MEMORIAL DAY TRIBUTE – The “Forgotten Front” of WWII

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MEMORIAL DAY TRIBUTE – The “Forgotten Front” of WWII

Inspired by a war-scarred field of bright red poppies that he saw in the spring of 1915, Canadian Soldier Lt. Col. John McCrae wrote the powerful poem “In Flanders Fields.” With fewer than 100 words, McCrae honored the lives lost in World War I and spurred a timeless movement of using the poppy as a symbol of remembrance within the military community.

More than 645,000 have lost their lives in service to our country since World War I. Today, more than 100 years since the end of the war, we have a profound opportunity this Memorial Day weekend to remember their ultimate sacrifice with a moment of silence, a reverent act, or a thoughtful gesture of thanks.

In honor of this Memorial Day, I penned an Op-Ed that I submitted to a dozen newspapers around the country. I hope it will be a blessing to you and yours as you take a moment to remember.

The “Forgotten Front” of World War II

Memorial Day

Walt Larimore


Ask the average person what that means, and they’ll mention something about Normandy. But did you know the men on the Southern Front of the European Theater of Operations (ETO) had five D-Days? All were amphibious landings on the shores of French Morocco; Sicily; Salerno, Italy; Anzio, Italy; and Southern France.

When I ask people to name the first European capital liberated by the Allies, the most common answer is, “Paris.” That occurred in August 1944, almost 12 weeks after the Southern soldiers liberated Rome on June 4-5, 1944. Unfortunately, news about Rome’s emancipation was buried by the Normandy invasion on June 6. Newsrooms rushed to replace front-page stories recounting the battles to free Rome with even larger headlines about Normandy. From that moment on, the Southern Front became, in essence, the “Forgotten Front.”

Another case in point: many have heard of the Northern Army’s horrific Battle of Hürtgen Forest throughout the fall and winter of 1944, but few remember the arguably more gruesome and arduous battles fought in the Vosges Mountains simultaneously. In three months of ferocious fighting in severe conditions, the Southern Front G.I.s accomplished what no army in warfare had ever done before—conquer an enemy defending the Vosges Mountains—and in winter no less!

Most know about the Northern Front’s monumental Battle of the Bulge, but almost no one remembers the fierce and potentially more disastrous Battle of the Colmar Pocket and its decisive Battle at La Maison Rouge—waged in some of the worst winter wartime conditions ever recorded. Historian Stephen Ambrose wrote, “It was fought in conditions so terrible that they can only be marveled at, not really imagined.” He added, “Only those who were there can know. More than once in interviewing veterans of the January fighting, men involuntarily shivered when I asked them to describe the cold.”

The Northern Front doughboys fought 336 days (June 6 to May 8) while on the Southern Front, the 3rd Infantry Division slogged a long, bloody 913 consecutive days (531 combat days) to reach V-E Day in Salzburg, Austria, and was the only American Division that fought the Nazis on fronts in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) and Europe (Sicily, Italy, France, Germany, Austria). The 3rd had more casualties than any other division during the entire war—nearly 35,000, more than twice the original strength of the division. They hold the record for high combat citations, with no fewer than 29 Medals of Honor. When German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring was asked, “What was the best American division faced by troops under your command?”, without hesitation, he placed the 3rd at the top.

General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.

Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., who commanded the Southern Front, said, “Officers and men under my command established records that were not equaled by others in this war and have not been excelled in any other to my knowledge. In large measure, these magnificent accomplishments … passed without full recognition”—and have been forgotten for almost eighty years.

The front-line men and their brothers-in-combat faced and conquered fear, heartbreak, dread, chaos, stench, casualties, wounds, and unimaginable opposition. Many times, they faced battles they feared would end in inevitable defeat or certain death. They sacrificed the daily comforts most consider essential. Those that returned to the home front savored each new day, each breath, in a new way. They knew their many friends in battle who had left their all on the altar of war—who had sacrificed their tomorrows—had allowed them and us to live—truly live—for all their and our todays.

All our military men and women deserve to be remembered and honored on Memorial Day—especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. But it’s long overdue to have a special shout-out for those who sacrificed their lives on the Southern Front.

So, as we celebrate our continued liberty and freedom on this Memorial Day, my hope and prayer are that the heroes who fought and died on the Southern Front will be forgotten no longer.

And, as General Truscott advised, “We cannot look back to them if we do not look forward to the future for which they fought—and died.” Let’s honor their sacrifices by preserving and protecting the freedom and liberty they died to bequeath to each of us.

Walt Larimore, a Colorado-based physician, and best-selling author spent significant parts of the last 16 years studying the “Forgotten Front” of Northern Africa and Southern Europe in World War II while researching his book, At First Light: A True World War II Story of a Hero, His Bravery, and an Amazing Horse. The book was released by Knox Press in April.


© Copyright WLL, INC. 2024.


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