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The Great Stake Race at Anzio Downs

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As told to me by my good friend, David Wagner, 39th Combat Engineer. One of my favorites!




The Great Stake Race at Anzio Downs


The Mare's Tale


About the fourth day after landing on the Anzio Beachhead we relieved the 179th infantry and took up their positions. After about five or six days we were relieved by the SSF ( First Special Service Force) and dug in a defensive line along the Mussolini Canal.


The Mussolini Canal was dug to drain the Pontine Marshes so that the land could be used for farming and small towns. The earth that was dug up was piled on one side of the canal and created a bank or a berm which was about 9 or 10 feet high and about 15 or so feet thick.


Two men would dig a dugout which was shored up by whatever fence posts or other wood that we could find and had a roof of about 5 feet of earth which protected us from anything but a direct hit. Tony and I dug ours and even lined it with burlap. We slit open sandbags and used the material like wallpaper.


Close to our dugout was one which held Fred Stuart and Danny Stiglitz. Now Stuart was a bit older than Tony and I and he liked Tony. One day he asked me if I would object if Tony and Danny traded places. I didn't mind so we swapped partners. Fred Stuart had two gold teeth in the front of his mouth and we jokingly took to calling him "Copper Tooth." He had a sense of humor and didn't seem to mind.


One of the guys in the company found this horse, a brown mare with only one eye. Old Coppertooth ( he must have been about 28) was a farmer and knew how to care for animals so he was given the horse.


As long as we were down behind the bank the Germans couldn't see us so he used to ride the horse when he had a spare moment. He told us that the horse could run like the wind. He used the

company's commander's jeep to measure off a 1/4 mile stretch and drove a fencepost to mark the end. He used to run the horse there and the horse knew just where to stop and turn around.


The SSF which was just off to our left had also found a horse. Their horse had a 50 caliber slug in him which some of the farm boys got out and nursed him back to health. Since we used to go out on patrol with the SSF the word got out that we had a racehorse. The SSF boys thought that their horse was much faster than ours.


So...........................one day one of them came over and challenged us to race our horse against theirs. Coppertooth conferred with Tony and they thought that with our horse we could win very easily and make some money ( We hadn't been paid for several months ). So Tony came over to me and said, "Wag, you're a darn good talker so you go around and collect the bets from all the men in "F" Company.


I did and collected over $500 that would be bet on the race. That was a lot of money.


When the race was all set to go off, the guy from the SSF insisted that a 1/4 mile run was not long enough and should be at least 1/2 mile long. So a jeep was used and 1/2 mile was measured off.


The two horses were at the starting line and one of the guys pulled his .45 and fired the starting shot. Our mare took off like greased lightning and left the other horse behind. We ( F Company ) were already counting our winnings and congratulating one another.


However......strange things happen and they surely did that morning. Our horse had a fantastic lead but when he got to the place where he stopped every day and turned around, he just

stopped and refused to go any further. The SSF horse just breezed on by and won the race.


With a heavy heart I had to turn the money over to the SSF. And when all the guys in F Company complained to me I told them to go talk to Coppertooth and Dickherber, I was just a bookkeeper.


This story has been told and retold at our annual reunions for many, many years. It was just one of the crazy things that Tony Dickherber and I got involved in.


David N. Wagner

Co. F

39th Combat Engineer Regiment

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That is a wonderful true story. You sure need that sort of activity to keep your sanity in a war zone.


I spoke with Dave last evening regarding his experiences from the time he left the states on the USS Cherokee -- training in North Africa -- invasion of Sicily -- little boats across the Straits of Messina -- driving and walking up the toe and ankle of Italy to Paestum -- ended with "look up this on google", ""The Great Stake Race at Anzio Downs"".


Thank you for sharing your story and thank you for serving your country and keeping us all safe. :armata_PDT_37:

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Yes, a great story. And it shows what the guys did to KEEP their sanity, through months and years of war on end. Can you and I even imagine?


Dave's a great guy and one of my faves! :wub: His wife Selma, is a sweetheart too.

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