Monday, June 8, 2015

Archival Friday: Lt. Foley

Thomas J. Foley only spent one year enrolled at Washington College, during the 1934-35 academic year, but as a Paratrooper during World War II he was part of a legendary infantry whose ferocity and resiliency would earn them an infamous nickname.  Foley left Washington College after his freshman year in the spring of 1935 for unknown reasons.  It is unclear whether he joined the armed forces through enlistment or the draft but Foley was a member of the 504th Parachute Infantry stationed out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  Eventually reaching the rank of 1st Lieutenant, Foley was with the 504th as they became the first allied forces to enter Naples in October of 1943.  

 In January of 1944 the allies were beginning their assault on Rome but first needed to capture the coastal town of Anzio, 35 miles to the south.  In what was known as “Operation Shingle”, the 504th landed on the Anzio beachhead on January 22, 1944.
After a successfully landing and capturing the beach, the 504th was met with heavy German and Italian resistance as they tried to advance.  Both sides established trench positions and the ensuing bloody standoff lasted for another 8 weeks.  Despite the appalling trench conditions the 504th stood their ground and did not surrender the beach.  The 504th’s tenacious and forceful counteracts were noted by a German soldier who described the unit in his diary:

“American parachutists...devils in baggy pants...are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can't sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere...”

Allied forces occupy a trench in Anzio similar to what Foley and his company would have experienced. Image credit: Wikipedia

The 504th adopted the Devils nickname and continue to use it to this day.  Foley was killed sometime during the period of trench warfare on March 19th, just four days before the Devils were recalled to Naples following the German and Italian retreat from Anzio.  Foley is honored along with the other Washington College alumnus who were killed in action on a memorial in William Smith Hall. 

--Joseph Swit 

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