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by Italo Pizzo

To deliver the coup de grace was the fourth bomb. It hit Shooting Tower 2 and opened a huge gash in the ship.
We of engine room 261, sealed in the hull by an incandescent hatch that opened from the outside, were swept into the sea.
It was 3.55 pm on 9 September 1943, at the Strait of Bonifacio.
Instinct drove me away from that hell where mountains of steel sank in a terrifying tumult, where everything ruined against me and floated and disappeared.
The senses were dulled by the excruciating pain that came from the battered muscles, from all over the body.
I still didn't feel the cold, I had no thoughts, my mind rejected the horror and fear.
Later I would think of my comrades, of Commander Adone Del Cima who, together with Admiral Bergamini, had died at the command post, in his tower melted by the heat of the explosion.
Now the image that occupied my mind - perhaps in defense of the sufferings of the castaway trying to survive - was that of Phoebus, the upturned-tailed mongrel mascot: I had really seen that white wad, stained with black, one eye gray , floundering in the whirlpools not far from me?
I was not ashamed to worry about a dog, it allowed me not to be overwhelmed by the tragedy of which I was a small, desperate part.
Now I also felt the cold, I did not delude myself in feeling the pain fade: hypothermia gave me a brief respite, but only before I finished.
Maybe I was crying, how to know in that sea of tears and blood?
It was the destroyer Machine gunner   who saved me.
One of the many lighthouses still looking for survivors in the incipient night had finally spotted me.
Together with the Rifleman, the Carabiniere and the cruiser Attilio Regolo they had rescued all the survivors and now they were taking them to the port of Mahon, in the Balearic Islands: another 60 would have died from their injuries and from staying at sea in those conditions. .
The machine gunner's rescuers had also saved Phoebus.
It was in Mahon that I saw him again. With his cheerful surrender, trotting on his slender legs, he ran to meet me to have a caress.
When the order came to transfer our group to the mainland, in Caldas de Malavella, the animal followed us to boarding, then on the transport to the reception camp in Catalonia.
He never went away and was ready to rush to the call of each of us, sailors of the Battleship Roma.
He knew how to distinguish us from everyone else, we were his family.
And for us that funny little dog was a symbol of the feeling that would always tie us to our beautiful ship, the most powerful in the Italian fleet, and to our companions who had given their lives on it.
It was winter when the news finally arrived: the cruiser Montecuccoli was waiting for us in Gibraltar to take us home.
With a translation we had to cross all of Spain: Barcelona, Saragoza, Madrid, then down to Alcazar of Toledo and to Alchesiras.
The journey was endless, the stages endless.
Whenever the train stopped, Phoebus was the first to jump to the ground, to look for a bush and trot a little. He was also the first to jump on the train as soon as the whistle of the locomotive announced the new departure.
After four days of travel we were coming, there were only a few hours to board.
One last stop, the last whistle to call and just then Febo was surprised: he was unable to jump on this last convoy which had taken too much speed.
He ran, ran again and was exhausted. He stood on the tracks looking towards us, with a funny face and a melancholy, sad, bewildered look.
Many of us, and I among them, were turned to look back - desperately - that strange stain on the sleepers, that little being that gradually became a point in the distance, between the tracks that met in a long black line.
That was the image that remained to me of Spain.
And I wept, I wept also for Phoebus, a cry of liberation for all the terrible tragedy that I had been experiencing for too long, together with my dead or surviving companions, together with all the Italians.

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