11 November, 2007


The Portal
4.75" x 4.5"
Casey Klahn

The story of this graphite work of a tiny outbuilding in North Italy is a dear and personal one. My late father, Kenneth Klahn, fought in a battle here in WWII as a member of the elite 10th Mountain Division. This little building was adjacent to a tram that was installed during the battle, and it served as the temporary mausoleum for dead soldiers of both sides. I visited the site with veterans of the 10th, and snapped a photo of this historic structure that I had seen in the history books all of my life.

In my drawing, the uneven ground of the Apennine Mountains is evident as our vine-bordered pathway leads down and past the evacuation point structure, through the wooded opening beyond, and then upward to the heights of the rock escarpment Americans call Riva Ridge. For the men of the Mountain Division, this was their first battle of the war, and a portal to their experiences in combat. For the wounded and dead, a different kind of portal. Did their souls rise on high from this very spot?

School children from an Italian Hill Town (Gaggio Montano), some wearing pins honoring the American veterans, sing their national anthem and remember WWII.

The heroes of the Tenth Mountain Division on a reunion trip to Italy.

A son (your author) and a daughter of veterans of the battles in North Italy lay a wreath in the waters of Lake Garda to honor the fallen who perished in and around this large Alpine lake.

When I was a younger man, and as a youth, the veteran was a guy who fought in World War II. The reason, of course, is that the generation preceding my own was that generation upon whose shoulders it fell to serve in that great conflagration. Now-a-days, the number of men who have served in the armed forces has dwindled tremendously. Attrited by age, and smaller armies in the post-war era.

Don't think for a moment that these men (yes, and a great number of women who donned the uniform) served so that you would remember them. They served out of an old fashioned thing called obligation. And patriotism. Look it up in the dictionary. It has to do with ideas and values greater than your own self and your self existence. It has to do with love of your family and your neighbor and that includes your whole country of neighbors. The catch phrase was "way of life", and it has more than an arbitrary or abstract meaning.

That selflessness and humility is what stands out for me about my elder veterans. On this Veteran's Day I honor the recent returnees from the world war we are involved in now, and I remember vaguely that I wore the uniform part-time for ten years as a National Guardsman, but mostly I think of my own father's service in Italy in the Second World War.

World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.
Tenth Mountain Division of WWII.
Google Map of the Riva Ridge area. (working on this...)


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your service - and for this post.

- a mother of a deployed soldier

Casey Klahn said...

And thank you for your part as well.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your personal story. It opened up my heart. Those soldiers souls surely did rise up.


Casey Klahn said...

Thanks, Julia.

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