Soldiers assigned to U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa joined members of the Italian Army, Aug. 28, near Gallio, Italy, to honor those who were killed in action during World War I while defending Vicenza and Venice, Italy.
Col. Frankie J. Cruz, 414th Contracting Support Brigade commander, and Lt. Col Fernando A. Franco, engineer plans officer for SETAF-AF, represented the U.S. Army at the event.
The Bersaglieri Brigade of the Italian Army celebrated its annual pilgrimage to Cima Valbella near Gallio, to honor the sacrifice of the Bersaglieri soldiers of the 5th and 14th Regiment in the 'Great War.' From December, 1917, to January, 1918, the Bersaglieri Brigade blocked a superior Austrian force from taking over Vicenza and the port of Venice.
"It was a true honor to attend and support this ceremony to celebrate the Bersaglieri and their positive impact during World War I," Cruz said. "I was highly impressed with the level of community support. [One of the] comments stuck with me from one of the older participants, as we hiked uphill he stated that all of his usual foot and back pain is completely gone as he reflects on challenges the Bersaglieri had to overcome during WWI."
During the battle, called Battaglie dei Tre Monti (Battle of the Three Mountains), 69 officers and 2,456 enlisted from the brigade died in the fighting. It is estimated the Austrians suffered twice the casualties.
To remember the battle, the Italian and U.S. soldiers hiked 40 minutes to the top of Mount Valbella. There they joined with a religious service attended by several hundred people. Scars from the battle are still visible with hundreds of craters and trench systems along the route.
After the ceremony, members from the Bersaglieri Brigade, civil and military authorities gathered in Gallio to parade along the main street to the cheers of visitors and locals. The parade included a string of military marches from WWI performed by the Bersaglieri Brigade Fanfare at their fast jog pace, which is their trademark.
The Bersaglieri's helmets with their distinguished black feathers, still used today, had a practical use back in the day - the feathers protected the shooting eye from the sun rays.
"The reverence to the soldiers that today are part of the brigade is a reminder of the pride and gratitude the Italians have for their armed forces and all who have served the nation," Franco said. "For SETAF-AF participating in these events, it brings us closer to the community and shows our support and friendship with our host nation."
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