Cpl. Ed Zanck provided hot showers for troops in Gen. Mark Clark’s 5th Army
Ed Zanck of Farmington Vista condominium complex, Plantation subdivision south of Venice, Fla. was drafted into the Army in early 1942. He took part in the Invasion of North Africa and served in Gen. Mark Clark’s 5th Army throughout much of the Italian Campaign.
“I have to confess, my service in World War II was a cultural experience,” the 92-year-old former corporal admitted. “I saw many of the historic cities of Europe: Naples, Rome, Venice, Monte Casino.
“In Naples I even went to the opera. I think I saw Rigoletto, I can’t remember. What I do remember is that the opera house was very ornate and had six or seven balconies,” he said.
The old soldier served with the 837th Quartermaster Company attached to the 5th Army.
“I saw no combat,” Ed said. “Our company provided one of the biggest morale boosters in the U.S. Army: Hot showers and new uniforms to troops who may have spent weeks on the front lines.
“We had semi-trucks that were set up as showers with multiple shower heads and boilers that provided hot water for the troops to use for washing themselves. The soldiers would walk in the back of the truck, take their clothes off, take a hot shower and be issued new clothes when they came out the other end,” he explained.
Ed and his four brothers grew up in Chicago. All but one served in the Second World War:
* Leonard, the oldest, was a staff sergeant in the 15th Air Force in Italy.
* Chester served in the Pacific in the Marine Corps.
* Ed was in the Army in North Africa and Italy.
* George served in Europe with the Timberwolf Division.
* Bernard, the youngest, is a Catholic Priest.
“When I got out of boot camp we went on maneuvers at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, Miss. What I remember were the coral snakes that were very dangerous we had to contend with when we were out on bivouac,” he said.
“We would get weekend passes and go to New Orleans. A buddy and I were walking down Canal Street one day when we were stopped by a civilian who asked, ‘Were we interested in buying 25-cents worth of insurance?’ He was selling condoms on the street corner to servicemen for 25-cents.
“It was in New Orleans where I developed a taste for oysters on the half shell. They were very good,” Ed recalled seven decades later.
“We landed at Oran, Morocco in 1942. While we were there the Germans bombed the trains station, but nobody was injured. They were lousy shots.
“Then we moved to Algiers. It was there I learned to say to the local girls in French: ‘Mademoiselle, will you take a walk with me?’ It didn’t work, I struck out with the girls.
“It was in Algiers about Christmas time where the POWs would sing Christmas carols in German as they marched to the mess line. They were really something. Most of them weren’t Nazi’s ready to die for their country.
“We ended up in Tunis (along the North African Coast) where one of the really pleasant things happened to me during the war. We got to see Bob Hope and Frances Langford preforming for the troops. They used a flatbed semi-truck as a stage. The guys would whistle and howl every time Frances got up on stage,” Ed said with a smile.
His introduction to the war in Europe came during the invasion of Naples, Italy by Allied forces.
“They were very protective of us because we were the guys with the hot showers and the clean clothes. We didn’t move into an area until it was secured by front line troops,” Ed said. “I spent enough time around Naples I got to go to the opera.
“I remember one time Gen. Mark Clark (his commander) came to visit our company. After an inspection the general told us we were doing a good job,” the pleased old soldier recalled 60 years later.
“After Naples we went to Anzio. We moved in there once American troops took the beach away from the Germans.
“One time, around Anzio where we were bivouacked, the Army set up 240 cannons. When they fired these cannons everything would shake in the immediate area.
“We moved on to Rome where I got to see the Vatican and take in an outdoor opera while there.
“It was in Venice I got to visit the Dodge’s Palace. In Venice everything goes by water. They have canals instead of streets and people move from house-to-house in gondolas.” ‘
Zanck and his outfit moved north up the Italian boot to the protracted battle of Monte Cassino.
“The Germans had their artillery set up near a centuries-old monastery atop a mountain in the interior of the country north of Rome. It was at Monte Cassino where U.S. Sen. Bob Dole was wounded during the war when he was a young soldier.
“Last year, when I took the ‘Honor Flight’ to Washington, D.C. to see the World War II Memorial, Sen. Dole was there on The Mall to meet us.”
While at Monte Casino, Ed learned Leonard, his oldest brother, was based with the 15th Air Force at Barrie, Italy, near the heel of the Italian boot, at the extreme south end of the country. He obtained permission to go see him while the 5th Army he was in, was trying to run the Germans off the mountain.
“I got a hop on a B-25 (twin-engine) bomber part of the way. I hitchhiked the rest of the way. Some English soldiers picked me up. At 4 p.m. they had to stop for tea, but they didn’t invite me. It was there we parted company.”
Ed made it to Barrie, found his his brother, Leonard, spent some time with him and repeated the procedure in reverse on his way back. The 5th Army was still trying to force the Germans to relinquish their hold on the high ground around Monte Casino monastery.
“It was a long delayed process. Eventually, Allied forces bombed the monastery and ran the Germans off Monte Casino. After that our company and the rest of the 5th Army moved into the Po Valley. This is where we were when the war in Europe ended and I was shipped home. By then I had spent 2 1/2 years in Italy with the troops.”
Ed was discharged at Fort Sheridan, Ill. near Chicago in 1945. He went to work for Western Electric, the manufacturing army of AT&T. He spent the next 30 plus years helping to maintain the machinery that produced the copper cables for the telephone industry.
For more than 50 years he and his wife, Frances, were married. They moved to their Florida condo full time in 1997. She died in 2004. They have two children: Bertrand and Marilyn Booth.
Name: Edward R. Zanck
D.O.B: 1 Jan. 1920
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 1942
Unit: 837th Quartermaster Company attached to General Mark Clark’s 5th Army
Commendations: World War II Victory medal, Good Conduct medal
Battles/Campaigns: North Africa, Anzio, Monte Cassino, Po Valley
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, April 9, 2012 and is republished with permission.
Click here to view Zanck’s collection in the Library of Congress.
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I had the pleasure of meting Mr. Zanck in April of 2015 in Venice, FL. What an interesting, genuine, and gracious man! His family is lucky to have him and I wish him an even longer life and good health!
Amazing story and makes me VERY PROUD to have him in this family. I’m glad to know some of the history in my extended family as I’m a grandson of his younger brother Chester, God rest his soul.