Simpson recalls grim cat and mouse game with Germans in WWII

Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson, retired FBI agent and long-time bailiff in Rockdale and Newton County courts, started his career in law enforcement right out of high school until he got a call from the draft board.

"I was a goner," Simpson said. "So, I joined rather than accept the draft."

He trained at Fort Butner, N.C., and specialized in track-mounted 105mm howitzers. Simpson shipped out with the 45th Infantry Division, 179th Infantry Cannon Company. He said, "I operated the 50-calibre machine gun, plus served as weapons loader and set the elevation."

After a brief stint in Africa, Simpson boarded the British vessel HMS Derbyshire for Naples, Italy, to stage for an amphibious landing behind German lines near the seaside town of Nettuno, and another small town known for its beach, Anzio.

"We would have had an easy run to the German-held positions on the Alban Hills behind Anzio Beach, but we received orders to stop and consolidate our position," he said. "That was a big mistake. We got pinned-down on Anzio Beach for four months."

Landing with the first wave to hit the beach, Simpson and his crew used their hands to dig a huge pit into the sand for their 105-mm tracked howitzer. Simpson described the beach as "a death trap" with the Luftwaffe strafing their positions and German artillery shells falling on them. Spent anti-aircraft shells from the Allied ships peppered Simpson's foxhole, snipers shot at them and they dodged friendly fire.

"Yeah, there were a lot of ways to die on Anzio Beach," he said.

Nighttime offered no respite.

"During the night parachute flares lit up the beach. The navy ships fired all night, the Germans did, too," he said. "Several times we'd fire 10 rounds on the half hour, just to keep the Germans on their toes. Of course, they'd fire back just to keep us on our toes. I don't know how we maintained our sanity, but we did."

One feared German weapon was an enormous railroad gun the Allies nick-named Anzio Annie (actually two railroad guns the Germans called Robert and Leopold) hidden in tunnels on the Ciampino-Frascati Branch Line behind the Alban Hills.

"We couldn't touch it," Simpson recalled. "The Germans rolled out Anzio Annie, fired the massive shell then rolled it back into the tunnel. It had incredible range, about 30 kilometers, and whatever it hit, it destroyed. Picture a freight train passing over your head; that's what it sounded like."

After four months of attacks and counter-attacks, the breakout occurred in late May 1944. Allied casualties were around 7,000 dead with 36,000 wounded or missing. The 45th was the first to arrive in Rome.

Simpson continued the war, landing at St. Tropez in Southern France in August 1944.

"The French were happy to see us, too," he said. "Food, wine, hand-shakes and an occasional kiss."

The Germans made a stand near Epinal in the Rhine Valley. While waiting for engineers to complete a pontoon bridge, Simpson took a hike to a nearby hill and took pop-shots at rabbits.

With the 45th, Simpson crossed the Rhine River into Germany. His unit fought all the way into Munich by war's end and joined the Army of Occupation. A recipient of two bronze stars for bravery, Simpson returned to college after the war, earning his master's degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Simpson joined the F.B.I. as a special agent and retired after 23 years of service. He served as Rockdale Superior Court Judge Clarence Vaughn's bailiff for 20 years and was a Newton County bailiff. At 87, he works as an investigator in the Newton County Sheriff's Office.

The author of three books, a columnist for the Rockdale Citizen and Newton Citizen, a public speaker and civic leader, Simpson's philosophy is simple and to the point: "Stay healthy and as active as long as I can. I plan to hang around for awhile."