The Boy in the War Zone

strategic records that were destined for Salò, Mussolini’s last redoubt and the seat of the so-called Italian Social Republic, a German puppet state proclaimed on September 23, 1943. Salò was a small town on Lake Garda. We were just hitching a ride in a military truck at considerable risk through the Apennine mountain range to the Adriatic coast. The tortuous northeast route followed the ancient Roman road Via Flaminia, and snaked its way through the Furlo pass, a striking gorge where Emperor Vespasian had built a tunnel at its narrowest point. We were under constant threat of air attack. We missed one by minutes at Fossombrone on the Metauro river. The road near the center of town was devastated, with several vehicles burning and dead bodies lying on the edge of the street. This was the first time in my short life that I saw the victims of war up close, with acrid smoke hanging in the air amid the horror caused by relentless bombings. We kept on going in the uncomfortable truck, squeezed in as we were among boxes under the tarpaulin cover. We had not eaten since the previous day, but Providence appeared in the form of a farmhouse where the driver bought a large number of eggs. Those were the best scrambled eggs I ever tasted.

The Via Flaminia originally reached Ariminum, today named Rimini, the city where my family had an apartment and where my brother Pier Lorenzo was born on May 1, 1940. It was the main artery that connected Rome to the Po valley. In recent centuries it ended at Fano, another coastal town also established by the Romans just below Rimini. That is where we got off to reach the hills where we had rented two rooms in a farmhouse 15 miles away from the coast. My father had moved the family there in late summer of 1943. The farm itself was just a few acres but provided the owners and us with enough food – chicken, eggs, geese and a
few pigs. One day the farmer decided to slaughter a pig, in a way that was
both gruesome and entertaining. I watched, curious and bewildered, as the pig bled out and the blood was collected in a pail to make “castagnaccio”, a sweet blood pudding. It was my responsibility to watch over my little brother, whose main activity was chasing the chickens.

At the beginning, nothing much was happening, but the war was getting closer to us. After my frightening encounter with the American fighter, I got to know up close and personal other consequences of the aerial war. First, the news spread that a U.S. bomber had been shot down not far from the farm. I went there with a farmer who led a small group of people along the rough terrain. Sure enough, the remnants of a B-17, a heavy bomber of the Fifteenth Air Force, were spread out across a large ravine. The B-17s were based in Southern Italy, near Foggia, a place that was well known to Americans because during World War I the Italian air force trained American pilots, including Fiorello La Guardia, at a nearby base. The Italians, however, never let him fly alone since he was a well known Italian-American politician and they wanted to keep him as an asset in the United States.

The Germans and the Italian police had cordoned off the crash site but we managed to pick up a few “souvenirs”. In particular, we found pieces of plexiglass, a material unknown to us, and we used it to make rings. As an 11-year-old, I was caught up in the excitement of the war that I was just beginning to experience. Strange rumors were continuously swirling around and I gulped them down. After seeing the wreck of the B-17, I heard someone say that a woman had been on board. As far as I could ascertain, a bag that looked like a woman’s purse has been

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