Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Aren't We There Yet? - A Travel Log




Aren’t We There Yet? – A Travel Log

We can see quite a long way down the road from our home.  Let me qualify that some … not from home in Italy where concrete walls shelter a maze of ancient dwellings, but from our home in the States.  Out the front door to the end of the driveway, then on to the street, and the open road to anywhere in the world awaits.  So, it was on a Sunday in July that we bolted beyond the scenery of our front door to where else but Italy, this time for three months of whatever may happen.  Once again, the unfettered charm of something still undefined beckoned.  They say, “All Roads Lead to Rome” and they just may.  We’d give it another try, well beyond Rome, south to Calitri, beginning with the beckoning strada at our front door. 
There were five of us at this stage of the trip with two more planned to join us when we arrived in Naples.  Exactly how many phases there would be to our journey was only an educated guess at this point.  If all went well, we could anticipate four, with periods of waiting interspersed here and there.  All told, there would be enough to consume about 24 hours.  As a child, in the back seat of the Chevy four-door, I recall how road trips never seemed to end.  Sitting there on the interlaced threads of the plastic seat covers of the back seat, they seemed endless.  Only the fuzzy backs of the front seats, topped by my parent’s heads, were visible.  Absent the distraction of any hand-held electronics to occupy our time, dreams while asleep from the motion of the vehicle were our video games.  This trek eclipsed all that.  The grandchildren with us and adults alike would at least wonder, if not voice aloud that reprise expectant of some form of relief, “Aren’t we there yet?”  
As expected, the road petered-out about four hours later when we reached the bustling JFK Airport on Long Island.  Months earlier I’d jumped at a 30% discount offer from an Italian airline operating from JFK.  The savings would hopefully more than offset the cost of the one-way rental and it did.  In the meantime, ticket prices apparently dropped with Boston area carriers.  Truth be told, when you got right down to it, in addition to adding to the length of the trip, I could have saved the expense and the bother of driving all that way and flown from Boston for about the same price.  So much for the overthinking brought on by the chain of decisions called advanced planning.
From the four wheels of Phase I, we soon transitioned to the 10 wheels of Phase II as our Airbus 330 lifted off for an eight-hour flight to Milan.  To that point it had been a hurry-up and wait affair.  We’d set out early enough to insure we arrived with time to spare.  The downside being that if all went well, we’d arrive early at JFK.  Light Sunday traffic, great weather, and a reliable vehicle saw us get there without difficulty.  The hurry-up concluded, our waiting began as we lingered until the sign over what had once read Air France to Riyadh (just a little too far east for our liking) flipped to Air Italy. 
The direct JFK to Naples flight, on the once-upon-a-time Meridiana Air route we’d looked forward to for months, was now an indirect flight to Naples via Milan, on the newly christened Air Italy.  While much had changed, certainly the length of the trip, I was powerless to change a thing.  With king for a day empowerment, I’d certainly tell Mr. Aga Khan, who owns the airlines but doubtfully has never sat in economy for eight or so hours, how to improve boarding.  I still do not understand, but certainly appreciate, the confusion of boarding.  Instead of calling rows, let’s say in the normal manner, beginning at the back of the aircraft and working forward, theirs featured a free-for-all melee.  We’ve been to Italian wedding receptions like that, where as soon as the bride and groom are seated, the scuffle begins as the hoard of guests dash for the buffet appetizers en masse.  The idea of calling people to come forward by assigned table number was as foreign as we were.  Plain and simple, it is a survival of the fittest affair or at least the dominance of the hungriest with the sharpest elbows.  Frequent flyers can appreciate the similarity as you quickly find yourself in a queue somewhere along those 100 foot, nose-to-tail aisles, while 17G, 20A, 23B, ad infinitum, first search for their ticket stubs to confirm their seat assignments, then wait while earlier arrivals get up and move out into the aisle to allow them to enter, while others shuffle back into the aisle to unload every conceivable device they may need during the flight before jamming their carry-on into the overhead.  All the while they’d hold-up the uncoordinated line now easily extending through the shi-shi, prosecco sipping, first class glitterati, to the cockpit, and out the hatch.  Do I exaggerate or am I preaching to the choir here?
It all originates at check-in where you deposit your luggage and get your boarding pass.  For years orderliness was not part of this experience in Italy.  I’d say it was far more like the wedding appetizer buffet stampede I described.  At the airport, in a similar fashion, we’d be greeted by an inverted triangle of travelers.  Its long base ran along the counter while that poor last patron, tapering off the peak of the pile, stood farthest from the counter.  For those lost souls out there on the fringes in la-la land, there needed to be a modification to the beatitude “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.  Something along the lines, “for they shall get there someday”, would have been more appropriate.  Those days are gone, but it took years before the civilizing effect of the roped line was introduced. 
Like cruising, it used to be fun to fly.  We even got dressed-up as if we were going to church.  Not anymore.  At least not these days, where like that inverted triangle example, an inverse rule seems to apply, for as aircraft get larger, seats get narrower and more densely packed even for the ergonomically-correct, 32 inch waisted, five foot eight, 160 pound, stereotypical male passenger.  Like the movie Titanic, the reverse also applies as we found ourselves retracing the steps of an endless flow of ancestry, although in reverse, where instead we were headed for Italy, not America, yet with steerage accommodations in the form of “Economy” class still very much in vogue.
I did find that the much-maligned airline food had improved over Meridiana Air’s previous fare, although Maria Elena would counter here if she had access to these keys and point out I’d eat just about anything.  Much to the delight of the bovine population, chicken was still offered.  The other choice was ever inventive pasta in one of its many guises.  I chose the lasagna bolognaise which was just great, while my granddaughter, Gabriella, got to enjoy four dessert rejections including one from a neighboring passenger destined for Sicily over concern for her sugar count.  She also made a sign of the cross on take-off.  With God as our co-pilot and still more pilots up-front, I felt reassured we were in good hands.  Surprisingly, we were attended to by an all-male staff.  I hesitate to call them stewards, but why not, when for years we referred to their opposites as stewardesses.  How they broke into that female dominated profession, I’m not sure, though it must be a similar kinship I’m seeing nowadays with male cashiers in supermarkets.  
After dinner, we settled in for the long flight, almost eight hours we were informed, eventually into a rising sun.  I was seated across the aisle from my daughter and granddaughter while in front of me sat my other granddaughter and Maria Elena.  How I’d settled for that last-minute arrangement remains a mystery.  I think someone wanted to sit with Nana.  I hadn’t thought the consequences through when I’d agreed, for when the cabin lights dimmed, I had no one to lean into and fall asleep against.  Sitting on the aisle, there was only one way to go for I didn’t think the fidgety young woman beside me would appreciate me tilted her way to the accompaniment of an occasional cacophonous snore.  I have a problem sleeping while sitting upright.  I attribute it to years in the cockpit where falling asleep was for good reason, prohibited.  Putting my head down on my tray was also out of the question.  I must somehow get sideways, which is impossible in today’s seats no matter what the airline commercials feed us about the luxuries of flying.  Jennifer Aniston and that inflight shower she advertised on TV, along with a stand-up bar, were nowhere to be found.  In fact, amenities were rather limited.  With a compliment of 236 economy class seats, there were only four toilets available.  Four additional toilets were just beyond the curtain two rows in front of us, but unfortunately access to them was like crossing into the Korean Demilitarized Zone, also known as Business Class.  Luckily, we were not seated in the tail where the restrooms we had access to were located.  The aisles there were continually filled with what might be called anxious though straining flyers, who like Jack in the Boxes would pop-up whenever the seat belt light was extinguished and head back to join the rapidly growing queue.  I was thankful I was not seated back there for it would have been impossible to sleep in one of those aisle seats flanked by inconvenienced travelers whose discomfort grew by the moment. 
At some point, I must have fallen asleep for some of my hours aboard are unaccounted for, as if I’d been abducted by aliens (the UFO kind).  At intervals, I was jostled awake by some passing night aisle-walker when I’d list too far into the aisle or when my daughter would do the jostling herself from across the aisle after I’d discharged an especially vociferous snort.  After all, she had my reputation to uphold among all these strangers while I slept.  Conscious once again when the cabin lights came up, I was pleased to learn that there were just over two hours remaining before landing.  There are benefits from sitting up front.  One being that they haven’t run out of the wake-up breakfast omelets just yet.  When we actually did touch down, passengers applauded, while across the aisle, the lady from Sicily made a sign of the cross again.  For our part, we joined in the applause but any enthusiasm for having arrived in bella Italia was tempered by the realization that we could have been in Naples by then if the route structure hadn’t been changed.  Gathering our belongings from the overhead we quickly began to shuffle toward the exit, just another up-front seating perk that allows you to get off quicker and queue to the passport line before those hundreds of fellow passengers farther back.  It’s a perk, however, that can only be fully exploited by the business and first-class passengers, the very first off and already at passport control when we arrived.  
Milan Airport, properly referred to as Malpensa, is big and expansive.  We’d parked at the “B” side of town and had to make our way to the “A” side for our next flight.  This was deceptive.  Only a letter away, in reality an entire sprawling terminal separated us from our next flight.  Luckily, we had two hours between flights with no luggage involved, only customs to attend to since this was our first point of entry into the European Union (EU).  Thankfully, we‘d landed early and had that time-pad in our favor for our entire planeload of fellow passengers had to be seen by a rather bored immigration officer ensconced in a glass vault.  In addition to his normal duties of guarding the exit from Terminal B to anywhere else in the EU, he oversaw a red line on the floor that he’d shoo over-eager travelers back across whenever they’d stray too close to his realm, uninvited.  
The coveted stamp of approval eventually in hand, we next made our way to our departure terminal.  To do that, we had to navigate through corridors of consumerism.  With a captured crowd on hand, many with hours to kill and vacation Euros to mete out, airports have embraced the lucrative idea of a mini-mall on the way to the gates.  In some airports there is no way to proceed without zig-zagging through retail shops loaded with kiosks brandishing typical regional products in hope that you may have missed something earlier.  They serve their purpose, especially when we must endure a long wait.  It’s nice to be able to get up and browse the shops or enjoy some refreshments while waiting.  Who knows, you might even find something you like.  Myself, I’m usually a sucker for that last minute, duty-free, oversized bottle of Aperol at a considerable discount from Stateside prices.
Our flight to Naples boarded on time.  Another phase of our journey, thankfully a rather short one, was underway.  We were scattered in our seat assignments but after takeoff we were able to move closer together because the aircraft wasn’t full.  Our daughter was eager to meet her friend and her daughter who’d arrived in Naples ahead of us.  Following landing, we exited the aircraft to an awaiting bus that brought us to the terminal.  The Naples terminal has seen many improvements over the years.  For instance, nowadays when we exit the ramp shuttle into the terminal, we are greeted with an audio-visual welcome to Naples.  It highlights the many archeological wonders and sights of the area, from Pompeii to the Amalfitano peninsula, that make this part of Italy so unique.  Arriving at the baggage carousel, we found Leslie and Lily waiting for us.  Surprisingly they had remained in the baggage claim area since they’ed retrieved their luggage hours earlier.  Never having been to Europe before, they were hesitant to leave the baggage area for fear of what lay behind the swinging exit doors.  They also knew that eventually we would pass through this area and it would be a sure way to meet us.  They were right.  We were glad they’d made it on their own, and that neither group had had any problems.  Hugs and kisses duly administered, we waited for our luggage.
Arrival’s epicenter of activity, baggage claim, is another prayerful place where fervent entreaties are offered by petitioners even before the conveyer belt begins to move.  Prayers become more fervent with each cycle of the belt as it disappeared into the wall in hopes that a new load, bearing your suitcase, personally decorated to get your attention, would emerge.  I watched the lady from Sicily with interest.  She finished another supplication and low and behold, her appeal was answered, a miracle for certain, as her suitcases emerged through those mechanized portals of pure chance.  We hadn’t seen ours since JFK, one suitcase each.  I always check when the attendant slips the coded destination tag under the handle.  In New York it read MXP (Milan) followed by NAP, for Naples of course.  Much depends on these codes being correct.  That’s half the battle.  From then on, seeing your luggage again depends on a system of baggage scanners, enough time between flights to transfer bags, the absence of the occasional baggage handler slowdown or strike, your luggage being pulled for a contents inspection, finding its way aboard the correct trolley, and a heavy dose of baggage luck.  A second miracle occurred that night, only minutes after the first, when Maria Elena’s four-wheeled shell of a suitcase suddenly appeared, followed less than half a belt later by my duffle-bag, each embellished with a bright yellow cord as a personal compliment to the MXP/NAP codes.
One final phase remained, getting to Calitri from Naples.  Here we had options, though limited.  Hiring a Uber was not one of them.  There were none.  There was, however, a bus to the main train station in the bowels of Naples and from there another bus to Calitri, if a sufficient number of seats were available.  Our group, now grown to seven, would be asking a lot, especially when due to the hour, it would be the last bus available that day.  Could we take the chance?  To add to this stew, it had already been a long day of travel, actually more than a day.  Everyone was tired.  With many stops along the route, it would be hours before we’d arrive.  Then there would be a bag-drag from the bus stop through town to the Borgo where we lived … just a little much.   By this point only one option made sense.  Dropping the idea of this stew, we went for the filet mignon.  I’d arranged for a driver with a van to collect us and drive us to Calitri, non-stop.  With roller bags in tow we exited, single file, through the baggage claim swinging doors into a waiting crowd of anxious family members, resort services, and shuttle drivers, many brandishing signs.  Just beyond the barricade we met our driver, Salvatore, who with a broad sign inscribed with my name and an even broader smile, greeted us.  We had never met Salvatore.  Our ride had been arranged by Emma, our Calitri house manager.  Grateful for his presence, we followed Salvatore outside in single file, across the hectic street of arriving and departing travelers to his van.  Minutes later, we were on the A16 autostrada headed east, away from the coast and across the Apennine mountains deep into the valleys of Campania.  After that treat, Maria Elena now expects this kind of special handling on future arrivals.  As they say in that card game, “Go fish”!
We were delivered to the piazza by the Calitri town hall.  Not there yet, all that remained was one brief trek, the final phase, through cobbled streets to our door.  The clicking of our many suitcase wheels as we lurched along across the cobbles trumpeted our arrival.  There was no hiding it.  We were used to the drill, but not our guests.  I could only imagine their private thoughts reflected in their expressions and weary body language.  There was enquiry in their looks, I’d seen it before.  It was a mix of “when will this trip end” and “not another step”.  They were undoubtedly thoughts which when stripped of their crassest modifiers, absent a few dangling expletives, and distilled to its politest residue, there only remained “Aren’t We There Yet?”  Effectively we were.  The final impediments before the onset of traveler’s relief, were a few broad stone steps and a short passage through a
salmon colored tunnel to our door.  After the drive, our guests could appreciate Campania’s geography of stone, mountains, scattered hilltop villages, and broad vistas speaking to them across thousands of years.  They had an inkling by then that this wasn’t Kansas.  Instead, this was undiscovered southern Italy.  They’d made it.  For a few weeks, theirs would be a multisensory experience.  The wonderment of it truly incomparable - the very old alongside shiny new, faces with a thousand wrinkles, the communion of picturesque vineyards carpeting heaving hillsides, the aroma of grana padano stuffed zucchini blossoms, the recurring melody of “buona sera” and “buon giorno” from everyone you pass - enough to incubate a thousand memories.  Up those last steps and through the tunnel a different new awaited, new moments in time that have lasted forever.

 
From that Rogue Tourist
Paolo



Saturday, June 30, 2018

Connecticut Yanks and Unsung Heroes

 
Members of the Same Australian Flight Crew
(Pilot, Navigator, Radio Operator, Gunner)

Connecticut Yanks and Unsung Heroes
Memorial Day is already a month past, but I’m still thinking about it.  Memorial Day, once known as Decoration Day, is today a federal holiday in the United States.  On this day we pause to remember every man and woman who made the ultimate sacrifice and have given their lives in service to our country’s armed forces.  As such, it is much more than an annual passage into “white-glove” season heralding the unofficial beginning of summer, a day off from school, specials on car sales, or deep discounts on big screen 4K TVs. 
Many countries have similar solemn remembrances, rooted in their wartime history, where they take time to reflect on their fallen heroes:  In Australia/New Zealand “Anzac Day” occurs on the anniversary of the disaster following the ill-fated battle at Gallipoli during WW I, while the Turks, on the opposite side of the Gallipoli front, observe “Martyrs Day” in memory of their victory over the Allied Powers on that same battlespace.  The United Kingdom observes “Remembrance Sunday”; the French celebrate “Armistice Day”.  In the Netherlands, if you can pronounce it, it is called Dodenherdenking, which in Dutch means “remembrance of the dead” 1.  It commemorates those Dutch civilians and soldiers who died in conflicts since WW II began.  Much in the news, South Korea observes a minute of silence on 6 June when the Korean War began, for it still hasn’t ended … and there are many others across the globe.  While many a story of personal gallantry is known, the medals duly bestowed, I suspect far more heroic stories remain untold.  For this reason, all are remembered this day, from the unheralded soldier who fell on an invasion beach to the men of an overrun foxhole on some forgotten coral atoll.
At the Makawao Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines, a helicopter drops thousands upon thousands of rose petals on the tombstones of 17,000 deceased, the Americans among them marked by a small American flag.2  I have never been to the Philippines.  I mean, I’ve never been physically on the ground there, but I’ve been to its coordinates many times on missions inbound to Viet Nam.  Young and wide-eyed then, I vividly recall looking down through the windscreen at a smoking volcano on Mindanao as we flew on into the South China Sea.  Those missions began for me in 1971, coincidentally the year when Memorial Day became an official federal holiday, although it informally began following the American Civil War when the idea to “decorate” a soldier’s grave first became popular.  There was another American soldier, however, of the same name, my name, Paul Monico, who visited the Philippines earlier than I in another war.
My namesake was a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army (www.dpaa.mil).  In a coincidence of the unexpected, not only did we share the same name, but we came from the same state of Connecticut.  I was stunned to learn of him, about as surprised as when a waiter in San Antonio, Texas, gave me my bill with my name written on it.  When I asked if he was prescient   enough to know my name, he replied that it was in fact his name.  Can my name be that common?  Especially when spelled with an “i”.  I never thought so.  I discovered that Lt. Monico was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Regiment as a Philippine Scout.  Taken prisoner, he most likely took part in the infamous Bataan Death March during the Second World War.  Lt. Monico endured that horrific ordeal only to die on 7 Sept 1944 aboard the Japanese tramp steamer, the SS Shinyo Maru.  Paul was among the 663 American prisoners of war who perished either from a torrent of machine gun fire while fighting the ship’s guards or shortly thereafter, unable to evade the gunfire and escape, when the ship sank after being torpedoed off the island of Mindanao by an American submarine, USS Paddle.3  Tragedy seemed to have befriended him.  This colossal friendly-fire incident was due to faulty intelligence that had reported Japanese soldiers aboard the Shinyo Maru, not prisoners of war.  This same name and home-state coincidence was too bizarre for me to fathom.  Separated by a generation, little did I realize that the paths of two Monicos, oddly both from Connecticut, intersected each time I’d return and cross that fateful stretch of the Sulu Sea. 

If I may ramble just a little … “Sulu” happened to be the name of the helmsman of the starship USS Enterprise, a name chosen by the creator of the Star Trek series, Gene Roddenberry, for none other than this same Sulu Sea.  He actually selected the character’s name while looking at a map.  Yes, I was once a “trekkie”.  I, along with the rest of the cadet wing (it seemed in fact the entire nation), once upon a time, used to watch a weekly dose of Star Trek at the Air Force Academy.  Another interesting factoid, if I may continue just a bit longer, is that it was while at the fictitious Starfleet Academy that the future captain of the Starship Enterprise, James Tiberius Kirk (yes, that “T” was for Tiberius), outdid a test designed to be unbeatable.  Here a space freighter fabrication, verses a real one afloat, this Maru the Kobayashi Maru, was part of the curriculum to gage a command-track cadet’s character.  No matter the strategy taken, no matter what actions he/she took, the scenario was rigged to ensure that the candidate would lose in this no-win situation.  Its intent was to observe how participants reacted to the loss of life and the death of those they commanded.  Only by stepping outside the rules of the game did Cadet Kirk beat the simulation by reprogrammed the rules of the game.  The general reaction was that he had cheated but surprisingly Kirk was commended for original thinking or what we might refer to as “thinking outside the box.”  Likewise, for the prisoners aboard the Shinyo Maru, each faced a similar no-win situation - die trying to escape the ship or drown as the Maru went under.  They had no ability to reprogram their situation and cheat death.  It was the real world at war.  In the end, only 82 of 750 POWs managed to beat an unethical set of rules and survive.  The actions of other POWs and their deaths in overcoming the guards had undoubtedly helped clear the way, their unrecognized heroic deeds making it possible that others might escape.  How each survivor would carry this burden the remainder of their lives, their thoughts “why me”, is certainly worthy of a case study analysis, if any are still with us.  Philippine Scout, 2nd Lt. Paul Monico, Officer #890210, US Army, unfortunately having suffered and endured so much, was not among the handful who survived.  If he had, he would have returned to Connecticut about the time I was born.

But I see I’ve drifted some, entirely off the planet in fact “… to a galaxy far, far away”.  In Italy, about the time the Shinyo Maru sank and Lieutenant Monico’s premature demise, the war in Italy was at a stalemate.  In February ’44, Winston Churchill had written a critical letter to the supreme commander-in-chief of allied operations in Italy.  In it he said he expected to see, in his words, “a wild cat roaring”, but by that point he’d seen nothing but a “whale wallowing on the beaches.” 4  Winston was referring to the status of “Operation Shingle”, the amphibious landing at Anzio the month earlier which had hoped to break the stalemate in Southern Italy.  Facing brutal resistance, the Allies were unable to break out of their beachhead.  As Winston had put it, they were essentially whales stuck on the beaches, a situation that held until late in May of that year (following the deaths of over 7000 Allied soldiers), along with the capture of Monte Casino, as German troops retreated farther north to new defensive lines.

It had been a tough slog on the beaches at Salerno.  That assault stretched south along the coast as far as the archeological ruins and temples at Paestum (Poseidonia), a major city of Magna Graecia (Greater Greece).  There had been no tactical surprise.  On D-Day of the Salerno landings, 9 Sept 1943, as the first wave of the US 36th Infantry Division approached the beach at Paestum at 03:30, a loudspeaker from shore announced in English: “Come on in and give up.  We have you covered.” 5  The element of surprise, that had been anticipated by not conducting a preliminary shore bombardment, was naught.  On the initial landing alone, a high cost was incurred as eighteen LST landing craft were hit.

To the north of the Americans, closer to Salerno, in the vicinity of Pontecagnano, when the British 56th Infantry Division went ashore, they were met by stiff enemy resistance in the form of withering fire and intense shelling.  They were pinned down on the beaches.  On “Beach Brick” the British “had great difficulty in organizing its beachhead. Although the shingle and sand beach was good, and the exits satisfactory, the routes inland were narrow and flanked by ditches. Moreover enclosures, patches of wood, swampy ground, and irrigation channels abounded.  The build-up on the beaches went briskly, but to clear them was another matter, and the congestion became acute.” 6  Winston’s vivid illusion to whales floundering on the beach easily comes alive in this context. 
Salerno War Cemetery


 “It was planned to fly in not later than D+6 a total of 12 squadrons of American Mustangs, Spitfires and Kittyhawks, eight squadrons of R.A.F. Spitfires, half a squadron of R.A.F. Beaufighter night-fighters and elements of one American Mustang and one R.A.F. Spitfire Tac. R squadron. …” 7
Coincidentally, the day of the invasion was the same day the armistice between the Italians and the Allies was made public (signed six days earlier on 3 Sept). 8  It marked a turning point in Italian history as the Italians switched sides to re-enter the war on the side of the Allies, even though one newspaper went so far as to announce that the war was over!  The Germans immediately attacked the Italian forces.  In the confused melee, the Germans had the added burden of disarming 1,000,000 of their former allies.  The Italians, no doubt confused since for secrecy reasons no clear orders had been issued in advance as to how to conduct themselves, saw some units surrender, some go home, others remain loyal to their fascist allies or flip to assist the Allies. 
Our little town of Calitri, across the backbone of the Apennines, way inland from the main thoroughfare of battle along the coastal plain farther west, saw German forces retreat through the Ofanto Valley sometime after the earlier Allied amphibious landings in Salerno.  I’ve heard stories of a German tank in the narrow lanes at the bottom of the Calitri borgo.  At one point, I’m told it got so narrow, one of its tracks climbed the wall of the street as it attempted to push through.  Apparently important documents had been stolen and the Germans were on the hunt for them.  A monstrous panzer tank in the medieval Borgo, where everyone lived at the time, seemed a little much, but it got the necessary attention.  Eventually the thief got the message and through the intercession of the local priest, if not God, the leather briefcase and whatever it contained (plans?) were returned.  As the Germans moved on, war departed Calitri. 
Although not the scene of any major battles, Calitri is surrounded by a history of military strife spanning centuries.  A slight clarification may be in order here for during WW II Calitri was the site of the first ever Allied paratrooper drop of the war.  On 9 Feb 1941, months before American involvement in the war began, eight Whitley bombers from Malta carried commandos of X Troop of the No. 11 Special Air Service Battalion on a surprise assault on what was considered an important target.  All told, from among the various aircraft of “Operation Colossus”, 35 men jumped in the night to temporarily seize and destroy a strategic aqueduct on the outskirts of Calitri. 9  While no battles ensued and loss of life was limited to one paratrooper, the Italian interpreter, all were captured and held prisoner for the duration of the war. 
Not far from Calitri, to the west, along the ridge of the lovely Sele River valley that we occasionally drive through from Lioni to the sulphur springs of Contursi Terme, is the small municipality of Senerchia.  As a crow flies, it is about 25 miles inland from the coastal city of Salerno and overlooks the Sele River that unfortunately divided the British from American forces on 9 Sept 1944 on the beaches of “Operation Avalanche”.  Coincidentally, this same river feeds the Calitri aqueduct.  Its name, “Senerchia”, stems from "Sena Herclae”, Latin for "Bosom of Hercules” and may signify it was of Greek origin.  But Senerchia’s fame is derived from another source.  In military history, Senerchia is known as the site of the final defeat of the gladiator/slave army of Spartacus, thought to be a Thracian from the present region of Bulgaria.  In 73 BC, Spartacus along with about 78 others escaped from a ludus (gladiator school) in Capua operated by lanista Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Batiatus, located north of Naples and initially took refuge on Mount Vesuvius.10  We know little of Spartacus, especially of how he came to become a slave.  Such vagary is bread and butter to Hollywood filmmakers and license for many blood and guts dramatizations.  We do know that his exploits and early victories over multiple Roman legions soon attracted an army of 80,000 or more former slaves, the last of whom eventually fought to their death against a stronger Roman force there in Senerchia in 71 BC.  Thus, the Slave War or Third Servile War ended at Senerchia.11  While his motives may place him far more than a community organizer and far less than a freedom fighter for the oppressed with the goal to end slavery, he remains to this day an enigma.  In today’s Senerchia, a small town of just over 1000 inhabitants, rebuild in a modern style after the great earthquake of 1980 that saw the city crumble, as did Calitri, there is no plaque to mark the event.  However, there is a memorial park of sorts to “The Buzzer”, a WW II B-24 Liberator bomber, its crew of five, and eleven passengers (seven of whom had survived their 50-mission tour and were going home).12 
When it had arrived brand-new from Savannah Georgia in January 1944, putting it through its paces had seen it make a high speed, low pass only feet off the ground at the Grottaglie airfield, a base near Taranto on the heel of the Italian boot.  The maneuver earning it the nickname “Buzzer”.  The aircraft, thus christened, went on to survive seventy-seven harrowing bombing missions all over Europe with the 449th Bomb Group at Grottaglie.  War-weary, it had been “put out to pasture” as they say and converted to a troop carrier to ferry passengers and shuttle supplies.
The Buzzer slammed into a mountain peak near the town in dismal weather in December of 1944.  The cause remains unknown – could it have been off course, flying too low in a mountainous
The Buzzer Memorial, Senerchia, Italy
area?  Had her loss been due to weather, icing, or some malfunction?  In an instant, all sixteen airmen aboard perished during what was a routine ferry flight from Grottaglie to Naples.  The winter was five months past before the wreckage was discovered in a deep crevasse.  It was a former “Buzzer” ball turret gunner, who had thrown the dice 50 times and survived to go home, who campaigned for and funded the memorial. 
After ten years of search, related travel, and campaigning for support, that the memorial was formerly dedicated on June 29, 2003.  
Liberator Bombers were produced in greater numbers and in more versions than any other US aircraft during WWII (18,188 built).13  Today, there are only four Liberators in the US, one of which, a B-24D the “STRAWBERRY BITCH”, is on display at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson 
Venosa Airfield, WW II
AF Base, Ohio.  As an aside, in this age of hyper sensitivity and delicate feelings, if you want to see it, you might want to hurry before, historic or not, someone complains about the name.  With so many produced, you can imagine that there were many more B-24 bases in Italy.  One of these bases once laid outside our window on the other side of Mount Vulture in Venosa, a mountain that bomber crewmembers nicknamed “Old Sawtooth” because of its distinctive shape.  The many times we’ve driven to the Venosa Co-op for a fill-up on bulk wine, we had no idea that there was once a B-24 base in the fields outside the town. 
Its runway was about 3,800 feet long and sloped about fifty feet, so they took off going down-hill and landed going up-hill.  This helped, for a fully loaded B-24 required about 5,000 feet of runway.  The runway was covered with a blanket of PSP (pierced steel plank) matting, each 10 feet long and 15 inches wide, hinged like modern day flooring, one to another, that prevented aircraft from floundering in the mud when the field flooded.  Today, no trace of that runway remains, a derelict quonset hut the sole relic of a forgotten
B-24 Bombers at Venosa, Italy
base.  Activity began there in September of 1943, following the Salerno landing, and operations began in March of 1944.  The Third Reich was within range, but it came at a heavy price to the 485th Bomb Group stationed there.  In its fifteen months of operation, the unit’s history notes that 475 men were killed in combat or died of combat-related injuries while 250 were captured after being shot down.
Like the US, Italy has its own Memorial Day.  On November 4th, Italy observes “National Unity and Armed Forces Day”.  The date recalls the day Austria-Hungary surrendered to the Italians in 1918.  The day is accompanied by ceremonies commemorating members of the armed forces killed in service to their country.  In Calitri, its
A Proud Calitri Veteran
fallen heroes are remembered this day at the local war monument adjacent to the Post Office.  The mayor and the town priest say a few words and a wreath is lain at the base of the monument to the accompaniment of the town band, while the town citizenry, many of whom are proud veterans of elite units, look on.
The Bersaglieri (Marksmen) are one of those elite units.  It remains today a highly mobile infantry unit of the Italian Army.  It was during WWI that a Bersaglieri trooper, destined to become a future Italian leader, one Benito Mussolini, was wounded.  Beyond their military abilities, they are known for their distinctive, wide-brimmed hats decorated with long, black capercaillie feathers (a type of grouse).14  They are further renowned for a particular style of pageantry, for instead of 
Giuseppe and Maria Elena
marching, the entire unit jogs at a brisk clip.  You can take a look here.  You have to wonder how long they can keep that up, especially for the guys blowing the trumpets!  Hopefully, the Bersaglieri are positioned at the beginning of a parade, or otherwise, as is the etiquette between groups of golfers, at least allowed to play through.  Our Calitri friend, Giuseppe DiMaio, who owns the vineyard where we look forward to pick grapes each October, was once a member of this select unit, when he was on active duty.  Even today, he remains a member of the retired National Bersaglieri Association.  I’ve never seen him move that fast in the vineyard, and thankfully, we’ve never had to work to that tempo.  Once upon a time, when they actually stomped grapes by foot, being in jogging shape may have helped.  Today, it’s more of a mechanized process at the flip of a switch, though I’d like to think that each time I raise my wineglass at the post grape-picking festa, that follows in Giuseppe’s cantina, and tears of laughter “run” down my face, I can log it off as exercise. 
In a galaxy, far, far away, ours to be exact, on a planet, again let it be ours, wars have raged to determine who rules since man could first communicate and organize.  Rule by divine right gradually gave way to human rights, and wars fought.  For Spartacus, since his motives remain unknown, I can take author’s license and assume he fought the status quo of slavery that oppressed individual freedom.  Many more wars followed for the right to rule and for whether your god was better than my god.  Lt Monico fought the “ism” of Imperialism, the B-24 crews in Italy, Fascism, while Denny and I fought on the side of Capitalism against Communism.
If there could ever be a memorial ceremony where the names of the fallen could be read aloud, it would take a lifetime or more to complete.  While one of the names would be Philippine Scout, 2nd Lt Paul Monico, another would be Ltc. Denny Whalen, my old B-52 navigator, coincidentally
My Former Navigator D. Whalen (rt)
another Connecticut Yankee.  In another war during “Operation Linebacker”, high above the mud and heat of Viet Nam, Denny had steered me safely through the night skies over Hanoi and Lang Dang in 1972.  Denny passed in January 2018 but not before his career vaulted him to the edge of space at Mach 3 as an RSO (Reconnaissance Systems Officer) aboard an SR-71 Blackbird.  He was one of the elite, one of 168 very special people to fly operational missions for the USAF aboard an SR-71, the most daring aircraft yet conceived.  The navigator in him once said, “You don't know what lost is until it’s happening at 35 miles a minute.”  I couldn’t even approach thinking that fast.  God forbid if you overshot a waypoint and had to turn around at that speed.  To pull it off, the ground track would likely cover a few states!  Although he never said much about this part of his career, in 1986 he and his pilot flashed over Libya to assess the damage following the raid on Colonel Gaddafi ordered by President Ronald Reagan in retaliation for the West Berlin discotheque bombing.  High, fast, and brave, I’ll miss him greatly.

Calitri War Memorial
For what economic, political, or religious cause will future men fight and die?  I sometimes wonder at the inanity of it all, if it is not all for naught.  But we are what we are today because of the heroic deeds of men from Spartacus, a B-24 ball turret gunner, and men like Denny in spacesuits hurtling through the edge space.  Assuredly, there will be other stalwart men at arms when needed, and with their passing, like all before them, a trace of their memory will endure in a shade of larger meaning in the ceremonies and memorials around the globe.  War is nasty business.  I pay tribute to all those who sacrificed in war to allow me the freedom to go where I want, when I want, to say and think what I want, and do as I want.  It is a fantastic privilege sought by countless souls starved for freedom throughout history yet which few have attained.  In Italy, their historic sediment runs far deeper than ours, far more wars fought or endured.  They don’t go out of their way to thank their veterans for their service as is so common here nowadays.  As a veteran, I don’t think to say it myself to other veterans, but here and now, let me say, thank you for your service and sacrifice, and to all, god-speed.

From that Rogue Tourist
Paolo
 
 
 

1.      “Remembrance of the Dead”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remembrance_of_the_Dead
2.      “Memorial Day and Filipino Veterans”, http://filamvoicemaui.com/memorial-day-and-filipino-veterans/
3.      “Shinyo Maru Incident”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shin%27y%C5%8D_Maru_incident
5.      “Operation Avalanche”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Avalanche
6.      “Allied Invasion of Italy”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allied_invasion_of_Italy
7.  Molony, C. J. C. “The Mediterranean and Middle East Vol. 5, The Campaign in Sicily 1943 and the Campaign in Italy 3rd September 1943 to 31st March 1944”, 1973, p280
8.  “Armistice of Cassibile”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armistice_of_Cassibile
9.  “Operation Colossu”,s https://everipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Colossus/
13. “WW II: Consolidated B-24 Liberator”, https://www.thoughtco.com/consolidated-b-24-liberator-2361515
14. “Bersaglieri”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bersaglieri