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Posted on Sep 28, 2011 in Carlo D'Este, Stuff We Like

A Journey to World War II Battlefields Part 11: Anzio

By Carlo D'Este

The American military cemetery at Anzio-Nettuno. (Carlo D'Este)

Editor’s Note: This article is the eleventh installment from Carlo D’Este’s A Journey to World War II Battlefields. Please click on the following links to read Carlo’s other articles from this series: Tunisia; Kasserine Pass; Malta; Sicily; Biazza Ridge; Messina; Salerno; San Pietro Infine; Cassino and Monte Cassino.

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The final stop on our tour of Mediterranean battlefields was Anzio. A two-hour bus ride from Gaeta brought us to the site of one of the most savage series of battles fought in all of World War II.

The Allied landings at the port cities of Anzio and Nettuno on January 22, 1944 were borne from the failure to advance rapidly on Rome after the invasion of Italy the previous September. Designed as both a diversion, a dagger in the German rear, and a threat to capture Rome, the invasion of Anzio turned instead into a bloody stalemate when the Germans rapidly brought thousands of reinforcements that nearly resulted in the Allies being defeated.

An American landing beach at Nettuno. Like some Italian beaches it consisted of a black tar-like sand and was strewn with trash. (Carlo D’Este)After a visit to an Anzio war museum our two buses traveled to one of the U.S. 3d Infantry Division landing beaches in Nettuno that was in an area off limits to the public and only accessible with a police escort. It proved to a very windy, unprepossessing and rather unpleasant place.

The various sites where so many of the Anzio battles were fought are now largely gone, replaced by commercial buildings or houses. A sad sign of the times is that the plaque in a stone wall commemorating the desperate battle fought at what was known as The Flyover is now obscured by a newsagent’s kiosk. (The battle for The Flyover will be the subject of a future article).

Our final stop was at the American military cemetery in Nettuno. It was first established on January 24, 1944 as a temporary cemetery in what is now seventy-seven acres covering an immense field that contains the graves of 7,861 American war dead set among rows of stately Roman pines. There is a large pool with an island and a cenotaph. In addition to the graves the cemetery has a memorial consisting of a chapel, a museum and two gardens.

There were formerly American military cemeteries in both Salerno and Sicily that were eventually closed and the graves moved and consolidated at the new site in Nettuno, now called the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial.

Most of those buried here died in Sicily, at Salerno, Cassino, Anzio, and in air and naval operations in the Mediterranean. On the while marble walls of the chapel are the names of 3,095 of the missing – and as is the case in all American Battle Monuments Commission cemeteries, there are rosettes to mark the names of those since recovered and identified.

There is also a large map room containing a bronze relief map depicting military operations in both Sicily and Italy.

At each end of the Memorial are ornamental Italian gardens. In the center of the Memorial is a brothers-in-arms statue depicting an American soldier & sailor each with an arm around the other’s shoulder.

 On the east façade of the museum is a panel symbolizing Resurrection that portrays a dead soldier being borne to his reward by a guardian angel. 

 large wall map of the Mediterranean theater of operations at the Anzio cemetery. The orange lines emanating from Italy represent the aerial campaign launched from captured Italian airfields. Most were by the U.S. Fifteenth Air Force. (Carlo D’Este)Some facts about the cemetery: One plot contains many of Audie Murphy’s platoon (Co B, 1st Bn, 15th Inf. Regt, 3d Inf. Div.) A complete bomber crew is buried side by side; several nurses buried here were killed by an exploding shell at what is now the entrance to the cemetery; twenty-three sets of brothers are buried side by side, and Medal of Honor winner, 1st Lt. Robert T. Waugh of the 85th Inf. Div. is buried here. Lt. Waugh won the Medal of Honor on May 14, 1944 for personally taking out six enemy pillboxes.

Perhaps the most unusual ceremony ever recorded occurred here on Memorial Day 1945. The cemetery was still a raw, unfinished place with wooden grave markers. The principal speaker was Lt. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott, the U.S. Fifth Army commander, who commanded Allied troops at Anzio the year before.

The cemetery was filled with visitors and VIPs that included several American senators, and a military honor guard. Also present that day was famed G.I. cartoonist, Bill Mauldin and as he later related, there was a very different kind of ceremony held that day. 

When Truscott spoke, he turned away from the visitors and addressed himself to the corpses he had commanded there. It was the most moving gesture I ever saw. It came from a hard-boiled old man who was incapable of planned dramatics. The general’s remarks were brief and extemporaneous. He apologized to the dead men for their presence here. He said everybody tells leaders it is not their fault that men get killed in war, but that every leader knows in his heart this is not altogether true. He said he hoped anybody here through any mistake of his would forgive him, but he realized that was asking a hell of a lot under the circumstances. One of the senator’s cigars went out; he bent over to relight it, then thought better of it.

Truscott said he would not speak of the glorious dead because he didn’t see much glory in getting killed in your late teens or early twenties. He promised that if in the future he ran into anybody, especially old men, who thought that death in battle was glorious, he would straighten them out. He said he thought it was the least he could do.

Even today, Truscott’s words are as moving as they were fifty-six years ago when he spoke of what the loss of these men and women meant to him. They are unique in the annals of Memorial Day speeches.

Back aboard ship late that afternoon we began saying our good byes as we got ready to debark early the following morning to begin the long journey home. Our tour of a number of Mediterranean battlefields was enlightening and educational. It was also poignant, as several of the participants had relatives who were lost during World War II. Cemeteries like those at Nettuno that are so magnificently maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission are moving testimonials to the terrible price that war extracts.

Like others on the tour, I spent time alone wandering among the graves, stopping occasionally to read the names, and to ponder on the enormity of their sacrifice.

Lest we forget!

Source for descriptions of the cemetery are from the ABMC website: http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries/sr.php

13 Comments

  1. Dear Col. D’Este -
    I just finished reading Fatal Decision. My dad (Herald Hayes Ford, 1916-1998) was in the 815th Engineers (part of the 36th Engineers, as you well know). I cannot find words to describe how meaningful your book was/is to me. Dad spoke often, but superficially, about Anzio, but I never really understood just what an ordeal it was. When I was cleaning out his safe after his death I found a package of horrible photos, obviously taken on the battlefield. I quickly threw them away, not knowing why he kept them. I was the “keeper” of his important records, and was familiar with the contents of his safe. These photos haunted me, even though I just took a quick look and quickly discarded them. Divinely, this summer (2011) when visiting an elderly cousin, he just happened to mention the Anzio photos. Dad had been given them at an 815th reunion in 1992 by a widow who did not want to keep them, but felt they should be kept as a reminder. Dad shared them with the cousin (a Korean war vet) I guess just to get the matter off his chest. Then he tucked them into the safe. I cannot imagine the horror he and so many others went through there. Thank you for your important work to help me and so many others have a glimpse into that part of his life. I hope to visit Anzio soon, perhaps next year. The article, above, will help me very much, along with your book, as I plan the trip. God bless you. Roger Hayes Ford, Ph. D. (writing from Danang, Vietnam).

    • Dear Mr. Ford:

      Thank you very much for the kind words about Fatal Decision. One of the reasons why I wrote the book was that I felt not enough was known about Anzio and why it was such a bitter and bloody campaign – and so difficult for its veterans to speak about. There are few good memories of what occurred there. A great deal has changed in and around the Anzio and Nettuno since the war and what were once bloody battlefields are now industrial parks. The area is quite built up, nevertheless, with the Alban Hills as a dominant backdrop, it is still possible to at least get a sense of what it must have been like for those who fought there in 1944. Thanks again for your comments. I hope that your forthcoming trip will be rewarding.

      Best wishes,

      Carlo D’Este

  2. I was in the 8th army, and was in Salerno, during world war 2. There was a video on foxtell last evening in Western Australia, would you know where I can get a copy.

    • Dear Mr. Bailey,

      Wish I could be of help but cannot without at least the title of the video. If you can determine this perhaps Armchair General can assist.

      Best wishes,

      Carlo D’Este

  3. I am planning to visit Anzio for the day this coming July 2013. My father, Norman N Shor was in the 4th Ranger Battalion and waw severely wounded there in his final efforts in WW2. Where should I attempt to see what was then history? We will plan on taking a train from Rome and spend the day there.

  4. Dear Mr. Shor,

    Unfortunately, the Anzio battlefields of 1944 have been overtaken by progress. Most are either obscured or no longer existent. Two places I’d suggest you visit are the American Military Cemetery and Memorial in Nettuno and the Anzio beachhead museum opened by the Italians in 1994, where you can see and learn at lot in one place.

    Three helpful websites are:

    http://tourinitaly.blogspot.com/2011/12/battle-of-anzio-beachhead-museum.html

    and the museum’s website at:

    http://www.sbarcodianzio.it

    I believe there is also an English version on their website.

    You can see and learn more about cemetery at:

    http://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries/cemeteries/sr.php

    I hope this will be of some help.

    Best wishes,

    Carlo D’Este

  5. Dear Mr. D’Este:

    Thank you for your excellent books Bitter Victory: The Battle for Sicily, 1943, World War II in the Mediterranean, 1942–1945, and Fatal Decision: Anzio and the Battle for Rome. Neither can I find words to say how meaningful your books have been to me. They are by far the best military histories about the lesser-known Mediterranean Theater. My father was in the 36th Engineers throughout the war, and I appreciate your favorable mention of the regiment in Fatal Decision. That book especially touched me. Fortunately, I’ve found you here at ACG to thank you and continue reading your articles.

    Kind regards,
    Sandy

  6. My Uncle, PFC nicholas Anthony DeBello was with the 3rd division, 30th regiment company C and landed on the Anzio Beachhead on Jan 22 1944. He survived most all of this horrific campaign. He was killed in action near Valmontone on June 2nd 1944. If anyone can share their thoughts/expereinces I would appreciate it. I would love to visit soon and try to put together his movements.

    • My name is Randolfo Fileri, I apologize for my english, I’m part of a cultural association born in the territory of Aprilia near Anzio called “Operation Shingle in 1944.” My compliments to Mr. Carlo D’Este for his excellent articles, I want to point out that currently there are many points of interest that have remained unchanged since the war and that we as an association we would be delighted to rediscover to anyone interested.

      • Randolfo….I would be intereted in what sites have not changed much and if someone can take me thru the beachhead and break out towns all the way thru Vallmontone… where my Uncle was killed.
        Thank You
        Nick Penna

      • I know this is a “short & quick” request, but I am visiting my friends Father’s memorial In Aprilia on Thursday 31 July 2014. (I have to find it still) I am in Barga now and searched for the exact location of the battle at Sommacolonia (92nd Inf – tiny tiny hilltop village) and will be going to Rome tomorrow. If anyone is available in Aprilia or Anzio, I would be glad to meet. Easiest way to reach is major@majordave.com

  7. My father was in the 45th. Sometimes when he was older he would talk about it. He and two of his buddies used blocks of TNT to blow holes in a rock quarry. They used these small “caves” for protection from air raids and artillery. We still have his uniform and some souvenirs. We are going going to Italy in may 2015 and will visit the two cemeteries.

  8. Dear Carlo D’Este,

    I am a battlefield guide and I leand WWII tours in Italy. It’s true that there are industrial estates in Aprilia and Anzio as well as Cassino but still lots to be discovered visiting the battlefields, not only the War Cemeteries but sites, like some of the headquarters used by the Allies, Cisterna, the WWII Museum of Piana delle ORme with reconstructions of the Italian campaign from Sicily to Rome, diaromas in grand scale and nore than 300 vehicles left behind both by Allied and German troopes, the site of Isolabella where the Rangers where trapped by the Germans, the medieval burgh headquarter of 3rd division in May 1944, the wadis area and the caves where 45th divisions and British regiments where trapped in a hand to hand fighting. IF you want to contact me I will be glad to tell you more about the battlefields in Anzio. Thanks Danila Bracaglia

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