“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

A Long Day into Italy: Over the Brenner Pass

Roland had brought a colleague to the Innsbruck train station for us to meet. He had worked with Jakob Mayer for many years on crash site archaeology and research. Both had begun their tutelage years ago under Keith Bullock, their mentor. (More about Bullock in a post to come.)
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I was happy to meet Jakob. As Roland’s long-time colleague, I knew he understood very well the feelings and thoughts when a family member or crash survivor unexpectedly learned of the crash site, made the trip to see the site or a piece of the aircraft, and was determined to learn more details of what happened.
Because of Hertz’s upcoming screw up,  Jakob, Roland, and I would have a chance to visit the crash site of a U.S. B-17 Flying Fortress, “Priority Gal,” on the outskirts of Innsbruck, right where some skiing competitions of the 1972 Winter Olympics had been held. Jakob was one of the prime movers in having that site made a memorial and in finding – as unlikely as it was – the surviving pilot of that bomber.
Before returning home, I would have a much better understanding of the work and dedication that goes into unraveling the mystery of a U.S. aircraft downed in World War II enemy territory.
Meanwhile I had gotten a text from Susan saying that she would arrive at the train station shortly, so we waited. Then, pulling luggage behind us, we all walked over to the Grand Hotel Europa to talk, drink coffee, and eat Austrian desserts. Everyone seemed to know Jakob, who is in real estate in Innsbruck. Roland and I had to walk across the street to the Hertz office to get a car.
 We met Roland (back) and his colleague Jakob Mayer at the Innsbruck train station
Number Two to Hertz
And I don’t mean the number 2; I mean the other one. When we got to the door, it was locked. We banged in case someone was in the back. No one. We looked at the hours and sure enough, they closed at 5 p.m. It was about 5:20. “But I called them earlier and told them you’d be here,” said Roland. So there we stood. No car. They knew I was coming, so what was the problem here? I knew Roland had a small European car, but I didn’t know about Jakob’s. Guess what. It was also very small. The price of gas in Europe motivate people to buy small cars.
Back at the hotel and ordering more coffee, we tried to be rational and figure out what to do. I got out my paperwork and we called Hertz International, which I had tried to do before we left home. I had needed to know if we would be able to use the car charger plug in the rented car. In a curt manner and bored tone, the person on the other end said, “I don’t know.” Pause, as I tried to process; after all it was Hertz International. Then, “You’ll have to call the office where you’re picking up the car.” Funny thing about the office where I was to pick up the rental car.
“Surely you’re kidding,” I said back.
No, she wasn’t. That whole conversation seemed really stupid. Now it seemed even stupider. And, believe me, the Hertz stupidness would become a debacle in Munich before we left on our return trip for home.
The next decision wasn’t Flexibility: It was Physics. How were we going to get all of us and all of our luggage into the two small cars? The answer was, “We just are.” We did, but by the hair of our chinny-chin-chin.
Jakob had made dinner reservations in a restaurant he knew well, off the autobahn but well up into the Alps. It was dusk, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to see the views over the historic Brenner Pass, which marks the border between Austria and Italy. I had heard my mother and father talk about the Pass many times, especially when we lived in Munich after World War II (see previous posts) and they traveled to Italy. (Images of the Pass.) The Pass has been in use since the European Ice Age. It was a well-used route for the Romans and invading Germanic Tribes; during WWII, Hitler and Mussolini met here after agreeing to a treaty that lured Italy into the Axis countries against the Allied Forces. The carrot for Mussolini was land; the stick would have been an invasion into Italy. He could keep the Tyrolean lands that the despised Treaty of Versailles ending World War I had turned over to Italy. The irony of course is that the Fascists and Nazism were already in Italy, and Hitler was not known for keeping agreements.
(Here is a fun, but long, YouTube video that puts you in the vehicle driving the autobahn between Italy and Innsbruck. If you agree, give the videographer a thumbs up.)
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When we left the Trinfer Hof it was dark; the clarified air invited you to skip to the car, and I think Joanna Leigh in fact skipped. We stuffed ourselves back into the cars and got back on the autobahn. Once over the Pass we were in Italy, in the South Tyrol, Italy’s northern most province, its summer and winter playground, well known to Europeans and little known in the U.S.
After about 20 minutes or so, I saw the exit: Sterzing (German)-Vipiteno (Italian). In the past two years, after getting that first e-mail from a then-stranger, Roland Domanig, I studied maps of this area many, many times, and I knew we would turn right off the autobahn here, in the South Tyrol. Dark became darker and we could not see this town of Sterzing-Vipiteno that dates to the Romans. It is located at the junction of three Alpine passes, including Brenner, and became an important medieval trading post and mining town. It grew rich on silver from nearby mines until the 16th century. Many burger homes dating from that time are still standing.
 (Before) I had trout at the Trinfer Hof                                    (After)
The South Tyrol—Südtirol
This area has a complicated history with a mostly happy ending. Its current social, cultural, and political stability is relatively new, dating from the 1960s and 1970s. If you ever decide to visit this part of Italy, here are some introductory facts that explain the area:
1. Currently, this gorgeous land sees nearly 6 million tourists each year, but has only 500,000 residents.
2. The population is comprised of three general cultural/ethnic groups most easily identified by their language: not quite three-fourths speak German, about one-fourth Italian, and less than five percent, Ladin (the language of the indigenous population of South Tyrol dating from the Romans).
3. Its political make-up stayed in a state of flux after World War I, when the infamous Treaty of Versailles took the South Tyrolean lands from the Austrian monarchy and turned them over to Italy, with the Brenner Pass being the border. This move explains the large percentage of German-speaking people. The Fascists took control in 1922, and Mussolini initiated a forced migration of Italians to this northern-most province, explaining the smaller percentage of Italian-speaking people, even though it’s located in Italy. His demands included the Germans having to give up their identity by not speaking the language, not dressing in traditional German clothes, and by banishing German teachers, political administrators, and other officials.
4. Then in 1939 Hitler demanded that the South Tyrolean people choose between returning to the Reich or staying, thereby giving up their German identity to become Italian citizens.
5. After WWII, at the demand of the Allied Forces, Austria and Italy signed the Paris Treaty designed to afford the South Tyrol special considerations in determining its social, cultural, and political identity. Nothing was implemented until the 1960s when the area saw violence erupting because of these differences.
6. Finally, in 1972 an agreement known as the Second Autonomy was signed by Vienna, Rome, and the Bozen Province, giving the different groups making up the population equal rights and protections. By 1992 under the watch of the United Nations, all the measures were implemented.

Today, the Südtirol is a stable and autonomous area of Italy. The population of 500,000 has a high birth rate, a low death rate, a very high life expectancy (80+ years for men, 85+ years for women), a low unemployment rate (a little more than 3%), a long history, an extremely varied and beautiful landscape, and fabulous summer and winter activities for the six million tourists who vacation in the area every year.
The South Tyrol and Sterzing-Vipiteno would have particular significance for my father in 1945.
Next stop, the Sonklar Hof where we would spend the next five days.

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