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THE DESTRUCTION OF CASSINO
THE DESTRUCTION OF CASSINO revised 2/14/2011
With the last bombardment, we began an exodus, which took us from mountain to mountain. Children were born in caves and stables, the elderly and the sick died. It was often impossible to bury those who died with a funerary mass and rites. They ended up getting buried where they died, with their loved ones praying per la buoanima for their souls over them.
On February 15, 1944, 300 Flying Fortresses appeared not far from where we were; they had come from Casalorda and were headed towards Cassino. They flew so low that we could see the cargo they carried. They came in waves of hundreds of bombers that darkened the sky. We were certain that this would be the end of us all, Judgment Day. Mothers hugged their children to their bosoms. Others sat subdued. My grandmother pulled her rosary from her pocket and in a sad and subdued voice began her rosary prayers, while the others answered back in whispers. Even I responded with my ďand so it shall beĒ at the end of each Hail Mary, Our Father or Glory be to the Father. We were all gathered closely around a small fire, it seemed like no one even breathed. The Flying Fortresses passed over Mount Cairo towards Cassino and Mount Cassino. Tons of explosives fell on the city. Cassino looked like an erupting volcano. Everything exploded with deafening roars and everything was black smoke and flames.
The city of Cassino was razed to the ground. Thousands of people died during the assault, soldiers and civilians, Allied and German alike; many were wounded. The Gustav line, the great, fortified line of German defense, was damaged but not destroyed. The Germans were increasingly pushed towards our mountains and with them came serious peril for us. Persecuted by Allied bombings, the Germans took out their rage on the local population. They would sack houses, and burn and destroy everything. One day, a German patrol was seen coming towards our stables. The scared women mustered up the courage to meet and they came up with defense strategies for themselves and for the younger among us. From out of the conflict and the danger that enveloped them, a new type of woman was emerging.
They were alone, there were no soldiers to defend them, their men were in the military and could not protect them. With strength and resolve, they took the situation in their own hands (4/11/2007) and banded together to defend the children, the young people and the elderly. Bold and determined, they led, planned and decided.
They planned to have the younger boys lay down beneath the cribs; they would then cover them with blankets and shawls and urge them to be quiet and not move. On top of them, the women placed children, newborns and mothers bent over their young ones.
It was necessary to hide the young men and boys because the Germans would have taken them and sent them to the front. My grandmother, the protector of us all, went a step further: she went out, grabbed a pile of dry leaves and wet them with the snow and she burnt them over the coals.
Her plan was simple: the wet leaves would not have produced flames, but would have generated a good amount of smoke instead. Thatís exactly what happened. The stable was filled with pungent black smoke. When the Germans arrived, they entered but didnít see anything. They didnít realize that 3 or 4 young men were hidden under the cribs. They continued on their way. The day patrols continued with their inspections. They were followed by the night patrols. The inspections became more and more frequent.
By this time, we were in danger even here, on the top of Mount Casalorda. We had to continue on to find other hiding places; we would always move together, in groups of 10 to 12, made up of relatives and friends.
DELIA SOCCI SKIDMORE