by Jonathan Scott | Photography by Diana Matthews
First Lt. Roy Hanna had already seen 79 days of combat in Sicily and central Italy when his unit joined the invasion forces that began the famous Battle of Anzio in January 1944. The first mission for his unit was to clear and hold the entire right flank of the American invasion forces along the Mussolini Canal.
By early February, the British First Guard Division found the resistance more than they could handle. Hanna and the 3rd Battalion were forced into the most continuous fighting they had ever encountered.
By Feb. 8, the battalion was on the front line along a railroad track. Company H moved forward to attack the enemy and found themselves trapped by the opposing forces.
Twenty-seven-year-old Hanna was ordered to turn over his platoon to his assistant and take command of Company I. He was to lead an attack on the flank of the enemy so that Company H could get out of entrapment and return to its original position. It wasn’t going to be easy. All eight of the original officers of Company I had either been killed or were wounded in the hospital. The original 135 soldiers were reduced to only 85.
Hanna’s time spent under fire had taught him that in a combat situation, inches and moments can mean the difference between life and death.
With a rush of adrenaline, Hanna raced across a field hoping to knock out a machine gun single-handedly.
Out of nowhere, a rabbit dashed in his path, causing him to pivot. Suddenly, the sharp sting of a bullet struck him. It pierced the upper right part of his chest, in the exact spot where he had a grenade attached to his harness. The impact would have been deadly had he not tossed the grenade just moments before.
Instead, the bullet missed a main artery by a millimeter. It continued down his lung and shot out his back, just missing bones and other blood vessels.
Hanna could feel his breathing restrict as his lung collapsed, but he continued to lead his men. When there wasn’t enough oxygen to keep him conscious, he passed out, only to recover and successfully complete their mission.
“A couple of men dragged me off the road and eventually got me back to that disabled armored tank,” Hanna recalls. “I was conscious as the men placed me on a stretcher. As I lay there, I could see my body floating up through the air. The higher I went, the smaller I got. I remember thinking, ‘I must be dying and this isn’t too bad.’ That’s all I remember, until they loaded me on a British ambulance that carried me back to a British tent field hospital.”
Company H returned to its original line of defense and went on to help the Allies defeat the Nazis.
For his “courageous performance and gallant leadership,” Hanna was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.