Magazine article Newsweek

A Tower in Jeopardy: Pisa's Landmark Was a German Observation Post in WWII. It Nearly Became 'history.'(American Troops Discussed the Possibility of Destroying the Leaning Tower of Pisa Because It Was an Enemy Observation Post in World War II)(Brief Article)

Magazine article Newsweek

A Tower in Jeopardy: Pisa's Landmark Was a German Observation Post in WWII. It Nearly Became 'history.'(American Troops Discussed the Possibility of Destroying the Leaning Tower of Pisa Because It Was an Enemy Observation Post in World War II)(Brief Article)

Article excerpt

The coming of spring, after an El Nino winter of tornadoes, torrential rams and other heavenly messengers, makes me think of vacation time in familiar, faraway places that are still standing after hundreds, maybe thousands of years. I usually like to go back to where I've been before. Places like old battlefields (choose your own war: there have been several major and minor ones since mine--World War II) that aren't too far from a hotel with atmosphere and a view. Away from home, I'm a sucker for quaint.

That's why I was pleased to read a recent dispatch from Pisa noting that after 800 years (it's not exactly a stop-press story), the Italian government is devising still another scheme to stabilize the Leaning Tower for the next century, if not the whole new millennium. If it works, the Italian engineers ought to be invited to fix the falling masonry that's hit near-epidemic proportions in Manhattan.

The plan to fasten the tower to 10 steel cables buried well below ground sounds neat. Hope so, but who knows? What I do know is that if a wise bird colonel hadn't appeared at a certain moment in the late summer of '44 on the Tuscan front in wartime Italy, the eternal problem would have been "solved" then and there--permanently.

From our perspective, the tower was looked upon not as one of the seven wonders of the Middle Ages but as an OP--an enemy observation post. The Germans were on the northern side of the Arno, and the outfit I was covering as an Army correspondent was set up directly across the river. The river offered little consolation; it seemed more like a brook. Knowing that you came under the looming tower's gaze, you felt terribly naked.

Were the Germans actually using it as an OP? There were conflicting reports. That was one reason I had driven onto a secondary dirt road and pointed my jeep in the direction of an old farmhouse, half hidden behind a grove of trees. Our forward observers were holed up there m a fire-control center for div arty--division artillery. To reach the farmhouse you had to drive over an open stretch for about a quarter of a mile that gave the enemy a clear view of anything that moved. A hand-lettered sign at the beginning of the rutted road remains embedded m my mind: SLOW 10 MILES. DUST RAISES SHELLS.

Instinctively, you wanted to speed and get to the semiprotection of the stone farmhouse quickly. But a cloud of dust would be a tell-tale sign to enemy artillerymen seeking a target of opportunity. If someone in the tower was staring at me through field glasses, I could stare right back. It was impossible not to; the tower gripped you in its sight. As I crawled along, barely pressing the gas pedal, I could see figures moving between the narrow columns of the seven stories below the belfry. They got no dust from me.

In the farmhouse, the captain and some of his men invited me to share a large cask of vino that they had liberated. A sergeant pointed to a large-scale military map pinned to the wall. …

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