Organized by the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division, Inc., the 2006 battlefield tour to Italy brought to Italy a group of more than 200 veterans and their families. The Tour started from Rome on May 28, 2006, and went up the “boot” of Italy following the battle route of the Division in 1944-45. We met the veterans at the Memorial Day celebrations at the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial and again in Lizzano in Belvedere, theater of one of the first key battles of the Mountaineers 61 years ago. The people of Lizzano in Belvedere and the other hill-towns in the Mt. Belvedere sector were very happy that the veterans of the 10th Mountain Division were with them again. For the occasion, the Municipality of Lizzano in Belvedere has erected a beautiful monument atop Mt. Belvedere to honor the townspeople and the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division who gave their lives during those bloody battles.
We had come to know of the Association’s official visit to Italy through our contacts with several veterans we had met in 2003, as well as through information received from Italian friends who were part of the welcoming committee in the Lizzano - Montese area. On June 2-3, 2006, we went up to Lizzano to meet the veterans and participate, dressed in 10th Mountain Division gear, to the official ceremonies there.
The weather, unusually inclement for the month of June – cold, wind, and a heavy and persistent rain – seemed to be there to remind us all of the conditions under which the 10th had liberated the area during January, 1945. But even that did not prevent many veterans, also with our motorized help, to get on top of Mount belvedere for the inauguration of the new monument in their honor. Luckily, the following day weather conditions improved just in time for the final parade through Lizzano and the closing ceremony of the Tuscan part of the tour. Our group of re-enactors, together with the local “Fratelli della Montagna”, was part of the setup, also exhibiting an original US mountain sled loaded with heavy equipment.
Mostly, however, we treasured the several occasion when we could talk to our American guests, identifying terrain features, telling us the real story behind photographs in history books, recalling past experiences form their battles and rest periods in Italy, or simply enjoying anecdotes of their long, rewarding postwar existence. Those meaningful and relaxed moments were well worth the effort of getting into the not so close Apennines range under a pouring rain. After all, honoring the veterans and transmitting the knowledge and meaning of those past events to the younger generations is what all our activities are about, as shown by the enthusiasm and intelligent curiosity exhibited since by the four and a half years-old daughter of one of our group, who had taken her to Lizzano expressly to meet the veterans.
10th Mountaineers, come back soon, and until that time!