Italian WWII Battles Remembered by OP 16

In this wonderful journey that is the life of each of us there are days that remain alive in the mind more than others. These are the days when you realize that your life has taken the direction you were looking for. I would never have thought of meeting Victor "Tory" Failmetzger and his wife one day and Chris Britt, Maurice Britt's nephew, the next day. Never would have thought that the story of their uncles and grandparents; soldiers and officers of the Third Division, with their sacrifice and their memory, would have been the means to unite in a profound friendship thousands of miles away. It had already happened to me with the fraternal friends of the Fifty-first Bersaglieri and we are going along the road of honoring and remembering for over ten years. And now a new beginning parallel to the first one.              

While traveling by metro, the night I met Victor in person, I remembered the image of the Uncle on the American Knights Tank, his image was between me and Victor, he was present among us. It was he, in the pride of his being a soldier, in the pride of the fulfillment of his mission, our union ring. We talked about history, about the deeds of the heroes of the Third Division, about the stories of war taken from their memories and they were alive again, their memory was not lost, but it was alive in Victor's eyes and mine.

The same happened the night after, when I walked across Via Veneto and met Chris Britt for the first time. His first gift was a Broncos hat ... and I immediately thought of his grandfather, a Detroit Lions player; football was also present in this fantastic story; indelible signs that the stars were playing with me in the sky.

Chris Britt, nephew of one of the most decorated officers in the history of the United States Army was with me, and I, thanks to the invitation of President Toby, whom I accepted immediately, had created the Italian section of the Association of the Third US Army Infantry Division and in those two days I was realizing that life had taken a well-defined path, where the colors were blue and white with diagonal stripes. It was a tree-lined avenue full of white crosses with names that were just waiting to be remembered for what they had done. They were leaves yellowed by time that were removed with the hands from the white marble of the headstones to give new life to the name engraved above and its history.

They were soldiers, sometimes forgotten even in their homeland, as Chris wrote in his splendid letter dedicated to all of us. Soldiers who have done incredible things in the liberation campaign of Italy and in particular in the Winter Line. Monterotondo, Montelungo, Monte Camino, perhaps did not have the attention of history as the D-Day or the battle of Bulge, but they were battles of attrition to the limits of human endurance.

The day of the first meeting of the Italian section of the Third Division, while we were traveling by car, Chris' eyes searched the horizon to find Monterotondo, for him it was a whole new world, as it had been for his grandfather, new mountains, new plains. The car ran along the road of memory, it was the memories, the stories of the grandfather who took shape and color; they were houses, mountains, trees, hills, sky, rivers, it was all, it was emotion, closeness, smell, sounds, perceptions. Our mission to honor and remember was taking the nephew to the grandfather's memories and I was living those moments with him.

We all arrived at the Best Western Hotel in Cassino, we came from Rome, Florence, Pistoia, Aquila, Udine, Milan, Naples, Virginia and Colorado. All united by a single symbol, which greeted us by welcoming the entrance to the Hotel. The first scheduled visit was in the tragedy sites of the 36th Texas Division on the Gari-Rapido river. From the hill, the view of the river and the battlefield immediately made it clear why over 1,000 American soldiers fell in two days.

I remember the silence of Tory and Chris in front of the bare plain of trees, crossed by a small impetuous river. The battlefields, between San Pietro Infine and Cassino, make this effect because they remain intact in many cases and give the exact perception of the sacrifice that took place 75 years ago.

After the lunch break we felt the emotion running like blood in the veins and it was true emotion when in one of the last curves Chris saw the hill of Monterotondo for the first time.

The following was a great moment for him and for all of us. Until we arrived at the exact point where the grandfather performed his heroic deeds, where the holes of the 30th regiment are still visible in the woods, as if time had stopped. We saw Chris sit in a hole and remain silent looking around, as if to look for the spirit of his grandfather, who still runs among those trees admired by his soldiers. Once I read that one appreciates life more when one is conscious of what has been done by men in order to make it free from all slavery. Watching Chris out of the woods, in his smile, I had that perception, I think he breathed better the fresh air of the evening and felt even more the grandfather near him.

The next stop, also in Monterotondo, was the cave of Audie Murphy, today the area has been cleaned, there is a road sign indicating the location, an information panel and a pole to hoist the American flag during the celebrations. Monterotondo, a small forgotten hill, which kept in its woods the war of Britt, and the war of Murphy, two giants of American history of the second world war.

Returning to the cars, in the silence that takes me when I leave these areas, I was happy, because today I can write to all of you, readers of this magazine and members of the whole Third World Association of Infantry, that the mission was accomplished thanks to the work of all the people of the Association and in particular of the Historicus Museum which is located in the area, our operative base in the area, and in particular of Maria Cristina Verdone who managed to obtain the authorization of the owner of Monterotondo to the management of the area and that in recent months has run far and wide throughout the area to create the event that we all expected. Today, thanks to you and all the members of the Third Infantry Division outpost 16, we can say that the area can be visited every day of the year, with convenient information and information boards.

But the day of December 7, seemed to never end, and after Britt and Murphy it was time to honor Floyd K Lindstrom, the Medal Of Honor to which we dedicated the Italian section of the Third Infantry Division. The places where he has obtained the highest honor have been identified recently and have been very suggestive for all participants. In the area everything remained as it was then, even a tank of petrol, rusted by time, was present along the way. The ruins of the house where the emergency room was located, the church where the corpses were laid, today have in front of them the American flag that flies and remembers that one day they passed the Cottonbalers with their motto "Volere e potere" .

Impressive view of the mountain from the point where the boys of the 7th regiment began to climb to conquer Montecamino. We'll climb the summit next June with Chris and Tory and maybe even Toby ... to get to the exact spot where Lindstrom showed his courage.

But the surprises were not finished and were concentrated in the Historicus museum of Caspoli, which preserves numerous artifacts and objects belonging to the soldiers of the Third Infantry Division. Inside the museum there is now a wall dedicated to the Third Infantry Division and the surprise for Chris was to find the original photos of his grandfather framed on the wall and this was for him the grand finale of an unforgettable day for him.

Throughout the day and the days to follow, Victor was not only the one who translated into English for Chris, but our historian, who told details of his research done over the years on the battles along the Winter Line.

In the evening, during the interminable, typical Italian dinner, we gave Chris and Victor the title of honorary members of our outpost. The following two days were dedicated to visiting the sites of the battles of the Winter Line and Cassino, with participation in the official ceremonies of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Montelungo by the Italian departments with the Allies, with the presence of the Head of the State, the Minister of Defense and the highest military positions.

Three unforgettable days in the memory of all, three days that were just a beginning, because we know that Victor will return in June and also Chris. We are already at work for the 75th anniversary of the landing of Anzio and for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Rome.

Submitted by Luigi Settimi - Outpost # 16 Italy.