A New Chapter

I’ve turned the page in my writing life with my history-based memoir, Walking to Rome: A WWII Commando’s Unfinished War and His Son’s Tribute. It chronicles my journey across my father’s battlefields as I seek to rediscover him and understand his part in one of our most storied military units of that war, the First Special Service Force.

Here I intend to share stories, photos, links and history related to the book as I revise my manuscript and get it ready for publication.

Let’s start with this: Here’s my dad, Erick Gabriel Thorness:

Memorial Day at the War Cemetery

This is an excerpt from my book in process.

Soft armies of puffy clouds paraded past my vision and the sun warmed my shoulders as the military band erupted into a bright melody of horns paced for marching. It was the American Memorial Day, but the commemoration was being held in a foreign land. A first for me, but I realized that it was a scene being played out around the world as it had been for many years. With the United States acting as a military partner with (and often protector of) people in far-flung places for many decades, our military presence exists in many countries. And with battles and wars come cemeteries and memorials scattered over the globe. We once again were walking the grounds of the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial.

I recalled my first trip to the Anzio battle region, where a visit with the cemetery’s director had inspired an idea to craft a visit where I would walk the battlefields leading to that fateful spot where my father fell, the village of Artena toward which the director had pointed. Also on that previous year’s trip, Camilla Borghese had sparked my understanding of the area’s lore and, incredibly, offered the use of her family’s seaside villa on my return. Now, with a contingent of my family by my side at this sober ceremony, I was nearly ready for the a piedi exploration. This green acreage stitched with white crosses had been my first stop on that initial Italy trip, when I knew virtually nothing about my father’s war. Coming back to walk his battlefields, I was beginning the task by taking part in a ritual of group remembering.

In the foreground of the marble memorial building, white-columned and solemn, soldiers of two countries in their sharp and shiny dress uniforms had gathered to pay their respects. Three of my father’s descendants would represent him for the day. My older brother Steve, along with his wife Anne, and my younger sister Karen, with husband Jeff, joined Susie and me to parade in with a stream of civilian guests, crunching down the wide gravel path that lined the reflecting pool in front of the verdant grounds enjoining the memorial building. In the weekend prior to this day, we had hiked up the fateful Monte la Difensa, we had dined with a group of Force veterans and descendants, and we had toured the hilly countryside around the edges of Mussolini’s grand experiment. Now standing on the flat former marshland, flags rippling in the warm spring breeze, the momentous nature of the war seemed almost immediate. The pool’s water mirrored the sky, a blue portal connecting the earth with the heavens. Shoulder to shoulder with Italians and our extended Force family, we walked in step along the precision-cut edges of the path, manicured lawns fanning out with lines of crosses. Were there locals among us who remembered the violent upheaval that battered its way to their doorstep? Were the elderly soldiers in our group reliving their fateful moments of service? I gazed across this sacred ground, considering the place where our ancestors had bravely marched to defend freedom from oppression and aggression and defy the destructive visions that fevered into the heads of mad dictators.

We were ushered into an area set for family of American servicemen and, walking past a respectful line of locals, I felt myself to be a significant symbol, on display as an embodiment of the service that had been so selflessly delivered by my father and his compadres. I sensed that we received curious looks as we took our places, as though others were envisaging my connection, wondering whether their beleaguered family members somehow had contact with my determined father. I looked at everyone that way as well. The citizens of Lazio, to me, symbolized a mysterious flip side of war, where everyday people were caught up in the madness and buffered between dueling armies as they struggled simply to survive. In any case, it seemed that we all shared one purpose: a personal connection to the blood and anguish that had taken place here seven decades previous. This landscape was populated with the ghosts of those connections, the untold stories of survival and procreation. With the hopes and destinies that were made possible by the triumph of the Allies on this future memorial, this former battlefield.