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Glenda Spelhaug


"Today, January 22 marks the 64th anniversary of the start of the World War Two battle at Anzio. During the invasion of Italy, the Allies planned a second landing behind German lines at the port city southwest of Rome. Although the Allied forces were eventually able to break the German defenses and move northward to Rome, it took four months of fierce fighting during which Allied forces suffered 59,000 casualties.

The narrow beachhead, 15 miles wide and 7 miles deep, made it difficult to find a secure spot beyond the range of gun fire. So the Army was forced to place hospitals on the edge of important targets like the anti-aircraft battery and ammunition dumps.

The battle brought to light the significance of the US Army nurses; proving that female nurses could serve commendably on the front lines of combat.

On February 10, all during the day air raids were constant, stray bombs were falling, ack-ack guns were raining down flak. Then early evening, nerves already raw, the 33rd Field Hospital suffered a direct 30-minute shelling. Fragments hit the generator of the electric system, cutting off all light to the tents including the operating tent. Two nurses, while preparing supper, were killed. Even so, the remaining nurses refused to leave their patients and continued working.

One of the nurses killed was North Dakota native Glenda Spelhaug. Born December 1913 on a farm southwest of Crosby, Spelhaug determined in high school that she wanted to be a nurse. Her chance came in August 1943 when she was sent to North Africa with the 2nd Auxiliary Surgical Group.

Serving as chief nurse, Spelhaug was, according to another nurse, “loved by all who knew her. Her leadership, her enthusiasm for the work of the field office, her kindness and unselfishness had always inspired the nurses…She gave of herself untiringly…As her very last act she gave her helmet to a nurse who did not have one.”

By September 1944, over 200 Army nurses had served on Anzio. According to General Mark Clark, “The work of…our Surgeon, his Medical Corps, and particularly the nurses, was outstanding in the battle of Anzio. The nurses were tremendous builders of morale at a time when it badly needed building.”

General Clark continued, “They went about their work wearing helmets and facing danger as great as anyone else on the beachhead. They worked with the doctors and in the operating rooms through bombardments of all kinds, day and night. It seemed to me that they were among the real heroes of Anzio.”

Written by Christina Sunwall


Natkiel, Richard. Atlas of American Wars (Greenwich, CT: Bison Books Corp; 1986)

Sarnecky, Mary T. A History of the US Army Nurse Corps (University of Pennsylvannia Press; 1999)

Wehrman, Cecile. “Nurse’s last moments at Anzio a mystery until now” Headlines in History: 100 Years of Crosby News from the pages of Divide County Newspapers (Crosby, ND: Journal Publishing Inc; 2004) 96-97

White, Ruth. “At Anzio Beachhead” The American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 44, No. 4. (April 1944) 370-371.