Italian city honors two soldiers who saved it
Charles Gandy III never knew the man he was named after. He was only 3 months old when his father was killed while serving with the famed Buffalo Soldiers in Italy.
But the son got to hear a lot about him Wednesday. The city of Lucca honored Capt. Charles Gandy II and Col. Raymond Sherman as honorary citizens of the city. The two men are credited with saving the city from Allied bombardment 63 years ago.
“I’m sure he would have been proud,” Charles Gandy III said.
Local dignitaries, including the mayor of the city and president of the province, heaped praise on the two men during a ceremony at the San Romano Church.
In September 1944, American forces were gradually forcing their German counterparts to retreat north. It was bloody work, with both sides — and the Italian countryside and population — suffering heavy losses.
Sherman’s 370th Tactical Fighter Group was camped across a canal less than a mile from the city and already had artillery in place to shell what their map indicated was a “fortified city” before launching an attack on it.
But a group of Italian partisans fought their way across the canal and delivered a note to Sherman. They promised they would rise up against the German garrison inside the city if the Americans would forgo bombing it. Sherman, according to local historians, agreed not to use his artillery if the city was indeed not in German control.
Gandy and a platoon of soldiers accompanied the partisans back into Lucca and spent the night of Sept. 4 there. Gandy advised Sherman the city — still famed today for its massive outer walls and dozens of medieval structures — was indeed free of Germans.
The Italians had risen up and chased the Germans out of the city. Nineteen Italians were killed in the process, including a 14-year-old boy serving as a lookout.
Gandy said the Italians were too lightly armed to withstand a potential German counterattack. So engineers quickly built a pontoon bridge across the canal. The main body of American troops crossed over on Sept. 5 and entered the city.
The city’s buildings and civilian population were spared.
“(Sherman and Gandy) played a very important role in saving the city,” said Riccardo Sarti, an Italian national who lives in the States and works for Finmeccanica, an Italian defense company.
His family is originally from Lucca, and local officials asked him to track down the families of Sherman and Gandy. He found Charles Gandy III through the Internet, but couldn’t turn up any trace of Sherman’s survivors.
Gandy said he had never heard of his father’s role in Lucca. His father was killed in northern Italy on Oct. 12, 1944, while leading a patrol. He never asked his men to do anything he wouldn’t do himself, his men told Gandy. In fact, the officer didn’t have to come to Europe. He was older than most of his men and could have stayed at home.
Gandy said all he knows about his father came from his mother, other relatives and some of his father’s former comrades. And there was a television special anchored by Tom Brokaw after the last Olympics that had footage of his father — the first time he had seen him, other than in a still photograph.
“My mother kept all of his medals and letters,” he said.
She died in October.
The son works for Bank of America and attended the ceremony with his wife, Geraldine. Their son, Mark, is in the Air Force and stationed in Guam.
Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Callaway of the 36th Infantry Division accepted the honor for Sherman. Callaway, who was planning to visit Italy on vacation with his wife, was asked by a former colleague working in Italy if he would wear his dress uniform and represent Sherman and the military.