Proud To Be An American

by Dick Ruzzin, September 11, 2020

One month after 911, I landed at the airport in Milan, Italy. I was there for Michelin to pick out show cars for their display at the North American International Auto Show the following January. I came out of the security area with my small bag and looked around. A small airport and not a lot of people around. I had to get into town to meet my traveling companion from Michelin the next day, he would have a car for our travels.

I saw a few cabs, they were very expensive and there was a bus parked in front of them. It was empty but ready to leave in a few minutes. Tickets were purchased inside at a small counter so I bought one and boarded. It was about ten in the morning, a beautiful Italian day, sunny and warm.

The bus was empty. The driver was a pleasant looking young man in his mid-thirties, he was wearing a cap and a light shirt. I said “Hello”, gave him my ticket and sat down in the front seat on the right side of the aisle and started to relax.

“Are you English?” the driver asked. Then, for the first time in my life I hesitated to say that I was from the USA. The attack on New York only one month earlier left everyone a bit worried about our future. I was in a strange country and did not know what would happen, what the political climate would be here in Italy to an American, what response I would get from this young Italian..

“American,” I said.

He nodded and we started off. Once we got on the Autostrada, he looked at me and started to speak. “Yes,” he said, “America.” Again I wondered if being alone on this bus was a good idea.

“The people that hurt your country were very bad people. Others in the world do not think of America as they do. All Italians cry for America. America is a very good country, and all Italians are very sorry that this terrible thing happened to America.”

I relaxed a little but was surprised at what came next.

“My Grandfather was in the war, he was captured by the Americans. When the war was over they brought him home to our town in a big truck. He was wearing nice clothes, and he had a bag full of food. When he spoke of it he had tears in his eyes. He was told terrible stories about
 the Americans, how badly he would be treated, and that he must not be captured. He was wounded and captured and he thought he would die a terrible death. He expected the worst would happen to him. Instead it was not so. His wounds were treated and he was given food and clothing, even medicine to take home with him. What he remembered the most was the kindness.

“When the war was finished Italy was very broken. Bombing and fighting left much destruction. The Americans came to help rebuild our country. They brought everything: food and plants, seeds to grow food, and even some seeds so that we could have flowers. They brought machines to clear the destruction and help us to start over as free people. They freed us…”

I was stunned, I had not known what to expect.

“Where did you learn this?” I asked.

“In my school,” he said. All Italians are taught about the great goodness of America.”

I did not know what to say. My own father, an Italian immigrant had fought in the war, and I remember him telling stories to my aunt and uncle about what he saw in Italy, and how she openly cried. I had heard of our Marshall Plan and what we did to rebuild Europe and Japan. How we helped China when the Japanese were trying to take them over before WW2. 

I had never heard what it all meant to someone on the other side. In a short half hour I had a history lesson that I would remember forever.

Dick Ruzzin, Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan USA.

18 Comments
  1. Martin Eichorn

    Thank you for sharing on the 19th anniversary of 9/11.

  2. john manoogian II

    Thanks, Richard for that. Everyone remembers exactly where they were that fateful day. What a great story. Hard to believe it was 19 yrs ago.

  3. wow, very moving I’m in tears

  4. Wonderful story. I remember how united the world was after the attack. Seeing the Canadian Royal Mountie with tears in his eyes. I still have on the side of my studio wall the large vinyl sign proclaiming “United we stand”.

    What a different world now.

  5. Hi Dick,
    Thanks for sharing this heartwarming and insightful story. A treasured memory to have and to know about. John
    John M. Mellberg

  6. Fotios

    Nice experience.
    You were lucky it was not hot and humid or densely foggy in Milan!
    As for how others feel about America, well, I came back to Greece after a few decades in NJ and I met few people who admired it and many who expressed their envy and hatred for America. I had my way of shutting their mouth and leaving them speechless and still do so but they were mostly day-dreaming leftists.
    Anyway, I realized that America to them is always bad until they need it.

  7. Thank you, A great memory for everyone to read.

  8. Ron Will

    Thanks Dick for sharing this story of what America does in its finest hour and should always strive for. Nineteen years ago we lived in New Jersey and saw the smoke from the fallen towers. Today we live in Arizona and see the smoke from the terrible fires in California. As in the wars and these tragedies here, we Americans will always come out strong.

  9. I want to thank Gary for putting my story on the site.
    I was already retired from GM Design and doing consulting for Michelin whn 911 happened..

    I want to especially thank him for putting that image of our flag in front of us whenever we sign on. It is crtainly one of the greatest graphic design marks ever created and I always enjoy seeing it for many reasons.

    I seriously encourage everyone who sees it and enjoys Gary’s hard work to participate and tell all of us about a special American event in their lives.

    God Bless America.
    Dick Ruzzin

  10. Stan Mott

    I got firsthand experience with Communism behind The Iron Curtain in “The Worker’s Paradise” in Budapest, Hungary in 1962. That was 6 years after the Hungarian Revolution. That was the one the Russians crushed by sending in tanks and machine gunning people in the streets. Crowds always gathered around when I stopped my gokart. When they discovered I’m American they became genial. One particular young woman, in her 20s, said she had relatives in Omaha, Nebraska. She hoped that America would never give up the fight to free Hungary from Communism, e.g. Russian dictatorship. I told her we would never stop until we won. I will never forget her hopeful smile, with tears in her eyes. That sounds like a bad TV script, but it actually happened, which gives it power. And it makes me feel as proud to be an American now as it did 58 years ago. To that I can only add that until any lefty fascist American lives under a real-world dictatorship, as in Russia and China, he or she can shut their pie holes.

  11. Bob,
    We have never met but thank you for that story. Living out of the USA for five years and after five trips to China I can tell you that the best country in the world is right here.

    It was wonderful to meet other Americans when in Europe. Our demeaner is different becaues we know we have a country behind us and we know that others will step up to help when we need it.

    I saw another version of the Mustang story with more significant detail and I can really see how that could happen.

    Best,
    Dick Ruzzin

  12. Thanks for posting this Gary.

  13. John Parrillo

    Very nice story Dick –
    I’ve lived, studied in and returned to Italy many times since the 60s, (including during the Cuban missile crisis) with similar positive experiences especially after 911. It is understandable that you were initially concerned as there are often mixed reactions to Americans in Europe but generally Italians view us positively and many still appreciate and some remember our liberation of Italy in WW2.
    These are very difficult times for both America and Italy now and I look forward to a more normal virus-free time and returning to Rome soon – as a proud American indeed

  14. Great story, thanks for sharing !

  15. Gregory Ruzzin

    Hello Dad,

    Thanks for sharing this story…I remember that moment well as I was in Maine teaching a film directing seminar with many New Yorkers in my class. You were in Europe with Mom for the Frankfurt Auto Show when suddenly my teaching assistant – a ruddy faced kid with a weird sense of humor – rushed into the room and said that the World Trade Center had been attacked. We thought he must be joking until we saw that he was white as a sheet. We gathered around a TV and watched, live, as the second tower was hit and collapsed.

    In shock I asked my students what they wanted to do – we were all essentially strangers far from home – and together we decided that instead of returning alone to our empty rooms we would press on with our seminar, would keep working on what had brought us together.

    Some of my friends later accused me of being callous for continuing my class but I don’t regret the decision. In that moment we needed each other, and we also felt the need to remain committed to all that had brought us together in Maine. We could not let the terrorists defeat that impulse, the American impulse to learn, to grow, and to work towards a better world. We don’t always get it right but we keep on striving, no matter the obstacles, and it is this – among other things – that I love so much about our country and our people.

    Thanks again for sharing your Milan story and thanks to all who have commented and shared their own memories of that time. Be well, all, and thank you Gary for sharing my Dad’s story with your readers and community. I love your site and visit it often. – Greg Ruzzin

  16. Sheldon Payne

    Inspiring story, Dick. Thanks for sharing that with us.

  17. Norman Gaines Jr.

    I was in NYC on 9/11. That year, I attended the California Hot Rod Reunion. There was a Twilight Ceremony there, and a man sang Amazing Grace, dedicating it to that date. It was then that I realized that 9/11 wasn’t just Washington DC, New York and Shanksville PA – it was America. Many of you won’t know this, but crime caved after 9/11. It stayed down for almost two years, look it up. New York City was a vastly different place after that, and only became different a few years ago. This was a great story.

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