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Lieutenant Henry Lloyd Mitchell

Platoon Leader

C Company, 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division

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Henry Lloyd Mitchell was born in September 1919 as the only son in a family of three daughters who had recently moved to the southeastern Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe. With his mother staying at home to take care of the kids, Henry’s father worked as the Superintendent of a local porcelain factory which brought enough income to support their family in the bustling waterfront town. Starting high school at the peak of the great depression, Henry went on to spend much of his time in athletics as a member of his school's varsity track and basketball teams. He graduated in 1937 and not long after started work to support his parents and younger sister who was still at home. Rather than join his father in his own factory he decided to join the Hoover Company, a manufacturer and retailer of cleaning equipment, as a shipping clerk with whom he worked up until he decided to join the United States Army in early 1941.

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Entering the service prior to Pearl Harbor, Henry’s peacetime service proved to only last a few months before the Japanese attack brought the nation to war. Unsure of what war might bring, Henry decided to marry his sweetheart, Janet, less than two weeks after the attack before he began the process of shipping around the United States and inevitably, the world. Although a prior enlistee, he served primarily stateside for the first few years of the war before receiving a commission and getting orders to travel overseas in the winter of 1943-44. Now a 2nd Lieutenant, Henry moved to the European theater where he would serve as a replacement in the veteran 34th “Red Bull” Infantry Division as a platoon leader in C Company, 135th Infantry Regiment. Although the 34th had been fighting since North Africa, it suffered great casualties there and in the early Italian campaign many replacements like Henry were needed to keep the division functional. He likely joined sometime in late January or early February right as the division was fighting the furious battle along the Gustav Line. With Germans retreating into the mountains, some of Henry’s first combat would have been in combat against the bitterly entrenched forces at Monte Cassino near the Gari River. It was an intense battle and by the end of the fighting a few weeks later, his regiment maintained an average of 30 battle-ready men per company. Henry caught several illnesses while in the field during the late winter but nevertheless pushed on to lead his men against their foes. Taken off the line in February, the Red Bulls enjoyed a month of rest before moving to Anzio where they held the defensive line for allied forces attempting to break out of the pocket. Both March and April were full of defensive procedures until their next great offensive came to grab the great Italian prize: Rome.

On 11 May the II Corps launched its first initial drive towards Rome but the Germans were able to push it back, leading to a second phase, “Operation Buffalo,” which utilized the 34th and several other division to break up hostile defenses around the beachhead and secure a line around Cisterna while cutting off Anzio’s crucial Highway 7. Beginning on 23 May, Henry and the 135th were surprisingly detached from the 34th ID and put under command of the 1st Armored Division’s Combat Command A whom they would support for the assault. After a 35 minute artillery barrage the regiment set off at 0630 with armor support to make their push. Henry’s battalion was put on the left flank of the advance and had trouble with a number of German minefields slowing their movement. By the end of the first day, however, their surprise assault managed to knock the Germans out as the regiment took their primary objectives at Cisterna and the railroad to the west. Reorganized and preparing a defensive line, the regiment took heavy artillery and mortar fire in retaliation for their success and before long most of their communications had been cut. It was up to the frontline leaders like Henry to ensure their objectives were held as upper leadership now had to send orders manually via runners. The next few days were filled with German counterattacks, including a brutal one against the 1st Battalion, which saw German armor, artillery, and infantry give insane effort to try and dislodge the GIs. Regardless, the Red Bulls held and on 26 May the 135th was returned to the rest of the 34th ID to go into reserves.

Photograph of Henry receiving his Purple Heart in September of 1944
Photograph of Henry receiving his Purple Heart in September of 1944

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Henry's draft card
Henry's draft card

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Advance up towards Rome
Advance up towards Rome

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Photograph of Henry receiving his Purple Heart in September of 1944
Photograph of Henry receiving his Purple Heart in September of 1944

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At this time Henry’s regiment was reinforced, replacing their 2nd Battalion with the 100th Infantry Battalion, the infamous segregated Japanese-American combat team who had fought alongside the 34th for several months. From 26-30 May the regiment was spent on the defensive line as the Germans reorganized with new troops along the front. On 30 May, however, their constant artillery barrages got a little too close for Henry as a shell landed beside him impaling his arm with multiple pieces of shrapnel. Despite his evacuation to an aid station, Henry brushed off his wounds as light and after some light medical work, returned back to his men the very next day. His quick return was likely very welcomed as that day, 31 May, the regiment went on the attack again alongside the 133rd IR and the 45th ID. Fighting in a much narrower zone this time, Henry’s battalion was pinned down by extremely heavy enemy fire and remained stuck in place for nearly three days as the entire 5th Army was moving around them. On 2 June the Germans refocused their attention on the regiment’s 3rd Battalion, allowing Henry and his men to move up the flank and begin pushing the Germans back, going so far as to drive them into a mass retreat by nightfall. Little did they know but this was part of a German army-wide fallback towards Rome, leaving only scattered pockets of resistance to hold up the allies racing towards the Eternal City. Henry and the 135th joined the rush and in the early morning hours of 5 June 1944, they reached the city and set up camp in the first Axis capital to be captured.

 

The last half of Henry’s military service found him running up the Italian coast towards the northern mountain ranges as the 5th Army pushed the Germans out of Italy and into the treacherous Po Valley. The month following the capture of Rome was fairly quiet for the 34th Infantry Division as replacements were added and the division prepared for the mountain combat it knew was coming in the months ahead. At the start of July Henry and the Red Bulls began a new assault at Cecina, progressing slowly as tough German opposition and street fighting throughout the villages along the Italian coast wore down the division for three weeks. After an month of rest, the 135th Infantry moved to Barbarino in September and began a long campaign throughout the mountains of the Gothic Line fighting day to day, hill to hill, as heavy German fortifications brought mass casualties to the 34th Infantry Division and the rest of the allied forces. The winter stalled out the advance but a renewed spring rush in April 1945 let the division capture the key town of Bologna in less than a week before it chased retreating German forces until their final capitulation on 2 May.

Henry's company on patrol near Tazzola, Italy on 25 January 1945
Henry's company on patrol near Tazzola, Italy on 25 January 1945

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Henry's company at a chaplain service near Tazzola, 25 January 1945
Henry's company at a chaplain service near Tazzola, 25 January 1945

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map of the 34th ID's movements through Italy
map of the 34th ID's movements through Italy

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Henry's company on patrol near Tazzola, Italy on 25 January 1945
Henry's company on patrol near Tazzola, Italy on 25 January 1945

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Having fought for over a year in the harsh mountain warfare of Italy, leading troops from the front, Henry served a few months of occupation duty before he returned home to Detroit. He settled down, finally making his own home, and continued his career as he and his wife raised several children. He passed away in 1974.