It was a bittersweet feeling knowing that our tour of Italy was coming to an end. On the one hand, I was really sad to say goodbye to a country that I’d grown to absolutely adore. On the other hand, I was really excited for these amazing memories that I would also be able to share with friends and family.
Our very last attraction on the tour was a quick visit to the Cassino War Cemetery located in the province of Frosinone — quite appropriate for the somber mood I was in.
The Cassino War Cemetery is perhaps one of the most beautiful cemeteries I’ve seen. Not only that, but I somehow felt a personal connection to it.
Overlooked by Monte Cassino, a prominent hill with an abbey founded by St. Benedict, the cemetery commemorates and includes the graves of roughly 4,200 Commonwealth servicemen who died during battles in Cassino during World War II.
The stories brought to mind my grandpa, who fought in Italy as a soldier in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team comprised mostly of Japanese-Americans. Combined with the 100th Infantry Battalion, it became the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in American military history.
The 100th actually earned the nickname “The Purple Heart Battalion” after the Battle of Monte Cassino, one of the fiercest battles against the Axis powers. The battle led to heavy casualties, and the remaining soldiers fought their way north to Anzio, where they were later joined by the rest of the 442nd.
My grandpa rarely spoke of his time in the war when he was still alive. But knowing that he spent some of his time fighting in Italy made being here so much more meaningful.
Looking up at Monte Cassino and envisioning the gunfire and explosions atop this hill sent a chill down my spine. It was surreal, to say the least.
After wandering the cemetery and losing myself in some of the stories of those who lost their lives, it was time to go back to the bus and make the journey back to Rome, where we would depart the next day.
Our last evening was spent having a lovely dinner with our tour mates for more wine, pasta and the best way to cap off a meal in Italy: tiramisu!
I was really sad to say goodbye to Italy and all the friends my mom and I made on the tour. But I was all the more grateful at the same time. After all, I experienced so many things that most people could only dream about: I saw ruins older than one could comprehend in places like Rome and Pompeii, heard live music that sounded like it came straight from a Disney movie, indulged in the most delicious gelato that brought so much joy to my taste buds, brushed my hand against real Italian leather, and smelled pizza fresh out of the oven while sipping on some of the world’s finest wine.
It’s amazing how an experience that lasts less than two weeks can bring you a lifetime of memories and happiness.
Special thanks to Trafalgar, and to Italy, for making a girl’s dream come true. I know I’ll return to Italy someday. Until then, arrivederci.