History in Focus: Woody Herring, Jr. — hell at Anzio during WWII
As the World War II generation passes from our midst, the intense and difficult memories of this righteous war become less vivid. Only when we look at the life of the individuals who did the fighting and dying can we dip into the emotion of that era. Textbooks can never do justice to the individuals and families who suffered, sacrificed, and truly wrote this chapter in American history.
Woody Herring Junior’s name is inscribed on the new World War II memorial on the north end of City Park, and his story shines an interesting light on how World War II tore the fabric of life in Craig.
Born in California in 1923, Woody came to Craig as a little boy. His Father, a WWI veteran and tailor, found work at a men’s clothing store in town, but tragedy struck on May 18, 1927. The Craig Empire reported Woody’s Mom, Anna, was in serious condition following surgery at the Hayden hospital. “She is not expected to live through the night.” Anna passed away, and was buried in her hometown of Denison, Iowa. All alone, Woody Sr. and his two boys left for Iowa to live near Anna’s family.
By 1933, Woody Sr. remarried and the lure of the good life called the family back to Northwest Colorado. He and his new wife, Mildred, bought a house at 648 School St. and settled into the comfortable rhythm of family life. On Feb. 28, 1934 the Craig Empire Courier reported that Woody Jr. and his brother, Bobby, enjoyed cake and ice cream at a birthday party for a school chum. Later, “they were entertained at the Victory Theatre where they enjoyed seeing Al Jolson in ‘Hallelujah I’m a Bum.’” In August of 1939 Woody Jr. broke his arm playing baseball with friends at the Durham ranch.
As Woody matured into manhood he followed his father’s example and joined the Colorado National Guard. In September 1940, looming war uprooted the family as father and son were simultaneously inducted into the army with Company A of the 157th regiment. Before he even graduated from high school, Woody and Dad were training for war together. Later, Woody Sr. was transferred to the Air Corps.
Woody Jr. remained with the 157th, arrived in North Africa in May 1942, and fought in Sicily and Salerno. Bogged down, the allies landed at Anzio, just south of Rome, to break the stalemate. Quickly, the Nazis pinned down the allies on the beach; counterattacks, artillery shells by the thousands per day, fearful life in trenches, and intense combat brought death and injury by the thousands. Woody was caught in a hell on earth that would last from January through May of 1944.
In late February, the ferocity of Anzio finally found young Woody. In a letter to the family “from a local boy” published in the Craig Empire Courier on May 24 gives us details: “He was about 200 yards from the C.P. at the Anzio beachhead when it happened… The Krauts were shelling some artillery in that vicinity and several of the shells hit in the trees over the heads of the boys in rest. They brought him down to our aid station but I didn’t go out, it was hardly safe to stick your head out.”
A piece of hot shrapnel caught Woody above the right eye and lodged in his brain. According to a letter from Mildred to a friend in Craig, the shrapnel was successfully removed by surgery through the back of the head, but his whole left side was paralyzed. In a strange and odd blurb in the Steamboat Pilot of March 30, 1944, Woody supposedly and cheerfully wrote his family, “The doctor sure did a good job taking apart my head and putting it together again.”
Transported back to the U.S., Woody finally succumbed to his injuries at Starke Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina on May 18,1944 at the tender age of 21. His body was shipped to Denison, Iowa and laid to rest near his Mother.
After surviving another world war, Woody Sr. and Mildred returned to Craig to start again once more. A daughter was born in 1946, and the Herrings lived a vibrant life together until his death in 1979. Mildred passed away in Craig in 2008.
James Neton teaches history at Moffat County High School.James Neton teaches history at Moffat County High School.James Neton teaches history at Moffat County High School.
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