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Saving The Leaning Tower

May 2024
1min read

In the summer of 1944 I pointed my jeep in the direction of Pisa. The Germans were on the north side of the Arno River, the Americans on the south bank. My destination was a farmhouse that was the headquarters of an armored group—some tanks, artillery, and riflemen. A sign on the dirt road warned: SLOW— 10 MILES AN HOUR. DUST RAISES SHELLS. In the distance I suddenly came around a bend and saw the Leaning Tower. I wanted to gun the engine, but dust would be a telltale of movement for an observer on the other side of the river. I felt exposed and naked, for I had heard that the Germans were using the Leaning Tower as an observation post (OP). As I got a little closer, I could see small figures moving between the columns of the tower on its highest floors. And I instinctively felt they could see me. Naturally my windshield was down and covered with a tarpaulin; otherwise, it could mirror the sun from a distance.

Finally I reached the farmhouse. The guys were standing around, with their maps and charts, looking at the tower and the other OPs where the Germans dominated the valley. They had lost a few friends to artillery and were not happy about the tower. The vino was passed around. As dusk approached, talk turned to retaliation: Let’s shoot down their OP. What the hell, it’s just another roadblock on the advance north. A small debate followed. The Germans had denied that they were inside the tower. But the forward scouts could see them there. What should be done? All’s fair....

They turned to me, an Army correspondent, for advice. I didn’t say yes, or no; after all, I could leave by nightfall and they’d still have it eyeing them menacingly. Just then the colonel entered the farmhouse. “I know what you guys are thinking,” he said, “but forget it.”

The moment had passed; sanity was restored. The tower remained standing. A few days later 1 pulled up in front of it and saw orange-colored wire still hanging down: German signal-corps wire, proof that they had used it. I wrote my story; it was censored. So I bought a six-inch plastic replica of the tower, climbed the real one, and looked down at the valley below. It was a nice view.

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