June marks a milestone of the Italian campaign during World War II. The 45th Infantry Division had endured months of fighting and misery at Anzio.
According to Flint Whitlock, “On the march to Rome, the 45th was made up of scruffy-looking soldiers, dead on their feet. Ken Vogt, E Company, 157th, recalled, ‘You don’t get a chance to shave or clean up. You might get to change your socks once in a while. That’s about all. That last day on the road, we were bedraggled, all worn out. Every once in a while, somebody’d drop over, and they’d pick ‘em up and put ‘em in the trucks that were following us, give ‘em smelling salts, and bring ‘em to.’”
Elements of the 45th reached the outskirts of Rome on June 4th, 1944. Along the way, 1st Bn, 180th had to fight off a small group of Germans, and they secured the bridge over the Tiber River, five miles southwest of the city. There were a few more small engagements along the way, and several German POWs were captured. On the morning of June 5th, the battle for Italy, had essentially ended for the 45th Infantry Division.
The Thunderbirds moved through the southern sections of Rome to bivouac in the rolling hills. Out of range of German snipers and artillery, they set up tents to take a well-deserved rest. On the morning of June 6th, they learned of the invasion of Normandy.
The 157th Infantry history notes that “Morale went high with the knowledge that the all-out Allied assault had begun. Hope returned to the eyes of the weary infantry. The war in Italy was over. There wasn’t a bit of doubt about it in the minds of the infantry as tanks swept on to the north. As a matter of fact, with that beachhead in France, the whole war was about over. It had to be.”
Unfortunately, there would be almost another year of fighting before the combat time of the Thunderbirds would end.