March 17, 1944 – Dad’s first medal of valor caused Mount Vesuvius to blow her top

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March 17, 1944 – Dad’s first medal of valor caused Mount Vesuvius to blow her top

Well, not really. But the two events occurred in close proximity to each other. Phil’s first medal of valor was the Silver Star the Army’s third highest, after the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Cross.

On March 17,  1944, the reports about Pridgen, Calvert, Phil, and his men began to pour in as Phil wrote this letter home:

This is how I got [the Silver Star]t: One night we attacked and took a couple of houses from the Jerries. It took them most of the night to do it so it was dawn when I got an order to move up to these houses and put an Anti-Tank mine field in the road.

They were afraid the Germans would try to take the houses with tanks.

When the Major that commands my Bn. was briefing me he talked to me just like a father. For you see anyone that moves around during daylight hours on the front line they shell the heck out of that area instantly.

Well the Major knew I would have to crawl out of the flat open road, and would be in plain view of the Jerries only 100 yards away.

I went up to the houses, had to crawl 500 or 600 yards, and then out on the road, laid my filed and crawled back in the ditch, then about that time all hell broke loose, but I was on my way back.[1]


Local Hero Awarded Silver Star at Anzio

It was at Anzio where he won the Silver Star “for ignoring German shellfire” while he was on a mine-laying detail. He ordered his men back when the group came into view of the Germans only 150 yards away. Alone he completed the mission to which he had been assigned. All during the operation he was under heavy fire from enemy guns, dispatches said. [2]


16 Mar 44: A & P Platoon laid 54 AP mines in front of houses #5 and 6. Laid AT mines across road at bridge near house #6.[3]


Memphis Marine Wins Star at Anzio 

Second Lt. Philip B. Larimore, Memphis Marine(sic) in Italy, has been awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action on the Anzio beachhead.

“As Lt. Larimore, ammunition and pioneer platoon leader, was guiding a two-man mine-laying detail to a culvert, he was warned that the bridge which he planned to mine, and the entire surrounding area, was under heavy, direct German artillery fire,” says a Marine(sic) news report.

“Ignoring shells bursting within a few yards around him, he led his men to the bridge and ordered them to a comparatively safe place when enemy fire became too intense. For five minutes he worked alone, in clear view of the enemy 150 yards away, to complete his mission.”[4]


16 Mar 44, Action took place for which Philip B. Larimore, Jr, would be awarded the Silver Star (#87294).[5]

Hq. Co, 3d Bn, 30th Inf., 3rd Inf. Div. G.O. No. 58 (5 Apr 44). By Command of Brig. Gen. O’Daniel (presented in Italy, May 44)

For gallantry in action. Lieutenant Larimore, 3rd Battalion ammunition and pioneer platoon leader, guided a two man, mine-laying detail to a culvert northwest of ***,[6] Italy, the morning of 16 Mar, 1944. As he moved through two of his battalion company areas he was warned that two houses within a few yards of the bridge on which he planned to lay the hasty mine field were enemy held and that the ditch behind the bridge was under heavy direct artillery fire. Disregarding all warnings he led his men to the bridge, ignored the artillery fire, shells continually bursting with in 50 feet to 50 yards of him, and for five minutes in clear view of the enemy located in a house 150 yards away, worked alone laying the field. His actions, placing his men in a covered position, while he alone braved direct artillery and automatic weapons fire to accomplish his mission, reflect great credit on himself and the military service.


The afternoon of the ceremony the General would come to the G-1 awards tent, check the award recommendations, approve those he wished and then present the awards in a simple, effective, morale-boosting ceremony. The men moved right out of their position in the ranks, leaving their rifle with the man next to them, to march up and receive their decoration. The ceremonies usually ended with the Dogface Soldier song, which had its debut at the rest center at this time and subsequently became the theme song of every soldier in the 3rd Division). [3]

            The Dogface Soldier

 I wouldn’t give a bean, to be a fancy pants marine –

            I’d rather be a dogface soldier like I am – ;

I wouldn’t trade my old – OD’s for all the navy’s dungarees

            For I’m the walking pride of Uncle Sam – :

On the posters that I read, it says the Army builds men –

            So they’re tearing me down to build me over again –

I’m just a dogface soldier with a rifle on my shoulder

            And I eat a Kraut for breakfast every day –

So feed me ammunition, keep me in the Third Division,

            Your dogface soldier boy’s o—kay. [7]


The volcano (Mount Vesuvius) erupted over the span of several days; from 18-23 March, 1944.


During another mid-March night, while Phil was supervising his men as they ran ammunition to the front lines, an orange light brightened the horizon to the southeast. The variation in the light’s intensity—alternately orange, red, and yellow—left the men wondering, What the hell is that?

The men guessed it might be an ammunition dump blowing up near Naples—or perhaps a massive gas or oil depot on fire. Whatever it was, the conflagration continued to burn the entire night.

The next morning, the men learned that Mount Vesuvius had experienced its first major eruption since 1631,iv killing twenty-six civilians, displacing 12,000 persons, and destroying

eighty-eight American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers—$25 million worth of aircraft.[8]


[1] Undated typed letter.

[2] Memphis Press-Scimitar, Thursday, April 25, 1945.

[3] Prohme, 149; Boddy, Captain Robert M. Boddy. Bn S-3, 3rd Bn. 30th IR. S-3 Periodic Report. From 161200A to 171200A. 17 March 1944. NARA, Record Group 407, Entry Box 5646, HMFY 2007. WW II Operations Reports, 1940-1948. 3rd Infantry Division. 303-INF (30)-3.2 MAR 1944 TO 303-INF (30)-3.2 APR 1944.

[4] Newspaper article dated Saturday, June 3.

[5] Record of Award of Decoration by Agency Other Than War Department. Decorations and Awards Branch, Military Personel Division.\\

[6] Likely Carano, Italy (site of Garibaldi’s Tomb) based upon a map in: Prohme, 150-151.

[7] Taggart, 575.

[8] Various sources disagree on whether the eruption was on March 17 or March 18, 1944. Mount
Vesuvius has not had a major eruption since then.

In case you haven’t read or listened to Dad’s book, you can learn more or order it here.

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