No. 519


During the early morning hours of 22 January 1944, troops of the Fifth Army swarmed ashore on a 15-mile stretch of Italian beach near the prewar resort towns of Anzio and Nettuno. The landings were carried out so flawlessly and German resistance was so light that British and American units gained their first day's objectives by noon, moving three to four miles inland by nightfall. The ease of the landing and the swift advance were noted by one paratrooper of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, who recalled that D-Day at Anzio was sunny and warm, making it very hard to believe that a war was going on and he was in the middle of it.

The location of the Allied landings, 30 miles south of Rome and 55 miles northwest of the main line of resistance, running from Minturno on the Tyrrhenian Sea to Ortona on the Adriatic, surprised local German commanders, who had been assured by their superiors that an amphibious assault would not take place during January or February. Thus, when the landing occurred, the Germans were unprepared to react offensively. Within a week, however, as Allied troops consolidated their positions and prepared to break out of the beachhead, the Germans gathered troops to eliminate what Adolph Hitler called the "Anzio Abscess." The next four months would see some of the most savage fighting of World War II.

What I have just shared with you is background information for the Battle of Anzio that took place in Southern Italy between January 22 and May 24, 1944. During this time, there were 16,200 casualties (2,800 killed, 11,000 wounded and 2,400 prisoners or missing) and there were 26,000 Allied non-combat casualties. Today, the largest World War II cemetery is at Anzio. In tribute to these brave American and Allied soldiers, we owe our freedom to them for the tremendous sacrifices they made for us.

While I did not know the details of this campaign, I was deeply honored when Clyde Easter, president of the Anzio Beachhead Veterans of 1944, wrote me a letter extending an invitation to be the keynote speaker for their national convention. This meeting was held April 9 at the Welk Hotel in Branson, Mo. There were about 125 people in attendance, and 72 of these were World War II veterans, some as old as 90 years. I was in awe to be in the presence of these American heroes and I did my best to let them know that our nation and our people are deeply grateful to them and what they did for us.

The meeting went wonderfully well, but one of the highlights for me turned out to be a CD that was given to me along with the story of Angelita Rossi, a young 5-year-old girl who was at Anzio at this time. Apparently her parents were on vacation and had been killed by the bombing and she was alone on the beach when the Allied forces came ashore. When the first wave of troops found her, she was crying and they finally found out her name and then figured out that her parents were dead. The CD I received told the story, set to music, and the title was "Angelita's flowers are still fresh." The message said that Angelita met General Clark at the beachhead with flowers and the general gave her popcorn.

The thing that touched me so deeply is that the American GI's adopted her and did their best to make a home for her, all during the months they were there on the beachhead. What I did not tell you earlier is that after the first few days when they landed, General Lucas did not push on for fear of getting trapped. This gave the Germans time to bring in extra forces, ultimately 135,000 troops. The Germans fully intended to push the Allies back into the sea. What they did not know or understand is just how tough the Yanks were. The battle raged for weeks, but finally came to a standoff where neither side had much punch left. Most of the damage done to the Allies was by "Anzio Annie," a 280mm German railway gun, which fired from the Alban Hills.

What this battle accomplished is that it tied up a good part of Hitler's forces and allowed other Allied troops to advance. After four months, Rome was liberated, and what a glorious day it was.

We hear all kinds of stories today from the war with Iraq, about prisoners and prisoner abuse, and no doubt some of it is true. The compassion of the American troops toward little Angelita Rossi for me really captured what the true spirit of America is all about. Sometimes, if a person does not have compassion, especially if there has been brutality against us, they feel justified in inhumane treatment. While some may disagree, this is not what our country is about. As a matter of principle, compassion for all human beings is really what has always set our nation apart.

(Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)