John L. Fancourt ’43 (Capture and Escape)

Jack Fancourt

After completing Germantown Academy in Pennsylvania, John “Jack” Fancourt attended PMC. He was a local track star, and, by his senior year, held the Middle Atlantic 220-yard record. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering and went on to attend Officer Candidate School (Infantry). Because of a deficiency in math, he failed to graduate, and was transferred to Camp Butler, North Carolina. Private Fancourt wasted little time requesting an over sea’s transfer to replacement forces and was assigned to Company K, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Division.

During early morning hours of January 22, 1944, the Allies landed on the Italian beach near Anzio. They advanced inland, but were stopped by a German counter attack in early February. At dawn on February 16, the Germans, supported by tanks, launched an attack, with the 179th receiving the brunt of the assault. On February 18, the Germans launched a more intense assault and destroyed one battalion of the 179th, forcing the remainder of the regiment to fall back. Company K suffered heavy casualties, but Fancourt survived. He was captured by the Germans, and along with other prisoners forced to walk towards Rome. After four days, they reached “Cinecitta,” a prisoner of war camp located just outside of Rome. The camp was used to hold prisoners for short periods of time. It was lightly guarded by German soldiers, and surrounded by barbed wire. One night, the guards were distracted by an air raid near the camp. This allowed Fancourt and several others to escape through the barbed wire fence. For the next several months, Fancourt, now with a moustache and long hair, hid in an apartment in Rome, and eluded recapture with the help of the Italian Underground,. In June, Rome was liberated, and Fancourt returned to duty.

At the request of Major General James Ulio, Adjutant General of the Army and a trustee of PMC, Fancourt returned to the school for a short time as a staff member of the Army Specialized Training (AST) unit. After being honorably discharged in late 1945, Fancourt joined the family business, W.F. Fancourt & Company, makers of textile soaps, in Philadelphia. Eventually the company moved to Greensboro, North Carolina. There he enjoyed fishing and golf, serving as the Honorary Chairman of the Greater Greensboro Open in 1974. He died in 1996.