On board guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72), crew members welcomed the Anzio Beachhead Veterans and their families, April 26, commemorating the anniversary of the World War II storming of Anzio Beach in Italy 68 years ago.
On Jan. 22, 1944, the beaches of Anzio, Italy, were assaulted by 40,000 soldiers, over 5,000 vehicles, and more than 250 U.S. Navy vessels, leading into a battle that waged for almost five months.
“I served in the Army from 1941 to 1945 as a .50-caliber machine gunner, 32 months of those years were spent overseas,” said Bryant Huffman. “My wife and I still travel to Italy every year, but we always avoid the Anzio area.”
The ship hosted the 25 veterans and their families who visited Mahan, where they were given a tour of the missile decks and foc’sle, the 5-inch gun, and the main decks spaces such as Central Command Station, the Mess Decks, and Combat Information Center.
Retired Lt. Col. John Ray, who enlisted on July 5, 1942, spent his Anzio days as an enlisted soldier but received a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps commission following the war. He went on to spend 24 years in the Army, retiring before the Vietnam conflict began.
“I finally left in 1966 as a lieutenant colonel,” said Ray, “but I was proud to be a grunt in the 34th Infantry, 2nd Division during the war.”
Morris Snyder talked about his experiences during the war; he spent five campaigns fighting in Africa and Europe, where he was wounded on three separate occasions. His third wound resulted in his capture by the German Army. He spent 228 days in a POW camp where he served as the Barracks Chief and Medical Examiner, despite having no medical experience.
After returning home and being offered a commission, he resigned his duties in the military after just two and a half years of service. He then went on to a 40-year career in the steel industry. He was awarded three Silver Stars and most recently the French Legion of Honor, the highest award the French government can bestow.
Snyder is more proud of raising a family than the awards.
“I’ve got a bunch of shiny stuff they gave me,” Snyder said.
The veterans spoke of their excitement being able to visit a warship and learn something new. Mahan Sailors spoke with the veterans, heard their stories, and said they were reminded of the many reasons they chose to fight for their country.
Mahan is currently home ported at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. Last year, the ship completed a U.S. 6th Fleet deployment in support of maritime security and will deploy again in 2013.