Winchester author recalls horror of war in WWII Italy
Marino de Medici was 11 in the summer of 1944 when he was strafed by a World War II U.S fighter as he rode his bike along a country road on his way to school.
He and his family were subsequently driven from their home on the Adriatic Coast on a farm near Montefiore Conca in the Romagna region in search of someplace safe from German soldiers and bombings.
“As an 11-year-old kid, I was skirting death every day,” he recalled.
Recently reliving this experience for a short book he wrote, de Medici, 87, hopes to demonstrate what it means to live with the expectation of death and the hope for a better life.
“We had to leave where we were because that’s where the fighting started,” he said. “We had to escape, so that’s the story of our escape.”
De Medici said his wife Nicki encouraged him to write the book while he still remembered the events in such detail.
“I was lucky enough to remember,” he said. “I remember vividly those days.”
The book, “The Boy In The War Zone,” is written in English and then repeated in Italian, and was printed in May with limited copies for his family and friends. It is available for free at his website: marinodemedici.com/2020/05/21/the-boy-in-the-war-zone.
The story, less than 13 single-spaced pages including a preface, begins with de Medici’s recounting of being under attack by the American fighter.
“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,” he wrote. “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.”
Others along the country road were also spared from the bullets, he wrote, and he learned from one of the locals that the target had likely been a small German garrison near there 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,” he wrote. “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.”
Among several other visceral accounts he gives of attacks and escapes is a description of hearing bombs falling outside the abandoned house where he was staying with his parents and younger brother.
“My father knew what was coming,” he wrote. “There were no bomb shelters and the house did not have a basement. We huddled under the stairs, cramped and terrified by the explosions that were beginning to go off nearby. And then we heard that harbinger of death, the stunning whistle of a bomb coming down.
“My father screamed: ‘It’s for us!’ Seconds later, a huge blast shook the house, pieces of plaster rained down and [a] massive cloud of dust enveloped us. We could hardly breathe but we were alive. The bomb had hit the house next to us. I saw it a few hours later, completely flattened by the explosion.”
Surviving war is part luck, part determination, he said.
“We were fortunate, yes, but also there was a desire. We were using our brains to try and survive,” he said.
With his parents, he pushed all their belongings and his little brother on a cart through the night. They scrounged for food. They found abandoned houses to live in, and after a few days or weeks were forced to move again as the war moved in closer.
“As much as we were in danger, we never lost hope. We did not despair,” he said. “That was the biggest most important lesson that I learned in my life, do not despair.”
After the war, de Medici studied journalism and came to the United States on a scholarship, later becoming dean of the foreign correspondents in America. For more than 20 years, he covered news in Washington, D.C., for the newspaper il Tempo in Rome.
He moved to Winchester in 1998 and has since written the book “SCRIBE: 30 Years as a Foreign Correspondent in America.” He also writes columns for the Northern Virginia Daily.
“I’ve been very lucky to come to the United States in much better times when the United States was a democracy, which now, day after day is becoming less of it,” he said. “It’s becoming less and less of the democracy that I knew, that I admired and that I wanted to experience.”
Criticizing attacks he’s seen on the First Amendment in recent months, he said he hopes to see a “self-regenerating” of American society like he’s witnessed before.
“In other words, it went through huge crises of history, but it always emerged from this crisis and became stronger than before,” he said. “It’s going to have that again, I’m sure. But we have to close this abominable chapter of the worst presidency in the history of the United States. And who can say that with more confidence than a foreigner who knows this country very well?”
Connecting especially with the experience of other refugees, de Medici, a U.S. citizen, pointed out that the world is full of war survivors.
“The book is a testament of my attachment and my empathy for people who have been displaced by war, people who have been forced to evacuate and to run for their lives, people who have been starving. We had no food,” he said.
But he also remembers how people helped each other during and after the fighting and how there was a feeling of mutual survival.
“Solidarity is begotten by the drama of a situation which is unfolding,” he said. “It’s a feeling of helplessness — tremendous — when you are bombed. There’s nothing you can do about it. As my mother said, ‘God save us.’”