Some of you also know that I also have a fascination and strong interest in America's National Cemeteries. (Side note: I have a lifelong goal to visit every American National Cemetery (there are currently 146 in America and 24 international locations) and fully intend to write a book about it when I am done.) Many people are under the mistaken impression that everyone buried in a National Cemetery is a military veteran. But that's not true...while the vast majority are veterans, they are also the final resting place of politicians, civic leaders, and others who rendered a great service to our country.
This post is comprised of two parts: a bit of history and a biographical sketch written by yours truly, and photos of the Sicily-Rome-American Cemetery and Memorial, taken by our reporter on the ground, Ginger.
First a bit of history (if I put the pictures first, I know you'll just look at them and go somewhere else).
After an amphibious landing in Sicily, the Allies made rapid progress through southern Italy despite stiff resistance. By the end of October, the Allies were facing the German winter defensive position known as the “Gustav Line”, which stretched across the entire Italian mainland (the “leg of the boot”, if you will). Unable to breach the line, the Allies undertook “Operation Shingle”—a surprise landing 20 miles behind the German lines at Anzio. German defenses were well organized, and despite initially penetrating 7 miles inland, a major breakthrough was not actually achieved until May. For several months, the Allied troops couldn’t advance and the Germans couldn’t dislodge them from the beachhead. The result was over 43,000 Allied injuries. The majority of those injuries were treated at combat hospitals established on the beaches of Anzio, where the wounded were treated and waited for evacuation by sea.
One of those hospitals was run by the 56th Evacuation Hospital out of Fort Sam, Texas. The 56th was known as the "Baylor Unit", since it was largely staffed by men and women trained at Baylor University College of Medicine in Dallas. The 56th had previously spent time caring for the wounded in Tunisia during the North African campaign, and came ashore at Anzio to treat the wounded and dying.
Like chaplains, medical personnel are considered “non-combatants”, but that didn’t stop the Germans from attacking the beach hospitals with artillery fire and strafing runs from the Luftwaffe. At one point, the beach became known as "Hell's Half Acre" and patients were known to go AWOL and sneak back to their unit at the front to avoid the shelling.
|The aftermath of German shelling.|
Two hundred US Army nurses took part in the medical care of Anzio wounded, and 6 died during attacks on the wounded hospitals. As D.L. Collins, a doctor with the 56th would later write, "They were completely committed to their task at whatever the cost . . . They would not have traded their country, their comrades, their officers, their medics, their nurses, or their doctors during those hectic days. Not for anything would they, nor we, have traded off the other, for those were days of complete commitment, complete cooperation, complete teamwork, and intense pride."
2nd Lieutenant Ellen Ainsworth, of Glenwood City, Wisconsin, was with the U.S. Army Nurses Corps and serving with the 56thduring that time.
|2nd Lt. Ellen Ainsworth|
According to Army records, Lt. Ainsworth was on duty on 10 February 1944 while, “the area was being subjected to heavy enemy artillery shelling. One shell dropped within a few feet of the ward, its fragments piercing the tent in numerous places. Despite the extreme danger, she calmly directed the placing of 42 surgical patients on the ground to lessen the danger of further injury. By her disregard for her own safety and her calm assurance, she instilled confidence in her assistants and her patients, thereby preventing serious panic and injury." She was wounded in the attack and died six days later from her wounds, no doubt cared for by her peers and colleagues in the 56th Evacuation Hospital. Lt. Ainsworth was laid to rest at Plot C, Row 11, Grave 22 of the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno.
In addition to a Purple Heart, Lt. Ainsworth was awarded the Silver Star, America’s 3rdhighest award for bravery. Her citation reads, in part, “Second Lieutenant Ainsworth's gallant actions and dedicated devotion to duty, without regard for her own life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon herself, her unit, and the United States Army.”
In honor of Lt. Ainsworth’s bravery, a health clinic at Fort Drum, the American Legion Post in Glenwood City, a conference room at the Pentagon and a building in the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King, WI are all named in her honor.
Now the real question: why am I telling you this story?
Many of you know that Ginger is spending much of the next two months traveling throughout Italy and Europe. This past week found her at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, about 65 km south of Rome.
As an indicator of the number of casualties during “Operation Shingle”, an American cemetery was established on 24 January 1944, just two days after the initial landing on the beaches of Anzio.
|Looking up at the ceiling in the main building.|
|Grave of Sgt Sylvester Antolak, of the 3rd Infantry Division, who won the Congressional Medal of Honor at Anzio|
|Leonard Greene, of the legendary 4th Ranger Battalion|
The cemetery is administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission, an independent agency of the US Govt tasked to operate and manage 24 cemeteries in Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, Panama, Italy, Luxembourg, Philippines, Mexico, Netherlands and Tunisia.
The cemetery is the final resting place of 7,861 of America's sons and daughters. They are not forgotten.
There are also two Commonwealth Cemeteries at Anzio, serving as the final resting place of soldiers from the British Empire who died at Anzio: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa. The Beach Head Cemetery has 2,316 graves (295 of them are unidentified), and the Anzio War Cemetery has 1,056 internments.
|Anzio Commonwealth War Cemetery|