Ciao Rome! On June 5, 1944, the city of Rome was liberated. The people of Rome flooded the streets to welcome Allied troops with cheers, flowers, wine and kisses. Shops closed, and jubilant crowds celebrated. The liberation of Rome was not only important strategically, but culturally as well. In addition to the extensive network of airfields, rail lines, and roads, Rome was a treasure trove of culture, antiquities and artifacts.
Liberation day was especially meaningful for 26-year-old Hubbert Guthrie, an American soldier living in Memphis when he was drafted. Plans to liberate Rome started with a surprise amphibious attack on the city of Anzio, just 37-miles away. Guthrie boarded a boat bound for Anzio the morning of January 22, 1944. His flotilla was led by a minesweeping boat circling ahead. It hit a mine and exploded, resulting in casualties. As Guthrie’s boat approached the floating wreckage, he spotted a tattered 48-star American flag floating in the water. He scooped it up, wrung it out and saved it. Though oil-stained and torn, he brought it home as a souvenir. “A lot of men died under that flag, every man on that little ship,” he said. “Old Glory had a hard life, she did.”
Guthrie was one of 36,000 troops that descended on Anzio that first day. The goal was to outflank German troops, draw them away from the Gustav line, (a German defense line running across central Italy) and open up the way to Rome. They hoped for a quick defeat, but the battle of Anzio turned in to 4-month stalemate. The Allies didn’t have enough manpower to push forward and the Germans weren’t able to push the invaders back. After months of steady pressure, the Germans retreated. The battle of Anzio resulted in the loss of 7,000 Allied troops.
Guthrie was wounded at Anzio and spent 10 days in the hospital. “It seems like everything I went into was a slaughter. I don’t know how I missed being killed but I did,” Guthrie said. When the first American tanks finally rolled into Rome on June 5th, they found it largely undamaged. The liberation was seen as a huge military and cultural victory.
Hubbert Guthrie never returned to Europe after WWII. He was interviewed when he was 80-years-old by a Nashville newspaper, The Tennessean, “I never wanted to go back. I left everything over there that I wanted to – part of my soul,” Guthrie said. Along with many other WWII veterans, Hubbert Guthrie has since passed away.