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Victory toast at Hitler's expense

Penn Hills vet recalls when he, two others were first Gis to enter wine cellar at Hitler's mountaintop hideaway.

Wednesday, November 11, 1998

By Jean Bryant, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

There they sat the morning of May 5, 1945, drinking the finest champagne in all of Europe -- the spoils of their victory.

  Penn Hills resident Isadore L. Valenti, 84, holds a photo of himself taken in 1944 that will appear in his book "Combat Medic." (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

Sgt. Isadore L. Valenti, a combat medic from Cadogan, Armstrong County, Capt. Frank Syladek and 1st Lt. Douglas Dickey, a chaplain, were toasting the end of World War II in Europe in the mountaintop hideaway of Adolf Hitler in Berchtesgaden, a village in the Bavarian Alps.

These soldiers of the U.S. Army's Seventh Infantry Regiment, Third Infantry Division, were the first to enter Hitler's wine cellar in the villa, captured after they engaged in a surprise attack against 2,000 German SS troops encamped at Berchtesgaden.

"On May 4, we came in from two different directions and captured the whole German garrison," recalls Valenti, who now lives in Penn Hills.

Later, in an emotional ceremony, the Stars and Stripes was raised over Hitler's estate.

This angered the French Armored Division, which had been ordered to take Berchtesgaden by the Allied High Command.

"But we didn't know it, and the French damn near started a war with us!" exclaims Valenti.

The exploits of the men of the Third Infantry Division are chronicled in Valenti's book, "Combat Medic," which was released today, Veterans Day.

Published by Word Association Publishers in Tarentum, the 300-page book sells for $19.95 and can be found at local book stores. Word Association also will take orders at (800) 827-7903.

Some 50 photographs accompany the detailed narration, including those of a handsome young Valenti on the grounds outside Hitler's wine cellar. Other photos include those of the hanging corpses of slain Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci.

Publisher Tom Costello says the book is interesting and Valenti presents his story well.

"It's a true story and I think it has appeal," says Costello. "There's a WWII following out there."

Lt. Col. Glenn Rathbun of Boise, Idaho, who served with Valenti, has seen some of the "Combat Medic" manuscript.

"He (Valenti) has done an excellent job telling the story," says Rathbun, who was wounded in the eyes by shrapnel from German fire on Dec. 4, 1944.

Another for whom Valenti's book has meaning is retired Maj. Gen. Lloyd B. Ramsey.

"The book will bring back memories to a lot of us old soldiers," says Ramsey. "He (Valenti) was the first one who met me at the aid station after I was hit with pieces of metal from a concussion grenade in France."

Valenti, 84, a former principal in the Armstrong County School District, retired in 1984 as a teacher at Penn Hills High School.

"Combat Medic" chronicles Valenti's Army career from the Nov. 9, 1942, invasion of North Africa, when he served with the 51st Medical Battalion, through the July 10, 1943, invasion of Sicily, to the end of the war.

"When we hit southern Italy, we went north and finally reached Naples. We were resisted all the way up the boot," recalls Valenti.

In early May 1944, Valenti was transferred to the Third Infantry Division in time for the Anzio breakout. On June 4, 1944, the Third Infantry captured Rome and occupied it for 10 days. The division then returned to Naples and prepared to take part in the invasion of Southern France, which occurred Aug. 15, 1944.

Seven months later, the division crossed the Seigfried Line into Germany.

"On May 2, 1945, we captured Salzburg, Austria," says Valenti. "That was the end of war for us. No more combat zones."

It was that night that patrols reported to the Third Division Commander, Maj. John W. "Iron Mike" O'Daniel, that they'd discovered the bridge that led to approaches to Berchtesgaden.

On May 12, heading for Marseilles to sail to New York and home, Valenti recalls he "went through one bombed-out city after another."

Valenti says he'd been offered a promotion to sign up for another tour of duty.

But he turned down the offer.

"I'd had enough," Valenti says.

Valenti will appear at a book-signing from 5-7 p.m. Friday at Bookworks in Fox Chapel Plaza on Freeport Road.

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