I have always been interested in history.
Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Italy on vacation. Along with the amazing food and sights, I got to experience WWII history firsthand. I witnessed the legacy of the former Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, founder of the National Fascist Party in Italy, and I stood in the exact spot where he was executed by partisans in 1945. See these sites and other significant sites in history link stories and our understanding of the past to our lives in the present and the future.
I first visited Italy in 1995 as a member of the US military. At that time, we carried out an overseas training mission at Camp Darby, located between the cities of Pisa and Livorno. Camp Darby was named “in memory of Brigadier General William O. Darby, deputy division commander of the 10th Mountain Division, who was killed in action on April 30, 1945, near Trento, Italy” ( of the US Army garrison in Italy).
The current US Army Rangers were known as “Darby’s Rangers” during World War II. My stay in Italy was a pleasant experience and I was able to visit Florence, Venice, Rome and the nearby Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Fast forward to summer 2021, I returned to Italy for a family vacation, visiting many significant historical sites across the country, from south to north. Some of our favorite places were:
- The ruins of Pompeii, where Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, burying and preserving much of the city with volcanic ash.
- Rome, where we visited the Roman Forum, Colosseum, Pantheon, Castel Sant’Angelo, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and the magnificent Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica.
We were among the first American tourists allowed to re-enter the country and therefore we did not have long lines. In fact, we basically had Saint-Pierre to ourselves. The large crowds normally associated with a trip to the Vatican were absent.
Another favorite was the quaint town of Florence, home to the Ponte Vecchio (the Old Bridge), the Uffizi Gallery and the Accademia, home to masterpieces of art such as Michelangelo’s Statute of David. 17 feet tall, among many, many others.
It was during our trip to Milan that we first witnessed some of the vestiges of the fascist era of the 1920s-1940s. Milano Centrale station is the largest train station in Europe by volume. The station was inaugurated in 1931 and shows Mussolini’s influence in its design.
On our trip to the beautiful Lake Como region of northern Italy, which is currently home to actor George Clooney, our private guide, himself a former Italian Army paratrooper, took us to the exact place where the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, was executed by partisans on April 28, 1945. According to our guide, the partisans were ordered to kill Mussolini before he had a chance to surrender to American or British forces. Mussolini’s mistress was with him and she tried to intervene but was also killed.
Experiencing history firsthand, while on vacation, was fascinating and helped me clarify some of the events of WWII in Italy.
Alan L. Neville is Superintendent of the Waubay School District. The views are his and do not represent the neighborhood.