Memorial set for 25 WWII US soldiers lost in Italian lake

AP News
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Posted: Apr 29, 2016 1:41 AM

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A trio of U.S. Army veterans has teamed up to establish a memorial in Italy to the 25 American soldiers who drowned in an Alpine lake when their amphibious vehicle sank during World War II.

The marble monument is being dedicated in the northern Italian village of Torbole on Saturday, the 71st anniversary of the sinking of the vehicle known as a DUKW (pronounced duck). The dead included 24 soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division and a 25th soldier from another unit.

The vehicle sank on the night of April 30, 1945, after a storm blew up while they were crossing Lake Garda during the last days of fighting in Europe. Their bodies were never recovered. A 26th soldier survived the sinking. Army officials later determined the DUKW was overloaded.

The monument bears the names of the 25 soldiers, along with the insignia of the 10th Mountain Division, based in northern New York since the mid-1980s.

The memorial is being established through the efforts of three Vietnam-era Army Ranger veterans — Rick Tscherne, Perry Doerr and Ron Hundell — and Ben Appleby, a British ex-pat who teaches school near Torbole. Tscherne and Doerr live in northern Italy, while Hundell lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The group started an online fundraising campaign to help cover the $5,000 cost of the monument. Among the donors was Mary Morrison-Kinnear of Phoenix, Arizona. Her uncle, Pvt. William C. Morrison Jr., of Terre Haute, Indiana, was among the fallen soldiers.

Born a year after her uncle died, Morrison-Kinnear didn't hear much family talk about the uncle everyone called Billy. Her grandparents, devastated by the loss, rarely discussed their son in front of others.

"There was so little news about what happened that my grandparents always felt that my uncle was alive someplace," Morrison-Kinnear said in a phone interview.

In 2012, a group that uses sonar to search Lake Garda for wrecks found the DUKW lying in 900 feet of water. The group hopes someday to recover the vehicle, something the U.S. military has said it has no plans to do.

The memorial is the second in Torbole that Tscherne and Appleby have helped create. Last year, they dedicated a monument to Col. William O. Darby, who helped form the Army Rangers during WWII. Darby was killed on April 30, 1945, when a German artillery shell landed in Torbole's plaza. His memorial and the new monument will be across the plaza from one another.