by Graziella Pacini Buonanno
Antonio Checchi was not a general, but a valiant soldier who single-handedly saved more than one hundred lives. He's also my maternal grandfather. Here is the story I heard from his lips, when he came to visit us in Italy in 1952:
My grandfather was born in Massarosa, a town in the province of Lucca, Italy, in 1885. He married my grandmother, Angela Bertacchi in 1908. They emigrated to Buenos Aires, Argentina, after the birth of their first son, Ulieno, in 1909. In Argentina they had two more children, Rosa (my mother) and Mario. He was employed as a teamster in Buenos Aires until he lost his job in 1915, and was unable to find work.
War had already broken out in Europe and the Italian government was paying for any Italian citizen willing to go back to Italy and join the army. Antonio was desperate, so with free passage for him and his entire family, he returned to Italy and enlisted in the Italian Army. He was assigned to the 5th Regiment of Engineers,"Pontieri", or bridge builders.
|Antonio Checchi's family. The little girl is Grace's mother.|
He was sent to the the north of Italy, where the Royal Italian Army was fighting against the Austro-Hungarian Empire forces. Antonio and the 5th Regiment "Pontieri" built a bridge over the Piave River, but because of the fast approaching Austrian Army, they were forced to retreat and were ordered to destroy the bridge. They followed orders and destroyed the bridge, but soon they found that approximately one hundred Italian soldiers were stranded on the opposite side.
Antonio, with no regard for his own life, found a submerged rowboat, used his jacket and shirt to plug the holes in the bottom of the boat, and used it to make numerous trips back and forth across the Piave River. During these trips the enemy arrived and opened fire on him, and wounded several soldiers in the boat, and even hit the oars he was rowing with. He saved about one hundred infantry men and several high-ranking officers.
For his unselfish actions, he was awarded the Silver Star and the Meritorious Cross, which were the Italian government's second highest awards for bravery.