G. Sam Piatt
October 5, 2009
SOUTH SHORE, Ky. Like a lot of other young men in the South Shore-Portsmouth area in the summer of 1943, Don Traylor didnt have to worry about finding a steady job. A job with excitement.
He was 19 when the U.S. Army sent him an invitation to come to work. The job involved a scenic cruise across the Atlantic Ocean and up the Mediterranean Sea. There was an extended hike through the mountains of Italy and a visit to Rome.
Disadvantages of the job were that, as a member of the 36th Infantry Division, he had to carry an M-1 rifle and a machine gun, and that somebody up ahead was out to kill him.
The job carried good medical benefits. He found that out after being shot through the leg and hip and having a piece of hot shrapnel tear a chunk of meat out from behind his left shoulder.
Like some other men who went through combat on the battlefields of World War II, Traylor is reluctant to talk about those days of 65 years ago.
I didnt do anything, except what was expected of all of us, he said.
And, he said, he cant remember the details anyway. It all runs together now.
He remembers going in on a landing ship on the amphibious landing on Anzio Beach, on the west coast of Italy, just 33 miles south of Rome. He recalls being bogged down for months on the beach, dug in in trenches, much like the armies facing each other in World War I.
I wasnt in on the initial invasion. They had gone in four or five miles and got driven back by the Germans counterattacking. I was part of the replacement troops coming in with the 36th Infantry. I know we were on that beachhead a long time before we finally broke out, he said.
He didnt learn until later that James Arness, who later played the role of Marshal Dillon in the TV series, Gunsmoke, was severely wounded at Anzio a wound that left him with a slight limp for the rest of his life.
Nor was he aware that Audie Murphy, who became a Hollywood actor after becoming the most decorated U.S. combat soldier in the nations military history, also fought on Anzio Beach.
After their victory in North Africa, the U.S. and its Allies turned their attention to Italy. They conquered Sicily in 33 days and used it to kick off an invasion of the toe of the Italian peninsula, intending to make their way up The Boot north toward the Balkans and Germany.
At the Winter line, or Gustav Line, a line reaching entirely across Italy south of Rome, a German army 400,000 men strong took up defensive positions in the mountains, manning machine guns and artillery guns.
An amphibious invasion at Anzio was Winston Churchills idea. It should provide a quick thrust for an end-around and behind the Gustav Line push.
American generals George Marshall and Mark Clark were not enthusiastic about the plan, referred to as Operation Shingle. They were more concerned with planning the Normandy invasion from Great Britain across the channel and in to southern France. It would take place on June 6, 1944.
Operation Shingle was commanded by Major General John P. Lucas and was intended to outflank German forces of the Winter Line and enable an attack on Rome. The resulting combat is commonly called the Battle of Anzio. It began Jan. 22, 1944. It was June 4 before Rome fell to America and her Allies.
Lucas natural caution stemming from his lack of experience in battle, along with a quick response by a strong German army, are blamed for failure of the quick thrust.
A few days before the attack, Lucas wrote in his dairy, They will end up putting me ashore with inadequate forces and get me in a serious jam...then who will get the blame?
During March and all of April most of the Allied casualties came from armor and artillery attacks.
In one day of fighting, the Third Infantry Division suffered 955 casualties, 83 percent of them the result of shrapnel. It would be the highest single day figure of killed and wounded for any U.S. division during World War II.
But they slugged it out with the Germans. Their 362nd Infantry Division lost an estimated 50 percent of its fighting strength.
Traylor said all he remembers by the time he came ashore was a beachhead lined with muddy trenches, foxholes and dugouts.
On May 30, it was his 36th Infantry Division that provided an early breakthrough of the German line. Under Major General Fred Walker, they found a gap in the enemy line, climbed the slopes of Monte Artemiso, threatened the Germans from the rear and forced a withdrawal of the defenders in that area.
Traylor fought on through Rome without being wounded.
I dont even remember where I was wounded, what battle. I know it was north of Rome, he said. I recall it was a box of ammunition that saved my life. I pulled it over near my head. A piece of shrapnel that probably would have taken my head off hit the ammo box instead. The ammunition in it went off. We were pinned down. There was shots and shells flying everywhere. They carried me off that battlefield. I would up back in Naples in a hospital.
He spent several weeks in a hospital. He was placed back on duty, but assigned to the rear echelon. He was still in the Naples area when Germany surrendered in early May 1945.
Traylor wasnt discharged until February 1946. The only medals he said he remembers getting were the Purple Heart and the Good Conduct.
I guess I had some ribbons, too, he said.
He married Dora Hamilton in 1947. They had been married 48 years when she died on June 29, 1995.
They have two children, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
His son, Gary, served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam 1968-71 and Garys son, Brian, served with the Navy during Desert Storm 1992-96.
The 85-year-old Traylor said he has enjoyed his retirement from the Brick Yard in South Shore, where he worked more than 40 years.
I dont have a whole lot of responsibility now, he said. All I do around here is run the lawnmower and the sweeper.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.