Tuesday, December 31, 2013 12:00 AM
During the early days of 1944, seventy years ago, Supreme Commander of the European Theatre of Operations Dwight David Eisenhower ordered the Fifth Corps of the Fifth United States Army, commanded by Major General John P. Lucas, to establish a beachhead at Anzio, 35 miles south of Rome and draw German troops away from their defensive lines in the mountains in Central Italy.
His second objective was to drive forward about 25 miles, seize the Alban Hills and cut highways Six and Seven, which served as the German supply and escape routes.
On January 22, 1944, Lucas's Third Division, the British First Division, along with detachments of Rangers, Paratroopers and British Commandos, stormed ashore with little opposition.
By nightfall, 36,000 Allied troops were on land along with 3,200 wheeled vehicles, but no armored carriers, tanks, or armored troops, equipment and men necessary to quickly drive 25 miles inland.
These mechanized units remained at the Cassino front in event of a German counter-attack in that area.
Over the next nine days, the cautious Lucas continued to bring more material, supplies and men ashore.
This dawdling gave the Germans in the area time to build defenses and prepare for a counter-attack.
During this period, on January 26, 1844, the famed 83rd Chemical Battalion boarded the U.S.S. LST (landing ship tank) #422 for the trip to the Anzio beachhead.
Because of rough, wintry waters, the 422 remained at sea, awaiting better landing conditions.
In addition to the 600 men, equipment, mobile headquarters staff and records of the 83rd Chemical, the landing ship carried hundreds of white phosphorus mortar rounds.
Without warning, the amphibious ship struck a submerged German mine, exploded and burned furiously about 12 miles offshore.
Inside the hull, the exploding mortar rounds added to the inferno.
The ship's captain immediately ordered those not killed in the initial explosion to abandon ship.
Quickly, hundreds of men donned life preservers and jumped into the violent seas, now pelted by driving sleet.
Most of the men drowned, but a few survived long enough for a nearby smaller U.S.S. LSI (landing ship infantry) to rescue them.
Only 171 lived to tell of this tragedy.
At least 25 of the dead or missing and presumed dead were from the State of Mississippi, and one of that number was Private Willis Lamar Cannon of Neshoba County.
Hundreds of miles south of Anzio in Northern Africa, prayer was on the mind of another Neshobian, Private John Prentice Stuart.
In a letter to his parents, Prentice Stuart repeated a soldier's prayer that he recently heard in a sermon he described as "the finest I believe I have ever heard."
The religious plea asked; "God, I am far away from mother, father, brothers and sisters, but spiritually they are with me always. May Thy blessings be with them, and keep them in Thy care and protection, and someday if it is Thy will, we will be together again. May they not worry about their children. Lord, I want them to know I am the same boy I was before I enlisted in the armed service. Lord, there is nothing that a real soldier appreciates more that his parents' love and prayers.
"Lord there are many temptations one has to go through with, but with Thy power and grace nothing can break one's soul down into the uttermost parts of hell. One can go through battles and hardships of all kinds and at the end, if he is a child of God he is safe. Lord, bless my mother and father. I know they have lots of worry, but let them have the feeling their sons are in this war to win, first fighting for them and the God who saves the souls of those who will let Him enter into their lives. We know Thy side will win this war, but we Christian people have more to do now than ever before. Now lead us, and guide us, and when thou art done with us on this earth, receive us into Thy kingdom where we can praise thee forever and ever."
The 6'3" private from the Arlington community added, "Mama I am going to let the Lord have His way and when He needs me I am prepared to go, I think He will bring me back home and it won't be long."
Stuart did return home safely, but only after 22 months of fierce, brutal combat in Italy, southern France, the Rhineland and in Central Europe, serving with the 45th Infantry "Thunderbird" Division and the 124th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion.
Civil War Veterans
Bassett, James Henry - Private; enlisted March 1,1862 Philadelphia, Mississippi, in Company D, 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment; age twenty-two; wounded at Sharpsburg, September 16, 1862.
Hospitalized at the Camp Winder General Hospital at Richmond, Virginia, October 29, 1862 to November 11, 1862; furloughed for thirty days; wounded in the left shoulder by a shell at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.
Captured at Williamsport, Maryland, July 5, 1863; hospitalized at the U.S.A. General Hospital at Chester, Pennsylvania, September 17, 1863; paroled at Point Lookout, Maryland.
Exchanged at City Point, Virginia, March 6, 1864; hospitalized with a gunshot wound at Chimborazo Hospital #4 at Richmond, March 7, 1864; furloughed for sixty days, March 9, 1864; hospitalized at the Way Hospital at Meridian, Mississippi, March 14, 1864.
Received $44.00 for pay, December 16, 1864; Muster Roll, November-December 1864: "Wounded and permanently disabled."
World War II Veterans
Cannon, Willis Lamar - Private; enlisted on September 22, 1942, at Camp Shelby, Mississippi , in the United States Army.
Served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations; served also in the European Theatre of Operations with the 83rd Chemical Battalion.
Participated in the landings at Anzio, Italy, January 1944; killed in action (missing and presumed dead) when U.S.S. LST (landing ship tank) #422 struck a submerged German mine off the coast of Italy near Anzio, January 26, 1944.
Awarded the Purple Heart; memorial marker in the Spring Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, in Neshoba County, Mississippi.
Philadelphia-Neshoba County Historical Museum
Steven H. Stubbs, Curator
303 Water Avenue South Philadelphia, Mississippi 39350 (601) 656-1284
10 a.m. - 3 p.m.;
Monday thru Friday