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July 29, 2021

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Off Beat: War was more than guns, gore for a Reedie on a foreign shore

Dusenbery's WWII saga of bronze antiquities and Bronze Star

By , Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter

It takes a special kind of traveler to admire bronze antiquities and earn a Bronze Star within the span of a month.

Harris Dusenbery could survive a panzerfaust blast and enjoy an opera like “Faust” during the same World War II campaign.

(OK, he actually saw “Carmen,” “Madame Butterfly” and “La Traviata”)

Dusenbery, who died Oct. 4 at age 101, served with the 10th Mountain Division as it advanced through some of the toughest terrain in Italy. Dusenbery, who was in an S2 military intelligence unit, wrote about it in “The North Apennines and Beyond with the 10th Mountain Division.”

As The Columbian noted in a January profile, he earned a Bronze Star for meritorious service during the Po Valley Campaign. His column was ambushed and the vehicle in front of his Jeep was hit by a panzerfaust — a German anti-tank rocket. It blew him out of his Jeep, and he took cover by rolling into a roadside ditch.

As the American troops and German soldiers traded fire, he realized that his ditch was on the German side of the battlefield.

The book includes some unexpected aspects of the war in Europe, as the 1936 Reed College grad got to see some of the things he’d learned about as a student. At a museum in Florence, he and a friend saw bronze treasures through slats in their protective crates.

In Rome, they toured the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. At the Capitoline Hill — one of the fabled seven hills of Rome — “We poked our noses into all sorts of old Roman ruins,” he wrote. “We were the only two people in the entire Roman Forum.”

Not much comic relief

In an interview that was part of the January story, Dusenbery said that classes at Reed College played a role in how he spent his free time in Europe.

“I’d read about ancient Greeks and Romans, and the medieval period, and I was interested in architecture and museums,” Dusenbery told the Columbian.

Like many soldiers, Dusenbery did a lot of reading. When his unit was based at a country estate, the GIs checked out the library.

“We had fun trying to read a Latin Bible printed in 1714,” Dusenbery wrote.

Early in his memoir, Dusenbery noted that he’d been reading a translation of Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” but another soldier walked off with it.

“Our S2 unit seems to be specializing in the classics,” he wrote. “Comic books seem to be rare here.”


Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.

Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter