VICENZA, Italy - When three mayors from Vicenza province toured the Northeast in late-April, they gained a new perspective on the U.S. Army, American history and much more.
While the Vicenza area has been home to thousands of Americans over the past seven decades, this first-of-its-kind trip to the States gave Nicola Ferronato, mayor of Caldogno, Renzo Marangon, mayor of Camisano Vicentino, and Andrea Nardin, mayor of Montegalda, a new perspective on who the U.S. Soldiers are – as many inhabit their towns while serving overseas.
An 11-person delegation, that included their spouses and a staff member from U.S. Army Garrison Italy’s public affairs office, was a self-funded, two-week expedition that ended on May 3. They saw New York, Boston, Toronto, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.
“Our visit is a way to thank the American commanders that we met in Vicenza over the years and with whom we stayed in touch – creating friendships beyond the formality of official engagements,” Marangon said. “This trip also signifies the call of duty that goes beyond bureaucracy and that resides in shared values such as friendship, homeland and peace among countries that are different – but close nonetheless.”
Caldogno, Camisano and Montegalda are home to hundreds of Soldiers and their families, Department of Defense civilians and retirees. In fact, roughly 600 U.S. military families affiliated with Caserma Ederle, Del Din and Longare live in these three communities.
Relationships between the elected officials and the garrison leadership is strong. Friendships grown in this area often last forever.
“We have hundreds of Americans in town. I am honored to have the garrison commander, Col. Matthew Gomlak, as my next-door neighbor,” Ferronato said. “For my wife and I, this trip is a dream come true. It will create memories for a lifetime,” he added.
The Italians, most of whom never traveled before to the States, chose their itinerary for the trip in consultation with the garrison public affairs office. It was designed to introduce them to history, culture and U.S. Army posts.
The Big Apple, West Point and Beantown
In New York, they toured Manhattan. They visited the Statue of Liberty, One World Trade Center and Central Park. They also saw a Broadway show.
“The big apple is truly an immense city, a generator of infinite bewilderment and incredible emotions,” Nardin said. “My wife Monia and I can’t wait to come back with our teenager daughters and share the experience as a family.”
Next, they traveled north up the Hudson River to the United States Military Academy, at West Point, N.Y. There, cadets Vincent Gasparri, a senior, and Faye Jessup, a junior, led a walking tour, sharing how history of the site inspires them and what it will mean for them to graduate West Point.
“We learned the progress from plebe to officer and what cadets endure during the four-year program,” Marangon said.
They saw the cadet chapel, a battle monument and the vista at Trophy Point. They learned about the honor code, the motto and typical disciplinary actions for various offenses. They found it interesting to hear about the rivalry between the U.S. military academies, such the “Go Army, beat Navy,” remarks at the annual football game.
“The history is inspiring,” Ferronato said. “The view on the Hudson River is amazing. Being able to engage the cadets during the visit gave us the chills about how proud we should be of their service to their nation.”
Boston was their next stop. They walked the Freedom Trail, retracing the steps of those who began the American Revolution. From Boston Common to the USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides – the Italians learned much about America’s roots. A stop in the North End, Boston’s “Little Italy,” gave them a taste of home – American style.
A face from "home" at Fort Drum
Departing Massachusetts, they journeyed to Fort Drum, near Watertown, N.Y., where Col. James Zacchino Jr., the Fort Drum garrison commander, hosted the delegation April 25, for a post tour.
An Army brat, Zacchino was born in Italy, grew up in Vicenza and is fluent in Italian. In 2021, he departed an assignment in Vicenza, to take command at Fort Drum. He showed the Italians Monument Park; various Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities; housing areas and LeRay Mansion.
“We are honored to host three mayors from the province of Vicenza and offer a glimpse into what makes Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division vital to the U.S Army and this nation,” he said.
The group also visited the air traffic control tower at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield, located near the Darby Rapid Redeployment Facility. Named for Brig. Gen. William Darby, the WWII-era assistant commander of the 10th Mountain Division, the facility honors Darby, who was killed in action near Lake Garda, in northern Italy, on April 30, 1945.
Before the tour ended, the mayors joined Zacchino to place a wreath at the grave of Rino Carlutti, an Italian prisoner of war who died on Oct. 17, 1944, from injuries sustained in a car accident. The visit to Fort Drum coincided with Italy’s Liberation Day, an Italian national holiday that marks the country’s liberation from German occupation and fascist rule, Zacchino said.
“The Soldiers of the light infantry, 10th Mountain Division, were part of those who helped liberate Italy and Vicenza 77 years ago,” he said.
Renewing ties to Italy's mountain troops in Canada
From Fort Drum, they headed further north, into Canada, taking in an April 26 reunion with Toronto’s Alpini chapter, a group of retired Italian mountain troops. Chapter president Gino Vatri arranged for them to present a wreath the Monument of the Alpini. While there, Honorable Francesca La Marca, an Italian parliament member who represents Italians in North and Central America, met the delegation. She commended the mayors for stopping in Toronto and highlighted the significance of the visit.
“We know that the bond with Veneto and Italians overseas is very strong. People from Veneto emigrated in North America, Brazil and Australia and once there they helped build those countries, even more so as Alpini, from Veneto to Canada,” La Marca said.
Heading south, they saw Niagara Falls before moving on to Washington D.C., where Italian Embassy officials welcomed them.
Afterward, at the Capitol, staff from Sen. James M. Hinofe (R-Okla.) arranged a guided tour.
“It was a privilege to be here and gain a first-hand knowledge of the U.S. legislative process of a nation that I consider to have one of the most modern and strongest democracies in the world,” Marangon said.
Honoring the fallen
A solemn stop was at Arlington National Cemetery. Brig. Gen. Steven Marks, deputy commanding general, U.S. Army Special Operations, and Col. Erik M. Berdy, Legislative Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff joined them. Both Marks and Berdy previously served as U.S. Army Garrison Italy commanders and both maintained strong ties with the local communities.
They paid respects at the grave of Maj. Thomas G. Bostick Jr., who deployed from Vicenza with the 173rd Airborne Combat Team to Operation Enduring Freedom. In 2007, Bostick was killed in action near Kamu, Afghanistan. It was a somber moment for Berdy, who also deployed with the 173rd to Afghanistan and called Bostick his friend. Berdy invited the Italians to note “what Tom gave as a sacrifice to us, to America and to our partners for freedom.”
Honoring a fallen “Sky Soldier,” who deployed from Vicenza was tribute to the memory of one of their own, Ferronato said
“Being here was our testament of gratitude to the valor of the American Soldiers who served and continue to serve in Vicenza and in Italy in the name of freedom and democracy,” Ferronato said.
Among the delegation was Luigi De Eccleesiis and his spouse, Chiara. Their son, Edoardo, spent a day at Caserma Ederle in 2017, living out a wish to be like an American U.S. Soldier – just a few months before he lost his fight to cancer. The parents carried out their son’s dream to see America.
Both Marks and Berdy remember them and Edoardo. The 2017 event was the catalyst for an ongoing garrison partnership with a local charity that supports children with severe illnesses.
“I saw the same spirit of Tom’s fearless warrior in Edoardo,” said Berdy, remembering both Bostick and their son.
Marks echoed the sentiment, noting that Section 60 is the final resting place of courageous Soldiers who died in America’s most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It is only fitting that we honor Edoardo’s memory here,” said Marks, who keeps Edoardo’s portrait in his kitchen. “The Soldiers who rest here fought till their last breath – exactly like Edoardo, whose fight I saw at San Bortolo [hospital] when I first met him and later on Ederle where he was the garrison commander for a day.”
Last stop offers culinary treasure
A visit to the Northeast would not be complete for the Italian until they saw Philadelphia, America’s first capital, where they saw the Liberty Bell and had a guided tour of the history of Constitution Hall.
Most of them are self-proclaimed “foodies,” so they had to try the city’s famous sandwich – the Philly cheesesteak.
“Definitely the best sandwich I have ever had,” De Eccleesiis said. “Absolutely worth another trip!”