Ninety-seven year old Colonel Nestor da Silva is a living witness of the Battle of Monte Castello one of the greatest achievements of the Brazilian Armed Forces during World War II. As a member of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (FEB), he participated in loco in the battle in north central Italy on February 21, 1945, almost exactly 70 years ago, when the allies conquered the region that had been dominated by German Nazis until then. “There were four unsuccessful attempts. On the fifth attempt we changed our strategy and managed to win,” explained the veteran colonel. The Army celebrated the 70th anniversary of the epic Brazilian victory in Brasília’s Military Police Battalion on February 20.
The ceremony honored the eternal “pracinhas” (enlisted Soldiers), the Brazilian veterans who fought in World War II. In addition to Colonel Nestor, 96-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Mario Raphael Vannutelli, 91-year-old Captain Vasco Duarte Ferreira, 96-year-old Captain Severino Francisco de Oliveira; and 89-year-old Lieutenant Vinicius Venus Gomes da Silva were there. The audience at the ceremony greeted them excitedly.
After singing the Expeditionary’s Hymn, the Army commander, General Eduardo Dias Villas Bôas, praised the veterans’ importance. “The Army is lucky to be able to revere these heroes. We’re lucky to be able to revere our “pracinhas”, our heroes. Our sincere thanks on behalf of the Ground Forces, those of yesterday, today, and always.” The ceremony ended with a parade in honor of the veterans.
A strategic victory
For Major Gilberto de Souza Vianna, Historical Section Chief of the War College, “the Battle of Monte Castello was proof of the FEB’s effectiveness on the Italian battlefields in World War II”. The historian also stated that the episode was strategic for the continuation of the Allie’s campaign to defeat the Nazis. “We, on our own, took the region. It was a valuable milestone,” he said.
Aa an Infantry parachutist, Colonel Nestor is proud to have beat “one of the greatest soldiers of the world – the German,” along with his friends. Another former FEB member, Artillery Lieutenant Colonel Vannutelli, said that their combat training was “last-minute, hard, and quick.” Even so, “the Expeditionary Force accomplished its mission”, stated the gunner.
If you talk to Colonel Nestor da Silva you won’t believe that his memory can be so sharp at 97. Among the many questions and admiration of the attendees, he cited details about the difficult task he performed in foreign lands.
“I had to endure 52 days without a bath, because it simply wasn't possible”, he said. “What we missed the most was the weather; we endured temperatures of 20 degrees below zero. Very cold. We got uniforms from the Americans and wore three layers, one on top of the other,” he added: “At that time, I was in my 20s. I was part of the 11th Mountain Infantry Battalion of São João del-Rei (Mato Grosso state). When I came back to Brazil, I married a girl whom I had met in São João del-Rei. I still have her by my side, and she's 81 years old.”
Regarding their training, Nestor talked in detail about the training they underwent prior to their deployment. Then, when they reached the city of Pisa, they received weapons and uniforms. Once on Italian soil, they spent “15 days of intense activities” until they deployed to the front . The colonel recalled that “more than 400 Brazilian soldiers lost their lives” during his time in World War II.
Tribute from the Ministry of Defense
The Brazilian Ministry of Defense also celebrated the 70th anniversary of Monte Castello’s takeover, the first FEB victory in World War II.
General Menander Garcia de Freitas, Brazilian Joint Staff Strategic Affairs chief, highlighted the importance of remembering the heroic deeds of these men and women. “Celebrating the history of a country is an irreplaceable part of our cultural education and allows our citizens to be proud of those who bequeathed the territory we have today”, he said.
Menander also reminded attendees of the skepticism that dominated the country at the time: “people used to say it was easier for a snake to smoke a pipe than for Brazil to take part in the war in Europe.”
As part of the IV U.S. Army Corps under the command of General Willis D. Crittenberger, the FEB took the mountain on February 21, 1945, making the Allied victory possible.
A total of 20,400 Germans were captured by Brazilian troops. General Menander was keen to highlight details about the Expeditionary Force, mainly, the dignified treatment they gave their opponents.
Another feature of the Brazilian troops was their respect for human dignity and for the local population. According to the General, the “pracinhas” had an Expeditionary Guidebook, which regulated troop behavior. “That attitude is a hallmark, even today, of Brazil’s cooperation in international peacekeeping missions.”
According to General Menander, the country’s participation in World War II left behind an important legacy for the country, including a strategic appreciation of the country’s northeast, the implementation of a national military doctrine, a renewed industrial mindset, and international recognition, since Brazil was the only country in Latin America to develop a military force against Nazism and fascism.