The Boy in the War Zone

By then we were perilously placed in the path of the Allied advance. We had to get out, and quickly. At dawn on a misty September day we took the road toward Rimini, the very place that we had abandoned to seek safety in the hills. We bought a large hand cart from the farmer and loaded it with a couple of suitcases and a few bags of food and provisions. My small brother was perched on top. We walked all day to cover about 12 miles and reached Riccione in the evening. Riccione was the quintessential seaside resort with a gorgeous velvet beach.
It had been a major summer tourist destination since the 1930s. Its most famous tourist was none other than Benito Mussolini himself, who spent a couple of weeks there during the summer. The house was built in 1890 and bought by Rachele Mussolini in 1934. It was known as Villa Mussolini.

When we entered Riccione from the provincial road, we found a town that was almost deserted. We had to scrounge for a place to stay, but we managed to settle down in an abandoned summer home. It was located near a small river that crossed the town, Rio Melo, that ran along the Via Flaminia. There was even an ancient single arch Roman bridge that was still in use. The villa that we occupied was quite spacious and we surmised that it belonged, like many others nearby, to some rich family from Bologna. It was surrounded by a small pine grove. In town, no shops were open and thus no food was available. We had the hopeless sense that we were going to die of starvation. One small break came when I discovered a vegetable garden at a nearby house. We dug for carrots that filled our bellies for one night. I also found a small duck that I took home. My father thought that in time we could eat it but I was appalled by the idea. The duck was granted a reprieve.

A few days later we heard the rumblings of the front getting closer. There was a German platoon in town camped out along the banks of the river Melo. It resorted to trickery to keep the Allied forces from attacking en masse. The soldiers took down the black cast iron lamp posts and arrayed them pointing south over the small river. My father thought it was as ingenious a tactic as a Potemkin village, a whimsical façade. Then all at once, drama struck again. Some time after midnight we were awakened by the noise of doors crashing open and soldiers forcing their way into the house.

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