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88th Infantry Division,
Occupation Duty Ends
Men Of OP 5 Stop Jugoslav City Entry
Cool Thinking, Talking Avoid Major Incident
As Jugoslavs Attempt To Enter Trieste
The Blue Devil, Vol 3, No 13, Friday September 19, 1947 - Quick thinking and calm action on the part of an American officer, supported by two other officers and five enlisted men prevented a major incident at OP 5, situated near the town of Prosecco, at approximately 0115 hours on Tuesday, 16 September, when a column of Jugoslav troops attempted to enter the Free Territory of Trieste through that outpost.
When the Jugoslav officers in charge of the column informed Lt. William Ochs, of Chattanooga, Tenn., commanding the outpost, that they intended to enter the newly constituted Free Territory, the lieutenant sent for Lt. Col. Robert M. Booth, CO of the 1st Bn., 351st Inf., and kept the Jugoslavs on the other side of his outpost.
Lt. Och's story follows:
"At approximately 0115 hours a convoy of trucks loaded with Jugoslav soldiers came up the road toward our outpost and demanded entry into the Free Teritory [sic], but we refused to let them pass. A well dressed civilian, who was the interpreter, and a captain and his staff approached right down the road in an American jeep. They left the lights in the jeep burning and as the officer approached us, two columns of fully equipped soldiers, one on either side of the road and about 15 to 20 yards to the rear approached with them.
"The civilian interpreter with them asked for an American officer and I told him I was an American officer, that he could say what he had to say to me. Pfc Edward Janes of Joliet, Ill., an interpreter, and myself were the only two Americans at the barrier conversing with the Jugoslavs.
"The Jugoslav captain informed me that he desired entry into Trieste because the Italian Peace Treaty had been ratified and so it was free territory. He said that the [sic] had orders to enter the Trieste Free Territory and that he must execute his orders.
"I explained to him that this territory, which we occupy, was the United States occupation zone of the Free Territory. The instructions I had received were that no Jugoslav troops could enter Trieste other than through the area that was formerly Jugoslavia, that they could not enter through the newly acquired territory.
"Then the Jugoslav captain sent a messenger back and a lieutenant colonel arrived at the barrier and said, 'My orders state that I must go through and we will go through if we have to use force.'
"I told the colonel that I would refer the information to higher headquarters and also asked for his rank so that an American officer or equivalent rank could be summoned to the scene.
"The Jugoslav officer said that we had just fifteen minutes and after that he would have to act to carry out his orders.
"I sent for Colonel Booth. It was very difficult to get through on the telephone, so I kept sending Private Janes back to the OP telephone to try to reach Colonel Booth. Finally we got through and it was reported that the colonel was on his way out to the OP.
"About thirteen minutes had passed and sufficient time hadn't been allowed for Colonel Booth to come to our outpost and as each minute passed the situation became more tense. All the while the Jugoslav colonel was nervously smoking cigarettes and continually checking his watch and becoming more impatient every minute.
"Time had almost run out when Maj. Henry W. Urrutia, 1st Battalion Executive Officer, came and started discussing the situation. He completely reviewed the treaty and instructions for both sides. The discussion continued for several minures and Major Urrutia requested that they wait until Colonel Booth arrived, but the Jugoslavs insisted that they must enter Trieste.
"Shortly after, Colonel Booth was located and came immediately to OP 5. I was never happier to see anyone in my life. My legs were really shaking. The discussion continued and the Jugoslav colonel asked Colonel Booth if he knew the Peace Treaty. Colonel Booth replied, 'Naturally, and you will not enter.'
"Other representatives (American) arrived: Major 'Mike' Gussie, 351st Infantry S-2, an interpreter, and also the chaplain and the argument continued. The Jugoslav officer was stubborn and maintained that he would carry out his original intentions.
"In the meantime, Capt. Joseph P. Lydon, "B" Company CO alerted his entire company, even the cooks. Captain Lydon stated, 'We were determined that Baker Company would be prepared fo any eventuality'. At this time the Jugoslav officer said he had 2,000 troops, but all I could see was about one full platoons.
"Two patrols were sent out to either side of the OP to prevent infiltration by the Jugoslav troops. They were dispersed in squad column formation.
"Finally the Jugoslavs agreed to wait until a liaison officer could contact them and discuss the matter more fully. The Jugoslav officer stipulated that he would withdraw his troops two kilometers to the rear.
The officers and enlisted men at OP 5, when the Jugoslav first arrived were Lieutenant Lenhart, Lieutenant Soloman, who had just been relieved by Lieutenant Ochs, Private Janes, Pvt. Milvin Celmer, of Chicago, Ill., Pfc. Charles Uphold, of Zanesville, Ill., Pvt. Norman Levine, of Brooklyn, N. Y., and Pfc. Joseph Kirby, of Silver Springs, Md.
This issue of the 88th Infantry Division newspaper came from the personal files of Edward Ferry, then a PFC in the TRUST Military Police Platoon, a friend now deceased.
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