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The Man Who Shot Two Holes in the Leaning Tower of Pisa

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Nestled in Northampton County in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania lies the tiny borough of Roseto.  Just six-tenths of a square mile in size, the town was named for the village of Roseto Valfortore in Italy and settled largely by Italians employed at the numerous local slate quarries.  It is here that a story spanning two continents and more than 4,400 miles begins.

 

In August 2012, my son and I, in a quest to trace family roots, visited the town where my Italian immigrant grandparents had settled in the early 1900s.  Upon our arrival, we made our first discovery.  As if guided by the hand of fate, we had arrived just one week before the town would celebrate its centennial!  As we toured the streets of the diminutive hamlet, we were welcomed by the festoon of banners adorning Roseto’s streetlights and utility poles that announced its three days of festivities planned for the following weekend.

 

As we traveled throughout the borough, we spoke with a number of residents – inquiring if they knew of any current residents with the surname Campanaro, my grandmother’s maiden name.  Our travels aroused the curiosity of one of Roseto’s finest, Officer Michael J. Flaherty.  And, when we stopped at the local park and ball field that would be hosting much of the following week’s celebration, he pulled his squad car next to our vehicle and asked if he could be of assistance.  Although he was not familiar with the Campanaro family, he noted the hat I was wearing and asked me if I had served in World War ll.  When I responded affirmatively, he proceeded to tell me a fascinating story, one that would dwarf the first discovery my son and I had made upon our arrival.

 

His story took us back in time to the America of World War II.  At that time, many families supplied more than one son to the conflict, and the Flaherty family was no exception.  Mrs Margaret Flaherty, formerly of Bloomfield NJ, contributed sons Jack – a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army, Robert – a Seaman 2nd Class in the U.S. Navy, Joseph – an Army Captain, and Francis (Frank) – a PFC and later Sergeant with the 804th Tank Destroyer Battalion that had completed tours of duty in North Africa and Europe.

 

The North African Campaign marked America’s introduction into World War ll.  It was instigated by England’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill who argued that, if successful, it would contain German expansion in Europe, block off vital shipping lanes in the Mediterranean, and provide a jumping off point to invade Sicily and Italy.

 

The Campaign pitted renowned Field Marshall Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps against Allied and American forces.  Rommel’s infliction of a smashing defeat on Allied forces in the first battle of Kasserine Pass led to the change in command that resulted in the elevation of Brigadier General George S. Patton, Jr. to resolve the problems.  Under his command, American and Allied forces drove Rommel’s Afrika Korps back through the Kasserine Pass into Tunisia and out of North Africa into Sicily and Italy.

 

As Churchill had predicted, Tunisia became the jumping off point for the invasion of Sicily and the boot of Italy.  The Italian campaign would be a hard fought campaign because of the natural topographical defenses of the country which were used by the German Army to set up lines of defense on the high ground to repel the invading forces.  The battles for Messina, Salerno, San Pietro, Cassino, Anzio, Rome, Arno, North Appenines, and the Po Valley are etched in the blood of the American 5th Army.

 

With the prelude to the Italian Campaign behind us, we now turn our focus to the story of Sergeant Francis Aloysius Flaherty.  With the lessons learned from the North African Campaign, Allied command deployed the 804th Tank Destroyer Battalion as rolling artillery supporting Infantry Divisions of the 5th Army.

 

As they approached the town of Pisa, they were greeted with a barrage of German artillery fire.  Sergeant Flaherty saw the enemy was using the Leaning Tower of Pisa as an observation post to direct its artillery fire.  Without hesitation, he ordered the gun crew to seek out and destroy this observation post.  The first round scored a direct hit and was followed by a second direct hit causing the enemy occupying the tower to evacuate the post.  Before they could reload and fire another round into the building, they received a radio message telling them to cease fire at the Tower because of its historic value.  Subsequently, the town was liberated, and the enemy pursued.

 

The Italian Campaign was bitterly fought.  Many Americans still rest where they fell in the process. There is an old Italian saying, “Vedere Napoli e Morire” which translates to, “To See Naples and Die” attesting to the beauty of the country.  Unfortunately, more than 16,000 Americans did just that in liberating that country.

 

With the ending of World War ll came the safe return of our troops to their home and families, many with stories of their tours of duty to tell their friends and families.  Few, however, can tell a story like that of Frank Flaherty.

 

Yet, his story and that of his brothers continued.  Choosing to serve their community, Jack joined the Bloomfield, New Jersey Fire Department where he rose through the ranks to the position of Chief.  Frank followed in Jack’s footsteps rising to Deputy Chief before his retirement.

 

Frank’s son Michael, inspired by his father and uncles, continues the family tradition by protecting and serving the public as a law enforcement officer.  And, in our chance meeting with him on that August afternoon, my son and I were enthralled by a story that represents a little known part of American history.  One wonders what might have happened to an Italian treasure had that third round ever been fired.

 

 

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