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Miracle in the Mud © 2003; Josprel (Joseph Perrello)
There were times during his long years of combat duty in W.W. II that the young American G.I. thought he never would return home. Yet, there was that constant presence, warning him of dangers in a voice that only he could hear. At first, he thought that he might have suffered shellshock or some other form of aberration, due to his many months of constant combat. He therefore attempted to ignore the voice; but it persisted, demanding instant obedience from the infantryman. He finally yielded to the demands of the presence, resulting in the saving of his life of his buddies at least once, and the saving of his own life some three time. The following is the amazing story of God's hovering, protective presence over the young G.I..
(Psalm 91: The Soldiers' Psalm)
The retired aerospace engineering/technician was totally surrendered to the Lord. But for this fact, I would have found his war stories incredible. As he recounted them to me, I understood his decades of silence on the subject; he assumed no one would believe him.
I listened in awe as Vito spoke. During World War Two, he had been one of twenty- seven young men from his church called into the armed forces. The church devoted one night each week to special prayer for the protection and safe return of its boys.
Like most of the church's servicemen, Vito endured years of intense fighting. His twenty-six months of combat were served in Europe with the Thirty-fourth Infantry Division. He fought at Anzio and Cassino. At Cassino, his battalion suffered extreme casualties. From among some 1000 troops, he was one of only one hundred and ninety-eight men not killed or wounded.
Vito told of the unseen protector who overshadowed him throughout his war years, rescuing him, at least three times, from certain death. At Anzio, this protector saved his entire squad. During a battle on the beachhead, the squad had taken refuge in an abandoned house. Vito heard a voice ordering him to get his buddies out of their room because German artillery was targeting that side of the house. Moreover, the voice instructed him to leave the house last of all.
No one else heard the voice, and the command was repeated three times before Vito, himself, believed what he was hearing. Finally, he pushed his friends from the room, insisting that a shell was going to hit it. His buddies thought he had lost his mind. Then, seconds after Vito followed his buddies across the threshold, a shell crashed through the wall. It exploded exactly where the soldiers had been resting.
Vito's unseen companion also saved him at Cassino. Incessant strafing by German planes had rendered Allied supply routes useless. Severed from their support units, American troops on the lines were in urgent need of ammunition. The Americans learned of a trail that passed over Cassino's mountains. Narrow and steep, it was bordered by a deep yawning chasm and impassable to motorized vehicles. Packing supplies - some nine miles over this trail - by mule trains, was the only option open for providing supplies to the Americans troops. And so, the events leading to Vito's Cassino adventure were set in motion.
The Italian partisans who handled the mules used for the missions, required an American liaison who spoke their language. Unaware that various regions of Italy spoke widely divergent dialects, Vito's commanding officer asked for a G. I. who spoke Italian. Twenty-year-old Vito volunteered his New York version of the Sicilian dialect and was assigned to the muleskinners.
Vito's interpretative abilities greatly amused the partisans, who frequently teased him that what he spoke didn't begin to relate to Italian. Nonetheless, a workable communication was established and, each evening, he and the muleskinners loaded the mules at the ammunition dumps. Then, trekking through the mountains at night to avoid being strafed by enemy planes, they delivered the supplies to the troops on the line, returning to their bivouac area during daylight.
The night crossings were extremely hazardous. A simple misstep could send one plunging over the precipice into emptiness. Unpredictable mountain storms were always imminent. Combined with the darkness, they were dreaded as harbingers of sure disaster. Yet, remarkably, Vito and the partisans never were injured during the crossings.
Time dulled the details of most of Vito's mountain missions, yet one remains indelibly imprinted in his memory; a crossing from which he never would have returned, had it not been for his invisible protector. On this mission, after the munitions had been unloaded, the Germans began pounding the American perimeter with heavy artillery. In the confusion of exploding shells, the muleskinners scattered for their lives, leaving Vito and his mule to return through the mountains without them.
Wending up the path, he discovered that torrential rains had deluged the mountains. Treacherous when dry, Cassino's peaks were lethal when drenched. Mud from the slopes above had oozed across the path into the canyon below. Shrouded in muck, the path was a meandering bog.
Leading his mule, Vito proceeded cautiously. Navigating the path was a struggle. He was glad the leather thongs of his snopaks were firmly laced. The heavy boots provided dryness to slightly above his calves. He appreciated their snug warmth, but the sucking mire made lifting them an effort.
As he battled the mud, several times the G.I. considered straddling the mule; it seemed sure-footed enough. Still, Vito could not bring himself to trust the animal. He felt safer on foot. Pulling against the muck, he inched his way up the mountain. He was almost at the crest when he encountered the obstacle he afterward dubbed, "the slit."
The slit was formed when rainwater, cascading from the slopes above, washed a section of the path into a bowl-like hollow projecting from the mountainside. Several hundred feet in circumference and at least fifty feet deep, the hollow always had been empty during Vito's previous crossings. Now it was a quagmire brimming with mud endowed with the properties of quicksand. Vito knew of no way around the slit. He thought of using the mule to vault across, and then decided against it.
"One wrong step by the mule and I'll end up in the mud," he brooded, "No one would ever know what happened to me."
So Vito determined to jump across the slit - alone. A hurdle of some five feet was required. With a maximum effort, he leaped and made it; he reached the other side! Then, skidding on the mud, Vito lost his balance and plunged backward into the hollow.
At first, after falling backward into the hollow, Vito found himself in the ankle- deep mud along the rim. However, vainly attempting to gain a perch for his feet, he felt himself being drawn toward the center, where the mud seemed bottomless. To his horror, he gradually was sinking deeper. Casting about frantically, he saw a bush at the rim of the hollow. Unearthed by the collapse of the path, it was almost completely uprooted. Its tenuous claim to the soil made it seem poised for a plunge into the mud. One of its branches, as slender as a man's smallest finger, stretched to within Vito's reach. He clutched it desperately; yet seeing the roots almost fully exposed made him reluctant to pull on his precarious lifeline.
He feared his full weight would extract the bush from its perch, leaving him without contact to solid ground. His caution proved futile. Inexorably, the smothering mud climbed his body until it reached his belly. Vito knew it was only a matter of time before the hollow swallowed him completely, making him another missing battle casualty. He was beyond human help. Only God could save him.
So Vito prayed. And how he prayed! Not in a whisper, nor with embarrassment; he was too desperate for these. Time permitted no worries that God wouldn't hear and answer; it afforded no concern regarding which format to use. Sinking fast toward eternity, Vito unabashedly screamed to God for rescue.
"God! Get me out of here; no one else can get me out! If I sink here, I'll be gone forever; my family will never know what happened to me! Lord! Don't let me die in here! Lord! Help me! Take care of me!"
The earnestness of that prayer, so freighted with fear, cannot be doubted. God heard Vito's cry. Instantly, an unseen presence ordered, "Pull on the branch!" It spoke audibly! Vito knew God had heard him, but he could not bring himself to pull on the branch.
"But, Lord, the whole bush will come out! I won't have anything to hold on to!" By now, he was down to his armpits in mud and sinking deeper. Horrified, he continued to scream, "Lord, get me out of here!"
"Pull on that branch!" commanded the presence.
"But the roots are coming out. If I pull harder the whole bush will come out! I'll be lost!"
But the presence remained adamant. "Pull on the branch!"
Vito finally yielded. "O. K. Lord. I'm doing what you said; here goes." With those words, he trusted his full weight to the line. Forcefully, he pulled to counteract the tenacious grip of the mud. So powerful was the suction that the mire swallowed one of Vito's snopaks. It was as though the mountain demanded a token for releasing its victim. Ironically, after climbing to the correct side of the trail, Vito found the mule had made the leap successfully. Together, they returned to their bivouac area.
Vito maintained that, without God's intervention, his body still would be in Cassino's mountains.
"When your up to your armpits in mud, you’re on your way down," he remarked, "My snopaks was left deep in the mud; that's a tremendous amount of pressure. "When I was ordered to pull, I could see the roots coming out. I should have obeyed the first time. Sometimes God's way is hard, but its the only way." Vito credited the prayers of his church for the safe return of all its servicemen. God answered by overshadowing them with His protection. Not one of the church’s twenty-seven servicemen suffered a serious injury.
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Last modified: 08-05-2007
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