Written by Bill Bonnamy

WWII photo of US soldiers climbing the steps to Fort Schuster, and a recent photos of those same steps

Bill Bonnamy travels the footsteps of the 319th Glider Field Artillery of the 82nd Airborne Division, in which he father, William, served in World War II. Bill records his journey at 319Gliderman.com, which collects a huge amount of photographs and documents related to the unit. Among his stops is the Amalfi Coast, where the 319th landed with Darby’s Rangers in September 1943. Here, he saw the Ristorante La Violetta housed in an old building carved into a granite cliff. 81 years ago, this building was known by American soldiers as “Fort Schuster,” named for the American doctor ran a field hospital for those wounded in the invasion of Italy. Below is an excerpt from the account of his visit and the history of the site.

There’s an old stone building at the south end of the Chiunzi Pass in the mountains above the town of Maiori in 1943. On Italy’s beautiful Amalfi Coast. The building was constructed in the side of a granite cliff over one hundred years ago. The war-torn building sat at a strategic vantage point and a natural opening, or pass, in the mountain range that includes Mt. Chiunzi.

The “pass” is 6 miles north of Maoiri, just south of the small city of Angri, even further south of the city of Naples and the wide Naples plain that extends beyond the city. This ancient stone farmhouse offers a commanding bird’s-eye view of Naples, Mount Vesuvius, and the entire valley below.

Today this old stone building is a restaurant called La Violetta. In September of 1943, it was a World War II field hospital run by a remarkable American doctor, soldier, hero named Emile Schuster.

A 35-year old ranger medic – a medical doctor from Oakland, California named Captain Emile G. Schuster – used this near impregnable stone building to treat wounded rangers who were protecting the 319th artillerymen from German infantry attacks.

Dr. Schuster felt certain that the stone structure could withstand everything the Germans threw at it. And he was right. It did.

The century-old granite building became known as a place where wounded allied soldiers could get proper medical treatment and could heal safely. In fact, it became so well-known and so well thought of, that the rangers and artillerymen started calling it Fort Schuster in honor of Dr. Emile Schuster.

Dr. Emile Schuster started out as a newspaper boy in Oakland, California. He graduated from St. Mary’s College as valedictorian, while working part time in a pharmacy.

Schuster received a scholarship to McGill University in Montreal, Canada, from which he graduated in the spring of 1940.

He thereafter interned at San Francisco County Hospital and was just two weeks away from a residency at Oakland, California’s Merritt Hospital when the war broke out. However, the “fighting pill roller” looked at the situation in Europe and asked himself what he should do. He went to the Army Officers Procurement Office in San Francisco and presented his credentials.

The officer in charge said, “Well, doctor, all we can offer you is a captaincy, you’ll enter the army with the rank of captain.” Without a moment’s hesitation, Dr. Schuster replied, “Where do I sign?”

Four days later he was on his way to war, and September of 1943 found him in Italy with the Army Rangers as they fought their way up to the old stone farmhouse, stormed it, overwhelmed 200 or more German troops, and took control of this crucial mountain pass.

Schuster’s first job was to help a wounded soldier who they said had no chance to live. Doc Schuster administered morphine, sulfa drugs, and blood plasma and half an hour later announced, “This man will live!” This was September 17, 1943, which was also Doctor Schuster’s son’s birthday.

On that same day, in Oakland, California, his son Emile Jr. received a “birthday package” from his dad containing souvenirs. In the midst of everything Doctor Schuster forgot nothing.

Yankee soldiers who were hurt and far from home lived out the war because Emile Schuster had waited tables, washed and ironed clothing, worked as a pharmacist (and at any other job that was offered) in order to put himself through college and become a medical doctor.

Schuster’s combined experiences had meant the difference between life and death for countless American soldiers at the Chiunzi Pass.

In the post-war years Dr. Schuster practiced medicine in Oakland out of his home office. He was a member of the Alameda County Medical Association, the California Medical Association, and the Kiwanis, an international service organization dedicated to “serving the children of the world.”

Sadly, Captain Emile G. Schuster, M.D. died of a heart attack just after WWII, in 1949. He was only 41 years old. Good man gone too soon. God bless and keep him.