It’s odd, the circumstances in which women and men find themselves. One event, often overlooked in history books, is the fall of Rome during World War II. The city fell, without the firing of a single shot, on 4 June 1944. The Invasion of Normandy (D-Day) began two days later. The newspapers didn’t exactly make a big deal about the fall of Rome.
My father was part of the occupying force in Rome. He and his men found themselves on the stone steps leading into St. Peter’s Basilica. Some of the soldiers were a bit nervous, even fearful. Just consider their assignment: search the Vatican for German soldiers.
The American soldiers took the position it was a sin or some such transgression. My father told them to relax. They were only searching for troops. What my father heard was the Pope had been “playing footsies” with the Nazi, for years. His men didn’t think he was serious, he explained that it was because the Nazis were anti-communist. He told his men to treat the staff with respect and not to touch anything they didn’t have to. All would be fine.
Some of the men wondered if HE was home. My father stepped up to the door and said, “Let’s find out, shall we? Knock-knock, Your Holiness, we’re here.”
With that, they entered the beautiful entryway to the Vatican Church. A Nun, she had to be in her sixties, stood behind a counter near the door. She cowered and her hands practically shot straight up.
My dad signalled the men to lower their weapons and the Nun to lower her hands. Then he stepped up to the counter. The Nun jabbered away in Italian. He told his men to take off their helmets, and, in rather broken Italian, he told the Nun not to be afraid. They were Americans and they needed to search for Germans.
The Nun nodded, gestured toward some sort of rack next to her and said something about them having to check their weapons. My dad relayed the request to his men. They were incredulous.
What, she was the coat check nun. She might be, but my dad figured they wouldn’t have to tip her. He decided they should humour the nun and check their rifles and machineguns. After all, would the Krauts leave a nun on guard? Some of the men had the attitude that, if that was true, why did they need to search the Vatican at all.
Because those were their orders, my dad told them. The men reluctantly lined up and handed their weapons to the nun, grumbling the whole time. She stacked them in the slots intended for umbrellas.
After that, my dad led the men to the interior of the magnificent Vatican Church. They drew their side arms, cautiously entered and looked about. Slowly, they searched the area.
Several of the men genuflected before the altar and my dad felt goose bumps, as he gazed upon the incredible art on display. He wasn’t Catholic, but he had a deep appreciation for the beauty and glory to gawd represented by all that he saw.
The huge open room was strangely quiet. There were no chants, no whispers from the shadows. Here, in stark contrast to the world beyond these hallowed walls, there was peace.
Once done, they returned to the atrium and got their rifles back from the nun. My dad gave her a little nod and led the men out. No great battle, no event of military significance, just an interesting episode in the massive turmoil that was World War II.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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