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.