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Remembering WWII Battle At Rapido River
by Army Sgt. Jeremy Spires - June 27, 2012

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MONTE CASSINO, Italy (May 20, 2012) - At the conclusion of the Wreath ceremony honoring the World War II battle at the Rapido River, the crowd’s attention quickly focused on a small bridge filled with military and civilian members who all hold bags of red and pink rose petals. A collective gasp rose from onlookers, as the Rapido River is covered in a symbolic gesture representing all those lost in the crossing of the river. Photo by Army Sgt. Jeremy Spires
MONTE CASSINO, Italy (May 20, 2012) - At the conclusion of the Wreath ceremony honoring the World War II battle at the Rapido River, the crowd's attention quickly focused on a small bridge filled with military and civilian members who all hold bags of red and pink rose petals. A collective gasp rose from onlookers, as the Rapido River is covered in a symbolic gesture representing all those lost in the crossing of the river. Photo by Army Sgt. Jeremy Spires

 MONTE CASSINO, Italy (June 12, 12) – It was 68 years ago when, under a thick fog, two battalions of the 36th Infantry Divison quietly maneuvered through a soggy riverbank peppered with land mines and booby traps in hopes of crossing the Rapido River and liberating the citizens of Monte Cassino. As the soldiers pushed forward through the freezing water and mud, they were left vulnerable to enemy attacks.

The ensuing battle was a massacre, which left the division soldiers beaten and bloodied. By mid-morning of Jan. 21, 1944, the remnants of the two regiments were forced back across the river to Allied controlled territory. They were sent back into battle a few hours later. By the evening of January 22, the 141st Infantry Regiment virtually ceased to exist, and the 143rd was heavily depleted. The assault cost more than 2,100 soldiers their lives.

“On this ground ... numerous brothers from the great state of Texas, the United States of America and all those nations represented here today died for a cause that was greater than themselves,” said Maj. Gen. James K. “Red” Brown, commanding general of the 36th Inf. Div. “Families from over 30 nations sacrificed during that time, and many of the greatest sacrifices were from citizens of this great land. We come here today to remember those who served and those who gave ultimate sacrifice for their countries.”

The city of Monte Cassino hosts an annual Wreath ceremony in remembrance of the military personnel and civilians that lost their lives during the battle at the Rapido River. Local government officials, town residents, Italian army members, World War II veterans and their families, along with soldiers from the 36th Inf. Div. were on hand at the ceremony to pay homage to the fallen.

“I have come to this ceremony many times over the years,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ken Saffell, B. Company, 36th Inf. Div.,”and every year it is done differently and gets bigger.”

Overlooking the Rapido River and the surrounding countryside, the ceremony started with a wreath lying at the 36th Inf. Div. memorial. From there the guests were lead through the city down to the banks of crystal clear river to a memorial honoring both Allied and Axis soldiers and civilians.

“The 36th Infantry Division has once again made history on the banks of this river,” said Michele DiLeonardo, an amateur World War II historian and unofficial tour guide for the members of the 36th during their stay in Italy.

“They continue to honor not only their fallen forefathers, but everybody who gave their lives during that time,” he added.

At the conclusion of the ceremony the crowd's attention quickly focused on a small bridge filled with military and civilian members who were holding bags of red and pink rose petals. A collective gasp rose from onlookers, as the Rapido River was covered red in a symbolic gesture representing all those lost in the crossing of the river.

“It is important every year that we rejoin and remember the sacrifices of those who fought on this ground,” said Brown. “It is also important that we gather as nations in peace, so that we might remain in peace for all time.”

For the soldiers of the 36th Inf. Div., this ceremony helped them remember the price their forefathers paid when the division attacked the German lines to liberate the city of Monte Cassino so many years ago.

“Even after all these years I still cannot imagine what it was like for the soldiers back in 1944,” said Saffell. “You really cannot understand their sacrifice until you have literally walked where they have along the Rapido River.”

By Army Sgt. Jeremy Spires
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2012

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