The Tennessean 23 May 1999 Page 47
A Tennessean recalls bitter struggle of WWIFs crucial but forgotten battle Bv ELIZABETH S. BETT5? Staff Writer Ask many Americans to name two World War II battles, and they'll say Pearl Harbor and Nor mandy. Mention Anzio, and you might get a blank stare from the many Americans whose idea of World War II comes mostly from a steady entertainment diet that glorifies the Northern Europe campaigns and Pearl Harbor. "You don't see Anzio in the films," says Sumner County horse farmer Hubbert Guthrie, 80, a World War II veteran and survivor of three invasions, including Anzio. Anzio is lesser known because it wasnt a quick, easy success, says Thomas Schwartz, associate professor of history at Vanderbilt University. Still, it "was in many ways more typical. It was a frustrating, high casualty, stalemate situation," says Schwartz. "The Italian campaign was not a great success. They had hoped to get to Rome a lot earlier than they did." Anzio turned into a deadly morass for the Americans who A snapshot of Hubbart Guthrie as a . ;: 1 I i -7 "V if rv ! served there. Guthrie says it took more than four months to break through at Anzio because "we didn't have enough troops to do what we were supposed to do," The frustration still lingering in his voice, he says: "It was the price we paid for some rattle brain-idea that was only a flop." "We just went around the other side of the hill and they were waiting for us," he says about the invasion. The Italian campaign was meant to open another battle front and distract the enemy, "to draw off German divisions and to force them to hold onto Italy," Schwartz says. But compared to the northern European campaign, this effort simply wasn't given the resources and men it needed. "The Italian front is really overlooked," he continues. "It was the site of the most American fighting and casualties before Normandy. soldier during World War II "Even the liberation of Rome took place on the day of the invasion June 6, 1944. It was very overshad owed." If the liberation of Rome had happened at any other point during the war, Schwartz says it would have been a hailed as a major event to be long remembered. On the way to the beach at Anzio, Guthrie picked up a significant souvenir a 48-star American flag that had flown on a minesweeper during the invasion. The boat was circling ahead of the men when it picked up a mine, blew up and quickly sank with a broken mast, recalls Guthrie. He spotted it as the Allies were going toward the beach, he says, and "I reached out and I grabbed it I picked it up out of the water, untied it wrung it out and stuck it behind me." The flag, torn and oil-stained, stayed with his things and came home to America. "A lot of men died under that flag, every man on that little ship," he says quietly. "Old Glory had a hard life, she did." "You pay the price," says a somber Guthrie, but "they just can't kill everybody." For him, the training he had off the coast of Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod before being shipped to Europe came in handy, he says. "I could run all day back then, you were scared so much," he says. "You gotta be lucky, God's gotta be with you." He remembers being there for the destruction of the famous Ziegfried Line a fortified barrier between Germany and Alsace-Lorraine in France. "That took so much TNT," he recalls as he looks at a small photograph of the massive, triangular-shaped fortifications. "They blowed them things clear out of the ground." The photo of the giant ominous f J, i f M DELORES DELVIN STAFF World War II combat veteran Hubbert Guthrie displays the flag that he pulled out of the water at the beginning of the invasion of Anzio, Italy. The Allied troops broke through their beachhead 55 years ago. spikes of the Ziegfried Line is one of Guthrie's collection of small black and white photos snapped by a fellow soldier during the war. The frames chronicle stark scenes: a dead, bloated horse slumped on a street across from houses reduced to rubble, a battlefield cemetery, a strong young Guthrie posed in a doorway. Guthrie was living in Memphis when he was drafted and later enlisted at Dresden, Tenn, He served from Aug. 2, 1941 to Aug. 8, 1945, and was discharged as a corporal from the 12th Armored Division. His stories from being asked to go behind enemy lines at night to retrieve a Jeep taken by the Germans to breaking through the imposing Ziegfried Line are vivid ones of adventure, fear and the horrors of one of the century's terrible wars. "It seems like a dream when I think about it now," he says, "When you write about this, 90 of the people under 60 years old won't believe a word of it" Hubbert Guthrie has never re IV s turned to Europe. "I never wanted to go back. I left everything over there that I wanted to part of my soul," says Guthrie, who says he served a total of 2 years in combat Today, his family and his Sumner County horse farm keep him both busy and fit Along with the flag and photographs, Guthrie keeps his medals and ribbons, studded with tiny stars to represent action in Italy, Austria, southern France and the French region of Alsace- About the invasion at Anzio Tuesday marks the 55th anniversary of the breakthrough of Allied troops from the beachhead at Anzio, Italy, a significant moment in World War II. Jan. 22, 1 944, the Allies landed over 36,000 troops and 3,000 vehicles and established a surprise position about 37 miles from Rome at Anzio. But it took about a week to solidify the position, and by that time, German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring's troops surrounded the Allied forces and spent most of Februaiy attacking them. After much bloody fighting, the Allies broke through May 25, and the liberation of Rome soon followed. Anzio was a hard won victory: The four-month operation cost approximately 25,000 Allied lives and 30,000 among the Axis troops. 1 . t mi Lorraine. He also has a tiny bronze arrowhead for service on D-Day. He spent 10 days in the hospital after being wounded at Anzio but never received a Purple Heart Anzio, Guthrie says, was "where everybody almost checked out it was a horrible thing that place stunk. "It seems like everything I went into was a slaughter. I don't know how I missed being killed but I did."