Today is my birthday. But rather than talk about the events of fifty-one years ago, we will go back seventy-five years to the war in Italy.
The US-British attack at Anzio began on January 22, 1944. The landings were part of a series of engagements that were an attempt to quickly capture Rome and cut off the withdrawal of the Tenth German Army. Poor guidance, unfavorable terrain and a well-prepared enemy almost resulted in failure. Allied forces would not break out of the Anzio beachhead until May and focusing on the propaganda victory of capturing Rome allowed the retreating Germans to slip through.
While the Anzio Campaign was just beginning, January 22, 1944, marked the end of one of the most disastrous defeats of the US army in Europe south of Monte Cassino at the Battle of the Rapido River.
The US 36th Division attempted to cross the Gari River on January 20, 1944. The attack on the Germans near Cassino was designed to draw forces away from the upcoming Anzio attack. The 141st and 143rd Regiments began their assault at 7:00pm. The Germans were able to force both regiments to withdraw back across the river.
The river crossing was launched again the next evening. The Americans were again unable to secure the beachhead and were forced to give up the attack by the evening of January 22. The 141st Regiment was able to withdraw back across the river with few losses. However, the Germans destroyed the bridges and boats used by the 143rd Regiment resulting in the death or capture of most of that unit.
The Gari River attack achieved no tactical or strategic result for the Americans. The German defense required no additional support and the goal of siphoning troops from Anzio failes. Over 2,000 Americans were killed, wounded or captured against 244 German casualties.
One of the men serving in the 141st Regiment at the Gari River was Pvt. Guadalupe A. Elizondo of Salt Lake City. A Mexican immigrant, Elizondo moved to Utah with his parents and eleven brothers and sisters in the 1920s. He married before the war and voluntarily enlisted in March 1943 at the age of 30.
Elizondo served in North Africa with the 141st Regiment before crossing the Mediterranean with the 36th Division. He was killed January 22, 1944 during the withdrawal across the Gari River.
One of his brothers, Joe Elizondo, served with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment and was killed in action in Belgium in December 1944.
I would be remiss if I did not remember Captain Lance Sijan, Medal of Honor recipient from Milwaukee, who died in the Hanoi Hilton on January 22, 1968.
Birthday greetings to my brother Tim who turns 60 today and to my birthday brothers, Mike Baudhuin, Johnny Turppa and Fred Anderson.