Though military veterans of the United States of America liberated others worldwide at immense sacrifice, a little told American story is the unique liberation of the Tuscan people by the Buffalo Soldiers of WWII. After the War ended, these courageous men were sent home to a 'Jim Crow' America. Italian history is strikingly different.
The impoverished, starving Tuscans feel as if they owe their lives to the Buffalo Soldiers, whom they lovingly dubbed 'Giganti Buoni' (Good Giants). An Italian eyewitness said, “They came down the mountain and freed us, and took care of us.”
Ivan J. Houston (June 15, 1925 - March 1, 2020), who was himself wounded in WWII, served in the Segregated 92nd Infantry Division, which bravely fought and pushed the German Nazis and Italian Fascists back behind The Gothic Line. Tragically, these "Black Warriors" were also forced to fight the U.S. Army’s institutionalized racism, and even individual racist White officers who did not want them to succeed.
“That was just the way the Army was,” says Mr. Houston, retired CEO of one of America’s largest African American-owned corporations. Between 1945 and 2011, Mr. Houston returned many times to Italy, meeting the Pope, revisiting his battlefields of old, and honoring his fallen comrades at the Florence-American Cemetery.
Then, after writing the book, "Black Warriors: The Buffalo Soldiers of WWII," with Gordon Cohn, Mr. Houston was introduced by chance to many, many Italian Re-enactors who treated him with warmth and respect. Through the hospitality of a gracious Italian woman, Mattea Piazzesi, a unique bond was formed between two families, the Houston's and the Piazzesi's. Ms Piazzesi had discovered Mr. Houston via his book.
Mr. Houston investigated missing casualty records with the help of local historians, who found the culprit was General Edward Almond, the racist commander (a fact acknowledged by the U.S. War College), who sent an African American Regiment into deadly battle without warning them to expect a heavy Nazi attack. This caused heavy casualties, which Almond then covered up.
The documentary film, With One Tied Hand tells the stirring story of how Tuscan gratitude is finally shown to Mr. Houston, who on behalf of all Buffalo Soldiers is paraded and celebrated on a loving, yearly reenactment of the Liberation of Lucca, the 500-year-old walled city. The film also reveals moving personal stories from surviving eyewitnesses and their families.
“I think this is the only instance in history where African-Americans have liberated another people,” Mr. Houston concludes.