POGGIO RUSCO, Italy – Soldiers from U.S. Army Garrison Italy helped people from a small Italian community recognize World War II pilots during an April 24 remembrance ceremony.
Members of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, wearing dress uniforms, joined Italian paratroopers – currently serving and veterans – plus other community members to unveil a plaque commemorating Operation Herring. Under gray skies, people gathered in this small town, an hour’s drive south of Vicenza. Italian leaders unveiled the plaque that recognizes American pilots who flew Italian paratroopers over the Po River Valley – an airborne operation that helped speed up the end of the war in April 1945.
“The Italian, American, and British allies who participated in this event helped secure freedom for the entire world,” said Cpt. Joseph Hart, the HHC commander. “It is my privilege to honor those paratroopers who have fought before us. I am especially grateful for those who gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy today.”
Maj. Evette Barnes and 1st Sgt. Jonathan Risher also attended the event that highlighted Operation Herring – the last WWII airborne drop in Europe. It was designed to aid in breaking through the German defensive line so the Allies could occupy Northern Italy. Since the end of WWII, American and Italian troops have trained and served together. Italy and the U.S. are two of the 12 founding members of NATO, which began in 1949.
“Today was to honor the American pilots,” said Maj. Cesare Scaglioni, an Italian officer from and airborne brigade in Pisa, Italy. “It is important to remember events like this every year in order to maintain this friendship.”
The annual remembrance honored the 77th anniversary of the final turning point leading up to the liberation of Italy from the Axis powers. The event was a day before April 25, Italian Liberation Day.
“We need to remember what happened in the past to understand the whole picture, to move forward to the future in the most prudent way possible,” said Capt. Michael DeSandre, a U.S. Air Force C-130 pilot, currently serving in an Italian military unit.
DeSandre, who is normally assigned to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, was among more than 100 people who turned out in the cold rain to honor the sacrifices of the participants of Operation Herring which ultimately led to the liberation of Italy and finally the end of the war.
“I’ll remember how the Italian Army welcomed me and the U.S. Army representatives and how we’re all on the same team,” DeSandre said.