Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Forgotten Theatre

Overlooking a valley in the Gargano region.

Looking up a valley in southern Italy.

Looking up at the high ground from a motorway south of Rome.

From the news section comes this story, Pope Benedict visits Monte Cassino to mark the decisive battle that occurred there in World War II. May 24th marks the conclusion of an almost year long battle to breach the Gustav Line and free Rome of German occupation. This bitter struggle after 65 years is as mired in controversy today as the dogfaces of the 34th and 36th Divisions, Tommies, Poles, Free French, Indians, Kiwis were stuck battling up and across the ridges and rivers that made up the spine of Italy. Monte Cassino was thought to be the lynchpin that once breached would clear the way to Rome and what was north. In the end it took what amounted to a full frontal assault on top of continuous air strikes to break through the Gustav Line and reach Rome.

The pictures at the top I took when I visited Italy in 1997. This is the kind of terrain the Allied forces had to face. In the first picture imagine you are an artillery observer for some 88s and Allied forces are advancing down there to take your mountain top. Second picture, imagine you are leading men trying to wrest Italy from the German yoke of occupation and that mountain down the valley is your objective while you know the Krauts have you zero'd in with artillery. Third picture is very reminiscent of how Monte Cassino dominated its area south of Rome. Try advancing up a valley and having such a place held by the enemy and giving them the ability to see every move you make. And imagine this when the rains have turned the ground into a mud that bogs down donkeys and it seems the Germans have unlimited supply of ammo for those 88s.

This Memorial Day let us remember all who gave their life in defense of freedom in all theatres of conflict. And we should never forget from our well-wishes the survivors who carried from these fields of battle scars both physical and mental.

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