A Sea of Mud - MonteCassino

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End May 06, 2010

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Flag of Italy  , Latium,
Friday, April 16, 2010

It is April in Southern Italy. In the spring of 1944 chaos reigned here in this tranquil valley of the Liri River. Terrible tragedy that changed lives forever.

The Germans held their ground here at what is called the Hitler Line (there were two other lines but it’s all really the same thing). This gentle valley seemed a logical place to attack the Germans so allied forces joined together in what was to become one of the most strategic battles of WW II.

There were problems though….not the least of which was stupid intelligence. This beautiful valley is not easy to cross in spring. It rains for months (no snow or frost) so the tanks can’t move and the troops don’t have it much easier.

Top that off with the fact that Mussollini just got offed and no one knows what to do. With their leader gone and the new leaders in hiding the Italians apparently didn’t know who to fight for .. So they just decided on their own… some with the Germans, some with allied forces and some just quit.

Then the American intelligence (?) tells them that the Abest is in Monte Cassino. They think that is a nick name for a troop of soldiers when what it really means is the Abbey. Unknown to the Americans the Germans have made an agreement with the Pope to not harm Monte Cassino so there are no Germans there

They have taken over the town of Cassino but no Germans are in the monastery. On the day of the attack the villagers, knowing that the monastery is safe, climb up the hill to safety. From 9 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon bombs absolutely destroy everything in the area. The monastery is rubble as is the town and 10,000 townspeople are killed. No Germans were killed in the attack.

The reason we have come here is to see the area where my father-in-law fought and was wounded in WWII. The Canadian troops were just to the west and later some to the east. There was good information at the Museum in Cassino. With the help of our Engllish speaking guide we figured his platoon was farther west near the village of Pontecorvo.

I have been to the memorial in Hiroshima and thought nothing would touch me like that did. Here, in Cassino, the pictures, movies, stories and cemetaries we have seen have achieved just that. You can’t go through the area and not be touched by the courage these people have. So many picked up and left after their villages were 100% destroyed…. Yet many stayed…cleared the land of bombs and began a new life.

During our time in Cassino we visited the monastery and the Commonwealth Cemetary. The Polish cemetery gate was closed and covered in flowers. Found out later the gate was closed because they found yet another unexploded bomb and the flowers were because the Polish President (who just died in a plane crash) had fought for Poland here in Cassino.

Spent a couple of nights in a cute little B&B and spent the days driving around the countryside. We had beautiful weather in this green lush valley until the day we left. The heavy rain brought home to us again what it must have been like for all those troops. As our guide said…. “ it is a sea of mud in the spring”
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