Thursday, April 16, 2020


By Catherine Ulrich Brakefield

Our Easter celebrations this year were not celebrated in the usual American fashion because of the restrictions placed on us by the Coronavirus. Take heart Americans, allow our brave infantrymen to show us how to gather joy in the hardest circumstances:

The date was April 18, 1944, the next day would be Easter. But at Anzio, no one celebrated. The nurses, instead of Easter bonnets, wore steel pot helmets. No one had the privilege nor the time to take a hot shower. Clean clothes were out of the question, let alone new Easter duds. They didn’t even have an outdoor privy.

Most of the 34th Infantry (nicknamed the Red Bull Division) 135th E Rifle Company spent the day crouching in their damp and moldy-smelling foxholes determined not to relinquish even a fistful of Italy’s dirt to the Germans.

The other men in the 34th were flat on their backs in the makeshift hospital infirmary tent. They received better food than what the men in the trenches got. Still, the infirmity was not safe when German shells shot out like missiles lighting the night skies toward them and the supply depots.

No, there would be no Easter parades, no marching whatsoever. Embedded in their foxholes like living corpses, the soldiers of the 135th E Company considered themselves fortunate. Especially if they received hot soup brought up at dark by the mules.

If you think any of these soldiers let on to their loved ones back home how harsh the situation in those trenches had become, guess again. One soldier wrote to his mamma, “How’s everything? Just been doodling again, how do you like my new Easter bonnet? I’m still safe and sound and feeling pretty good, but I’m in need of a good bath, shave, and haircut…”

Determined not to allow his surroundings to dampen his Easter spirit, this soldier drew daisies and tulips around the Red Bull emblem and chuckled. He’d come close enough to death to know what his fellow soldiers knew: “You’ll never find an atheist in a foxhole.” He accepted the fact if a bomb or bullet had his name on it, well, it was his time to go.

Spring thaws brought more body lice, and the beachhead at Anzio didn’t resemble any beach back home in the States.

Snows melted into spring rains, gooey mud, and pesky flies. No dry clothes, the 135th bunked on the ground, either beneath the star-studded skies or under their pup tents that covered only a part of them during the heavy rains that drenched the countryside.

The term dogfaces became a label that the infantry shruggingly accepted due to their often muddied and bearded faces. Their rugged appearance caused many a WAC to hurry away. They much preferred the flyboys’ parties. They didn’t care to partner their dainty shoes dancing with the mud-clad boots and the dirt-stained uniforms of the infantryman.

Did that daunt the spirit of these GIs who could smell the sauerkraut of last night’s dinner on their enemy’s breath? Nope. They had their sweethearts waiting for “yours truly,” their one-and-only fun-lovin’ playboy’s return. This soldier carved a profile of his sweetheart on the inside lid of his mess kit. Many GIs carried their gal’s picture close to their heart. Home was only a heartbeat away.

A conversation between a father sending his son to off to fight in World War II went something like this, “Son, I know we didn’t prepare you like Hitler did his Nazis, or Japan their kamikaze, but, well, son, you’ll learn quick enough which end of the gun shoots the bullets. It would seem our Good Lord believes you can finish the job my generation didn’t. Don’t come back till it’s done, son.”
Is it any wonder that the 1918 George M. Cohan lyrics of “Over There” became a popular GI song? The chorus was especially significant:

“Over there, over there
Send the word, send the word over there             
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming
The drums are rum-tumming everywhere

So prepare, say a prayer
Send the word, send the word to beware
We'll be over, we're coming over 

And we won't come back till it's over
Over there!                                      

This soldier carried his Army-issued pocket Bible with Franklin D. Roosevelt's signature in the front flap along with these prayers throughout the war.

Any wonder Ralph Pallen Coleman’s hands fairly flew across the canvas of his inspiration depicting a World War II soldier kneeling and praying for guidance. A gigantic Jesus stood above him. Coleman titled his painting Onward Christian Soldiers.
In the clouds of Coleman’s masterpiece were the faint images of George Washington, General John (Blackjack) Pershing, General Eisenhower, and General MacArthur. A fitting reminder that throughout our America’s history Jesus was there with his arms outstretched. No wonder Easter was vividly important to our soldiers. They stood on the precipice between life and death daily. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13 NKJV)

I can just imagine hearing those soldiers chuckling over their good fortune in their dismal and dirty foxholes. Yeah. Easter is more than bonnets, parades, and bunnies. Easter symbolizes victory over the cross and the grave! Who better to know this than one who has met the enemy and has laughed in the devil’s face? “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen!” (Luke 24:5,6 NKJV)

From : Sun-Sentinel Newspaper, Thursday, January 26, 1989

“… it is the name of Anzio that endures.… In the U.S. military cemetery in Nettuno, Italy, lie 7,862 U.S. soldiers. The walls of a marble memorial bear the names of 3,094 others whose bodies were never found.”

Waltz with Destiny: A story-book romance swirls into a battle for survival. Ruby’s daughter, Esther, meets her adventuresome match as World War II slams America’s shoreline. Can Eric persevere? Were America’s fun-lovin’ guys too inexperienced to win?

“History worth remembering and characters that bring it to life, Catherine Ulrich Brakefield’s Waltz with Destiny is the crown jewel of the Destiny series! Brakefield brings 1940s Detroit to life, along with the WWII battlefields of Italy.” Kathleen Rouser, award-winning author of Rumors and Promises.

“I loved the suspenseful and well-crafted twists, turns, and vivid war scenes. They left me reading nonstop while biting my nails. Catherine’s lovely prose, sense of humor, and historical accuracy deliver an unmistakable wow factor.” Deb Gardner Allard AKA Taylor Jaxon, author of Before the Apocalypse.

Catherine is an award-winning author of the inspirational historical romance Wilted Dandelions. Destiny series: Swept into Destiny, Destiny’s Whirlwind, Destiny of Heart, and Waltz with Destiny.

She is a member of Heart of American Christians Writers Network (HACWN); American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) President of the Great Lakes Chapter (ACFW GLC), and is a longtime Michigan resident. Catherine lives with her husband of 45 years, has two adult children, and four grandchildren. See for more information about the Destiny series.


  1. And I complain that I didn't get to see my family on that day. Perspective. Thanks for the post.

    1. I know what you mean, Connie. We all have much to thank our Good Lord for!

  2. Wonderful post Catherine. A good reminder that Easter is in our hearts, not in a building.

  3. Amen Linda Matchett, and I always remember that song about our mansion just over that hillside!