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See Naples and Die: A World War II Memoir of a United States Army Ski Trooper in the Mountains of Italy

See Naples and Die: A World War II Memoir of a United States Army Ski Trooper in the Mountains of Italy

by Robert B. Ellis

In 1943, 18-year-old Robert Ellis joined the elite U.S. Army Ski Troops of the 10th Mountain Division. This division has been called the most elite and publicized American military unit in World War II. While a member of the unit Ellis maintained a detailed battle diary and conducted extensive wartime correspondence.
Upon their arrival in Italy, the U.S. Army


In 1943, 18-year-old Robert Ellis joined the elite U.S. Army Ski Troops of the 10th Mountain Division. This division has been called the most elite and publicized American military unit in World War II. While a member of the unit Ellis maintained a detailed battle diary and conducted extensive wartime correspondence.
Upon their arrival in Italy, the U.S. Army Ski Troops played a major role in the defeat of the Germans in Italy. They also faced some of the bloodiest combat of the war; the 10th Mountain Division suffered the heaviest casualties relative to time-in-combat of any U.S. division in the Italian campaign. While the author details the exceptional service of the unit, he also explores the brutal reality of infantry service and reveals how the battles were falsely represented by the media.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“honest, graphic and often funny...numerous illustrations and maps...recommended without qualification”—Library Journal; “unflinching look at front-line action”—Stone & Stone Second World War Books; “riveting...unique...well worth reading”—Military Review; “one of the most honest attempts at explaining what it was like to fight in World War II that I’ve encountered...exceptionally fine writing”—War, Literature & the Arts; “unique...provides an understanding of the terrain and nature of combat...Ellis tells his story honestly and directly...chronicles the tragic and grisly nature of World War II”—Marine Corps Gazette.
Marine Corps Gazette
"What makes the memoir unique is that it is told mostly in the words of the young Ellis as he experienced it, recaptured in the hundreds of letters he wrote his family during his service.... Bob Dole ... also served in the 85th Regiment of the 10th Division-but a different battalion from Ellis. Ellis' book, however, provides an understanding of the terrain and nature of combat where Dole was wounded and nearly died.

Ellis tells his story honestly and directly, finding fault where he saw it-including with himself. He is no fan of war and the military way of life, neither as a young man, nor today. He chronicles the tragic and grisly nature of World War II as he experienced it, and in the process conveys a deep affection for his comrades in arms and the remarkable 10th Mountain Division." (August 1998.)

Skiing Heritage
This account of World War II combat with the 10th Mountain is told by retired CIA analyst Robert Ellis, a machine gunner in "the skiers' division" during the three months it saw action in Italy in the winter of 1945. . . . Dead men tell no tales and, in many tales by those of the 10th who came back, happy to survive, the reality of combat has been quickly passed over. Ellis provides a long overdue correction..

The book has some of the better descriptions of combat to come out of World War II and despite the fact that we know the outcome there is surprising suspense to the narrative, a tribute to Ellis' writing and the freshness and frankness of his material." (Fall/Winter 1996-97.)

James H. Meredith
During the past year and a half, I've been developing a casebook about the literature of World War II. . . . In my readings, I discovered that there are particularly a great many quality memoirs on World War II, but only a handful of truly memorable ones: among those, . . . Robert B. Ellis' See Naples and Die. Besides the exceptionally fine writing and demonstrated literacy of the author, one especially noteworthy feature of this memoir are the letters written to and from home. Through these letters, a sense of Ellis' life and family shows through, and we are again and again reminded that combatants do not alone suffer in war: loved ones back home suffer as well.

This book is not only for readers and scholars interested in World War II or twentieth-century combat, but also for those drawn to memoir and autobiography as well." (War, Literature, and the Arts, Spring/Summer 1998)

Library Journal
During a period of 114 days of combat, from January 8 to May 12, 1945, the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain lost 992 men killed in action and 4,154 wounded. Ellis's memoir, based on his letters to family members and a diary he kept, covers primarily the time from his outfit's departure for Italy to VE Day. Ellis bolsters his main sources with accounts of military historians, a smattering of records and personal correspondence offered by comrades-in-arms, and other sources. The author frames his honest, graphic, and often funny wartime narrative within a broader autobiographical context. He persuades the reader of the strategic value of his unit's role in tying down German forces while the Allies pushed through western Europe; at the same time, his readers are saddened by the loss of so many Allied troops in a war already won. Although he documents his bonds of comradeship with fellow soldiers on virtually every page, he also makes clear his distaste for military regulations. Numerous illustrations and maps assist the reader. Recommended without qualification.John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens
Assembles, analyzes, and interprets an impressive array of primary documents from post-Roman Britain to argue that the legendary hero was a historical person who became king of Britain as Ambrosius Aurelianus at age 15, fought Saxons on the continent as Riothamus, and died at the battle of Camlann. Also integrates the various records to construct chronologies both of events and of accounts. The material and commentary could be very useful to scholars of the period even if they are not convinced by the argument. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Stone & Stone Second World War Books
unflinching look at front-line action
Military Review
riveting...unique...well worth reading

Product Details

McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.52(d)

Read an Excerpt

[Exchange of letters with parents after first battle, beginning with a letter from my mother to other family members.]

"Shreve, Ohio
March 19th, 1945

Dear Family,
This weekend was one of those which we will long remember. We had waited and waited for fresh word from Robert and knew the reason for the sudden and complete blackout of letters from him--that he was unable to write for when he is able he writes two to three letters to us a week. We were literally on our knees in our spirits and flesh while we waited, meanwhile keeping track of him daily through the radio, New York Times and P.M. And the news did not much reassure us of the terrific feats of endurance and daring to take those mountain peaks. Finally Margaret got a letter and telephoned its contents to us. Then next morning ours of the same date as hers reached us. I want to share it with you all. Here it is:

Campo Tizzoro, Italy
February 26, 1945

Dear Mother and Dad,
I've just been into the valley of the shadow and out again. God is the only one who brought me back for death was all around. Read your newspapers for the Italian front news from the 19th on and you'll see what I've been through. I'll enclose some Stars and Stripes clippings. For five days and nights I was under constant fire in the attack. Some day I'll tell you the story fully. Once I passed Jud in the night and he said, 'Boy am I glad to see you--in fact I'm glad to be able to say that.'

Little did I dream what I was walking into. How I lived I'll never know--my lieutenant, hard as nails and cool saved my life for I just followed him through what we call Bloody Ridge. The Germans were really tough to get out, but the 88mm artillery was something indescribable. My last night there I had shrapnel [censored for nearly a line], snow, dirt, and everything else, but none penetrated. Prout is OK and the last I heard Jud is too. My platoon aided in capturing 14 Germans.

Once I thought the end had really come. I thought of you all and got ready to die. I had my Bible in my hand and read in Paul's letter to the Galatians. I prayed and hoped and God answered.

We are now in the rest camp, and everyone is treating us like kings and heroes, which is so true of many of the men. The bravest men I have ever seen.

The Red Cross girls are here and we get wonderful food--hot coffee, doughnuts, etc. I feel fine, so try not to worry too much. Pray for me and my comrades, and that the war may end. No one can possibly imagine the sacrifice these men are making. I dedicate the rest of my life to the effort of stopping war. Enough on that.

I received almost 30 letters when I returned to this rest camp. They certainly were wonderful. I love you all, and hope the end of this comes soon.

Love to all--Robert

[Mother's letter continues]

Wilder and I read this with eyes and hearts running over. The prayer that I keep on my lips all the time is this: 'Cover his defenseless head with the shadow of Thy Wing.' That helps keep me steady. I pray night and day and I am sure it is helping him and his comrades and us too. It is all that we can now do and our daily letters.

I have sent him some food lately as part of the time he is starved. Last week I canned fried chicken and pressure cooked it and also put in nuts and raisins Persian style for him. Another box I sent was cookies full of nuts, raisins and figs and also a can of pineapple. This week I am going to send him a jar of his beloved pears.

If his life may only be spared to do constructive work now, for which he is so eager to fit himself, we shall be so very thankful. If he lives, his life will always seem more precious to him, and peace and the 'mere joy of living' will have taken on new value. His religious life will have been strengthened and deepened. But if he does not live, we will have the memory of a beautiful life and one which trusted in God in life or death and was ready, and that to us is a wonderful comfort. He did not find God first in a fox hole, but with his mother and father at home, and for that we are glad too.

I am sure you will write to him and give him courage. He won the Combat Infantryman's Badge and he has been made a Sergeant. His address is Sergeant Robert B. Ellis, ASNO 16169350, Company F, APO 345, C/O Postmaster, New York City, N. Y.

Gen. Hays' commendations to them were wonderful."

What People are Saying About This

Paul Fussell
As you know, the finest tribute one can pay an author is to testify that his book has kept one up all night. That's true of me and See Naples and Die. I liked especially the letters home -- literate, funny, moving. From a fellow dogface, here are congratulations to you on being alive. We are both bloody lucky.
David Guterson
I'm writing simply to tell you how much I admire and respect your fine World War II memoir, See Naples and Die. In the course of research for my various fictions I have read a substantial number of war memoirs, many of which ring false in certain ways, but yours seems to me invariably honest, thoughtful, vivid and exacting, and as testimony to the psychological and emotional quality of the war experience it has few equals. It is furthermore an exceedingly informative book, quite specific in its rendering of combat, full of useful and telling details and absorbing, too, as narrative. My thanks to you for writing such a book and for providing me and other readers with an eloquent and truthful account of the grim reality of war.

Meet the Author

The late Robert B. Ellis, was a retired CIA officer and lived in San Francisco, California.

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