25 May 2020
The motto of Lucca is “Liberta`s” or Liberty, for freedom is what Lucchesi cherish above all.
So this Memorial Day, as we show our appreciation for all those who have fought around the world to preserve our freedom, I am reminded of how this bravery impacted my Lucchese family directly.
My mother often told me how on the morning of the 5th of September 1944, there was an eerie silence in downtown Lucca where she was born. She was 21 and had survived SS officers living in her home. Her mother’s cousin, a country priest, had been shot by the Germans for having a radio. She’d seen children and friends lying shot by the side of the road she took to work every day – ostensibly killed in retribution for partisan attacks on Nazi soldiers. But now the SS were gone, fleeing as rapidly as they had come in the wake of American victories along the Gothic line.
On her way to work, she remembered being drawn to Piazza Grande, the main square in front of city hall, because word had spread that the Americans had arrived. Everyone was relieved and excited and jammed together in the square to hear the most recent news, when the mayor’s door in the palace opened, and a black GI stepped out onto the balcony overlooking the hundreds of people. They started screaming VIVA AMERICA! and shouting for joy. After a stunned moment, the GI disappeared and reappeared with a box of Hershey bars that he started to throw to the adoring crowd below. Amid the crying and cheering and shouts of Viva America, my mother said it finally started to settle in that the end of this horrific war was in sight. The Americans had arrived. They were saved. Liberta`s.
During the following happy weeks, my grandmother took several soldiers to have their photos taken professionally. Master Sergeant Frank Baker purchased some paintings from my grandmother’s cousin, Alfredino Meschi. The soldiers shared stories and listened to jazz with my grandfather who had been a secret member of the Committee for the Resistance, hiding escaped POWs and gathering information for the Allies. From the rooftop terrace at their villa in Ripafratta where she studied, my mom enjoyed watching the antics of a Tuskegee pilot who flew his cicogna (a tiny one-seater plane) around the tower while he waved at her and practiced landing and take-offs along the river bed. It was heartbreaking for her when the master sergeant and a fellow soldier later died in a German mine explosion as they walked along the beach in Viareggio (Lucca’s seaside resort).
My uncle who was 18, immediately came out of hiding to fight with the Buffalo Brigades. He was so proud that he could be their interpreter. After the war, he chose to continue working for the US Army at Camp Darby near Livorno because he agreed with all the Americans did “100%.”