TORBOLE, Italy — In the final months of World War II, Carlo Bombardelli, 9 years old at the time, remembers looking out over Lake Garda fromhis home in Torbole, Italy, wondering when the Americans would arrive and the war would be over.
“Everybody was waiting for the Americans. Every day the children asked their parents when the Americans are coming,” Bombardelli said througha translator.
Then, on the evening of April 30,1945, Bombardelli said he was outside his home when he heard screams for help coming from the lake. He raised the alarm, ran down to the water and managed to help save one person, U.S. Army Cpl. Thomas Hough, a lifeguard before joining the Army. However, 25 other Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, including artilleryman Pfc. Frank Miller, drowned when their overloaded boat lost power and sank in the lake. A few years ago the boat was discovered sitting upright on the lakebed in about 250 meters (820 feet) of water, however no remains have ever been recovered.
The event went largely unrecognized until this past April 30, 71 years later, when a monument to the fallen was erected next to a church by the lake in Torbole. The monument was placed adjacent to another monument for Brig. Gen. William Darby, an assistant division commander in the 10th Mountain Division and founder of the Army Rangers, who was also killed April 30, 1945 in Torbole by shrapnel from a German shell.
Just two days later on May 2, 1945, all Nazi German forces in Italy surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. The war was over for Bombardelli and the people of Italy. “I always asked myself why the Americans came here and lost so many Soldiers for us,” Bombardelli said
On Sept. 15, one day before National POW/MIA Recognition Day, leaders from across 2nd Signal Brigade gathered for a staff ride in the Verona and Lake Garda area. The staff ride was hosted mby the 509th Signal Battalion and included presentations on World War II and modern history of the area, cultural mexcursions and team-building activities, mas well as a ceremony to honor Darby and the 25 Soldiers who died crossing the lake. Several friends and relatives of Miller were present for the ceremony, including his daughter, Joanne Lien, and son, Arnie Miller. Other special guests included the mayor of Torbole, members of the Italian Alpini and the local historical society, historians, friends, and now 81-year-old Bombardelli.
Speaking at the church in Torbole where the monuments are located, Gianni Morandi, mayor of Torbole, said, “We’re honored to welcome our American guests and to honor the lives that were lost here in the Second World War.” Lien said she was just 2 years old when her dad died. She had never been to Italy before and said visiting the area where her father and the others died was an emotional experience for her.
“I’m amazed at all this community has done to try and keep the memory of this going and give them some deserved recognition — I’m kind of in awe of that. It makes me realize what a wonderful people the Italians are and it advances the cause of friendship between our two countries,” Lien said.
Col. Jeff Worthington, commander of 2nd Signal Brigade, said events such as the staff ride expand professional knowledge and are important for building relationships, esprit de corps and for strengthening the team.
“I think it’s very important to bring people to someplace like this where we can touch some of the past and understand some of what the Italians have gone through. It’s different than learning from a book or in a classroom — you get to see on the ground how things happened,” Worthington said.
Sgt. Christopher McCullough from the 2nd Signal Brigade S6 said he learned a lot on the staff ride just by being able to interact with senior leaders. “The knowledge you can get from them, picking their brains, knowing what to look for, what to understand, what’s the important goal, has helped me so I can pass it along to my fellow Soldiers,” McCullough said.
He said he didn’t know much about the history of what happened in the area during World War II, but was glad to learn from historians and locals and to honor fallen Soldiers.
“It’s always an amazing thing to be able to honor fallen veterans. I think it’s nice that as an Army we are still able to look back at our veterans and thank them or what they’ve done and the sacrifices they made,” McCullough said. Danny Dusatti, a member of the Torbole city council, said, “It’s an honor to be free, but it’s not to be taken for granted.”
Bombardelli agreed.“It’s a great, great thing to have this occasion to remember. I hope that something like this war will never happen again,” he said.