Hero's on the Gothic Line
February 26, 2010
- Camp Darby troops visit World War II battle site to learn about Lt. John Fox, Medal of Honor recipient.
SOMMOCOLONIA, Italy - It's not often that one can trace the footsteps of an ordinary man doing an extraordinary deed, but Soldiers and Airmen from Camp Darby, Italy, got a chance to do that during a visit to the site of Lt. John Fox's last stand in Sommocolonia.
Lieutenant Fox, a Buffalo Soldier with the 598th Field Artillery Battalion, was a forward observer in the Rocca tower and played a key role in the War World II Battle of Sommocolonia, according to Italian Lt. Col.Vittorio Lino Biondi, historian and co-author of La Battaglia di Sommocolonia.
Traversing the steep stone path to the Memorial site honoring Fox, his fellow Buffalo Soldiers and the Italian partisans of the region, Biondi shared his years of research and passion for military history with the Camp Darby troops.
"The battle, called winter tempest, began Dec. 26, 1944, at 4 a.m. when the German troops decided to breach the American line," said Biondi. "The 92nd Infantry Division Buffalo Soldiers were defending Barga and Sommocolonia in the Serchio valley. The German 148th Division and the Italian 51st Corpo di Armata Alpinos, were very well trained, but the Americans fought with their heart and conviction."
Biondi explained that with the rain pouring sideways and nail biting wind blowing away umbrellas, Camp Darby troops followed Biondi up to the last remnants of the tower. It was a hard and bloody battle - the largest in this area. Lieutenant Fox served in the high tower and was directing artillery against the advancing Germans.
"Once the Germans penetrated defensive perimeter of the town, much of the fighting has hand-to-hand combat from house to house. At approximately eleven that morning, Fox sent his last set of coordinates. He gave his own position in order to destroy the main body of advancing Germans," said Biondi.
Fox's sacrifice allowed the Americans to regroup in the valley below and fight again.
"Fox was a strong leader who understood he needed to do something that he might not live through. One doesn't often hear about this part of African-American history," said Chief Warrant Officer Robert Carter, 3rd Battalion, 405th Army Field Support Brigade.
According to the Mayor of Barga, Marco Bonini Dec. 26, 1944, is remembered as "the day of great fear."
"For us citizens of Barga, Lieutenant Fox is a symbol of resistance the townspeople did against the Germans," said Mayor Bonini. "Each year, Sommocolonia remembers the fallen and lets the younger generations know what happened and what our history is."
Biondi added that the Buffalo Soldiers did more than help liberate the town.
"Many of these Soldiers came from farms back in America and with many of the Italian men folk gone, the Soldiers helped the local people work the land and farms along with sharing their food," said Biondi.
U.S. Army Garrison Livorno Command Sgt. Maj. Felix Rodriguez added, "The trip to Sommocolonia was important in remembering our brother and sisters in arms sacrifices and contributions and learning more about U.S. military history surrounding Camp Darby."
"I didn't even know about the 92nd until a few weeks ago when it was mentioned at the African-American Heritage month council," said Airman 1st Class Takneshia Norris, 731st Munitions Squadron.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Jermaine McCrea, 731st Munitions Squadron, said "It gives me a lot of pride to learn something new about the African-American culture. To see the monument and battle site and visit the private collection museum about the Buffalo Soldiers, to know we've done so much - it makes me want to read and learn more."
The memorial, actual battle site and Buffalo Memorial trail are open to the public. A personal tour and visit to the private collection can be arranged through tourist agency Zucchesia Viaggi www.lucchesiaviaggi.com.