A Wish Granted from a Fallen Soldier

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A WISH GRANTED FROM A FALLEN SOLDIER

By Neeka Matthews
Photo by the author


J School student Neeka Matthews returns to a Florentine square that was dear to her grandfather, a WWII soldier who kept a diary of his thoughts and stories before departing for war.

 

“24-8-1939: To estimate the time I have left in my home, before being stationed to Germany is uncertain. During my years growing up in Florence, I have come quite accustomed to writing my letters of adoration to those I love, in the heart of Piazza della Signoria. Sitting on the steps of Loggia dei Lanzi, I see the statue of Hercules and Cacus, created by Baccio Bandinelli, but today I see it in a new perspective. I hope to overcome this war with the feeling of victory, just as the Medici family felt as this statue symbolized their renewal to power after their return to exile. Piazza della Signoria was joyous when I was a kid. Prior to World War I, I would come sit in this very spot of Loggia dei Lanzi, watching as locals cross paths with old friends, ride their bikes to their next destination, scold their children as they had run off with pastries hidden under their coats, trying with all of their power to engulf the goods before they were caught. There was never a moment of irregularity, and it was perfectly chaotic. It has not been that way since the beginning of the first World War, but I hope one day it will return to its original bearings. May the Lord bless my family, and I, and give me the strength to end victoriously just as the statue of Hercules and Cacus depicts. If I were to never see Piazza della Signoria again, I pray that the offspring of my family will.”

Seventy-six years has passed since this letter was written, and it is finally my turn to seek the place in which my grandfather spent one of his last days in peace. From thinking of the details he described of Piazza della Signoria from when he was growing up, I had many curiosities as to whether or not his descriptions would contest to reality.

My first moments standing on the steps of Loggia dei Lanzi were surreal. I felt an instant connection to the grandfather I never met, and was mesmerized by the statue of Hercules and Cacus. I sat there, staring at this statue, trying to understand the anxiety, and unease my grandfather must have been feeling, but the statue suddenly transcended my thoughts into reconciliation.

How might one feel overlooking a place where harmony was intact, and then was no longer? How could my grandfather request the feeling of victory post war, in a place where his initial memories were overtaken by the negative effects of war and combat? I cannot ask my grandfather these questions, but can only take something away from the art and historical culture left in this place.

I observed the locals and tourists wandering through Piazza della Signoria, and strongly believe my grandfather would be comforted by the current routine. People from all over come to visit the statues, artwork, and history behind such a revolutionary area, but I believe they are doing so for the tranquility felt from connecting to those who stood there before them.


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