Tank crew members of the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division.
Left to right—Robert A. Newton (Logansport, Indiana), Everett Gregg (California), Lee C. Kaser (Detroit, Michigan), and Philip Caldwell (Tennessee).
Corporal Robert Alvey Newton served as a gunner in the tank corps of the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division. He was captured in North Africa during battle with German forces at Sidi Bou Zid on February 15, 1943.
Of the men in the photo above, Everett Gregg was also captured. Lee Kaser was killed instantly when his tank was hit. Phil Caldwell, who was following well behind in a tank destroyer, retreated when the American forces turned back.
Robert A. Newton’s nephew of Hillsboro, Oregon—also named Robert A. Newton by his father in memory of his beloved brother Robert—told me:
“The tank driver that day was Sgt. Gregg, who was ordinarily the tank commander. But he drove when Captain Winkler was in the command tank. The assistant driver was Al Urbanoski. That was why Phil Caldwell was in a tank destroyer and not in the spearhead of the attack.
“My uncle was burned on the face and hands by the same shell that killed Lee Kaser and blinded Winkler in one eye.
“My uncle and the others were rounded up and taken to Sfax, Tunisia. From there, he and many of the wounded were evacuated to a hospital in Bari, Italy. It was actually a converted convent. A month or two later, he was taken by train up the coast to Camp 59. Everett Gregg was sent to a camp in Germany.”
Nephew Robert Newton wrote an article on the Afrika Corps ambush at Sidi Bou Zid. First published in World War II magazine (2002), it is now available on HistoryNet.com.
At the time of the POW breakout from Camp 59, Robert escaped with Raymond Cox.
Robert continued, “An Italian family protected my uncle and fellow prisoner Martin Majeski for nearly six months, but one morning Germans arrived. Robert and Martin were taken away to the bank of the Fiume (River) Aso and they were shot.
“Raymond was staying about 400 yards from the farmhouse, and he heard the shots.
“Raymond thought the two were captured without warning because the house was close to the road and it was the first one searched. Robert and Martin were in the adjoining barn and the Germans came in from both directions.
“According to one account, the Germans told Robert and Martin they were going to get firewood. They were marshaled into a truck, driven to the river and told to get out. They did so and were shot in the back and kicked into the river.”
Neil Torssell, also in the area, recorded the following about Martin Majeski in his notebook:
605 Lanford Street
(Germans shot him on the Osso River near San Vittoria, Italy.
March 9 or 10, 1944)
In my 2008 interview with Neil Torssell posted to this site, he recalled the discovery and recapture of the two servicemen:
“One morning before we got up, they woke us up and told us to get out of there quick. We looked down the road and just about of quarter of a mile from there was a German convoy and a house on fire. We didn’t question anything—we were gone.
“When we came back a few months later, we were told that there had been two Americans living in that house. This was a German SS troop. What they did was strip the house of everything they could use, set the house on fire. They took the two Americans down to the river bottom, made them dig their own graves, and shot both of them.
“That was probably as close as we had come to being recaptured.”
What happened to the Italian family that had sheltered them?
“Well, they lost their house and all their possessions. They were just a small SS troop, but they were mean SOBs, if you know what I mean.
“We moved back and forth between different places. It was when we came back to this place that I was told about this assassination.”
Robert’s nephew Robert also told me:
“In 1999, I visited that area in Italy and actually found and stayed with the family that sheltered my uncle.
“The Germans stripped the house and burned the furniture. The Italians were beaten. The matriarch of the family was inside and very ill at the time. She died soon after and the Italians intimated that the incident hastened her death. They wanted me to know it was a very sad time for their family, too.
“Neil Torssell is talking about my uncle’s recapture and execution. The only wrong detail is that they were not forced to dig their own graves. The Italians retrieved the bodies under cover of darkness and carried them by ox cart to the local cemetery.
“[Martin Majeski] was the same guy killed with my uncle at the Aso River. His nickname was Matt and he walked with a limp, presumably from being wounded. He was from an artillery unit attached to the 1st Armored Division. The Italians called him Martino.
“I am not sure Neil was necessarily wrong. It’s just that there are several variations of what happened and with time and age some of the stories tend to run together.
“The main conflict in the accounts was whether Robert and Martin were killed by Germans or Italian fascisti. Some of the diehard fascisti also ran around in German uniforms. Santa Vittoria was under fascist control, while nearby Monte San Martino was dominated by the partigiani.
“While the Italians were emphatic that German SS did the deed, many G.I.’s claim it was Settemio Rosholi, a notorious Italian fascist who murdered many Allied POWs. One clue may be that the local fascisti took to wearing German uniforms.
“In the early ’90s, Raymond Cox told me that when he was debriefed by Polish troops, he pleaded with the Poles for the life of the brother of Settemio Rosholi. Settemio Rosholi was a rat who bragged about killing POWs. But Raymond said that Rosholi’s brother was the opposite and helped the escapees.
“My uncle Robert and Martin were buried in the local cemetery in Santa Vittoria and when the American’s graves registration people reached the area months later, Martin and Robert were disinterred and moved to an American cemetery in Southern Italy.
“My uncle’s remains were not brought home to the U.S. until after the war. His childhood friend from Logansport (Joe Kienly) who went into the Army a private and came out a major, did find out some details about what happened to him, and he gave our family a topographic map of where my uncle was killed.
“In researching my uncle’s story, I discovered many valorous stories. All of these guys are worthy of the adage that ‘Uncommon valor was a common virtue.’
“I am very appreciative of the fact that so many of the guys did make it back and could tell us what happened to Robert and Martin. They were all de-briefed and told not to talk about their experiences on the run, because men were still being held captive. Many never did say a word.”