Near me, in a shallow, rocky foxhole, sat Maj. Bill Hutchinson, shouting corrections by phone to his 4.2 mortar batteries near Venafro. He cautioned me sharply against exposing myself in my movements across the ridge.
"We're within machine-gun range of Mount Corno," he said.
One of the group of men scattered over the ridge top was Capt. Shunstrom, the same wild man who had operated the mobile artillery so effectively with the Rangers back at Chiunzi Pass. Now he was fiddling with a 6o-mm. mortar tube, preparing to add a few shells to the torrent of explosives falling oil the German positions atop Mount Corno. "Here's the way to shoot one of these things," he announced; He braced the base-end of the tube against the ground and gave a demonstration firing the powerful field weapon as if it were a pistol or rifle.
Usually, the 6o-mm. mortar tube, which throws a projectile about two and a half inches in diameter and nearly a foot long, is attached to a heavy base plate when it is set up for firing, with a bipod supporting the tube at the proper angle. A mortar man drops the projectile down the mouth of the barrel and steps back to keep clear of the shell as it speeds from the muzzle. But Shunstrom had his own system. He wrapped the bare tube, without stand or bipod, in an old glove-which would insulate the heat of the barrel-seized the tube with his left hand, aimed it approximately, and dropped the mortar shell down the mouth with his right hand.
His marksmanship was surprisingly accurate. The first burst sprang up less than fifty feet from the top of the white rock at the peak of Mount Corno, and the second blew up on the rock itself. Shunstrom fired ten or eleven shells, three of them landing on the stone, and one close to the cave where the Germans must have been dug in. Shunstrom gave a grunt of satisfaction.
I watched the fireworks: the firing of the heavy mortars which were giving the Germans hell on the far slope of Corno and had set fire to some of the trees there; Shunstrom's wildcat marksmanship with his mortar; the slender plume of smoke raised by a German hand grenade near the top of Corno. Finally, I saw a great explosion blossoming from the white rock itself-perhaps the detonation of the bangalore torpedoes, or a charge of dynamite. Maj. Hutchinson said, "Great fun, as long as we're dishing it out and not taking it."