A retired Red Bluff veterinarian gives a battlefield view of World War II in his intimate book
Residents of Tehama County know Andy Giambroni as a veterinarian and a family man, but his self-published book, Odor of War, shows another side of him.
During World War II, Giambroni served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army infantry. Fifty years later, he went back to Europe to see the places where he and his comrades had fought the German army. He took along his wife Bev, their two sons and their daughter-in-law, and he told them stories of the battles he fought, the people he knew, and the conditions he survived. When they came back to Red Bluff, Giambroni’s family urged him to write the stories down.
The result is Odor of War. While some books and movies highlight the good-versus-evil aspect of World War II, contrasting the horrors of Nazi death camps with clean-shaven, God-fearing American boys, Giambroni makes no attempt to gloss over his experiences and stress their noble goal. In the blunt, unadorned language of a soldier, not a writer, he fills the book with his memories and the conclusion that war, as the book’s title says, stinks.
Giambroni remembers the grizzly details of everyday life for his company, which fought in Europe in 1944 and 1945 during the harshest winter in 50 years. In the Belgian town of Mageret, he and another soldier “took turns taking off our boots and rubbing each other’s feet” to ward off frostbite between battles. “It was really cold and I knew the enemy was just as tired, cold, and hungry as we were. Who thought up this B.S. called war anyway?”
Although the sub-zero temperatures were brutal, that wasn’t all Giambroni and his companions had to put up with. There were illnesses and injuries—Giambroni himself was hospitalized for both the flu and a battle wound at different points during his service—and other hardships. He writes of having almost constant diarrhea because of his diet, being hungry all the time, and sleeping in piles of manure to try to insulate himself against the weather.
Cleanliness was a luxury Giambroni didn’t get to enjoy. Writing of his mother, he says, “Boy, what she would think of her bundle of joy in two-month-old underwear. Bathing out of a helmet was the PTA method—privates, tits and armpits—if you could get out of the cold long enough to do it, that is.”
At the time, his mother’s “bundle of joy” was just 21 years old. “You become a man pretty quick, I can guarantee you,” Giambroni says today. His captain called him “Babyface Giambroni,” but he and other men his age were maturing rapidly under the most difficult conditions. Giambroni recalls being reunited with a friend he’d met in the early days of his service and seeing a huge change just months later. “His face was almost as white as the snow. He must have been hit in the head by a machine gun bullet. A large triangle of mucus and blood was frozen out of one of his nostrils. This was the face of the little guy who could smile and make your day. But no more.”
Giambroni fought in the Battle of the Bulge, a horrific clash that lasted over five weeks and claimed the lives of 20,000 Americans. There was no hiding from the brutality of war. He was an arms-length away when a mortar shell explosion hit and killed one of his friends. The sight, which still haunts him, shook him at the time. “I even got to cussing war out loud. It made no sense to give a life away for nothing,” he says.
He left the war with a collection of honors—the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge and three European Battle Stars—but put the whole experience in the back of his mind so he could get on with his life. Giambroni went to veterinarian school in Colorado and then came home to Red Bluff to start his practice and his family. Today, he’s retired and nearing 80 years old, and he’s set his memories down in writing so that other people might understand a little better what it really means when a country goes to war.
“War is brutal and inhumane," Giambroni says in the book. "It has a stinking odor you’ll never forget." Almost 60 years later, he can still smell it.