Over the past several months, I have been in touch with Andy Beckerson. In his initial email, he wrote, “I am researching Theodore Sanning, now dead, who is my wife’s father. My wife is named Theodora, but everybody calls her Teddi, after her father.”
Andy and Teddi live in Taunton, Somerset, in the UK, but they have grandchildren and other family members in the U.S.—in Illinois, and in Jefferson City and Kansas City, Missouri.
Andy explained early attempts to trace Theodore through military records “met with the standard response regarding the great fire at the St. Louis Army Records Office in 1973.”
“The attached photograph is of Theodore, his wife, and first-born daughter,” Andy wrote. “We estimate the date of this to be around March–May 1944. The little girl was born three days before Theodore’s capture on December 6, 1942.”
Following the war, Theodore worked in manufacturing in Winsfield and Kansas City, Missouri. He died on November 16, 1981, and is buried in Marys Home, Missouri.
Theodore is survived by three daughters, one son, six grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.
This picture of Theodore and Evelyn, both in uniform, was taken on their wedding day.
Theodore Adolph Sanning was born March 24, 1919. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on August 6, 1940, shortly before the draft commenced. He signed up at Jefferson Barracks at Lemay, Missouri. Basic training was also conducted at Jefferson Barracks.
On Theodore’s enlistment record in the National Archives, his education is listed as “grammar school”; civilian occupation—“semiskilled chauffeurs and drivers, bus, taxi, truck, and tractor”; marital status—“single without dependents.” His Italian POW card indicates he was a farmer.
He was signed into the ‘Enlistment for the Panama Department,’ originally formed for the protection of the Panama Canal. He possibly was involved in the Louisiana Maneuvers in August and September 1941 to evaluate the abilities and develop tactics for the U.S. Army.
Theodore was shipped to Northern Ireland, where he underwent more training before being transported to North Africa during the November 8, 1942, Operation Torch invasion.
Taken prisoner near Tunis on December 6, 1942, Theodore was shipped to a POW transit camp near Capua, Italy on December 11, 1942. From there he was sent to Camp 59, arriving on the August 3, 1943.
He escaped from Camp 59 the night of September 14, 1943, and he returned to “military control” on the January 4, 1943, after making his way back to American lines on foot, a journey of four months. He left the Army on the March 8, 1946.
Andy shared several newspaper articles that refer to Theodore:
Sgt. Sanning Prisoner of War
Daily Capital News [Jefferson City, Missouri]
January 9, 1943
Mrs. Theodore Sanning has been informed by the War Department that her husband, Sgt. Sanning, was taken prisoner in North Africa by the Italians. Sgt. Sanning, who is from Eugene, last was heard from on Dec. 4, the same day on which Mrs. Sanning gave birth to a daughter. The child has been named Linda Caroline.
Tells of Red Cross Aid
News and the Sunday Tribune [Jefferson City, Missouri]
March 12, 1944
An illustration of the real value of the Red Cross to soldiers was given last week at a Red Cross meeting at Eugene by Sgt. Theodore Sanning, a war prisoner who escaped from a German prison camp in northern Italy. Sgt. Sanning, now home on furlough, is the husband of Mr. Evelyn Sanning of Eugene. He was a prisoner for 10 months before he escaped and made his way back to the American lines on foot, a journey of four months.
Sgt. Sanning said that the day after his internment a representative of the International Red Cross sent word to his family of his capture and physical condition. He also said that practically everything he had to eat during the 10 months he was a prisoner of the Germans came from the Red Cross. When he reached the American lines the Red Cross provided him with clothing and other supplies and immediately took steps to communicate with his family.
His story of the benefits and actual service of the Red Cross to men at war as well as to their families at home graphically illustrates why the Red Cross need of funds is vastly greater now than the former peace-time requests for $1 memberships.
Returned Sergeant Praises Red Cross
Daily Capital News [Jefferson City, Missouri]
March 17, 1944
The work of the American Red Cross in foreign prison camps was highly praised today by Sergeant Theodore Sanning at the weekly luncheon meeting of the Kiwanis Club.
Sergeant Sanning of Marys Home, now on twenty-day leave awaiting orders, was interned in Italian prison camps for ten months after being captured December 6th, 1942, and was released at the time of Italy’s surrender to the Allies. In relating his experiences he spoke very highly of the work of the Red Cross and the many things available to the prisoners such as clothing, medicines and food, though that organization.
Capture in Tunisia
Theodore and American Sgt. Luther C. Vaughn were captured on the same day, in the same location—near Tabourba, Tunisia.
Through email, I introduced Andy to Luther’s daughters, Victoria Vaughn and Judy Ingersol. (See “The Adventure of a Lifetime” and “Luther Vaughn’s Daughters Forge A Friendship with the Cesari Family.”)
Victoria sent us an article that describes the battle where the two men were captured.
Harrison Battery Wins Presidential Citation
December 3, 1943
An official citation lauding his battery—Battery C, 27th Field Artillery Battalion—for its valor in withstanding an Axis attack near Tabourba, Tunisia, last December 6 makes Capt. William H. Harrison, now stationed at Fort Knox, feel very good—“especially for those who didn’t come back.”
Not until yesterday was it discussed that Captain Harrison, son of former Mayor William B. Harrison and Mrs. Harrison, who returned to Louisville November 10 after escaping from an Italian prison camp where he was held for ten months after his capture, had been assigned to headquarters of the Armored Command.
Strafed By Nazi Planes.
The citation which made Captain Harrison feel “very good” recounted the exploits of his battery on the day he was taken prisoner. The official order, in the name of the President, gave public evidence of the “deserved honor and distinction” gained by Battery C.
At 1040, Army time, last December 6, the citation read, Battery C was in position near Tebourba. It was strafed and bombed for ten minutes by ten German Messerschmitt planes. Then thirty enemy tanks, supported by infantry, attached both head on and from the flank.
Engage Superior Force.
All the battery’s guns engaged in direct fire against the superior force. At 1120, Army time again, the tanks, firing machine guns, passed through the battery’s position under a cover of the Messerschmitt fire and, then, turning, passed back through the position again.
The shelling of the tanks eventually destroyed all the self-propelled 105-mm. guns of the battery, which continued in action until they were set afire and their crews were dispersed, wounded or killed by the machine-gun fire.
The last section seen in action discharged its gun point-blank at a Mark IV tank. Both tank and gun were fired simultaneously and each was destroyed by the other.
At this point another battery arrived at the scene, enabling the remnants of Battery C to reassemble. During he melee, the citation said, all members of the battery remained at their posts, performing their assigned duties until they were killed or wounded, or until their equipment was destroyed.
Theodore’s MIS-X Repatriation Papers
Late last year Andy was able to access Theodore’s MIS-X repatriation papers through the U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency.
MIS-X was a section of the U.S. Department of War that aided U.S. servicemen held as prisoners of war and those evading capture in enemy territory during the Second World War. Its British counterpart was MI9.
This report contains a rich store of information:
War Department, Military Intelligence Division G-2, Washington
Prepared by MIS-X Section, POW Branch
Sgt. Theodore A. Sanning, 17006940. 6th Armored Infantry, 1st Armored Division
Evasion from Camp 59, Italy
Missing in action – 6 December 1942
Date of capture – 6 December 1942
Reported POW – 4 January 1943
Escaped – 14 September 1943
Rejoined Allied forces – 21 January 1944 at Palombara
Previous interrogation – British I.O. at front lines, American I.O. in Africa
Arrived in USA 13 February 1944, Newport News, Virginia
Home address – Eugene, Missouri
Age – 24
Length of service – 3 years 6 months
Sgt. Sanning’s Story
Sgt. Sanning was captured near Tebourba on 6 December 1942, when he was up on the front line doing maintenance repair work.
On the morning of 6 December about 0830 hours, there was a tank attack by the Germans and his group was cut of from the rear. Sgt. Sanning was pulling a trailer with some spare parts on it and tried to go across country through a field. The half-track did not have enough power to pull the trailer. He pulled it in beside a high bank beside the 27th Field Artillery. Capt. Harrison, CO of “C” battery of the 27th F.A., was there. He told Sgt. Sanning help was coming and that the men should fight until the last man. They fought until the last gun was knocked out. Tanks surrounded the men who were cut off and there was nothing left to do but surrender. The Germans then moved in and took the Americans prisoners. Sgt. Sanning heard one report that 46 men were being captured, those being the remainder of the 27th F.A. “C” battery and four men of the maintenance crew. T/4 John Procko and T/4 Willis T. Perrins were captured along with Sgt. Sanning. T/5 (first name unknown) Little was also in the group.
Sgt. Sanning was never briefed on how to escape or evade capture.
Sgt. Sanning was never searched nor interrogated by the Germans at Tunis. In a little town before he was taken into Tunis, the Germans assembled the men and asked them whether or not they had anything concealed on them. When the men produced knives they were returned, the Germans feeling they were of no value or could do no harm. He was then taken into Tunis where he and the others were put in a horse stable, along with a group of British Ps/W. In Italy, at Camp 66, before entering the camp, Sgt. Sanning was searched by Italians. The search was thorough, the Italians feeling all over and looking in every pocket. No military information was revealed. In the half-track there were battalion mail bags and maps. The last time Sgt. Sanning saw the half-track it was on fire and he does not know whether it was burned up or captured.
Sgt. Sanning arrived in Tunis the night of 6 December and stayed there until 8 December. He was not interrogated there. He then went from there to the Tunis airport, by truck, about 16 in the truck, with four guards on the back of the truck and one in front. The guards were armed with rifles. They boarded the plane at Tunis and were flown to Sicily. From the airport they were taken to a ferry and were moved across the water to Italy. From there the men were moved by train to Camp 66, Capua; 25 or 30 men were in each boxcar, four guards were in Sgt. Sanning’s car. Altogether, about 100 men or more were moved by the train. They traveled all night arriving at Camp 66, Capua, the morning of 11 December 1942”
Sgt. Sanning was never briefed on enemy methods of interrogation, except for being told to give name, rank, and serial number, and nothing else. This briefing took place on the boat going to North Africa and was not thorough.
Sgt. Sanning said the briefing was of value, as much as there was of it, but believes it should have been more thorough. He believes the men should be instructed as to what they are going to encounter in the way of enemy interrogation and how to avoid questions. An Italian intelligence officer interrogated Sgt. Sanning alone at Camp 66, the interrogation lasting approximately 30 minutes. The intelligence officer asked him when he left the States, where he landed, whether he came straight to Africa or whether he came from England or Ireland. He asked Sgt. Sanning his name, rank and serial number, all of which he already had. He spoke very good English and talked about American soldiers, saying they were too highly paid. This interrogation took place 9 January 1943. The interrogator talked about how nice America was and beat around the bush, then inserting military questions. He said Sgt. Sanning should have stayed at the tent for all the information he got out of him. He wanted to know if all the American NCO’s knew as little about the Army’s operations as Sgt. Sanning did. When Sgt. Sanning replied “yes”, he said they must be awful dumb to not know more than that. The intelligence officer knew that there were troops leaving the United States on Mother’s Day. He asked Sgt. Sanning if he knew what day Mother’s Day fell on and when the Sergeant told him he did not know, he said that was all he wanted to know. Sgt. Sanning filled out an alleged Red Cross form when he went into Camp 66. It called for name, rank, serial number, home address and religion. He stayed at Camp 66 until 4 January, from there going to Camp 59 by rail, arriving 13 January 1943. This was the same train that Sgt. Ballard rode on. Sgt. Sanning remained at Camp 59 until 14 September 1943, the day of the mass evacuation.”
Trip from Camp to Allied Lines
The Ps/W were notified on 9 September that an Armistice was signed between the Italians and the Allies. A British captain, Capt. Miller [J. H. Derek Millar], was put in charge of the camp and Italian guards were still kept in the camp, said to be there to protect the Ps/W from the Germans. Capt. Miller and the Italian officers said they expected the Allies to come there within the next ten days and for the Ps/W to stay there until they came. They said in case the Germans did come toward the camp that they would all take off and escape. Holes were knocked in a big stonewall around the camp in order that the Ps/W would be able to escape if the Germans did come. The Germans were reported to be at Porto S. Georgio. The camp lost communication with the town on 14 September. Capt. Miller went down to the front gate to see the Italian colonel, named Bacci, to try to get him to open the gates and let the Ps/W out. At first the guard wouldn’t open the gate to allow him to talk to the colonel, but finally they let him in. While he was talking to Col. Bacci, some of the boys started escaping through the holes in the wall. The guards opened fire on them. It was announced over the loud-speaker by one of the Italian officers for the guards to cease firing and go to their barracks. Everybody then left the camp. The Ps/W were issued three Red Cross parcels for emergency to take with them when they left. They were told to go through the mountains, avoiding the lines, and to stay there until the Allies came.They were supposed to arrive in 10 or 12 days. Sgts. Ballard and Sanning left camp at 1030 hours with Sgt. Robert D. Sprague, Cpl. Warren Cover, Pvt. L. Weaver. They went about eight miles from the camp staying for about a week. sleeping on the ground under the cover of four blankets they had taken from the camp. They ate the Red Cross food and the Italians carried them food. They stayed there getting radio news that the Allied advance was not progressing as expected, and so they started moving south through the mountains. They stopped at a farmhouse about eight kms northeast of Amandola, staying there for 12 days. The farmer’s daughter brought them two hot meals a day carrying it to a hill near the farmhouse where they were staying. The meals came at noon and at night. She carried it in a basket on her head and covered the food with a type of grass that is usually fed to rabbits. The reason they left, approximately the 1st of October, was that a slight earthquake destroyed the small barn they were staying in.
South of Teramo, in the Gran Sasso Range, two of the men, Cpl. Cover and Pvt. Weaver, left about 15 October 1943 and proceeded by themselves, figuring that they had a better chance of getting through if they split up. Sgts. Ballard and Sanning stayed there approximately five days, being fed by the Italians who lived nearby. They left and then arrived at Farindola meeting a farmer, his son and another man, a relation of the farmer, with him. The farmer’s name was Annabale Cardone. They were told that the Allies would be there in a few weeks. The Italians told the Americans to stay in the hills and come down to the house that night for supper. The men stayed in the house that night and spent 19 days with the farmer’s family—a wife and five children. In the house next door, another American was being cared for. He was Pvt. Clarence Saylor.
While at Farindola, about the 1st of November, the escapists met British Paratroopers headed by Lt. Evans. They were told of the scheme to get the escapists to the coast and evacuate them by boat between Teramo and Pescara. Sgts. Ballard and Sanning waited, but the plan was broken up due to a raid by the Germans who found out about the scheme. The sergeants then left about 7 November, taking Pvt. Saylor with them. They crossed the Pescara river, walking across a dam, just a little below the town of Torre de Passeri, about 12 November early in the morning.They then went up to the mountain above Rapino where there were a group of grass shacks. An Italian man was up there taking care of about 35 British and American escapists. He was getting food from Rapino and giving it to the men. Food ran short and Sgts. Ballard and Sanning left about the 20th of November. They travelled down the mountain stopping at Roccamontepiano at the foot of the mountain. There they met an Italian officer who took them into a house. The officer sent some boys out to get civilian clothes and provided supper and lodging that night. The next morning the Americans were told to go out and stay in the woods and come back at night when they could sleep and eat there again. The officer informed them that it was impossible to go through the lines as there were men being caught every day by the Germans. The next day they met a man who told them his father was Austrian and his mother was English. He said his name was Henry Enreakis (?). He told the Americans it was too dangerous for them to stay where they were and that he had an out-building for them to sleep in. about a mile from Roccamontepiano, and that he would bring them two hot meals a day. In the afternoon of the 20th of December, as the men were sitting outside of the little house, five German officers came within sight of them, about 50 yards away, and Pvt. Saylor and Sgt. Sprague left immediately for the hills. Sgts. Ballard and Sanning waited until the two men were out of sight and then went to a valley toward the left. They had three Italian blankets and an English canteen bottle. The Germans tried to catch them. The Americans dug a hole in the ground and hit in it. The Germans walked within three or four feet of them but they were not discovered. After dark, they went back to the little house. The Germans had poured their food on the ground and stomped on it. They then went to the house of Enreakis and told him they were leaving. They learned that Sgt. Sprague and Pvt. Saylor has been captured by the Germans. Enreakis told them to wait and come back to his house the next night. He said he had another man who had a good place to stay. The Americans went back the next night sea the man, Camilla (?), gave them directions to go to a hiding place on the mountains. They went there the next morning but couldn’t find the place. They found a car and got some straw for beds. Italian civilians who lived at a village near Serramonacesca fed them. On New Years’ Eve, there was a blizzard in the mountains and in the morning, the two Americans made their way to the nearest house through four feet of snow. They were given dry clothes and food. They slept there one night and were told to leave the next day because of the proximity of the Germans. On 2 January, they met a man who could speak English and who told them they could sleep in his barn, but that they would have to go back to the mountains in the daytime. The Italian, whose barn they slept in, got drunk one night and told them to leave or else he would go and get the Germans to come after them. They then decided to try and get through the lines. They walked on the top of the mountain where the snow had frozen over, and spent the night in a cave. On 21 January they ran into a German patrol that called out to them and then opened fire. The Americans laid flat on the ground and were not hit. After the Germans left, they then made their way to the British outpost near Palombaro.
E and E [Escaper and evader] Information
Annabale Cardone and Henry Enreakis (?) were two Italians who helped Sgts. Ballard and Sanning return to Allied lines. Cardone lived in Farindola in the province of Pescara and Enreakis in
Their escape route lead them near the following towns:
Between Teramo and the Gran Sasso range
West of Civitella
Torre de Passeri
Between San Valentino and Manoppello
IOU’s, along with name, rank and serial number, were given to the people who fed and helped Sgts. Ballard and Sanning.
While at Camp 66 a British Sergeant Major, named Findley, who worked in an office outside the camp gate, escaped. the guard got so used to seeing Finley pass in and out the gate that he was not on the outlook for him to escape. He left and was gone for three days when the Italians caught him near Rome and brought him back.
While in Camp 59, two Americans, Pvt. Greenberg (subject of EX-Report No. 25) and another enlisted man tried to escape while on a work detail outside the camp. The two men started running, but were shot down by the guards. They were brought back and placed in the hospital. As soon as they were well they were put in the guardhouse.
A tunnel, being dug in one hut, lacked a week before completion when Sicily was invaded. When word of the invasion came, the Ps/W stopped digging because they figured the Allies would be there soon. Another reason for quitting was because of the water shortage. The dirt was thrown into the latrine and then washed away with water. An enemy method of discovering whether or not tunnels were being dug was to drive a shovel down into the latrine, and if dirt showed on the shovel, they surmised that a tunnel was being dug. More tunnels were being dug, but they were usually discovered before completion.
The Italians told Sgt. Ballard and Sgt. Sanning that there was a German ammunition dump near Serramonacesca. The Italians claimed to have helped move the ammunition dump from Rapino to
Serramonacesca. The ammunition dump was camouflaged with olive branches.
German troops were soon to be bivouacked in the homes of civilians behind the lines. The Germans would order the town evacuated, or a section of it, and then would move their own troops into the houses. The Italians were sent off to live in the mountains, in caves and cliffs, wherever they could find cover.
The dam crossed at Torre de Passeri was not guarded. All rail and road bridges were guarded. One guard was seen on each bridge and bridges were all mined.
A German ski trooper was observed on the Maiella mountain range above Rapino There were a lot of ski tracks observed that vicinity and elsewhere in the mountains. The trails were marked and directions posted. Markings on trees, or tree limbs, spread our across the mountains, were used to point the way for the ski troopers.
One Italian stated that two German soldiers had deserted from the front lines because they felt the English and Americans had too much equipment for them. They felt that they knew they couldn’t win now and thought it best that they go home and see their people before they got killed. One Italian told the escapists that a German soldier got a letter from his wife in which she wrote that people were being killed in Germany, that they were starving to death and that their homes were being destroyed. The Poles and Czechs were said to be deserting whenever they got a chance. They hoped the the British would hurry up and surround them so that the British would take them prisoners.
The motors in the German vehicles made a lot more noise in Italy than they did in Africa, possibly because they were wearing out.
On the south side of the Pescara river, Few armored German vehicles were seen. The Germans were using horses for transportation and for hauling of supplies. The Germans have taken into custody all Italian horses.
About 1000 Americans and 200 British were in Camp 59. The British and Americans were separated as well as the NCO’s and privates. A sergeant was in charge of every 36 men. Otherwise, the NCO’s were separated. The Ps/W believed that Italy would soon be invaded and that it wouldn’t be long before they were free.
Breakfast consisted of a small cup of coffee; dinner consisted of a loaf of bread and a small piece of cheese; supper consisted of a canteen cup of either rice or macaroni. One Red Cross parcel was given each man per week. All cans were punctured. At times the parcels were stripped.
The barracks were cleaned twice a day by the men. Sheets were changed once every six weeks. The Italian women would take the Ps/W clothes and wash them once a week; however, everyone did most of his own laundry work.
Bomb-sight latrines were all that were available. Three hot showers were taken during the 10 months the men were there. Very little equipment was available. Nothing was ever used to deaden a man’s tooth when it was being filled or pulled.
Sgt. Ballard received about 15 letters while in camp; Sgt. Sanning, about 30. It took at least six weeks for the letters to arrive. Mail was allowed to be kept by Ps/W. The night the Ps/W escaped most of the mail was left in the camp, as they did not have a chance to take it with them.
An Italian newspaper was passed into camp up until a month before the invasion of Sicily. It was stopped from coming to camp; however, the men could bribe the Italian guards with a chocolate bar, or the like, and they would bring one in for them.
The men had an athletic field right outside the camp gates. It had a high-wire fence around it and when the men went out, guards were posted all around it. They were allowed out in it about every two weeks. The Americans didn’t go out, as they had no equipment to play with, but the British played soccer.
There was a library, the books being furnished by the Red Cross. There were plenty of books for everyone, and the books were usually taken out and kept for four days.
Lessons on German and Italian were given by those Ps/W who had knowledge of the language. This was done by the British and very few Americans attended the classes.
When the Italian guards came through at night, if they saw anyone going to the latrine, they would take him to the guardhouse. Also, if they heard someone talking, whether they knew who the person was or not, they would pick out someone at random and take him to the guardhouse.
Bedbugs were so bad that the men could hardly sleep at night.
The men slept in tents, about 15 to each. Their feet were wet at all times due to the rain. A lot of the tents leaked.
Rations for Camp 66 were about the same as that of Camp 59, except that the stew there was not so much rice or macaroni.
One parcel was issued between two men per week. Twenty-five cigarettes were given the men a week. All cans were punctured.
No ill-treatment was witnessed at this camp.
One card and one letter was allowed to be written per week. The men never received any mail.