Landing on the Beaches of Salerno

Author: Roxanne Baker
September 23, 2013

Amphibious assaults. The Marine Corps has become synonymous with coastal landings through their highly successful operations in World War II. Those battles increased the respect and fear of Marines throughout the world.

Now decades later, Marines are refreshing their amphibious capabilities as the Corps once again realigns in the Pacific.

In August, nearly 30 Marines got their boots in the sand to study the amphibious landing at Salerno, Italy. The Marine Corps Association & Foundation funded the daylong battle study. Also known as Operation Avalanche, Salerno was an allied invasion with Britain and the U.S. Army to surprise German troops occupying Italy in World War II. Although no Marines were involved, there was still much to learn, said participant SSgt Kevin Parker.

“Studying battles helps to gain further knowledge of the many complexities of battle and to understand the decisions made to accomplish the mission,” Parker said. “Marines are known for [their] amphibious landing capabilities and we can always learn from others to minimize mistakes and better our techniques.”

Parker is currently stationed in Latvia with the Marine Security Guard Detachment. As an imagery analyst, it was helpful having the experience of being on the ground and imagining what the terrain actually looks like.

“It is difficult to visualize terrain realistically from aerial views,” he said. “Standing at the landing site and seeing the surrounding terrain forces you to think of better ways to develop terrain analysis.”

The realistic environment was also put in perspective for GySgt Robert Durkee, who is currently stationed at the U.S. embassy in the Ukraine with the Marine Security Guard Detachment.

“We were there in August, and the heat really gave me a better appreciation for how tough the environment in Italy could become,” he said.

The amphibious landing took place in the warm weather of early September 1943.

“The terrain was much more vertical and difficult in person than I had imagined while reading about the battle,” Durkee said. “Observing the ground of the initial landing was difficult, as the area is now very developed, but driving through the area on the bus gave a very good impression of the topography.”

The Marines also visited the Salerno War cemetery with its 1,846 commonwealth graves. It was one of the main highlights for Parker. He said he had primarily studied Marine-involved battles in the Pacific and that it was eye-opening to learn about other WWII conflicts.

But the big take away for Durkee was to contribute to constantly building a more knowledgeable Marine Corps.

“I think the best thing I took from this was how my command actively made an effort to broaden our understanding of the local history. By taking the initiative and time to plan, schedule and get the necessary support for this study, the command demonstrated a belief that every opportunity to learn and to continue your education should be taken advantage of. This is an attitude that I can share and apply to my own junior Marines.”

Durkee’s motivation to foster the military education of his juniors is right in line with the MCA&F mission. The Commanders’ Forum Program provides funding to assist Commanders in developing and providing forum opportunities specifically tailored to enhance their Marines’ and sailors’ knowledge of the operational matters from a historical, cultural, or operational perspective.

Durkee is a member of the Marine Corps Association & Foundation because he “genuinely appreciates the support and the programs that the MCA provides.”