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  • Writer's pictureJody Ferguson

Anzio

The Italian campaign in World War II is one of the ‘forgotten’ theaters of that conflict. As the American public fixated on the Normandy campaign or the great naval battles of the Pacific theater, American, British, and Allied forces were engaged in bloody fighting against Axis forces in Sicily and Italy from July 1943 to May 1945. There the United States sustained almost 115,000 causalities, while over 29,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen gave the ultimate sacrifice. So overlooked was the Italian campaign that on June 4, 1944, when American troops liberated Rome—the first European capital to be liberated from Nazi forces—it barely elicited a shrug once Allied forces had landed in Normandy two days later. Nevertheless, it was a true multinational effort foreshadowing the Korean War, where American, British, Brazilian, Canadian, Greek, Free French, Indian, New Zealand, Polish, and South African forces fought and died to liberate Italy.



While recently travelling in Rome, I took a train south to the coastal town of Anzio to see the site of a major battle that took place eighty years ago in January 1944, when American and British troops landed behind the German lines in an attempt to bypass the stiff German resistance further south at Monte Cassino. To sum it up, the landing went well but the subsequent battle did not. After months of futile assaults, the Allies finally broke through and liberated Rome, but they failed to cut off German forces who lived to fight another day.


I went to the Sicily-Rome American cemetery at Nettuno east of Anzio to pay tribute to many of my fellow Texans of the 36th Division who gave their lives in the Italian campaign and who are buried at the cemetery along with over 7800 other Americans who fell in Italy.


Among the graves I wanted to pay respect to was that of Captain Henry Waskow, from Belton, Texas just north of my hometown Austin. Several years ago, an opinion article written by a war historian in The Wall Street Journal listed the best writing on modern war. It included classics such as All Quiet on the Western Front, War and Peace, and The Red Badge of Courage. The following week in the “Letters to the Editor” section the late Senator John McCain wrote to say that in his estimation, the finest account of the American perspective on war was a short column written by Ernie Pyle in 1944 entitled “The Death of Captain Waskow.” The WSJ included the touching piece for all to read. When it was originally published in the U.S. press in January 1944 Pyle’s column was picked up and carried in over 400 major daily papers. Ernie Pyle embedded with U.S. Army troops across North Africa, Sicily, Italy, the Normandy landings, and ended the war with the Marines in the Pacific. For this, he was beloved by all GI’s, and he was recognized among the American public as the finest journalist to come out of WWII. Pyle was shot and killed by a Japanese sniper on Ie Shima during the Okinawa campaign in April 1945. He is buried at the Punch Bowl cemetery in Honolulu.



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