By Mrs Chiara Mattirolo (IMCOM)November 10, 2011
SANT' ANNA DI STAZZEMA , Italy- Soldiers assigned to Camp Darby hiked up a narrow mountain path on the Gothic line to Sant'Anna di Stazzema, a little village in the Lucca province. They came to pay tribute to the massacre's victims and to acquire a closer understanding of one of the most tragic pages of the history during World War II.
Vice Mayor of Stazzema, Maurizio Verona and Enrico Pieri, survivor and president of the Martyrs of Sant'Anna Association, welcomed the group and shared their knowledge and personal experience.
"I was only ten years old that morning on Aug. 12, 1944 when the Germans entered the town," said Pieri. "I was with my mother and two sisters at the table having breakfast when German soldiers entered and asked us to gather in our neighbor's kitchen."
Pierei explained a few hours prior to the massacre, the men of the village had left to join up with the partisans, so when the German's arrived- the town only had women, children and elderly men.
"Once we were all together they started shooting everybody, luckily a little girl that was hiding in an alcove under the stairs called me and I was able to hide with her," recalled Pieri. "The town priest tried to convince the Germans to let everyone go, but instead the children that were found were rounded up into the church and then it was bombed; 560 Italian families slaughtered that day in only five minutes."
Only Pieri and two other girls survived that tragic slaughter in Sant' Anna.
Simone Capanera, a volunteer at the Sant'Anna Historical Museum, guided the tour to the massacre site, the museum and of the hilltop Monument Ossuary. It was chance to reflect on behavior during war actions and particularly on the relationship with the civilians and their respect.
"I appreciate the significance of this visit because for Italy the U.S. soldiers are the symbol of liberation from fascism and Nazism, "said Verona. " The American soldiers are now engaged in difficult missions so the fact that they wanted to know about Sant' Anna and personally to meet the people who lived through the tragedy with the aim of learning from this experience is very significant".
The Vice mayor added that the community of Sant'Anna has been able to overcome the feelings of hatred and resentment turning into a desire to search for justice and truth.
"I refused to go to Germany for a long time, only two years ago I went to Koln and Berlin where I realized that the war hit there as much as here," said Pieri. "We owe to all the martyrs in the world the years of freedom and welfare that followed the war".
"For this reason the primary objective of the city administration is to bring the message of peace thru the history of our town in all Europe and around the world," said Verona. "Enrico Pieri's words will leave an indelible mark in these Soldiers whose intention was just to learn, knowing Sant'Anna, to apply these teachings in their future missions."
U.S. Army Garrison Livorno Commander, Lt. Col. Kevin Bigelman, said understanding the history of Sant'Anna's massacre and to underline the value of human rights, also and especially in war scenarios was important.
"This visit to Sant'Anna by Italian and American Soldiers, all with a deployment experience, has been extremely informative," said Bigelman. "While we can't erase the tragic history that occurred here, we can learn from it and think about how we apply the Law of War to combat operations today".
At the completion of the visit with the residents of Sant'Anna, Army Capt. Daniel Hill, Camp Darby Staff Judge Advocate, conducted a briefing on Rule of Combat and Law of War.
"We need to be very strict in judging our targets even if we have to take quick decision we always have to have a clear idea of the importance of the law of war," said Hill.
"We definitely met the purpose of our visit," said Army Capt. Nathaniel Paschal, HHD Commander. "Besides learning about the history of this area we also gained a better understanding of the human toll in combat and the reason that we in the US military must have stringent policies with regards to the Rule of Combat and Law of War."