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Braided in Fire: Buffalo Soldiers and Tuscan Villagers in WWII

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SPIKE LEE WILL INTRODUCE THE ROLE OF ITALIAN PARTISANS TO MANY – After seeing Miracle at St. Anna the other night, an English woman in my company asked a logical question: “What happened to the real partisan who caused the Germans to kill all those people?” She knew it was a fictionalized story, but like most future viewers of Lee’s film, she was not able to sort out the truth from invention.
Many people in the UK, the United States and elsewhere are unaware of the important and highly risky role Italian partisans played in helping the Allies liberate Italy.

In Miracle at St. Anna, Spike Lee is attempting to correct the glaring absence of black GIs in the many WWII films Hollywood has produced. It is indeed high time that we see blacks portrayed heroically in the war they fought, but, as barganews has already pointed out, it is most unfortunate that in honouring one group, Lee’s movie dishonours another.

That he would dishonour the partisans in a matter as sensitive and painful to the Italian people as the massacre of St. Anna is inexcusable.

The huge uproar in the Italian press about Spike Lee’s inaccuracy is particularly appropriate because in many countries this movie will present the role of Italian partisans to the public for the first time. (Sadly, many people outside Italy have never heard of them.) Lee and McBride defend themselves saying that what they produced is fiction. Yes, it is fine for them to show their Buffalo soldiers caught behind the Axis line — an event which did not happen. And the invented story of the soldiers’ affection for and care of a wounded Italian boy is not only touching, it rings true in the sense that there were many heartfelt contacts between the Italian population in the countryside and the black GIs. But certain atrocities do not allow changing the facts to suit a fictional story line — the very horror of the facts demand truth.

No complaint about Lee’s movie can match his untruthful partisan portrayal, but it should also be mentioned that his four main Buffalo Soldier protagonists are all black stereotypes: a sleazy preacher; a brute-sized, amicable but stupid southerner, a Puerto Rican whose place of origin appears to suffice in terms of characterization, and a lieutenant who is more comfortable following orders than giving them. (The fine actors succeed in making these characters slightly more nuanced in the movie than they are in McBride’s book.)

These four do not resemble the true Buffalo Soldiers I interviewed at length. I have long been engaged in writing a nonfiction book about what happened in the village of Sommocolonia when it was on the frontline and occupied by black Americans. The many veterans I spoke with from the 92nd Buffalo Division were invariably unique and full of human complexities. My book Braided in Fire: Buffalo Soldiers and Tuscan Villagers in WWII (just finished) will dispel any notion of stereotypes among them.

Braided in Fire covers three strands in Sommocolonia: The Buffalo Soldiers, among them Lt. John Fox, who heroically sacrificed himself in the village’s battle (in 1997 he received posthumously the US Medal of Honor); The Villagers, including two women who risked their lives to hide two wounded black GIs); and The Partisans — the book follows the true adventures of one Sommocolonian partisan revealing the actual role of these Italian patriots

Solace Wales
she can be contacted by email here: solaces@comcast.net

Frank Viviano’s article about the Buffalo soldiers returning to Sommocolonia during July 2000 can be read here

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Monacu
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Monacu

Very eloquently put. What a shame that Spike Lee, a talented director, dropped the ball so badly on this chance to correct the historical record rather than cloud even further. As for McBride’s book, I too found it a shocking catalogue of racial stereotypes.

Richard
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Richard

Sally, Well said. I think it highly irresponsible of Mr Lee to mix historical fact with fiction, as he pleases, for events that remain in the living and painful memory. The actions of the partisans were well recognized by the allies and particularly USA (Pippo Ducchesci receiving the Bronze Star for example).So I agree it is a missed opportunity and a travesty. We are back over in Sommo on Thursday and will as usual pay my respects to the brave fallen,both Italian and black American who fought for our freedom on boxing day 1944. Very much looking forward to your… Read more »

Lori (Cox)Grey
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Lori (Cox)Grey

Dear Frank, I came accross an article you wrote for the SF Chronicle in July 2000 about the incident in Sommocolonia. My father, Harry Cox, one of the last “Buffalo Soldiers” from the 92nd division, was featured as part of the article. I wanted to let you know that he passed away on Oct. 19 at 87 years old. I would be honored if you would like to submit something that could be read at his memorial service on Sat., Nov. 1, 2008. Of course, if you still live in or near S.F., we would welcome your attendance. Please feel… Read more »

Frank Viviano
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Frank Viviano

Dear Lori, First, my sincere condolences on the passing of your dad, Harry Cox. He is part of a generation that knew some of the worst of American history — in more ways than one — but served their country with enormous distinction in a cause that had no ambiguity. That small handful of men at Sommocolonia, all of them African-American, helped slow the final Axis offensive long enough to prevent a breakthrough that might have prolonged a terrible war. And they did it in the face of an enemy, Hitler’s army, that made no effort to conceal its contempt… Read more »

Lori (Cox) Grey
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Thank you for your kind words of condolence. I know my father struggled all his life with his war wounds, literally and figuratively. Acknowledgement of their struggles is all they wanted. You have helped tremendously by sharing their stories with the world.

While pouring over his archives and unfinished book in preparation for his memorial service, I was struck by his connection to Italy and the Italian people. He truly left his heart there.

Thank you again for your kindness.

Warmest regards
Lori (Cox) Grey