Images that last

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Stephen Ziadie
  • 341st Space Wing Inspector General
The year was 1944 and the family of 7-year-old Antonio Cellini was not doing very well. The German troops that had occupied Antonio's hometown near Altuzzo, Italy, for the past two years had been especially brutal lately - more so, since the Allies had finally broken the stalemated beachheads near Nettuno and Anzio, and were on the move north, towards Antonio's home. Antonio lived in a small dwelling with his parents and three sisters, and in better times, Antonio's father did a brisk business running a small alimentari, or grocery, located on the ground floor of their residence. 

But lately, the intensity of the war meant that even Antonio, son of a grocer, was often hungry as his father's store was constantly being ransacked and looted by German soldiers. 

One day, Antonio was helping with chores when he was startled by the loud sound of the shop door being hurled open. Running in fear to his father's side behind the counter, Antonio noticed his father shaking uncontrollably, as two giant beings covered with mud and filth burst into the shop. One giant stood in the corner of the doorway, his eyes and strange-looking weapon pointed down the street, while the second giant covered with mud and reeking of sweat, ran throughout the store excitedly grabbing food from the shelves.
Still shaking, his father whispered one word to Antonio who was still clutching his father's pant leg: "Americani." 

"Hurry up, we ain't got time," shouted the soldier in the front doorway. 

"One sec!" replied the filthy figure towering over the male Cellini clan. Pointing to Cellini senior, he shouted, "Kwanto coosta?" 

Antonio and his father, still paralyzed with fear, could only stare and shake. 

"Kwanto coosta, kwanto coosta," the soldier demanded again pointing to the pile of food he'd placed on the counter. 

Still in shock, the older Cellini could only stare wide-eyed and powerless to speak as the tall soldier pounded his fist on the counter in anger. 

The GI in the door shouted, "We're pulling out, NOW!" 

"Awright, awright, geez I herd ya," the figure in front of the counter said as he quickly emptied his pockets on the counter of wadded paper and coins. 

In one swift move, he scooped all the food into a mud-encrusted rucksack, while unslinging his weapon and bolting down the street towards the sound of approaching diesel engines and clanking of armor treads. 

Eventually recovering from shock, Signore Cellini stared at the huge mound of assorted occupation script, greenbacks, currency, silver coins and Hershey bars piled on the counter and topped with a 24-karat gold pocket watch. 

This amounted to 100 times the value of the food taken, and later, thanks to some local black market contacts, the family was able to scrupulously survive off this "sale" for the next year. Antonio recalled his father was so happy these soldiers actually paid for purchases, he ran to the town church to spread the news and began ringing the tower bell, much to the consternation of the local clergy ... 

As the young Air Force captain sipped his caffé corretto across the table from Dr. Professor Antonio Cellini, Head of the English Department, Universita d'Urbino, he was filled with awe, wishing he knew the names of those two GIs so he could find them and thank them. 

For the previous two years, this Americano was continually engulfed with hospitality from the local citizens. After hearing Dottore Cellini's story and seeing the look of contentment in the old man's eyes, he understood why his positive experiences in that country were hugely due to the behavior of two unknown American GIs 50 years ago who established an American image of generosity that was passed by word of mouth throughout the village, and collectively remembered.

We here at Malmstrom are blessed to be stationed in a wonderful community. I have yet to enter a place or establishment in Great Falls, where a friendly smile and Montana-sized hospitality did not greet me or members of my family. The continual outpouring of support we receive daily from the gracious citizens of Great Falls is overwhelming. Between the countless "thank you for serving" - comments that accompany every trip to the local gas station, to the generous MAC picnics every summer that seem to grow each year in scope and grandeur, we GIs have it very, very, good here. 

But we should not take this for granted. We are guests here in the local community and we are responsible for our actions both on- and off-duty. Every time I hear reports about Airmen talking back to Great Falls police officers, or behaving unruly in public, or trying to evade paying rent to their local landlords, I cringe with disappointment and fear - fear that someday, the community environment we enjoy will vanish like dinosaurs after a comet's impact. 

I encourage everyone to take the time to cross-check their image and keep in mind that your attitude impacts those around you. Even when not in uniform, you still represent the Air Force and the honor of the United States. By remembering your "ambassadorship" duties, also remember the reason we have it "good" here in Great Falls. It's because of our close, trusting and respectful relationship we share with our local friends and community - a trust people in previous assignments have worked hard and long to forge for our benefit. 

As Wingmen, we also need to correct our fellow GIs when they are tempted to commit public acts that are less than honorable. Our actions will be remembered long after we've PCS'd from here so let's strive to ensure the remembrance is a positive one, and one that brings credit on who we are and what we stand for.