A friend of mine, who was involved with the Disabled American Veterans organization, called one day and said he wanted to introduce me to someone. He knew that I was interested in interviewing any American Veterans to help preserve their war experience and tell their story. The man's name was Richard Reno and he served with the 36th Infantry Division in World War II. The men of the 36th were respectfully known as T-Patchers.
We met at Caroline’s Cafe, in Midlothian, where my friend introduced me to Richard. I had not been told that he had lost both his legs due to combat action in WWII. My friend said Richard had an incredible story about how he came to loose his legs. He had mentioned Richard to me several months early and told me that he considered this man one of the bravest men he had ever known. After listening to some of his story, It was evident from my first meeting, in 2003, Richard Reno was the real deal!
Knowing that I could repair computers, Reno later called me up and asked me to come to his house to fix his computer. I was honored to do so. I spent the whole afternoon with this affable man talking about the events of World War II, his experiences, and how he came to loose his legs. He pretty much has been wheelchair bound for all of his life after WWII. He feely talked about all his experiences, the bad and the good. He said for years he was not able to speak of these things but time has a way taking the edge off.
Reno was a member of the famed 36th Infantry Division, Company K, 143rd Infantry - the "T Patchers." The 36th landed in North Africa after most of the conflict there was put to rest. The Division then moved on to Sicily before eventually ending up in Italy in 1943 with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. This rough and tumble group of mostly Texans, alongside the 442 Japanese-American Infantry Division, fought their way across Italy in some of the most bloody battles of WWII.
At Altavilla, the 36th was engaged in bitter fighting. Reno was severely wounded by mortar and machine gun fire while on a patrol. Two soldiers from this patrol carried him all the way back to the forward battalion aid station where his wounds were tended. Before he could be sent back to the rear to the hospital, the Germans launched a major counter attack and his regiment was forced to pull back to new positions. The fighting was extremely intense, with 88 mm shells falling all around the aid station. Reno was sure one of those shells was going to land right on top of him. "When the shelling stopped, that was one of the happiest days of his life," he said.
Reno's regiment was ordered to pull out of their position and fall back to regroup; however, he was so badly wounded the doctors told him they feared he would not survive being moved. They told him his best chance for survival might be with the Germans. The Germans had been known to show mercy for some wounded Americans. But, at the same time, they had also been known to outright murder any wounded Americans they happened upon. It was a crap shoot at best!
As the U.S. soldiers were pulling out, two of the men, upon seeing that his wounds were so grave, came to him and asked him if he would like for them to shoot him instead of him being captured by the Germans. "I thanked the men and told them I was willing to take my chances with the Germans," Richard calmly said.
Shortly afterward, the German infantry overran the aid station where he lay. The first German entering the tent raised his machine gun to shoot Reno. Upon seeing that his wounds were severe, he yelled for a German corpsman. The corpsman rushed in and promptly treated him. Reno was then transported to the rear of the German lines and then to a German hospital. "God surely had his hand on me while all this was happening! I was really surprised at how gently the Germans took care of me," said Reno.
After his arrival at the German hospital, he was rushed into surgery, where one of his legs was removed. His other leg was badly damaged but was bandaged up and not removed. Reno spent the rest of the war as a prisoner in a German hospital but was eventually liberated after the hospital was captured by the United States Army. For years afterward Reno's remaining damaged leg caused him constant pain. Finally, no longer able to tolerate the pain, he had the leg removed.
Reno was a very modest and unassuming man and was one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. He never once boasted about all his WWII decorations and he had a chest full! He was probably one of the most decorated World War II servicemen in this area. I later learned that Reno was wounded while trying to protect and save several of his buddies. For his bravery while on this patrol and for his wounds, he was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Purple Heart and other citations.
Richard Reno died on August 6, 2005, in Midlothian, Texas at the age of 90. He was a member of the Greatest Generation and indeed a true American hero.
RENO, , RICHARD WOODROW SR. 90 of Midlothian, Texas. Born in Forney, Texas on April 14, 1915 and raised in Pecan Gap, Texas. Passed away on August 6, 2005. He was the youngest of eleven and became a Christian at the age of 12 years old. He was a member of Texas 36th Division, Company K, 143rd Inf. He participated in the invasion of Salerno, Italy. He was severely wounded at the Battle of Altavilla. Recipient of the Silver Star, Bronze Star with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Purple Heart and other citations.
The Battle of Atlvilla from the 36th Infantry Division Unit history