The 36th Division Archive
Corporal Stanley R. Hamilton
Rifleman, Personnel Clerk
I Company, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division
Stanley “Stan” Riley Hamilton was born on 1 November 1920 to a small but well-to-do family in Craig, Colorado. A 3rd-generation Coloradan, Stan grew up in the small northwestern municipality of Craig with a few siblings and ended up attending a year of college after high school. College life wasn’t a perfect fit, however, and Stan ended up joining the Colorado National Guard in 1940 to seek out a little more adventurous life beyond his small hometown. Assigned as the company clerk for A Company, 157th Infantry Regiment (based in his hometown of Craig), on 16 September 1940 Stan and the regiment was mustered into federal service and began more intensive training for potential deployment. Once the Japanese attack came at Pearl Harbor action was almost certain and the Colorado boys of the 157th knew it wouldn’t be long before they were meant for combat.
Around Christmas of 1942, Stan was transferred to what would become his primary combat unit, I Company of the 157th, and had spent the last two years training around the United States. On 8 June 1943 the now fully mobilized 45th Infantry Division loaded up on almost twenty vessels and began their trek towards the Mediterranean. After landing in Africa the men underwent specific combat training for amphibious operations which they would end up using several times throughout the war. Less than three weeks after they arrived, however, Stan and the men of I Company experienced their first combat at Sicily. Landing in the early hours of 10 July, the 3rd Battalion marched up the Sicilian shore to eliminate German units from the Comiso Airport. Their first action proved a decisive one and with a victory under their belt, the men continued the march across the island knocking out the scrambled German defenders from one town to the next, concluding the campaign with a bloody battle near Messina.
Stan and the 157th, now well-tested in combat, had little time to rest before they found themselves back in their landing craft heading towards the long beaches of Salerno. By 11 September 1943, the entire 3rd battalion had landed and its men were quickly thrown into the fray. I Company specifically played a notable role on “Black Monday'' when it rushed to the flank of A Company to stop the encirclement of the entire battalion by a large force of 21 German panzers. The company fought tooth-and-nail against an all-out German assault to break through to the beach but the 157th held. Once Salerno had been firmly secured the 45h pushed up the Italian mainland with the 5th Army before stalling at the Gustav line. The failed assault at Monte Cassino in attempts to break the line pushed Allied commanders in a different route, leading Stan and I Company to their bloodiest battle of the war--Anzio.
The division’s third amphibious assault, Anzio proved to be the division’s most costly and one of the hardest-hitting battles of the entire war. The 45th Division was first held in reserve during the attack but the harsh German defense meant that the division ended up on full deployment less than ten days into the assault. The landings here were the worst the men had experienced by far with German railroad artillery and dive bombers sending rounds into the landing craft themselves. Once on the shore itself the men had to dig hasty fortifications less they risk being hit by one of the thousands of artillery rounds ramming into the beach. The risk of German “butterfly bombs,” a slow-falling timed explosive, meant each trench now required sandbags and a wooden roof. With only the 2nd and 3rd battalions on the beach (the 1st was held in reserve offshore), the 3rd of the 157th was put up along the south side of the landing zone next to the British North Staffordshire Regiment with I Company holding the left side of the flank.
February 7th saw the start of a hellish two-week German onslaught. The day began quietly but around 2100 a massive artillery barrage began pounding the 157th lines proceeded by a large-scale attack of German infantry and Panzers. While the line itself was not completely overrun, German infantry managed to sneak their ways all into the rocks, hills, crevices, and even behind the 157th boys to create further chaos. The American lines were quite literally swarmed. By 0500 regimental CP had to retreat under heavy fire and the L Company line had completely collapsed, leading to Stan and I Company mourning a counterattack to restore the position. Supporting artillery from allied guns fired over 24,000 rounds that night and the battalion spent three days of machine-gun ammunition in a matter of hours. I Company alone fired over 1,700 mortar rounds. By daylight, the brunt of the assault had let up and I Company was relieved by Felix Sparks and E Company.
The following week was full of similar destruction and before long began what was known as the “Battle of the Caves and Crossroads.” Facing a multi-divisional German force with a force of two battalions, the 157th was tasked with holding two critical objectives key to the security of the beachhead. The 3rd Battalion, specifically I Company, was given the task of defending a geographic part of the line known as the “overpass” or “flyover.” Consisting of a bridge connecting the Anzio Road to Route 32. On the 16th the company moved to the overpass and was tasked with defending it for the next day. The ground was swampy and hasty dugouts were uncomfortable and often shallow. The bridge provided direct access to the beach and should it fall, the entire allied line would be lost in a matter of minutes. Now up against the well-seasoned 26th Panzergrenadier and 29th Panzer divisions, within an hour of settling in the men fell under mass German fire of nebelwerfers, artillery, Ferdinand tanks, and much more. The bombing shelled the ground into oblivion and men could not leave their slit trenches without explicitly individual orders. Men who did risk it, sometimes to help the wounded, were often blown into pieces right in front of their comrades. This happened several times. K ration boxes became toilets and the muddy ground, beds. Bloody noses ran rampant as the relentless concussion was a constant.
The next day saw I Company creating a defensive semi-circle in the exposed ground in front of the overpass, putting up a field of concertina wire 20-100 yards ahead of the position during the lulls of artillery. Meanwhile, Allied command was worried about Anzio legitimately becoming another Dunkirk. The two battalions of the 157th were essential at the point and their strength would determine the success or failure of the entire invasion. Germans immediately pushed upon the new position sending wave after wave of infantry across the vast flatlands in front of them. The attacks never lasted long as the I Company machine guns easily cut them down in the open and as they got stuck in the wire field. Throughout the night heavy shelling continued and bands of German infantry with machine or sub-machine guns would harass the GIs. Three panzers even snuck into position behind buildings to the front and laid direct fire into the company lines. I Company managed to receive some ammo from a patrol but no further water or rations. Sniper dueling also ensued and the ammunition shortage saw riflemen breaking up rounds from .30 mg belts to compensate.
Early in the morning on the 19th, a heavy artillery barrage signaled the beginning of a mass infantry attack against the company with masses of German troops charging across the open ground. Quickly repelled by the machine guns, sporadic attacks continued throughout the day culminating in another grand charge at dusk which was similarly broken up as the Germans were cut down climbing through the wire. The next morning saw yet another infantry attack, but this time from the German reserve units energized in the assault. No medics came to their aid as they too faced the same wrath of their comrades. Seemingly in revenge, the Germans kept up with a five-hour straight barrage of artillery, mortars, and tank rounds to signal their final gasp at taking the bridge. The battle was finally over.
Thanks to the men of I Company the overpass was held against overwhelming odds of German infantry, artillery, and tanks. Outmanned and outgunned, Stan and the 168 GIs of I Company stopped several German divisions and single-handedly saved the entire allied invasion force from utter destruction. By the time they left the line on 21 February Stan was one of only 68 survivors. For its outstanding valor in the face of overwhelming odds, the company was awarded its own Presidential Unit Citation.
Despite the massive losses and horror of Anzio, the war continued. Stan and the company followed the 45th up through Rome and the Italian mainland, pushing the Germans back further and further north. In August they joined the 36th and 3rd divisions for Operation Dragoon and opened up yet another front in Southern France. Fighting through the riviera and wine-country, the campaign in France proved a lot smoother than the hell of Italy experienced for the months prior. While in the Vosges Mountains Stan and I Company came under command of the famed Felix Sparks, later author of the infamous book “The Liberator.” In October, however, Stan transferred out of his frontline combat unit to serve as a clerk in the service company, overseeing the supply and movements of troops for the regiment. Based on eyewitness and unit reports there is a decent chance Hamilton was also among the GIs present for the liberation of Dachau. Although not with I Company, Stan likely went to visit his former comrades to see what they had found. Many of the 157th men ended up seeing the devastation per Eisenhower’s orders to view and record the realities of the camp with as many witnesses as possible. With so many former battle buddies in I company, the primary liberators, Stan too likely helped out and witnessed firsthand the peak of Nazi atrocities.
By the end of the war, he had accumulated seven campaign stars and an arrowhead for his service, trivial pieces of bronze compared to all they represented. Stan, one of the early guardsmen, was allowed to go home early in May of 1945 and returned to Colorado to marry and settle down, starting a 53-year career at a local General Motors dealership which he worked at until retirement.
Many thanks is deserved to Hugh Foster, the 157th IR historian, for his help in getting the dates and units of Stan which made this history possible.