Carroll County High School students in the JROTC program received a lesson Thursday that no history book will ever be able to duplicate.
Local World War II veteran Clyde Easter spoke to students that day about his involvement in Operation Shingle – more commonly known as the Battle of Anzio. The invasion of Anzio Beachhead was not only one of the most historically critical for the allies in WWII, it was also one of the bloodiest campaigns.
At approximately 2 a.m. on January 22, 1944, an invasion fleet of 374 ships and landing craft invaded the beaches of Anzio and Nettuno in Italy, about 30 miles south of Rome, for an attack that was supposed to last two weeks. The landings caught the Germans completely offguard. By midnight, nearly 90 percent of the invasion force, equaling 36,000 men and 3,200 vehicles, were ashore.
Major General John P. Lucas chose to wait for more men and artillery, however, before pressing forward inland. By January 30, the Germans had moved substantial forces into the area to contain the Allies from pressing forward. The result was a bloody, prolonged four-month battle for the beachhead as German leader Adolph Hitler pulled many of his top divisions and sent them to Anzio to fend off the Allies.
By the time it was done, thousands and thousands of Allied forces died in the battle and tens of thousands more were wounded. But the importance of Anzio is often overlooked in historical annals as the invasion ultimately led to the liberation of Rome on June 4, the first Capital city of the Axis to be captured during World War II. It also kept German forces otherwise occupied and set the stage two days later for D-Day at Normandy, which ultimately helped end the war. A total of 22 Americans were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions at Anzio, the most of any single battle in World War II.
“It is really special. I don’t even have the words. I understand that time is short and we have to capture our moments while we can. It is such an important part of our history and that is why I asked Clyde because time is of the essence and we have to do this while we can,” said Colonel Mark Carper. “He has been just a wonderful asset. We try to do it to give the kids first-hand accounts of what happened. I have heard of other veterans going to battlefield talks and they have the expert come up and say, ‘Well, this is how it happened,’ and then the guy in the crowd goes, ‘Wait it minute, no it didn’t happen like that.’ The guys that were there are the ones that know and it is the real history. It is just neat for me and neat for the kids and something we will never be able to do again.”
Easter brought several of his battle medals and other memorabilia from World War II and Anzio to share with students. But more than anything, it was his words that hit home most.
“He was talking about speaking at a memorial there at Anzio and looking and seeing the crosses and you could see the emotion and you could see the kids, they could start to feel that, too, so it was more than just facts and figures.,” Carper said. “They make emotional connections to the pain and struggle we went through and I think they will remember that for the rest of their lives.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN