VICENZA, Italy – When Italian officials evacuated downtown Vicenza to defuse a World War II bomb, about 150 Americans evacuated their homes.
U.S. Army Garrison Italy and the USO provided services those displaced during the daylong operation – known to Italians as “Bomba Day” – on May 2.
Italian demolition experts disarmed a 500-pound British-made bomb that dropped 77 years ago on Vicenza, then occupied by Nazis. In all, more than 3,100 local residents within 1,500 feet of the device were evacuated.
Many of the 83 U.S. families took advantage of the yellow COVID-19 restrictions and traveled away from the city. Some took part in bowling and games offered by the Directorate of Families, Morale Welfare and Recreation. Others stopped in at the USO on Caserma Ederle.
Capt. Cara Beavert, a dietician at U.S. Army Health Center – Vicenza, spent her day with family between the library, the Arena and USO.
“We got a phone call from the housing office notifying us of what was coming and the timeline. That was awesome and we appreciate the outreach,” Beavert said. “We also saw posts on social media and that was also helpful.”
Kelly DeJardin, who lives in a downtown condo, also opted to stay on Caserma Ederle.
"We were well informed about what was going to happen,” said DeJardin, a mother of three who spent the morning bowling at the Arena with her teen-age children.
“We were only surprised by the electricity being cut off earlier than expected this morning. Other than that everything went very smoothly.”
In March, construction workers found the bomb in a highly populated residential area, close to monuments, churches, schools and an inpatient clinic earlier. That added challenges to evacuation planning, already complicated by the ongoing COVID-19 health emergency.
To neutralize the bomb were Italian army demolition experts from the 8th Regiment of the Folgore Airborne Engineers based in Legnago, Italy, seasoned by duty in Afghanistan. Once they completed disarming the bomb, the city of Vicenza announced the “all clear” shortly after 4 p.m.
USAG Italy planners began coordinating in March, working closely with Italian authorities, focusing on the safety and security for the military community members forced to evacuate.
"During the planning process we had the support of the Italian base commander and the Carabinieri to coordinate requests for information with Italian civil authorities in charge of the operations," said Frank Lauer, the garrison’s director of operations.
"Their support was key to help us better understand what was required for our families living in the area to be evacuated."
Garrison staff contacted everyone affected, to discuss the plan for the evacuation, security and re-entering of the buildings. Accountability for affected Soldiers and families, a security plan, and contingencies for a safe haven or shelter operations were key, as was solid communication, he said.
"Making sure that everyone was well informed and in coordination with the local operations was very important," Lauer said. "Planning involved a lot of preparation behind the scenes that most would not be aware of, but was crucial to the success of our part of the operation."