B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group


Return to Florence
by Benjamin C. McCartney, 443rd Bomb Squadron


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Five Disjointed Years


Walking farther around the city, we found that most of the famed buildings and the churches had been shut for the period of the emergency. The Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, was open and we went in. But that was all. Most of the beautiful shops for which the city. had been famous had been plundered and the steel shutters blown. There was broken glass everywhere. Either the Fascists or the retreating Germans had done this.

Walking through the streets and seeing the crowds, I still found it difficult to reconstruct the past, the afternoons five years gone. I was impressed at last that it would never be possible, that there was no use trying to go back. Perhaps later, but not now.

The route by which I had returned to Florence in the hot month of August, 1944, with Britain's Eighth Army sweating and toiling in the streets and up the highway, had been long and devious. I had lived in Grenoble in southeastern France for the year after Munich and had come down to Florence at Easter in 1939, and then again in August just before the war broke out.

I had left Florence and gone up through Austria and Germany to England and had been in London when the Germans went into Poland. A month later I had gone back to France to study at the Sorbonne and had spent the strange winter of the waiting war in France.

I had been in Oslo when the Germans invaded Norway and had stayed under the occupation for five months before being able to return on a refugee ship which left Petsamo, Finland, for New York.

In August, 1942, I had been in flying school in the West and in October, 1943, had come overseas with a medium-bombardment squadron. In the pause between the fall of France and Pearl Harbor, I had put in a year at Harvard working for my M. A. in literature and another year teaching English at the University of Wisconsin.

There seemed no connection among any of the things I had done or the places I had been in the five years-no connection, but a certain inevitability.

Out of all the cities of Europe, Florence had seemed somehow always separate and distinct in my memory, not only the most beautiful, but the most aloof and inviolate. I had been impressed by this sense of timeless chastity in the spring of 1939, when I went down to Florence with several other students from Grenoble.

The other students, from all over Europe, had brought to Florence varying attitudes and backgrounds. They had tried to compare it with Paris, or San Francisco, or Oslo, or Edinburgh. Yet Florence had affected them much as it did me. The beautiful city, intricate and lovely and richer than almost any other in the world in art, somehow had avoided our grasp, seeming to belong to time, not to us.

So it had eluded me when I came back again that August with my family. During the months of war while I was still in Europe, and later back in America, I had wondered about Florence. Surely there, I had thought, as to the Vatican City, the tides of war would never mount. I had gone on about the business of learning to bomb over the hot lands of New Mexico.

One morning in March, 1944, I went into the bombardiers' briefing room and looked immediately to see the blue course line drawn on the big wall map of Italy and southeastern France for the day's mission.  We had been flying some rough missions over the beachhead at Anzio, and I wondered whether we would go back again that morning. (Continued)

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