here’s a small village called Sommocolonia in Tuscany, Italy. If you want to go there you have to go through a bumpy and winding road. That road is placed on a hill, in the middle of a wood. The village is a typical medieval village just like many others you can find in the middle of Italy. There are more churches than shops, but just a few houses. There are 34 inhabitants.
You might think that Sommocolonia is not even worth a visit, but you would be wrong.
Because if you succeed in reaching that place, you will discover a small and ruined tombstone. That tombstone was put there in memory of John Fox, the hero of the Christmas’ battle (1944) who sacrificed his life in order to stop a Nazi assault against his infantry division.
John Robert Fox was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on May 18, 1915. He joined the army in 1940 when he was 25. When USA entered World War II in 1941, Fox had his call of duty. He took part in the Italian Campaign as a lieutenant of the 92nd Infantry Division (an African-American division). Nobody could foresee that Fox, who was denied several rights in his country at the time, would have become a hero in the day after Christmas 1944.
Here is President Bill Clinton’s speech made during a Medals of Honor ceremony in 1997 in order to make you understand what made Fox a hero.
During Christmas night , there was a gradual influx of enemy soldiers in civilian clothes and by early morning the town [Sommocolonia] was largely in enemy hands. An organized attack by uniformed German formations was launched around 04:00 hours, 26 December 1944. Reports were received that the area was being heavily shelled by everything the Germans had, and although most of the U.S. infantry forces withdrew from the town, Lieutenant Fox and members of his observation party remained behind on the second floor of a house, directing defensive fires. Lieutenant Fox reported at 08:00 hours that the Germans were in the streets and attacking in strength. He called for artillery fire increasingly close to his own position. He told his battalion commander: “That was just where I wanted it. Bring it 60 yards!” His commander protested that there was a heavy barrage in the area and bombardment would be too close. Lieutenant Fox gave his adjustment, requesting that the barrage be fired. The distance was cut in half. The Germans continued to press forward in large numbers, surrounding the position. Lieutenant Fox again called for artillery fire with the commander protesting again stating: “Fox, that will be on you!”. The last communication from Lieutenant Fox was: “Fire it! There’s more of them than there are of us. Give them hell!”
This action stopped the Wehrmacht’s attack. As a consequence, the Americans succeeded in counterattacking and they retook the position from the Germans. Fox’s action, at the cost of his own life, inflicted heavy casualties and caused the death of approximately 100 Nazis.
History is full of stories like this, and probably History itself is composed of little actions like the one Fox did the day after Christmas 1944. Although segregated in USA, Fox didn’t step back from his duty and showed the pride that only a soldier fighting for freedom could have.
The tombstone put in Sommocolonia in his memory is still there. In a few years, that town will be uninhabited and will become a ghost town like many others in Italy. Nevertheless, the tombstone will always be there in order to remind everyone that in that place, in 1944, an African-American, a human being, sacrificed his life for something that had been previously denied to him, that is freedom.
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