March 8, 1944 – Trenchfoot and the smell of death at Anzio

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March 8, 1944 – Trenchfoot and the smell of death at Anzio

A doom like quality surrounded the Anzio beachhead, and misfortune seemed to loom everywhere for the Dogface Soldiers. One of the most common occupational hazards was trench foot. It constituted the largest single cause of hospital admissions, with the exception of battle wounds, on Anzio.

Standing in cold, ankle deep water, for hours at a time, and lacking the ability to exercise or dry one’s feet caused this dreadful disease. In the most severe cases, “the feet turn blue, the flesh rots, and it can cause permanent disability.”[1]

This is a … vignette … (from) platoon sergeant of the 43th Division of the Allied Fifth Army on the Anzio beachhead. Sergt. Samuel Day of Covington. Ky., is a big guy. He weighed 257 pounds when he came into combat in January, and he still weights 240 despite all the K-rations he’s eaten.

Sgt. Day would be hard on his feet in in any circumstances, but when you get into a trench-foot world, 240 pounds is a lot of aggravation for sore dogs.

We get to discussing trench-foot, and Sgt. Day told about an incident that happened to him. It seems his feet got in pretty bad shape during their last recent tour in the foxholes, so he went to the frontline medics for ointment or something.

The medics’ solution for his troubles was simple. With a straight face, they told him, “Keep your feet dry and stay off of them for two weeks!”

Sgt. Day went back to his watery foxhole, still sore-footed but unable to keep from chuckling over the irony of this advice. Their prescription for trench-foot takes its place in history alongside W. C. Fields’ sure cure for insomnia—get lots of sleep![2]

(A soldier), a new replacement … remembered the terrible smell that permeated the beachhead: “At night we had a detail that went out and picked up the dead cows.  We pushed them in the shell holes and buried them. The cows really began to stink after awhile. I’ll never forget that smell as long as I live. It smelled like death.”[3]

[1] Champagne, 63.

[2] Ernie Pyle. With Fifth Army Beachhead Forces in Italy. News Clipping in small brown scrapbook with heavily embossed front.

[3] Champagne, 63.


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