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Authors: James R. Benn

Tags: #Mystery, #Historical, #War

Blood Alone (35 page)

BOOK: Blood Alone
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Readers may wonder how much of this story is based in fact. The extent to which the narrative is based on documented history is sufficient to prove the old saw that truth is stranger than fiction.

It is true that Lucky Luciano cooperated with the Office of Naval Intelligence from his jail cell at the Great Meadows penitentiary in New York. Through the Mob’s connections with organized labor, a careful watch was kept on the docks in New York City and other ports in the Northeast. They reported on suspicious activities and threats of sabotage to ONI and also cracked down on union activities that might impede the war effort. Even commercial fishermen supplying the Fulton Fish Market were enlisted to watch for German submarines.

As planning proceeded for the Allied invasion of Sicily, ONI again worked with organized crime to recruit Sicilian-American agents who could be landed on the island prior to the invasion. These agents, trained in commando tactics and in safecracking, went ashore armed with introductions to Sicilian Mafia contacts provided by Luciano and his gang. One of them did pull off a significant coup by breaking into the safe at Italian naval headquarters, securing valuable intelligence about Axis naval forces.

Numerous accounts of Luciano’s involvement with the invasion of Sicily mention the yellow silk handkerchief with the large
emblazoned on it. Some say it was dropped to Don Calogero Vizzini by Allied aircraft via parachute. Other stories relate that it was delivered by a secret agent, and that Don Calo rode on an American tank, waving it like a flag, convincing hundreds of Italian soldiers to desert. While these stories sound fanciful, it is a fact that secret agents were sent ashore to make contact with members of the Sicilian Mafia, and that a handkerchief was used to serve as a message from Luciano to Don Calo. Whatever the exact truth, Don Calo was ultimately made mayor of Villalba by the American Military Government of Occupied Territories (AMGOT). Lucky Luciano had his sentence commuted in 1946 and was deported to Sicily, the land of his birth.

Vito Genovese did flee to Italy in 1937 to avoid murder charges in New York. When the Americans landed, he offered his services as a translator, and soon became a valued assistant to AMGOT officers. As the war progressed, AMGOT enlisted Genovese to help clean up black market activities in Naples and southern Italy. Black market activity disappeared, and AMGOT was pleased with his success until they learned that Genovese had simply eliminated the competition and taken over all black market operations himself, sending convoys of supplies to Don Calo in Sicily. He was sent back to the United States to face the murder charges from 1937, but by then all the witnesses had conveniently disappeared, and he was again a free man.

The disastrous night paratroop drop described is unfortunately true. Through either miscommunication or sheer nervousness, naval and ground antiaircraft fire hit the reinforcing wave of 82nd Airborne troopers, causing 319 casualties (88 dead, 69 missing, and 162 wounded).

While I have tried to weave history into this fictional narrative, it is ultimately a work that springs from my imagination. I am inspired by real events, to which I hope I have remained true in spirit, if not always in precise fact.

The battle for Biazza Ridge, described in Chapter Three, is a little-known but crucial action that held the Germans back from the beachhead on the day after the invasion. Colonel (later General) Jim Gavin did lead a mixed force of paratroopers, infantry, and some rear-area personnel to hold the high ground and keep the German force from breaking through and wreaking havoc on the buildup along the southern coast. The battle, as seen through Billy’s eyes, is recreated based on eyewitness accounts, which include mention of the tears Gavin shed at the burial of the men who died there.

I had the opportunity to visit this site while my wife and I were on vacation in Sicily. The battlefield is on the property of a Sicilian farmer, who raises artichokes and oranges beneath the ridge where the fight took place. He has kept the bunkers untouched, and respectfully cares for the land where so much blood was shed. He and his family invited us in to share their Easter Monday celebration and showed us around the farm and took us into the bunkers below the ridge. On the outer wall of his farmhouse, facing the road to Gela, is a monument attesting to the lives sacrificed there. It reads in part:

Extreme were the losses. Supreme was the heroism, and
from the sacrifice of these men is created the new history of

Who could say more?

BOOK: Blood Alone
11.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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