“Powder River! Let ’er Buck!”
The Powder River is just one of many small streams in Montana, but a lot of Italians and Germans know it well from the war whoop of the 91st Division, first Division to reach the Amo River in Italy, and the outfit that smashed the Gothic Line, took Leghorn, and ended up its wartime travels by making a junction with Marshal Tito’s Yugoslav forces in Trieste.
The men who wear the Evergreen on their shoulders—symbol of the Far West whence the 91st’s personnel came in World War I, and where the Division trained for both wars—inherited their battle cry from a bunch of Montanans who used it in 1918 to answer a sergeant who wanted to know where they hailed from.
The Powder River began to course up through Italy after the Division had several weeks of realistic training in French Morocco. On June 3, 1944, just one day before the capture of Rome, the Evergreen was first carried into action by the 361st Regimental Combat Team, a few miles south of the Italian capital. The whole Division first swung into battle on July 12, near Chianni, as the Fifth Army began its march on the Amo River. Germans entrenched in prepared positions looked down from the mountains on the advancing 91st, but by July 18 the Division had fought its way through Terriciola, Bagui, Capanneli, Pensacco, and other towns, and had reached the river.
Meanwhile, the 363d Regimental Combat Team, detached from the Division, had swung toward die key port of Leghorn, at the gates of which the Fifth Army had been battering for nearly four weeks. In a surprise thrust, the Powder River men knifed into the city and took it on the 18th. Only two days later elements of the same regiment had advanced to the outskirts of Pisa, and another important objective was about to fall.
In September the Allies in Italy ran into the Germans’ Gothic Line, the toughest defensive positions in the Mediterranean. Pillboxes ringed with minefields and wire studded the country-side, and fanatical Nazis fought from within them. Each pillbox had to be knocked out individually, often at hand-grenade range. The peak of Monticelli in particular stood in the way of the 91st, but the Powder River men took the peak and smashed through the Gothic Line in ten days, as riflemen stormed into fortifications so strong 105-millimeter howitzers couldn’t breach them. When the 91st took Futa Pass, the Gothic Line became just another line on a tactical map.
Pursuing the enemy from the Arno to Loiano, the 91st was next stopped by the Caesar Line. In October, near Liverguano, the Division fought its bloodiest battle along a rocky cliff almost perpendicular in spots. Flanked on both sides by towering mountains, Doughboys had to sling their weapons and climb with both hands to get at the enemy. That barrier fell on October 13, and then the Division ran into Mt. Adone, a Gibraltar-like obstacle protecting the approaches to Bologna. For six months the 91st fought under its deadly heights, until April 15, 1945, when the Fifth Army launched the attack that spilled out into the Po Valley. The 91st swung over to the Adriatic coast and supported the drive northward of the British Eighth Army. As the Germans in Italy surrendered, the Powder River men were swarming into Trieste.
From Fighting Divisions, Kahn & McLemore, Infantry Journal Press, 1945-1946.
There are 7 soldiers of the 91st Infantry Division World War II still listed as missing in action.
|Sergeant Daniel T. Celenica 361st Infantry Regiment 11/18/1944|
|Private First Class John E. Coelho 361st Infantry Regiment 10/12/1944|
|Private First Class Rito Mata 361st Infantry Regiment 10/11/1945|
|Sergeant Hugh L. Parker 362nd Infantry Regiment 09/17/1945|
|Private First Class Sherman S. Salsbury 361st Infantry Regiment 10/18/1944|
|Private First Class Louis D. Scalise 361st Infantry Regiment 10/10/1944|
|Private Paul E. Segui 361st Infantry Regiment 06/26/1945|
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