The Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary (2001) defines collateral damage as, “unintended damage to civilian life or property during a military operation.” My mind’s eye had a sterile image of collateral damage, until I viewed pictures. I was aghast to observe the remaining rubble of a home with a life time of memories destroyed, an adult’s bloated body, a child’s tattered toy, or worse, a child’s partially clad body in a pool of her own blood similar to a Rorschach ink blot.
With the exception of Rome, almost everything in Italy built after 1946 was once collateral damage. Wikipedia reported 153,200 Italian civilians were collateral damage. Each man, woman and child had a story and a life until they became innocent victims.
When visiting American military cemeteries in Europe, I try to read as many of our boys’ grave markers as time allows. Many were 19, 20, or 21 years young. If each was alive today, he would be playing with his great-grandchildren. Instead he has a white Italian marble grave marker six feet above him with his name, rank, military unit, home state and the date his was KIA — killed in action.
On the first “Follow In Their Footsteps Tour” in 2008 my goal was to climb Monte la Difensa to honor my uncle, Pvt. Richard E. Daigle, a member of the First Special Service Force. The Germans called them the “Black Devils” or “The Devil’s Brigade.”
Thirty-eight relatives of the Force were on the tour. We visited battle grounds in the Liri Valley, between Naples and Rome. Our relatives had liberated a number of small rural communities with a couple of thousand residents each. I was unexpectedly touched by Italian senior citizens who vividly shared their story of being liberated by GIs with a red arrowhead patch on their left shoulder, members of the Force.
Fortunately, our tour guide, Gianni Blazi, translated their stories into English for us. I had spent two years preparing for the tour. I studied conversational Italian for four semesters, read three books about Italy, watched eight of Rick Steve’s Italian DVDs, and three Italian movies. Unfortunately, Italians talk rapidly. I comprehended an occasional word.
However, I could read signs and menus, order food, have a basic conversation and haggle over the price of an item. In Italy never accept the initial price. Haggling is a national sport second only to soccer. Be prepared to raise your voice!
The itinerary for the 2014 FSSF tour begins today at the Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Rome and ends June 5. We will visit 13 battle grounds, five museums; three cemeteries; the Cassino (British) Commonwealth War Cemetery, the American Sicily Rome Cemetery in Nettuno and the Polish Cemetery at the Monte Cassino Abbey. We will celebrate the 70th anniversary of Rome’s liberation on June 4.
The first Allied soldiers, Captain Taylor M. Radcliffe with three enlisted men from Third Regiment of the FSSF, entered Rome at 6:25 hours on June 4, 1944 through the gate at Via Tuscolana. Rome was the first Nazi capital liberated.
Victory’s price tag for Italy was collateral damage and 19,475 American boys. They never returned home vertically to kiss their sweetheart or hug family and friends. Monday is Memorial (Rememberance) Day. Remember to thank a veteran.
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes occasionally to the Nevada Appeal.