Lyle J. Deffenbaugh fell just short of Rome after heroism in Africa and Italy

On May 29, 1944, the War Department’s Bureau of Public Relations issued a two-page press release touting the leadership of Lt. Col. Lyle J. Deffenbaugh of Council Bluffs, Iowa, and the critical role he played in the fight for Mount Porchia, Italy, some months earlier.

In the narrative, which was sent to about a dozen newspapers, Maj. Robert W. Kane describes how Deffenbaugh went four days and nights without sleep as he personally led the drive to take the cold, windswept peak in early January 1944.

Lt. Col. Lyle J. Deffenbaugh

“On the night of January 4 our battalion was to make a night attack in conjunction with another Armored Infantry battalion against Mount Porchia,” Kane recounted. “Lt. Col. Deffenbaugh left me to take charge of the battalion command post so that he himself could go along with the assault companies because he said it was going to be one of the toughest battles we had ever had — and he wanted to be in it.”

Kane went on, describing how he had received reports of Deffenbaugh fighting his way to the departure line for the assault, then continuously moving from company to company providing encouragement over the coming days, all while under heavy German fire.

“I was at the battalion command post, and as the wounded were brought to the aid station, I asked many of them how it was and if they figured we would be able to get to the objective,” Kane continued. “Their answers were always about the same, ‘It is a tough battle, but we will get there because the Old Man is right up there with us.”

The press release describing Deffenbaugh’s heroics in Italy was exactly the kind of story the War Department loved to tell to everyone back home. A classic in the “local boy makes good” genre that undoubtedly led to a swelling of pride among Deffenbaugh’s family and friends in Iowa.

This particular bit of PR, though, came with a sad twist. Two weeks later, those same family and friends would learn that Lt. Col. Lyle J. Deffenbaugh had been killed in action in Italy on May 28, a day before the release was sent out.

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Wayne Hockett Jr., an aspiring Iowa businessman cut down near Anzio

The May 20, 1938 edition of the Coe College newspaper, the Cosmos, included the latest installment of ‘We’re Asking,’ a feature in which a series of students at the Iowa school were asked a question and their responses duly catalogued by the correspondent.

The question for that edition was, “If you could be someone else, whom would you choose to be?”


Wayne Hockett Jr.

Several of the 18 responses featured the expected celebrity answers, and a couple of young ladies said they were happy just being themselves. Among the whimsical musings, the answer provided by sophomore Wayne Hockett stands out: “Mussolini. He has a lotta power and can do as he pleases.”

Even if it was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, the answer is chilling to look back on through the eyes of history. For less than six years later, Hockett would meet his fate in the Italian dictator’s country, likely within a few miles of a canal that bore Mussolini’s name.

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Henry T. Waskow and the tribute that made him famous

By the end of 1943, Ernie Pyle’s dispatches had become the indispensable lens through which Americans on the home front viewed their war. Though he was twice as old as many of the men whose toils he chronicled, Pyle’s humble, in-the-trenches approach endeared him to four-stars and grunts alike. All it took was a glance at a couple of his columns, though, to see that the latter mattered far more to him.


Capt. Henry T. Waskow

If World War II was everyman’s conflict, no one did a better job of telling that amorphous character’s story than Pyle. And no single piece drove home the theme of Pyle’s work than his masterfully crafted tribute to a 25-year-old who died on a nameless ridge in Italy on December 14, 1943.

“In this war I have known a lot of officers who were loved and respected by the soldiers under them,” Pyle’s story began. “But never have I crossed the trail of any man as beloved as Capt. Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas.”

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