After driving from the Vatican, three buses drove for two hours to the mountainous region near Monte Cassino. It is easy to see from this beautiful area of Italy how the Allies would have difficulty penetrating the wall of mountains that the Germans referred to as the Gustav Line. The Allies needed to penetrate that Line to move northward into Italy, and for the first 4 months of 1944, 3 failed attempts to penetrate the Line led to the loss of thousands of lives, soldiers from virtually every nation involved in the War. Dotted across the region are monuments and remnants of these great battles. Of course the pivotal point, where the Germans were most heavily fortified, was at the abbey of Monte Cassino. Our first stop was at this cemetery, which buried many of the brave Italian soldiers who died in defense of the liberation of their country.
Our second day in the region took us to a monument on a hillside about one mile from Monte Cassino, San Germano, which was liberated several days after Monte Cassino. It seems that villagers from the entire town came up to greet us, and also visitors from around the world. The staging area on a plaza overlooking the region was overflowing with onlookers.
This woman walked up from the village right before the ceremony. She was a five year old girl when the battle for her village took place, which she says she will never forget. The woman standing by her is visiting from England with her husband, their fathers also fought at Monte Cassino. We found this great sheltered spot behind the crowded staging area and gave this lady a seat. She left as soon as the ceremony ended, simply wanted to pay her respects.
All the veterans here are received with the utmost respect. Escorted by appreciative boy and girl scouts, and questioned by the media. Here dad is being interviewed by TVP, a Warsaw television station. He is holding a diploma and wearing a medal he received with other veterans for the work they did for Poland.
A family connection made in Italy
As mentioned earlier I am surrounded by history, and the stories I've heard combined with friendships made are quite moving. One of the people I've met here is Jay, a Canadian power-lifter from Montreal who runs a school for under-privileged kids. Jay is also the great grandson of General Wladyslaw Anders. For various reasons, his side of the family has been separated from Anna Maria's side, but after years of effort on his part, he made this trip with the hope of meeting Anna Maria, his great aunt. I've been in the middle of it all, and they met here for the first time ever. Jay is quite overcome with joy in connecting with his family. We took a walk in the historic town of Gaeto on Friday morning, and he is having breakfast with Anna Maria today (Saturday) before a busy day at Monte Cassino, I'm going to update this blog after this trip with photos and stories of just a few of the amazing stories I've learned here.
So today is May 18, the 75 year anniversary of the historic victory at Monte Cassino. A battle which proved pivotal in the liberation of Italy and ultimate Allied victory in the war. A busy schedule topped with a dinner that concludes at midnight. The Italians love to eat... every lunch and dinner multiple courses with two bottles of wine per table. But tonight will be even more special. So I will have an historic day to update after leaving the region tomorrow morning for Ancona.
Author - Andrew Bajda
Since publication of my book in December of 2016, so many amazing things have happened on both a personal and professional level. As the journey continues to evolve, I'll update my travel adventures on this blog, and invite you to join me along the way.