BY DECEMBER 1942, the young Trenton Tonasket was reluctantly granted permission by his mother to join the army. At age 17, during his junior year in high school, US Army Private Trenton T. Tonasket and his best friend, Private Cooper Fricke, headed to basic training at Fort Douglas, Utah.
After they finished basic training, and armament and gunnery training, Trenton and Cooper were temporarily transferred to the Army 10th Mountain Division's Ski Trooper School at Camp Hale, Colorado. Upon successfully finishing the ski training, they were both promoted to private first class and transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia for paratrooper schooling. By January of 1944, they parted as PFC Cooper Fricke was transferred to the Pacific Theater, and PFC Trenton Tonasket received orders to proceed to North Africa.
Shortly after that, Trenton's unit was attached to the 168th Infantry Battalion, 34th Infantry Division, and sent to North Africa and then on to Sicily. After additional machine gun training, his unit was sent to mainland Italy. They became part of the assault at Anzio Beach as the initial invasion of the peninsula. The recent arrivals like young Trenton were sent to the front lines on the second day of the Battle of Anzio.
Years later, Trenton confessed that his sergeant had told them that the battlefield at Anzio was utter chaos. The sergeant said he was not going to sacrifice any more of his friends who he'd deserved with for over a year in North Africa and Sicily. He went on to tell them that eight of his friends were already killed in the first 24 hours upon arrival. The sergeant said to Trenton and his unit, "If you motley tin-horns want to survive, you should keep your damn, fool heads down.
The Germans had super-howitzer artillery pieces called Big Berthas and Anzio Annies. These Krupp-built, K-5 railway pieces were 218 tons each and fired 350 mm ammunition. The heavy artillery helped the Germans and Italians pin down the American attack force for 4 months, resulting in 5,000 American deaths and 16,000 wounded troops. That was the situation for Trenton on April 1, 1944. Vastly outnumbered by German and Italian ground troops and their heavy support artillery, Trenton and his platoon were sent to the front lines into a situation that was akin to suicide. Against overwhelming odds and the heaviest of fighting, they held the enemy back for seven days.
Trenton was fighting from a machine gun nest on a ridge above the beachhead. There were six other infantrymen in his squad. Suddenly a German grenade was launched into his nest. He remembers a deafening explosion, and Trenton was momentarily knocked unconscious. Shrapnel hit Trenton in the right side of his face and arm.