Salvo d’Acquisto was a carabiniere who, aged just 22, sacrificed his own life to save those of his comrades on September 23rd 1943 during World War II.
Salvo joined the carabinieri in 1942. At Torre di Palidoro, a place on the Lazio coast, there occurred an explosion in a munitions dump causing the death of two German soldiers. The explosion was actually triggered by an improper storage of dynamite and was not a pre-meditated action. Field-Marshal Kesselring, using his powers as governor of Italy, remained convinced, however, that the explosion was caused by a resistance group and ordered an investigation which failed to find anyone responsible for the act. He therefore, rounded up twenty-two men who were marched near the Palidoro tower and ordered to dig a common grave in which they would be thrown after their execution. True to the word ‘decimation’, whereby, for every German soldier killed, ten Italians would pay with their lives, Kesselring was adamant about their fate.
However, the twenty-two year old Salvo d’Acquisto spoke, through an interpreter, with the commander in charge of carrying out the executions. Salvo declared that he was the only one responsible for the explosion and that the twenty-two men should be set free as they had nothing to do with the incident. This was clearly a white lie but what a lie to save the lives of twenty-two other innocent men!
(Torre di Palidoro where Salvo d’Acquisto was executed by the Germans)
Those twenty-two were released and witnessed Salvo stand unflinchingly to attention to receive his executors’ bullets. “Long Live Italy”, he shouted and then collapsed lifeless on the soil to be thrown in the pit originally dug to accommodate twenty-two bodies.
The Germans were impressed by Salvo’s dignity: “your soldier was a hero. He remained impassive to the last.”
Since his death Salvo d’Acquisto has been all but apotheosised as a hero of self-sacrifice and a supreme example of altruism. Throughout Italy roads and piazzas have been named after him, carabinieri stations and barracks have been named in his honour and films made about his life.
Bagni di Lucca, too, celebrated Salvo d’Acquisto on 12th November 2005.
A local sculptor, Gilberto Malerbi, cast a bronze statue of Salvo which can be seen to this day at the corner of the Contessa Casalini gardens.
(The sculptor, Gilberto Malerbi at the unveiling of the statue)
A military parade, the largest of its kind ever held in Bagni to this day, including Carabinieri on horseback (the carabinieri are a branch of the military and not police, as in the UK), Bersaglieri with their capercaillie-feathered hats and a host of dignitaries from near and far, graced the day with the splendour of their uniforms. Speeches were made and bands played.
Here are some of my photographs from that memorable occasion: first the panoply of officers present:
Second, details of the statue and its unveiling:
It’s important to realise the role of carabinieri as peace-keepers in the troubled zones of the Middle East and, especially, to remember the terrible incident at Nasiriya Iraq on 12th November 2003 when 19 of them were killed when a truck load with ammunition drove into their barracks.
I’m quite sure that in the present climate of fear and uncertainty that has descended over Italy (as it has in the majority of European countries) we can be in no doubt that the carabinieri will help the country in ensuring that we can still lead our daily lives with increased protection from the terrorist threat.