Mount Notre Dame students work to identify Cincinnati World War II vets who died in Anzio, Italy

CINCINNATI -- First Lt. Francis G. Baldwin Jr. graduated from Walnut Hills High School and went on to operate his own commercial art studio here prior to joining the Army and serving in World War II. The Air Force pilot made the ultimate sacrifice on Dec. 9, 1944 when he and 14 other officers were passengers on a plane that disappeared in the mountains in southern Italy.

A group of Mount Notre Dame students has been piecing together the details of Baldwin’s life this fall as part of a student-led research project that has connected the girls with more than two dozen local WWII service men who were laid to rest in Italy more than 70 years ago.

It’s called Operation Anzio. The goal of the project is finding all the Hamilton County residents who gave their lives during the Italian campaign of World War II and buried or commemorated at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Anzio, Italy. 

So far, the student researchers have identified 26 Cincinnatians.

First Lt. Francis G. Baldwin Jr.

Using digitized resources, public records and a variety of other research methods, they’re now working to create profile pieces on each of the 26 men so the students can share their stories. A handful of Mount Notre Dame students will also honor them at the cemetery in February while visiting Italy as part of an international Model United Nations conference. 

Ultimately, the group hopes to create a lasting exhibit to remember each of the veterans, according to Ben Hunt, the Mount Notre Dame social studies teacher who is spearheading the research project. But first, the students are enlisting the help of the community to learn more about them.

“Finding the list was the first step, and the kids were eager to find out more about each of them. Once we started putting all the pieces together, they uncovered some pretty compelling stories,” Hunt said. “There’s only so much information we can get from public records, though, and we’d really like to find families who could possibly fill in the rest of the pieces.”

The group has listed the names of the men on Mount Notre Dame’s website and provided all the information they currently have on file for each one. There’s an online form where people can share any additional information they have about them.

For senior Sarah Ray, finding those missing pieces is important.

“We want to find out all we can,” she said of local men buried in Anzio. “The goal is to make sure their stories are not forgotten.” 

Since each student was assigned an individual solider to research, there is a special connection, Hunt said. 

“We use the word ‘adopt,’” Hunt explained. “It’s exciting to see how much the kids have taken ownership of the project.”

Ancestry.com and additional resources, like old local newspaper articles, have provided a lot of records and information on most of the men, but there is one thing Hunt admits has been difficult to locate.

“We really want more photographs,” he said. “So far, we have four images. Once we got that first image, the pace of the project really picked up. It helps the kids relate to them and makes it more real.”

Junior Remy DeAngelis “adopted” Baldwin.

She was able to put a face with the name when research uncovered an article with his photo that ran in a local newspaper, in July 1947, when an American Legion charter was named in his honor.
While Remy won’t be making the trip to Italy with some of her classmates in February, she will be vacationing there with family a few weeks later.

She plans to visit the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Anzio during her trip and pay her respects to Baldwin and the other men from Cincinnati who she says all bravely fought for the country during WWII and made the ultimate sacrifice.

“It will be a powerful moment,” Remy said of her upcoming visit. “We’ve learned so much about them.”

During the student trip to Italy, where Mount Notre Dame’s Model United Nations organization will be attending an annual conference, Hunt said the group will spend some time at the cemetery and memorial site. The site covers 77 acres, which includes an immense field of headstones -- 7,860 of them -- marking the graves of American military war dead and a chapel in which the walls are engraved with the names of 3,095 of the missing.

Mount Notre Dame students Veronica Lakotos with some of the research the group has compiled.

The students plan to conduct a service in honor of the 26 men and place flags on each of their graves and markers.

For both Hunt and the group of students participating in Operation Anzio, it has been an honor getting to know the local heroes, he said. 

“This project has been a great way for students to be active in history,” he noted. “It’s allowing the kids to be historians and providing them with the opportunity to honor our veterans at the same time.”

Hunt and he and his group of students hope to create a lasting exhibit that will ensure the stories of these Hamilton County men are remembered. They’re still considering the possibilities.

“It could be something online or something more,” he said. “We’d love to create panels that tell each of their stories.” 

The panels could possibly be part of a traveling exhibit Mount Notre Dame would be able to share with the local high schools the group has been in touch with in an effort to find out more about the 26 war heroes, Hunt said.

“It’s exciting to consider,” he said. “The students want to share all they’ve learned.”

To see the full list of the 26 veterans from Hamilton County who are buried or commemorated at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Anzio, Italy, check out the Operation Anzio page on Mount Notre Dame’s website. If you have any information about anyone on the list, you can fill out the online form there or email teacher Ben Hunt at bhunt@mndhs.org.

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