Today as I sit and type, I’m looking over the peaceful Sabina countryside that I love so much, and reflecting on how warmly we have been welcomed into this area, both by the local and the expat communities that we live among.
We learned of the story below after being included in a project led by the expat community, along with the Mayor of Montebuono, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the shooting of eight American servicemen who, in the spring of 1944, had been sheltered by partisans nearby after escaping from their captors.
The story of the massacre has been researched by local resident and historian Janet Dethick, with Mike Shanklin, John Murray, Scott and the mayor leading the way with plans to commemorate with local arrangements, fund raising and tracing descendants of the eight soldiers.
This post is a departure from the “a funny thing happened” blog that I normally write, but it’s worth reading. In retelling this story, I’m hoping that perhaps we can trace some living relatives of the servicemen whose names are listed below, and that perhaps you’ll be moved enough to contribute to the commemorative plaque that we are raising funds for. There is a link to the crowdfunding site at the end of the article, as well as to the booklet that Janet has written about the events that took place so close to our home.
During the autumn and winter of 1943 to 1944, bitter fighting took place in Italy on the Gustav Line, fortifications that had been built by the Germans and Italians in order to block the Allies from entering Rome, famously centred on the monastery of Monte Cassino.
Mid-December 1943, eight captured American soldiers, amongst many others, were taken to a nearby prisoner of war camp. Subsequently, they found themselves in a transit camp in an old barracks at Fara Sabina. With the Nazis now in retreat, in January 1944, they were loaded into cattle trucks, and sent north by train to the Prisoner of War Camps in Germany, Poland and Austria.
What happened next has been described as possibly the worst friendly fire incident of the entire war. As the packed train crossed the bridge at Allerona, North of Orvieto, twenty seven American B26 bombers were overhead, dropping their combined payload of 84 “thousand pounders” onto the bridge. The train was not their target, and the bombers were unaware that each of the 40 to 50 cattle trucks contained around 45 Allied Prisoners of War. The train received a direct hit, resulting in at least 500 deaths, many casualties, and numerous escapes from the wreckage.
In the ensuing chaos, our eight soldiers escaped, and eventually found their way to Montebuono. Assisted by the mayor, the local priest and by local partisans, they took shelter in the hermitage of San Benedetto, where they survived until the spring on 1944.
Early in the morning of 13 April 1944, the hermitage, in which the soldiers were sleeping, was surrounded by SS troops. The eight were pulled out of the dormitory, lined up and shot – the Nazis considered that as they were not in uniform they were spies, and so could be shot. The dormitory was then set on fire, and the hermitage was ransacked.
The bravery and kindness of the local partisans towards these Americans did not stop with the deaths of the soldiers however. At great personal risk to the Italians, the eight were blessed by the priest, and given a proper burial in the local cemetery. The details of each soldier were carefully recorded, and after liberation, were handed on to the American authorities, so that the eight could eventually be permanently interred – several were lain to rest in the US Military Cemetery at Nettuno, and others back in the country of their birth.
Seventy five years later, the Italian and expatriate community of Montebuono will commemorate the anniversary of this terrible event. The ceremony will take place in Montebuono on Saturday 13th April 2019, led by Father Robert Warren from All Saints Church in Rome. The United States Embassy from Rome, representatives of the Italian Armed Forces, and the NATO Defense College in Rome, as well as local dignitaries will attend.
In the lead up to the event, we are trying to trace any living relatives of these eight servicemen, in the hope that they can attend the commemoration, or at least be aware that it is taking place. As part of the commemoration, a new plaque, engraved in marble with the names of the soldiers (pictured above) will be unveiled.
If this story has moved you, please consider helping to fund the plaque. A crowdfunding appeal has been set up here:
Further information about the events can also be found here, in Janet’s very interesting and informative booklet:
I’d also ask you to share this post widely, in order that it reaches as large an audience as possible. Any connections of those involved in this event are kindly asked to contact me via this blog, or alternatively Mike Shanklin, via the GoFundMe page.
Non si perde la memoria.
Lest We Forget.