Italian history buff visits grave of U.S. soldier killed in WWII
June 1, 2008
FLORENCE, Italy — Plot D. Sixth row. Sixteenth headstone from the left.
There, under the stark, white marble headstone lie the remains of Tech. Sgt. Fred Lang.
The remains of a young man, perhaps 21 years old; the remains of a man whose final moments are those of a hero.
Lang’s is a tale of courage, of selflessness, of endurance — an account of a young soldier who took charge of his fighting men following the death of his commanding officer and platoon sergeant.
A saga that ended — after nearly eight hours of grueling combat on Monte Altuzzo amid the cacophony of war — when a bullet from a German soldier’s gun pierced his head.
Lang died, and was buried, thousands of miles from his home in South Dakota.
Gone, but not forgotten.
"Never forgotten," said World War II history enthusiast Massimo Bambagiotti, who can recount in great detail the story of a soldier whose war actions earned him a Purple Heart with 2 Oak Leave Clusters, and the Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest medal for wartime valor.
"What the Americans did to free us Italians, we cannot forget," Bambagiotti said.
And so, on one particular autumn day each year, armed with a splay of fresh wild flowers in hand, the pharmaceutical professor at the University of Florence visits Lang’s grave at the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial.
"I was moved by his story, impressed by his bravery," Bambagiotti said on Memorial Day, standing on the lush green lawn among the sea of white headstones that mark the final resting places for 4,202 U.S. soldiers and airmen who perished in Italy fighting in World War II.
The emergence of the Internet prompted Bambagiotti to seek out Lang’s surviving kin. Hundreds of searches, and about three years, netted the professor a clue to Lang’s surviving sister, who had supplied information for a research project by high school students in Avon, S.D.
Bambagiotti drafted a typewritten letter, in not-so-perfect English, summarizing his exploratory path, his fascination with Lang’s story, and his eventual discovery of the soldier’s grave in Florence.
"Since then onwards, each September 14th of every year I put flowers on [his] grave to gratefully acknowledge the sacrifice of this soldier and the liberty he contribute to take me; ‘one for all’ within the over 4,000 other fellow soldiers resting with him thereabouts," Bambagiotti wrote to Lornie McCann.
"I hope you would be pleased to know that somebody still not forget the sacrifice of your brother and is still grateful to him and sorrow for what his family lost."
A family friend received Bambagiotti’s letter of Oct. 21, 2004, and delivered it to McCann.
A month later, she wrote back.
"Robert Hajek brought [your letter] out to our farm. He came in the house — told me to get my glasses & sit down. Then gave me the letter to read. I started reading aloud but started crying so I read to myself," she penned in cursive.
"I can’t tell you how happy I am to know someone there in Florence visits my brother’s grave and puts flowers on his grave."
Each year, he does, without fail.
He honors the husband; the father of a son and a daughter the soldier knew of, but never met; the man who was one of 11 siblings; the fallen soldier killed defending the freedoms of a foreign nation.
He honors Fred C. Lang, serial number 37125495.