One of the great privileges of working on the StoryCorps project is that as Facilitators, we are occasional witnesses to wonderful first person accounts of history that make all of those high school history lessons come to life, and seem more relevant. Participant Frank Scardiglia tells such a story to his son Mark Scardiglia at the StoryBooth in Lower Manhattan. Growing up in Lucca, Italy during WWII, he describes the summer of 1944 when SS soldiers occupied the small town before the liberation. “That was a very very painful part of our lives. There was a shortage of food, we were under constant bombardment.” Young men were frequently shot on sight and Frank learned to dodge mortar. “I learned to recognize when the shell came near us because the pitch of the sound decreased at a very rapid rate. As long as the shell kept a very high pitch I knew it was going over us and we were safe. Otherwise it was a bad situation.”
We were very glad when the Americans came. All the bells in the [church] steeples of Lucca started peeling like it was Easter.” It was the 92nd Division of African American Soldiers, also known as Buffalo Soldiers that liberated Lucca that day, and Frank’s encounter with one of the soldiers is particularly compelling.
“We were glad when we saw someone with a darker face because we knew they were not Germans! I came in contact with one. I knew not a single word of English, [but] I wanted him to tell my grandparents in Chicago that we were ok.” So he picked up an Italian-English Dictionary and using one word at a time, relayed the message. The soldier found his family’s address and three months later he got word from his grandparents that they had received the letter.
Frank never saw the soldier again, but his memory of that day and gratitude for the soldier’s service left indelible marks on his life.