Few people who were swept up by World War II are still alive to tell about it, as I can. My awareness of that simple fact recently led me to record my memories of my adolescence on the Italian front seventy-five years ago. My account starts in late summer 1943 and ends in the fall of 1944. I was only eleven, but my memories of the turbulent period that I spent on three different front lines in Romagna, a region in central Italy, are still vivid in all their details. It is the recollection of a survivor, a lucky boy who never lost hope, even in the direst straits. My luck is intertwined with the wise Latin maxim by Marcus Tullius Cicero: “Dum spiro spero” — so long as I breathe I hope. The Italians put it this way: “As long as there is life there is hope”. For centuries, this aphorism has appeared on coats of arms, architraves, heraldic medallions and even, to my great surprise, as the motto of the state of South Carolina. Evading death on numerous occasions in the war zone is certainly proof that my hope triumphed.
Those dramatic days of my life are quite remote and one might ask why I waited so much to talk about them. The reproach is even more justified because I recently published a book –SCRIBE: THIRTY YEARS AS A FOR- EIGN CORRESPONDENT – that deals with my life as a journalist including those years as a war correspondent in Vietnam and a witness to coups d’etat in Argentina and Chile. Now, as a prisoner in my own home owing to the coronavirus pandemic, I felt that the time had come to write about that youthful stretch of time in an Italian region wrecked by conflict.
Once again, it was my wife Nicki who encouraged me to take this road, as she was firmly convinced that I needed to recount my experiences as a survivor while my memory served me. It was a duty, she said, to leave a document of my life to our daughters and grandchildren. Nicki’s father, Aleardo Furlan, was also a survivor of war experiences, in many ways more horrible than mine, during three years in the Pacific theater as a Marine sergeant who fought on Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. I must confess that I wrote THE BOY IN THE WAR ZONE with a certain satisfaction for the miracle of my memory about happenings described in this booklet. In this case as well, Cicero expressed a wise recommendation: “Memoria minuitur nisi eam exerceas” (memory diminishes unless you exercise it). I believe that I have exercised it by paying homage to the old saying “better late than never”. Finally, I hope that the irresponsible young daredevil comes alive for you too and gives hope to my readers.