February 20, 1944 – A teenage WWII hero arrives at his new unit on Anzio

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February 20, 1944 – A teenage WWII hero arrives at his new unit on Anzio

Phil was one of 182 men (17 officers and 165 enlisted men, including men returning from the hospital) who received slips indicating they would be replacements for the 3rd Battalion, which normally contained at least 800 men. It didn’t take a genius to realize his new battalion had taken quite a licking.

The men were re-packed into the trucks. During daylight hours, anything moving could be subjected to accurate shell fire, so caution was vital. If a vehicle moved too fast along a road in daylight, it left behind a trail of dust similar to an airplane contrail and was sure to be fired upon.

After a couple of miles along a rutted road, the trucks turned off into a field with a large patch of scrub oak, where Phil and the men unloaded. He learned that this was the regimental service company and rear command post area. When the regimental commander arrived in his Jeep, he didn’t waste any words.

“Close in so you can hear me,” barked Lieutenant Colonel Lionel C. McGarr,[1] the 30th Infantry Regimentcommander. “You’re now part of the 30th Infantry, and you’re going in as replacements to the best damn regiment in the United States Army. You’re joining a crack unit in a crack division and will be expected to live up to the traditions of this regiment and this division.”

McGarr took a deep breath and looked at each of the men. His voice softened, and Phil thought he sounded almost like his father.

“You’re going to suffer. You came here to suffer. You’re going to suffer everything that the Boche can throw at you,” he said, using the French slang word for German soldiers. “You’re going to suffer everything that goes with a miserable damn climate. But you’re going to take it like men.”

McGarr paused, his face tightening. “Everyone is scared in his first battle. If he says he is not, he is a liar. The real hero is the one who fights even though he is scared.”

The colonel then took a deep breath and let the air out slowly. “We’ve quit playing games. This is serious business. The Boche is sitting out there with at least seven divisions, and he’s trying to shove us into the ocean. Upon you, men, depends the future of every living soul on this beachhead. Don’t make any mistake about it. It’s men like you going into frontline foxholes and stopping the attack that the Boche is going to throw at us. And you’re going to get up there with the idea that you will kill as many of them as possible. The only thing that’s going to keep us from being shoved into the sea is killing Boche.”

Then the colonel saluted and got into his Jeep and drove off.

Hot damn, Phil thought. That’s a man I’ll go to hell with!

He smiled, thinking of a little poem he heard while at Fort Benning:

When an Infantryman gets to heaven,

to Saint Peter, he will tell,

“Just another soldier reporting, sir.

I’ve served my time in hell.”

[1] Colonel Lionel C. McGarr (1904–1988) graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1928 and served in command and staff positions of increasing rank and responsibility. He saw extensive combat in North Africa and Europe as commander of the 30th Infantry Regiment, beginning in October 1943.

[i] Close in so. This speech was adapted from Books, Taggart, 124, and Soskil, 35–36; Periodicals, Small. You’re now part of the __th Infantry is the actual quote. Taggart indicated an unnamed “regimental commander” in the 3rd Division, while Soskil seems to implicate the commander of the 7th Infantry Regiment as giving this speech. We’ve made it Colonel McGarr for the purpose of this story.

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