Marble Marconi monument moving from US base to Italian town
VICENZA, Italy — An 8-ton marble monument to Guglielmo Marconi dedicated by American signal soldiers 45 years ago is to be hauled off base and handed over to local Italians for a planned museum.
The monument to the radio pioneer, dreamed up by troops at the U.S. Army Communication Site Coltano and dedicated in 1973 at a ceremony attended by the U.S. ambassador to Italy, is to be moved in the next few weeks.
The removal from Camp Darby to a villa in the town of Coltano, about five miles away, comes at the behest of Marconi’s daughter Elettra, now in her late 80s, and Pisa government officials, according to U.S. Army Garrison Italy officials.
It also reflects the shrinking U.S. military presence in what’s now called the Darby Military Community, where only 143 airmen and 51 soldiers, none of them signal soldiers, remain.
The monument’s move will be paid for by the city of Pisa. Plans call for it to be placed outside a future museum to Marconi in Coltano, where he conducted experiments and transmissions.
At the turn of the 20th century, Marconi developed the first practical radio transmitters and receivers and built the first radiotelegraphy communication stations used to communicate with ships at sea and other countries. In 1909, he shared the Nobel Prize in physics for the development of wireless telegraphy. Three years later, it was a Marconi transmitter on the Titanic that relayed an SOS to the nearby Carpathia, making the rescue of 705 people from the icy waters possible.
Celebrated in his day, he is a lodestar for signal soldiers.
“Marconi would be like the grandfather of their profession,” said Jim Brooks, a spokesman for U.S. Army Garrison Italy.
The monument commemorates Marconi’s November 1911 feat at Coltano of linking Europe, North America and Africa by means of wireless communications.
The site had been chosen by Marconi — whose father was of Italian minor nobility and whose Irish mother was an heir to the Jameson whiskey fortune — because of its signal-enhancing terrain.
The U.S. took possession of the area at the end of World War II. It returned the Coltano signal station to the Italian government in 2009. The monument, sculpted by an artist whose name is lost to history, was left unattended in the weeds.
Two years later, then-2nd Signal Brigade commander Col. Mitchell Kilgo, on a site visit from his Germany headquarters, saw the monument and decided it should be preserved, according to a contemporaneous Camp Darby publication. It was moved to Camp Darby, where the 509th Signal Battalion was located.
Kilgo is now a major general in charge of global communications and computer networks for the U.S. Central Command.
Despite Marconi’s brilliance, his legacy also involves a dark side. As head of the Academy of Italy, he was a devoted fascist. When he died in 1937, Adolf Hitler sent the largest wreath to Marconi’s funeral, according to Marc Raboy, a McGill University professor and the author of “Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World.”