book is on the war in North Africa and Italy, a campaign so brutal, news of it was downplayed at home. Did you know that 20% of the Medal of Honor awards given in World War II came out of this 900-day campaign? Don’t worry, nobody does. My book helps to fill in the gaps, in their own words. I’ll give a talk about it Thursday evening, details below from today’s newspaper. I’ll also be posting more about the new book, upcoming gigs, and other developments; feel free to follow me at my Facebook author page for daily links to articles on WW2 and the Holocaust that I find facinating.

A time to write, a time to talk.


Hometown Column: Retired educator’s newest WWII book focuses on Italy

by Gretta Hochsprung

When Matthew Rozell started teaching history, he felt a two-day lesson on World War II just wasn’t enough.

“I said, ‘How many of you have a parent or grandparent who was in World War II?’ and every kid shot up at least one hand,’ ” said Rozell, who taught at Hudson Falls High School for almost 30 years.

He sent home surveys with his students with the assignment to interview their World War II veteran relatives, who had spent years keeping their war memories to themselves.

“These guys were ready to talk,” said Rozell, sitting in a windowed room at his post-and-beam Hartford home with views of Crane and Gore mountains.

Rozell and his students spent years interviewing veterans, resulting in six books. Rozell’s latest book, the fourth volume of the series “The Things Our Fathers Saw,” is now available. He has sold more than 75,000 books based on the interviews he has conducted with local World War II veterans.[1]

The fourth volume, “Up the Bloody Boot — The War in Italy,” tells firsthand accounts of combat and brotherhood from the war in Italy. One of the stories in the book is about local tailor Floyd Dumas, who was captured by the Germans at a major battle in Italy. He escaped and was on the run for four months.

“A lot of these guys were ready to talk to young people,” Rozell said, pointing out that “some of the stories that they told, they had never told anyone besides their friends who’d had the same experience.”

For some veterans, they were realizing that people were forgetting and didn’t understand the enormity and aftermath of the war that left no American community unscathed.

Rozell knew he needed to do something with all the research and collection of personal stories. He published his first book in July 2015, two years before he retired from teaching. It was about the men and women in the Pacific.

For some unexplained reason, book sales took off two years ago, and Rozell was selling 100 books a day in e-books, print books and audio books.

Through his interviews, research and books, Rozell has been able to reunite 275 Holocaust survivors with their liberators and has seen them come together at reunions.

“This is the story of a person,” Rozell said, “who had an interest, that turned into a passion, that turned into a mission.”

Rozell will have a book launch, talk and signing at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Easton Library, 1074 State Route 40. Signed books will be available for $20. All his books are available on Amazon or MatthewRozell.com.


[1] Almost all the first-person interviews my students and I collected over the years were deposited in the New York State Military Museum for future generations to learn from—over a hundred to date. As one of the most active contributors to their program, I also leaned on them for some related interviews I edited with a loving hand for this book.

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