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News article—Part I

Forty years later: Reunion with Italian partisans—Local Cortez veteran man shares prison camp experiences

Cortez [Colorado] Journal, circa April 1983

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the first part of a two-part account of the capture, internment in a prison camp, and ultimate escape of Luther Shields in a World War II battle which took him from north Africa to Italy during the height of intensive fighting.)

December 8, 1941: The United States declares war on the Axis countries. Private Luther Shields of Goodman Point had already been through training for the U.S. Army at Fort Bliss, and had written home to his parents, “I don’t think the army is so bad after all.”

On May 19, 1942, Private Shields would again be writing to the folks back home from Northern Ireland, where he and thousands of other American troops were engaged in serious training maneuvers, ostensibly, in preparation for thwarting the German Wehrmacht’s assault on Russia.

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“The Mirage” is one of eight poems by Cpl. D. Nevitt in Robert Dickinson’s Camp 59 journal, “Servigliano Calling.”


The Mirage

T’was in a lonely desert outpost,
Where a sunburnt sentry lay,
Looking o’er towards the Jerries,
Not so very far away.

The flies for ever buzzing,
Converged upon that spot,
And the burning sun above him,
Made those yellow sands quite hot.

For hours he lay there watching,
But he didn’t mind that day.
For he’d just received a letter,
From a thousand miles away.

For thirteen weeks he’d waited,
Waited so patiently,
And now at last it had arrived,
That note from oversea.

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Robert Dickinson at home.

This letter from Robert to his brother Jim and Jim’s wife Olive must have been sent after September 1944, as the breakout from Camp 59 was on September 14, 1943, and Robert writes that he has not been a POW for over a year.

Jim must have been glad to receive the letter, as he had not been in contact with Robert since he left camp.

Eve, who is mentioned, is Olive’s sister. Known in the family as Auntie Eve, she turned 90 in 2008.

Ida was Robert’s girlfriend. It is to Ida that he dedicated his journal, “Servigliano Calling.” Had Robert returned home, he and Ida would likely have married.

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On this set of American Red Cross “Aviator” playing cards Luther Shields recorded the names and addresses of his friends in Camp 59. Most of them are likely from his camp section.

He carried this “address deck” with him when he escaped.

Note that a couple of the cards bear colorful descriptions: “Hill Billy Sheep Hearder” and “Honkey Tonk (Kid).”

There are 55 addresses in all. They are:

James L. Rogers
R.R. #1
Madison, Indiana

(U.S. National Archives on-line POW database indicates Pvt. James L. Rogers, Army Infantry, of Indiana was returned to military control, liberated or repatriated from CC 59 Ascoli Picenzo Italy 43-13.)

Gus Teel
507 S. Richardson
Roswell, New Mex.

(U.S. National Archives on-line POW database indicates Pvt. Guss O. Teel, Army Corps of Engineers, of New Mexico was returned to military control, liberated or repatriated from a POW camp, but no camp name is indicated.)

Paul Wakeland
601 Walnut Street
Dawson Springs, Ky.

(U.S. National Archives on-line POW database indicates Sgt. Paul I. Wakefield, Army Infantry, of Kentucky was returned to military control, liberated or repatriated from CC 59 Ascoli Picenzo Italy 43-1.)

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The last few pages of Robert Dickinson’s journal, “Servigliano Calling,” contain calendars for the years 1941–44. Each of these calendars is meticulously drawn and accurate; the 1944 calendar includes February 29th, as it was a leap year.

On each of the four calendars one date has a heavy outline, February 28—Robert’s sweetheart Ida’s birthday. Robert’s journal entry for February 28, 1944 reads:

“Feb 28th—Ida’s Birthday; Oh for a letter.”

The strikes-throughs marking each passing day begin on Sunday, November 23rd, the day Robert was captured by the Germans. The last strike was through June 6, 1944. But, curiously, Robert continued to record daily events in his journal through September 3, 1944. Why did he decide to stop marking out the days?

His entry for the last struck-though date is:

“Jun 6th—The invasion is on; news of big landings in France!!”