The Boy in the War Zone

The one moment of World War Two that stands in my memory like a massive boulder is being strafed by an American fighter on a clear morning in late August 1944. I was living precariously with my family on a farm near Montefiore Conca in the Romagna region, trying to keep up with my studies in the Italian equivalent of the second year of middle school. On that unforgettable day, I was on a bike on a dusty road on the way to a meeting with a teacher. Our farm was located near a sleepy village named Borgo
Pedrosa and from there I had to reach Montefiore Conca by following the so-called provincial road. It was not a difficult road to traverse, running below a small hill with very few trees. I was happily pedaling along with my books in my backpack, making good time with an old bicycle that I had borrowed from the owner of the farm. Suddenly, I heard a screaming roar at my back that caused me to stop and look behind me. And then I saw it, a black plane spewing sparks from its wings. Those sparks were bullets that were raining down on the road. They terrified me but I had the presence of mind to jump into a nearby ditch as the plane passed overhead. I scampered up the hill and crouched on the ground. The plane was gone but I could still hear the whine of its propeller. I was not the only one on that provincial road that morning. There were a couple of military trucks up ahead — obviously the target from the air — a man on a cart loaded with hay and a few walkers, mostly old people. They all seemed to be in shock, their faces belying their terror. Incredibly, no one had been hit by the bullets, as I learned when I resumed my biking. One of locals told me that the strafing of roads in the area occurred frequently, as the Germans had a small garrison nearby that included trucks and other military vehicles. The area where we lived would soon become an important German defensive stand known as the Gothic Line. The destiny of my family was about to take a dramatic turn that would put us on the front line of the bloody fighting for almost three months.

My family had resided in the city of Rimini, on the Adriatic coast for four years. My father was an NCO (furiere) in the Italian Navy with a long military record that went all the way back to World War I, when he volunteered as a seaman. He had served on several warships and
was detached to a couple of naval bases as a supply officer owing to his age and a previous war injury. A few months before the Italian armistice – signed in Sicily on September 3, 1943 – my father had received a commendation for helping control a fire that threatened to explode a train loaded with ammunition in a Sicilian port. Like most Italian men who were then disbanded, he reached home. I was studying in Rome, living at the house of my aunt and uncle. They were caring for me as they were our closest relatives. My father and my uncle were brothers, while my mother and my aunt were sisters. Rome had been proclaimed an “open city” in August 1943 but in reality it had fallen under the merciless control of the German occupation forces. The city had suffered limited bombing by the Allies but Romans of all ilk were practically starving. My family decided that it was better for me to join my parents who were evacuated from Rimini after heavy bombing had caused widespread destruction and several thousand civilian casualties. I left Rome in the summer of 1943 with my father who, through a friend at the Navy command, had found a way to board a truck going north. It carried a cargo of sensitive

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