By Kelly Guernica, ,
Published May 16, 2015
Being a producer on "War Stories with Oliver North" can take you to places you never thought you'd go. In our eight-year run we've met the king of Romania, climbed Hamburger Hill in Vietnam, stood at the DMZ in Korea and even went on missions with the Special Forces in the Philippines and Afghanistan — just to name a few. It was no different for me when I found myself in the Eternal City, also known as Rome, Italy in November of 2008.
The episode being produced was about Benito Mussolini's rise and fall and Italy's involvement in World War II. Also, how the Allied Forces battled back the Germans in some of the most brutal fighting of the war. It was my first time in this historic country and was thrilled that I could be there to help tell the stories of such brave and heroic men.
While in Italy, there were a few places we needed to go in order to tell our story. We started our trip at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, where 7,861 Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice liberating Italy from fascism lie. Among the beautiful grounds and white crosses we paid our respects and honored these fallen heroes.
• Catch 'The Bloody Battle for the Boot: Italy in World War II,' Monday, July 13 at 3 a.m. ET
From there, we returned to Rome and continued to film at the Palazzo Venezia. This historic location, now a bustling center of the city, was where Mussolini would speak to tens of thousands of his countrymen from atop a balcony. It was easy to imagine the Italian people crowded around the square awaiting to hear the words from their fascist dictator.
After filming at a few more locations in Rome that day, we called it a night and were up bright and early the next morning. We were off to Salerno and Naples, where we would meet up with a 93-year-old American veteran who fought during the war in Italy. His name is Herman Hyman Chanowitz and he was part of the 12th Tactical Air Support Command.
Herman explains what he did: "Their purpose is to coordinate the activities between the air people and the people on the ground. The people on the ground may want air support and they want it very quickly. They want it because a hazard exists now."
Herman's tour started out in Africa, but he soon found himself landing on the beaches of Salerno: "When we landed, it was, a lot of chaos. I didn't know what the hell to do. We had no equipment. We didn't know where anything was. And it was a very, very, rough go."
After sitting down with us for a few hours and telling us his story, we brought Herman with us to the town of San Pietro. He suggested we drive up Mt. Lungo which during the war was a strategic location looming over the valley and the town of San Pietro. The Germans had fortified this area with a solid position against the Allies who were marching towards their goal of Rome.
"The Germans had built up a row of defenses and their last defense was the defense at San Pietro," explains Herman.
Fighting atop this mountain was the first time that an Italian unit — now fighting with the Allies — had fought against their German enemies. As the Allies captured Sicily and then moved onto the mainland of Italy an armistice was signed so the many Italians who were forced to fight with the Germans switched sides. Herman recalls: "There was an Italian regiment and they said we want to fight with you guys. Now you had to conquer Mount Lungo if you want to get to San Pietro. And they thought that there was nobody up there at the top to delay them or fight against them, and there were troops up there, German troops and they pretty well slaughtered them."
Fortunately, the Allies conquered Mt. Lungo, but not before the town of San Pietro was destroyed and thousands of soldiers were killed.
After filming on Mt. Lungo we drove down into the city of San Pietro, where Herman was like their local celebrity. The mayor of the town greeted all of us and even gave Col. North an honorary coin during a small ceremony. The town has a museum dedicated to the fighting men who liberated them from the Germans and there are still ruins left from the war to remind them of what happened so many years ago.
After San Pietro, we had to sadly say goodbye to Herman as he wasn't going to continue on with us to the town of Monte Cassino. In Cassino we drove to the top of a large mountain where the famous 6th Century Benedictine abbey was located. During the war this monastery was bombed by the allies and destroyed. It was thought the abbey housed German soldiers spying on the allied troops, but there were no Germans in there. By bombing the abbey they fortified the German positions and created a harder line for the allies to break through.
Our filming was done in Cassino, so we finally made it back to Rome where we ended up interviewing a man named Nello Nardini. He was a lieutenant in the Italian Army and fought with the Germans in the first part of the war. After the Allies signed the armistice, Nello found himself fighting with the Allies. Nello exclaimed: "We went from being an enemy to being a friend of the Americans therefore we were allies of the Americans. So we were doing quite well, we were happy."
After interviewing heroes such as Nello and Herman and traveling to places like Salerno, Cassino, San Pietro and Naples I really got a sense of what these men had to deal with when they fought through this rugged and vast country so long ago. The history and charm of this amazing place was not lost on us. The wonderful people we worked with and met made this trip one of the more memorable ones. For all those who fought here and to those who sacrificed their lives in order to keep freedom alive, I thank each and every one of them.
— Kelly Guernica is a producer for "War Stories"