On first impression, the Tuscan hilltop hamlet of Sommocolonia struck me as charming, placid and “Ital-idyllic”. Restored homes, flowers everywhere, the cleanliness of the stone streets. Even the small piazza that serves as the town square was decorated with several flowering pots around its ancient fountain and basin – someone, or a group of someones, was really caring for this small place.
I was here on a day-trip painting excursion in 2014, and as our small group walked around town looking for painting subjects, our local art tutor pointed out the many commemorative wall plaques, a large number for a village this size. He made quick mention that this town had seen significant action during WWII, and that a movie had been inspired from this action.
“What movie?” I asked. He couldn’t remember the title but said it was about a regiment of African-American soldiers trying to protect an Italian town from the approaching German front.
He affirmed that’s what it was, and that Sommocolonia was the real-life town. I had read the book and seen the film with my son, and I couldn’t believe I was here. The profound quiet in the town now took on a different tone. The wall plaque remembering the US lives lost in 9/11, which at first seemed unusual, now made sense. The wall plaque remembering Giacomo Martorana, an American GI with local ties who was lost on Omaha Beach, made sense. As did the one honouring local partisans and the one honouring a local man who unsuccessfully tried to dispose of an unexploded grenade.
In preparation for writing this post, I discovered that the pretty San Rocco piazza that I’ve painted in my latest Mini was the sight of fierce fighting in 1944-45. These numerous flower pots beautifying the square now have taken on new meaning. For such a small place of 53 souls, the depth and size of their expression of gratitude and civic pride is very moving.
For the full story of Sommocolonia and the 92nd US Division, check out Frank Viviano’s article here.