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 killed in action during World War I while defending Vicenza and Venice, Italy.
Col. Frankie J. Cruz, commander of the 414th Contract Support Brigade, 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 Bersaglieri soldiers from the 5th and 14th regiments during the “Great War”. From December 1917 to January 1918, the Bersaglieri Brigade prevented a superior Austrian force from taking Vicenza and the port of Venice.
“It was a real honor to attend and support this ceremony to celebrate the Bersaglieri and their positive impact during World War I,” said Cruz. “I was very impressed with the level of support from the community. [One of the] Comments from one of the older participants stuck with me, as we rode uphill he said all his usual foot and back pain was completely gone as he reflected on the challenges the Bersaglieri had had to overcome during the First World War.”
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 that the Austrians suffered twice as many casualties.
To remember the battle, Italian and American soldiers marched 40 minutes to the top of Mount Valbella. There they joined a church service attended by several hundred people. The scars of the battle are still visible with hundreds of craters and trench systems along the route.
After the ceremony, members of the Bersaglieri Brigade, civil and military authorities gathered in Gallio to march along the main street to the cheers of visitors and locals. The parade included a series of World War I military marches performed by the Bersaglieri Brigade Band at their trademark brisk jogging pace.
The helmets of the Bersaglieri with their distinguished black feathers, still used today, had a practical use at the time – the feathers protected the shooting eye from the sun’s rays.
“The bow to the soldiers who today are part of the brigade is a reminder of the pride and gratitude that Italians have for their armed forces and all those 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 country.”
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