Anzio Beachhead Reunion.

This summer, the History Junkie received a call about a reunion of Anzio Beachhead vets being held in Auburn, Indiana.  It may as well have been Commissioner Gordon calling on the Batphone.  That’s how quickly I reacted!

As far as World War II battles go, Anzio was a major player.  Huge!  Sure, it doesn’t get the press of say a Pearl Harbor, an Iwo Jima or the invasion at Normandy.  But Anzio was a very big deal.  And to have the very folks that were there, here in History-Junkie-Ville?  Forget about it. You couldn’t keep me away.

On January 22, 1944, Allied forces stormed ashore at Anzio, Italy, some fifty miles behind enemy lines. The initial landing met little resistance. But within days, some 13 German Divisions raced to the scene, pinning American and British troops to the beachhead.

General William Willis Eagles

Albion, Indiana native and Noble County’s highest ranking officer in history, General William Willis Eagles commanded the 45th Infantry Division, at the center of it all. “I’m fairly certain that my father would say that Anzio was the most intense engagement he was involved in,” Edward Eagles, the General’s son, revealed. “It was very tenuous as to whether the Germans would break through the Allied defenses and overrun the beach.”

“Attempting to hurl Allied beachhead forces into the sea, the enemy unleashed three major counter-attacks,” The 45th: The Story of the 45th Infantry Division recounted. “From Feb. 16 to 19, the 45th Div. sector was subjected to wave after wave of German infantry and tanks that poured down the Albano-Anzio road like steam through a whistle. …Casualties were heavy. …Infantrymen clung tenaciously to each dip in the ground, each furrow, each rock.”

At the reunion, I spoke with John Cable of Bloomington, Illinois, who served at Anzio with the 180th Infantry of Eagles’s 45th Division. He had joined the unit in Sicily as a replacement and had already taken part in the landing at Salerno.  Then came Anzio. “I caught a nice-sized piece of shrapnel in the wrist in the first week of May,” he said of the battle. “I just walked over to the aid-station. It left a hole. The aid-man cleaned it, filled that hole with sulfa powder, wrapped it up and back to the front I went. I would come back every once in awhile to clean it up and re-bandage it.

“On May 23, 1944, we were taking some incoming rounds. The first one, I heard the sound, but I could tell it was going to be short. You just know by the sound after awhile. The next round, I knew it was going to be close. I was using a Tommy Gun at the time. I put it up to my ear for protection. I got hit hard. Shrapnel tore into both my hands. I lost a knuckle on my left hand and a finger on my right.

“I spent nine months in a hospital in Naples, then they sent me to the States. I had the best plastic surgeons in the world. They saved my hands. If Bob Dole would have had the guys that worked on me, he wouldn’t have the problems he has today.”

Bob Ziebart (3rd ID) and John Cable (45th ID) - Battle of Anzio Beach Veterans

I also met Anzio veteran, Bob Ziebart from St. Joseph, Michigan, who served with the 30th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division. On his first day at the front, he was moved to a forward outpost position with a man named, Joergens. “I had the last watch in the morning and as I looked out in front of our position, I thought I saw something move,” he said. “I kept watching and thought I saw a German helmet come out of the grass. The third time I saw it, I fired the machine gun in the area. About five minutes later an 88 shell went over the top of our position… . Joergens got up and we were standing together when a second shell came in our direction. The shell landed on top of our area. I wasn’t hit, but Joergens slumped down. He’d been hit in the head. I removed his helmet, to see how bad it was and I was holding his brains in my hand.”

Clyde Easter - Anzio Beach Veteran

Clyde Easter, from Fancy Gap, Virginia, president of the Anzio Beachhead Veterans, also served with the 3rd Division at Anzio, but with the 7th Infantry. In the early morning hours of March 24, he headed out with a small night patrol. “There were maybe eight of us, just a small squad,” he said. “When it got quiet, they liked to send us out to stir things up. They liked to know where the enemy was. It was around this little village of Isabella. We were trying to knock out this German machine-gun nest, but they must have heard us. They opened up on us. One guy got a flesh wound in the shoulder and I got shot through the hand. We got down in this ditch or creek line. We’re lucky it was there or we’d have all been dead. They caught us wide open, maybe only 150 feet away.

“It was my right hand. The bullet hole was between my thumb and my index finger. The sergeant tried to clean it up and put some sulfa powder in it. The other wounded guy and I started walking back. Honestly, that was as dangerous as being out front. You always worried about friendly fire, especially at night. But we made it back. I passed out shortly after that. I’m sure it was from the pain. It started out as more of a burning, but then began working its way up the nerves in my arm—very painful. I spent about a month in the hospital back in Naples.”

Ralph Conner - KIA at Anzio Beach

Local soldier, Ralph Conner, served with Easter in the 7th Infantry. By late April, the Allies were poised to break through the enemy gauntlet. On April 24, Ralph Conner died fighting near Spaccasassi Creek.

“We lived about a mile off the road in a log cabin,” Lois Miller, Ralph’s sister, shared. “I remember being out in the yard when they brought the telegram and read it to us. Mom and Dad were devastated. After Ralph was killed, Mom was in bed for two weeks. It was just so very hard.”

Ralph’s belongings spoke of his demise. “There was a bullet hole through his wallet,” Lois’s husband, Max Miller described. “I think they used to carry them in their front shirt pockets.”

Clyde Easter returned to the Anzio Campaign after healing from his hand wound. “I came back to the front, about a month later,” he said. “On May 24, I got hit again. We had broken out of the beachhead and we were pushing into the town of Cisterna. It’s where Darby’s Rangers had gotten wiped out only a few months before. It was really a German stronghold. Cisterna was just rubble. They hit us with everything they had. It was a very bloody day.

“I got hit with a piece of shrapnel in the face. I think it was from a German 88. It hit me in the right cheek and embedded itself all the way back to my eardrum. The piece was about the size of a .30 caliber bullet—maybe an inch by a half inch. But it was jagged. That’s what always caused so much damage. That jagged metal would just tear you up. I went back to a hospital in Naples again. They had to go in through my mouth to cut it out. They had to cut some nerves. I lost feeling in the right side of my face.”

In the end, the Allies broke from the Anzio Beachhead in May and pushed to Rome and beyond. Yet the victory came at no small cost. Allied casualties alone topped 40,000 men.

The Veterans of Anzio Beachhead remain active, keeping history alive. “I was invited to a ceremony at the cemetery there in Nettuno last year,” John Cable said. “We met with children of service people stationed in Rome. We talked for a bit. I could tell they were full of questions. So after we were done, we asked for questions. The one little girl asked me if I killed anybody. I’m too old to lie. I told her about the first guy. He was on a motorcycle trying to get out of town. I put one bullet in him. He went one way and the motorcycle went another. Neither moved again. You know, it was war.

“North of Naples, we were going through this town. It had been pretty well cleared out. I saw this German officer take off, make a run for the edge of town. I thought, I’m not letting this guy go tell the enemy our positions. I put three bullets in him, but it didn’t kill him. He was lying there on the ground. I went up to him and he said, ‘Sergeant, why are the two greatest nations in world fighting each other? Together we could rule the world!’ I thought to myself, that’s why we’re fighting—to keep you from ruling the world.”

Clyde Easter returned recently from his twelfth trip back to Anzio. “When I look out across those 9,000 crosses at the cemetery there, it always reminds me of the high cost of freedom,” he said.  “And that’s what I talk about. That’s what I remind people of. These were 18, 19, 20 year old kids that gave everything for us, and our way of life. We mustn’t forget that, and them.”

21 Responses to “Anzio Beachhead Reunion”

  1. mike eaton says:

    i would like to get into contact with john cable if possible. my father, john william (bill) eaton was in the 45th division. he spent time in northern africa, sicily, south of france and rushed the beach at anzio. my father was one of the finest men i have ever known but would not speak of his time fighting over there. he came back with severe post traumatic stress disorder. he was an outstanding father and husband to my family but lived with the pain he experienced over there until the day he died ten years ago. i would love to talk to someone who was actually there in hopes to understand what he went thru and how it affected his whole life. thank you. with deepest respect, mike eaton

    • mikemccoy says:

      Mike,

      Great to hear from you. Your father sounds like a wonderful man. I’ve forwarded some contact info. Good luck with your search and please let us know how it turns out.

    • Jennifer says:

      My father in law will not talk about his time as a Medic serving in the 3rd ID. He was right there at Anzio. He came home with post traumatic stress and began drinking to ease the pain of all he saw.
      So painful what it did to him and how war affected his family.

  2. greg breza says:

    I’m seeking any information on my father, Alvin C. Breza. I’m trying to learn more about his wartime experiences. He was in the 45th Division, 157th Infantry Regiment. He was a forward observer and fought in North Africa, Sicily, Anzio, Reipertzwiler, Battle of the Bulge, Siegfried Line, Belleau Wood and I’m sure many others. If there’s anyone out there who knew my father or knows where I can possibly obtain any information I would be forever grateful. Also, I’m trying to obtain any information on future reunions of the 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Division. Thank you, Greg Breza, 360-687-6472, 24813 NE Berry Rd, Battle Ground, WA. 98604

    • mikemccoy says:

      Hi Greg,

      Welcome. I’ve forwarded info on the Anzio Beachhead Veterans. I wish you well on your search. And please, let us know how it turns out.

    • bruce barker says:

      My father lives in battleground also and was in your dads outfit , maybe he could help, was in the same battles in the 45th 360-687- 4418

      • greg breza says:

        Hi Bruce,

        I just got your message and will give your father a call. It’s ironic that he lives in the same town! I have found out information on the upcoming reunion this year. It’s being held in Denver October 6th through the 9th. I could forward the information to you or your father if you’re interested.

        Thanks again.

        Greg

  3. Catherine Landry says:

    I am very interested in the Anzio story. My dad’s brother was killed there on May 31, 1944. His name was Edward McAlice and he was 19 when he died. He was from Rhode Island. My dad passed away in 1982 and never really spoke of his brother to me. I wish I had been interested enough to ask him more when I was young. Now there is really no one who can tell me much about Eddie. I do have photos and his Vmail letters to his mother – my grandmother. I know it’s a long shot at this point – but would love to know if anyone out there remembers him.

    • mikemccoy says:

      Hi Catherine,

      Welcome aboard. We appreciate your interest in your Uncle Edward and will do all we can to help you in your search. After all, Edward sacrificed his life on our behalf.

      We probably need to start with his unit. Do you have the company, regiment and division he served in?

  4. Terry Pummill says:

    My father, Lawrence Pummill was at Anzio with the 45th, 157 infantry. Is there a reunion of the 45th Anzio veterans in Branson, MO? I would like to know where the reunion will be held in Branson.

    • mikemccoy says:

      Terry,

      Welcome aboard, and we appreciate your father’s sacrifice. There are a few different Anzio groups. Let me look into the upcoming reunion schedules. Unfortunately, many of them don’t get together as often as they used to, for obvious reasons.

    • mikemccoy says:

      Terry,

      Hope your close to Branson, MO, because the Reunion of Anzio Beach Veterans is going on there as I write. This is the same group that I met with last year, truly a great bunch of guys. The Reunion is slated to run through May 1, which I believe is Sunday.

      The 45th ID Association is holding a reunion on September 22-24 at the Biltmore Hotel in Oklahoma City, OK. For more info call 405-424-5313 or email curator@45thdivisionmuseum.com.

      Good Luck!

  5. nick penna says:

    seeking info regarding my uncle pvt nicholas anthony debello who served with the 3rd division, company c, 30th infantry regiment at anzio.
    went into anzio 1-22-44 and kia 6-2-44 near valmontone, outside of rome.
    thank you
    828 478 2849

  6. J. Howard Lucas says:

    My brother, Lee Dennis Lucas, Jr. was killed at Anzio, April 24, 1944 but we never learned how and where exactly he was killed; He was a machine gunner, Company C, 30th Infantry, 3rd Division His buddy, Johnny Johnson, Columbus, Ohio, who served with him did not know how Lee was killed and Johnny is now deceased. Can you help me find more info on Lee’s death? (the military records burned in Illinois)
    J. Howard Lucas, Hoover, Alabama

  7. mikemccoy says:

    J. Howard,

    Welcome aboard. We’d love to see what we can do. Hopefully the name, unit and date will spark a memory among our followers. Thanks again.

  8. Jim Tamburino says:

    Did anyone know Frank Tamburino. He was my grandfather and was in Anzio. I’m writing a story about his experience and would love to hear back from anyone that may have known him. Thank you.

  9. Darlene Riva says:

    My Uncle Bill Cole was at Anzio Beach and did attend the reunion. My Aunt said that he has worn out his special hat and I would like to replace it. Do you know where I could get one? Do they also have tee shirts? Thank you. Darlene Riva

  10. JJ Wohlers says:

    Hi all,
    I came across this site trying to research information about my grandfather. My dad never knew his father. He knew he died in the war. Long story short, we found items of my grandfather. He was Sgt.Albert Sparks, he went by Pete. The paperwork shows he was with the 7th infantry Company H. With these items was a Purple Heart and a bronze star. So I am just doing what I can to find out more. Thank you all.

  11. linda norris says:

    My Uncle was Corporal or Pvt. Lawrence Bickford, MIA in Italy – 1944 and then KIA. I have only a newspaper reference that he was MIA somewhere near Anzio and KIA in that same area. His gravestone, in Rochester, NH states he was in the 601 Tank Battalion and he is also listed as a Coastal Mine Planter. I would like to find more information if possible, he was only 21 years old when he was KIA.

    Thank you so much.

  12. leslie palmer says:

    my father was at anzio edward m bozzo and was in the 87th squadron and my namesake frank leslie nicolai jr also, does anyone remember them. My father died the day President Regan was shot, 03/81.

  13. nick penna says:

    Seeking Anzio Beachead veterans and or familiys or friends of them. Attempting to document the history and your story.
    704 5081150
    nickpenna@earthlink.net

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