A Boy Of Perugia
: Winning A Cause World War Stories
In the year 1500, Raphael was a boy of eighteen in Perugia working and
studying with the master painter Perugino. Did the city itself, free
on its hill top, looking afar over undulating mountains and great
valleys, implant in the sensitive soul of Raphael a love of beauty and
a vision that made him become one of the greatest painters of the
world? Perugia can never be forgotten, for the boy Raphael once lived,
and studied there.
In the year 1915 Enzo Valentini was a boy of eighteen in Perugia. He
was a high school boy and his father was mayor of the city. One of his
teachers says he was an unusually brilliant scholar, with remarkable
artistic gifts. Did the city and its beautiful surroundings open his
soul to the vision of love and tenderness for his little mother and
of the duty that called him while but a boy in the high school to serve
and, if need be, die for his country?
When Italy entered the war, he gave up his studies, dropped his pen and
his brushes, volunteered as a private, and was soon fighting with his
countrymen in the Alps.
Certainly his soul was responsive to beauty in nature; for in the midst
of war and war's alarms, he found peace of spirit in the wonderful
Alpine country. He writes, The longer I am here, the more I love the
mountains. The spell they weave does not come so quickly as that of
the sea, but I think it is deeper and more enduring. Every passing
moment, every cloud, every morning mist clothes the mountains in a
beauty so great that even the coarsest of our brave soldiers stop to
admire it. It may be for only an instant but this is enough to prove
that the soul never forgets its heavenly birth even though it be the
soul of an uneducated peasant, imprisoned in the roughest shell. The
days pass one after another calmly, serenely. It seems as if the
autumn ought never to end. The divine and solemn peace of the nights
is beyond the power of words to express, especially now that the moon
is shedding its magic silver over all. There are hours in the day when
everything is so filled and covered with light and when the silence is
so impressive that at moments the light seems to be gone letting the
silence blaze forth in the wonderful harmony of nature.
Enzo Valentini loved nature, loved his native land, and loved his
mother. She understood him and knew that because of his love for her
he was willing to die for Italy and the mothers of Italy. Shortly
before his death he wrote her this beautiful letter:--
Little mother, in a very few days I am leaving for the front lines.
For your dear sake I am writing this farewell which you will read only
if I am killed. Let it be my good-by to father, to my brothers, and to
all those in the world who cared for me.
My heart in its love and gratitude to you has always brought its
holiest thoughts to you; and now it is to you that I make known my last
Many have loved me. To each of them give some little thing of mine in
remembrance of me, after you have laid aside all those that you care
for most. I wish that all who have loved me should possess something
of the friend that is gone to rise like a flame above the clouds, above
the flesh, into the sun, into the very soul of the universe.
Try, if you can, not to weep for me too much. Believe that even
though I do not come back to you, I am not dead. My body, the less
important part of me, suffers and dies; but not I myself--I, the soul,
cannot die, because I come from God and must return to God. I was made
for happiness and through suffering I must return to the everlasting
happiness. If I have been for a short time a prisoner in the body, I
am not the less eternal. My death is freedom, the beginning of the
real life, the return to the Infinite.
Therefore do not mourn for me. If you consider the immortal beauty of
the ideals for which my soul is willingly sacrificing my body, you will
not mourn. But if your mother heart must weep, let the tears flow; a
mother's tears are forever sacred. God will take account of them; they
will be the stars of a crown.
Be strong, little mother. From the great beyond, your son says
farewell to you, to father, to brothers, to all who have loved
him--your son, who has given his body in the fight against those who
would put out the light of the world.
So read the little mother of Enzo Valentini after the assault upon
Sano di Mezzodi. When his platoon charged he was the first to dash
from the trench giving courage to all who hesitated. Together they
made the mountains ring with the old Italian war cry, Savoia! Italia!
Enzo Valentini fell pierced by five pieces of shrapnel. They carried
him back to a grotto where the surgeons dressed his wounds.
A comrade says, We laid him down on the litter in the grotto, among
the great rocks, under the dark vault of the sky, his face upturned to
the stars. He was exhausted, and asked for a drink, and fainted. Then
they carried him to the hospital and I never saw him again. I have
been told they carried him down Mount Mesola to the side of the little
lake he loved so well, 'his little lake,' and that he sleeps there in
death. But for his comrades he is still living in the glory of his
youth, there on the Alps, waving his cap with an edelweiss in it, and
crying, 'Savoia! Italia!'
Wild wind! what do you bear--
A song of the men who fought and fell,
A tale of the strong to do and dare?
--Aye, and a tolling bell!