Every morning when I awake I give thanks to the Lord for another day. I have truly been blessed to have reached my 87th birthday because I know, some sixty years ago, I faced death on a daily basis. Many of my dear friends were not so fortunate.
In 1945 I arrived in Italy as a member of the 10th Mountain Division, 87th Regiment, Company K. Little did I Know that I was about to experience “the best and worst of times.” It is hard to describe the evil and horror of war. As we traveled to the front lines I could see all the destruction the war had brought to the Italian people. My heart was deeply moved as I witnessed so many civilians, especially the children begging for food or anything we could give them. Nor is it possible to describe what it is like to see your foxhole buddy killed or watch helplessly as life slips away from a fallen comrade.
But there were also good times! Italy and her people are so beautiful. It’s cities so full of history, art, and antiquities often left me breathless in amazement. And the gratitude of the people as they welcomed us in the Po valley with bread, wine, cheese, and their warm smiles. Yes, my time in Italy is forever etched in my memory!
I returned to the United States in July, 1945, and for the most part, the memories of that war and my time in Italy remained dormant for some 50 years, until I returned in 1994. It was then, on the 10th Mountain Division Return to Italy Tour that these memories and feelings from the past were awakened.
The 1994 Reunion Tour began with a special Memorial Day service at the American Cemetery near Florence. I knew that my foxhole buddy, Fred Palmer, is buried there and so I had to find his cross. I walked on that hallowed ground and when I found his marker I broke down and cried. Images of Fred came flooding as I sobbed at his gravesite. I could still see him, as he was the day he died. He will remain forever young. He is the real hero!
Our journey continued on to places where we were in 1945. Pisa, Montecatini, Vidiciatico, Mt. Belvedere, Gaggio Montano, Castel d'Aiano, San Benedetto Po, Lake Garda, and Venice. Names that I know now but then, they were only hills and locations on a map.Buildings and homes completely destroyed some 50 years earlier have now been rebuilt and where there was once ruin and destruction there is now peace and beauty.
Every place we went we were welcomed so warmly by the Italians. Hugs and kisses for everyone! And again the children came to us only this time, not to ask for food, but to say “grazie, grazie.” They have been told by their parents and grandparents what it was like during the war and now, three generations later, their gratitude remains strong.
After the war I returned home, married, and started a family. My wife Lucy and I have three children and ten grandchildren. Two of my sons and three of my grandchildren have been on a Italy Reunion Tour. I have tried to tell them what it was like some 60 years ago and I continually tell all my family that what happened 60 years ago must never be repeated!
This book will include a number of photographs that I took during the war. I wasn’t supposed to have a camera but I did and these photos are now my visual link to the past. Each picture brings with it a memory; sometimes a pleasant memory and sometimes an unpleasant one. But these pictures also bring hope and promise. It is my hope that in looking at these photo raphs the viewer will not only gain a better perspective of the war from one soldiers’ point of view, but also come to understand that war, while sometimes necessary, should always be a last resort. The human cost of war is always too high!
Every morning when I awake I give thanks to the Lord for another day!
Pfc. Cruz F. Rios
10th Mountain Division
87th Regiment, Company K
Vires Montesque Vincimus