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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June, 2004, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Remembering Rome 60 years on
US President George W Bush is attending celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Rome on 4 June 1944. BBC Rome Correspondent David Willey has been talking to some of the dwindling number of eyewitnesses of that historic day.

Anti-Bush and anti-war demonstrations in Rome may be grabbing the headlines on Friday.

But the memories of how General Mark Clark's Fifth army finally swept unopposed into the Italian capital, amid scenes of jubilation, still remain vivid in the minds of the older generation of Romans and among American Veterans in town this week.

US soldier with Roman baby
The Allied soldiers were greeted with flowers and kisses
An exhibition of contemporary photographs of the liberation from Italian and American sources and from Britain's Imperial War museum is already attracting huge crowds.

Among the photos on display is one of the BBC's World War II Correspondent Godfrey Talbot standing on an armoured car in the Via del Corso, just around the corner from today's BBC Rome bureau, holding up his microphone to capture the sounds of the street celebrations.

Freedom

Alfredo Rinaldi, a Roman, now aged 76, told me he first met the Allied troops advancing on the road from Anzio.

"I was almost 16 years old, just a young boy," he said.

It was very, very gay in the sense of freedom and the sense of at last we were free, we were ourselves
Desideria Pasolini
Italia Nostra

"The first thing I remember was seeing the English and Americans, nice guys, they just give, give, give! And with the Germans it had been all the time, take, take take!"

Desideria Pasolini, now the head of Italia Nostra, Italy's equivalent of Britain's National Trust, was just 18 in 1944.

"We had lived such terrible years," she told me. "I have such a wonderful vivid memory. Everybody was so happy. We were rushing and singing songs with all the other people.

"Rome was so exciting because everybody was putting out the flag. They were rushing up and down everywhere... and the singing... it was very, very gay in the sense of freedom and the sense of at last we were free, we were ourselves."

US President Franklin D Roosevelt was to broadcast the news of the liberation to the world the following day: "My friends," he said, "yesterday, on 4 June 1944, Rome fell to American and Allied troops. The first of the Axis capitals is now in our hands! One up and two to go!"

Images of the liberation of Rome by Allied troops on 6 June, 1944.

Detalmo Pirzio-Biroli was an Italian partisan fighter based in Northern Italy. After the collapse of Mussolini's Fascist regime in Rome he helped thousands of allied prisoners of war to escape through German lines.

At the age of 88 he complained to me about how tame it all seemed to him to witness the liberation in Rome, where he had been running a clandestine printing press forging identity documents for escapees.

"I was very disappointed," he said. "There were no fights."

"I was waiting, waiting, waiting. In the morning early some jeeps arrived full of Italo-Americans. They were all speaking Italian. The Italo-Americans were ahead of the army.

"Then I took my backpack, put my hand grenade inside and my pistol and I walked home. Which meant crossing through Rome. I stopped on the Via Veneto.

"I saw the same picture as every day with the exception that the young girls and ladies and the little prostitutes were now on the arm of British officers instead of German officers. But the Via Veneto hadn't changed!"

Parties

Others also accuse the Romans of a speedy switch in allegiance.

"They are all opportunists in Rome! They've been like that for centuries, since the invasions of the barbarians," said Pirzio Biroli, whose family comes from Udine in Northern Italy.

US soldier in Iraq
The 'liberating' US soldiers have not received as warm a welcome in Iraq
"In those days the Colonnas, one of Rome's most important noble families, gave a big party for the German officers. Some people say only after four days - four days mark you - they gave another big party this time for the allied officers.

"This was Rome! Now in other places, in Milan or Udine or Turin, you were either for or against."

About 180 American war veterans are in town for the anniversary.

They attended a memorial service at the American military cemetery at Nettuno just south of Rome, where more than 8,000 US servicemen who fought their way from Sicily to Rome are buried and another 3,000 missing are commemorated.

The American Veterans' Associations says World War II veterans are now rapidly diminishing in number. They are dying at the rate of over 1,000 per day.

Many of the veterans who have gone back for the anniversary are now in their 80s.

"I was among the first troops to enter Rome," said 82-year-old Bob Dodge.

"The flags were out. The people were all lining the road, the streets were mobbed, they were handing up bottles of wine, throwing flowers at us. All the pretty girls were down there. All you could do was smile at 'em.

Every place we went in Italy, any town we liberated, we were welcome. The children would come up to us and we just had a wonderful time
Jacob Toews,
US veteran
"I got to see the Vatican. When I saw it with another buddy you could look down those halls and there might be another person or two in there but we were practically all alone in there."

Another veteran says he remembers the flowers the troops were given.

"What I remember is when we broke out of Anzio and we hit the outskirts of Rome," said Jacob Toews, from Lancaster Pennsylvania, now 85. "Rome was an open city. So we just went right straight through... But the people were coming out with flowers.

"The girls were coming, hugging us, dirty as we were. We got the best welcome we could have. We went right straight through Rome. We didn't even have to do anything. It was a pleasure to have a welcome like we did."

Iraq comparison

I asked Mr Toews how he compared his war with that of the new generation of American soldiers now serving in Iraq.

The difference in Iraq, he replied, is our soldiers don't know who their enemy is.

"And it is sad. Someone comes up to you, and you don't know should you shoot him or should you welcome him.

"There was no confusion in the Italian campaign. Every place we went in Italy, any town we liberated, we were welcome. The children would come up to us and we just had a wonderful time."


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