By Staff Sgt. Tomora NanceJanuary 9, 2018
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas-A soft instrumental song played in the background as five soldiers garbed in the Army's WWII Herringbone Twill uniform with combat helmets stood statuesque in front of U.S. Army North's venerated clock tower.
Gradually, the band's music died-down, the crowd grew silent taking their respective seats, and the only sounds that could be heard was the periodic squawking of the flamboyantly colored peacocks.
Seventy-five years after Fifth Army officially activated under the command of Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark on January 5, 1943 at Oujda, French Morocco, Soldiers, family members and civilians gathered Jan. 5 to celebrate the anniversary of Fifth Army inside the historic Quadrangle here for an outdoor ceremony.
The significance of the ceremony is to preserve and maintain the history of the unit while celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Fifth Army, said Jacqueline Davis, director of the Fort Sam Houston museum who worked at the museum since May 1987.
She noted with five campaign streamers earned during WWII and sixty-five Medal of Honor recipients who earned the medal for their heroic actions on and off the battlefield.
The unit was organized to defend North Africa and plan for the invasion of mainland Italy. On September 9, 1943, the unit invaded Italy.
"[Fifth Army] was in continuous combat for over 600 days up the "boot" of Italy to Milan," said Davis. "And, when you think about the distance from Rome to Milan in a plane, it doesn't seem that far; but, it's a mountainous region, and they were moving during cold weather, which makes their campaign ten times harder."
The unit engaged enemy forces in Salerno, Anzio, Rome, Po River Valley and the Apennines, a series of mountain ranges.
One aspect the Fifth Army had to their advantage was their diverse fighting force, said Davis.
Fifth Army was both an ethnically and internationally diverse force that contained units from Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Brazil, South Africa, India, New Zealand, Morocco and Algeria.
These units included Japanese and Chinese-Americans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division, Scottish Highlanders in the British 1st Division, Ghurkas in the 4th Indian Division, Maoris in the 2nd New Zealand Division and Afghanis serving with Indian units.
"[The U.S.] also recruited Italian-Americans who spoke fluent Italian as part of the intelligence force who were sent to work with the partisans," said Davis.
She continued, "Currently, we have a direct descendant of one of the Italian-American Soldiers recruited to serve in the intelligence force."
Andrea Gastaldo, the foreign Policy Advisor to U.S. Army North, is the daughter of Maj. Edward "Eddie" Gastaldo, an Italian-American who fought behind enemy lines as an intelligence officer for Fifth Army headquarters.
"My father specialized in linguistics for the purpose of interrogation," said Gastaldo. "In 1943, as Fifth Army advance to Rome, he moved forward with his group beyond the Allied forces occupied territory to work with the Italian partisans; he was over 100 miles north of Rome before the main element of the U.S. Army seized the area."
The Italian partisans were resistance groups of any gender, age, social stature or political view who opposed the Axis powers regime and helped the Allied forces.
Davis added, "It is important to understand that [Fifth Army] had Italian partisan troops as part of the diverse combat force. When [Fifth Army and other U.S. units] arrived in Italy, they fought alongside of us."
Despite the fact her father never divulged certain information pertaining to the war, Andrea discovered through Davis that her father was dubbed an honorary Knight in the Order of the Crown of Italy.
Maj. Gastaldo left active-duty in 1947. Although her father passed away in 1984, all of the values he instilled in her will always resonate in her heart and mind, said Andrea.
"He was an extremely humble man that I will always admire," said Gastaldo as she smiled proudly admiring her father's many accomplishment. "I'm just proud to be a part of this ceremony because it means so much not only to the unit I work with but to me personally.
In 2004, Fifth Army became U.S. Army North giving the unit a rich, vibrant history that originated during the ongoing battles of WWII.
During the ceremony, Andrea placed the Rome-Arno campaign streamer on the unit's colors. The campaign streamer signified the Fifth Army's capture of Rome in June 1944, which was considered crucial in the Italian Campaign.
"As the world changes, the Army's mission changes; it's great to know that we will always honor the legacy and proud heritage of those who came before us," said Davis in retrospect.