At the end of World War II, more than 79,000
soldiers were still missing and presumed dead.
My uncle, Sgt. James Savorski of the 36th engineers, was listed as missing in action on May 25, 1944 at Anzio. Some time after the war he was declared dead, killed in the line of duty. There’s a picture of him visiting us on leave. Tall and thin and 23 in his uniform, balancing me on his right shoulder. I am fat, bald and ten months old, and my name is Robert Svenson. My mother, his sister Agnes, 24 and very pretty, is smiling with her arm around his waist. I wish that hairstyle would come back.
I learned from my father that Jim had been a real hell-raiser as a boy. I suppose there’s an uncle like this in a lot of families, but what makes Jim unusual is that in August 1987, two months after my mother died, I got a Christmas card from him. It was a bright Italian card with a chubby Gesu Bambino in his mother’s arms on the front. Inside, across from the big BUON NATALE greeting, were these words:
Very sorry about Agnes, your mother and my sister. I thought the world of her. I think she liked me and that wasn’t easy. I ought to be dying shortly, so I guess you’ll be getting my stuff. The cash anyway. Hope you like the picture on the front. That’s how I remember you.
Your Uncle Jim Savorski
The 45th Nail Description:
A Christmas card from Italy arrived on Robert Svenson’s desk. There was no return address, but when Bob opened the card, it was signed by his uncle, James Savorski. Nice, except for the fact that Uncle Jim was declared MIA back in ’44. Forty years later he’s sending solid gold Etruscan amulets for Christmas presents? Bob resolved to travel to Italy to see if he could find his long lost uncle.
How does one find a dead man in Italy without knowing the language or having an address? All Bob knew was that losing his luggage and his money the first night in Rome didn’t help. Then he found himself picking his way through a minefield of old scars and memories of war. Along the way he journeys through Italy’s art and its incredible archaelological treasures, its history and people. A tale of war and mines and other things buried underground and even deeper—in the hearts of those who lived those years.
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