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Is-a time for leav-a (War stories ain't all alike)

Updated on February 6, 2013

Back when I was a teenager, my best friend was my schoolmate, Danny DeSanto. Over at his house one day, I got to talking with Danny's father. He told me how it was that he and his brother, Danny's uncle, had come to be in the United States.

War fever

Joe DeSanto and his younger brother, Francis, had enlisted in Mussolini's Italian army in the early 1930's. Their goal, like that of many other young Italian men, was to take part in adding the huge East African land of Ethiopia to Italy's already large colony in East Africa – a very nationalistic and seemingly heroic undertaking.

So, off to war they went.

Sort of like Goliath versus David all over again

Their foe was the Ethiopian army, ill-equipped and outdated, dedicated to their emperor and country, but not really able to effectively oppose the more modern Italian force sent against them. The Italians had tanks and aircraft, big cannons, lots of machine guns, and even poison gas bombs. The Ethiopians had clubs, spears, knives, and not all that many old-fashioned rifles.

The battles were rather unevenly matched.

Italian battle casualties could be counted in the hundreds, Ethiopia's by the thousands and multi-thousands. Still they fought. Their emperor, a man named Haile Salasse I (born Lij Tafari Makonnen), was also known as “The Lion of Judah.” He and his warriors were much like real lions – not likely to succeed against well-armed soldiers, but lion-hearted enough to keep on trying.

Needless to say, the war between Mussolini's troops and those of Haile Salasse did not go well for the Ethiopians. In short, the Italians had things rather easy. They'd find a bunch of Ethiopian fighters assembled and spoiling for a fight, and they'd simply send some tanks over that way to slam them with cannon fire. Sometimes they'd fly over and bomb them. If they had to, a company of Italians would wander by and machine gun them all. It was not pretty what was visited upon Haile Salasse's warriors.

War days – sleep nights

At night, the Italians would repair to their encampments, and after the evening meal, they'd sit around the campfires and have a pull on their tobacco pipes. By then, the African sun would hide out for the night. Into their tents would go the Italian troops. It was time for the sound sleep that was a necessary preparation for tomorrow's slaughter of more of Haile Salasse's men.

Here is the part of that brutal war that awakened Joe DeSanto and his brother, Francis to the wisdom and the full understanding that war is truly hell – but that even the devil can't hold you in a war once you know that.

Some of the DeSantos Brothers' soldier companions
Some of the DeSantos Brothers' soldier companions | Source

Joe's story follows

Joe and Francis awakened with the dawn. There was nothing going on outside of their tent other than complete silence. It was as though they had opened their eyes too early. Time to get out of the sack, anyway, so that is what they did.

Outside of their tent now, they looked about at the encampment. Nothing was moving. No men walking around the place. No breakfast fires yet started by the camp cooks. No officers or non-coms running here and there. Nothing. There was the rising sun, all bright and warm. The breeze was blowing, but not hard enough to be remarkable. What was going on here?

Joe opened the flap of the tent next to their tent. The two soldiers whose tent it was were still sprawled out in bed. Joe kicked one of them on his foot. He didn't move or grunt a sound. Joe looked at him more closely. His throat was cut. So, too, was the throat of the man who lay next to him.

Joe and Francis went from tent to tent. Every soldier's throat had been slashed. Joe and Francis were the only ones still alive and breathing in the entire encampment.

That's when Joe looked at Francis and told him that it was time for the two of them to leave this strange country and head for a better and safer place. Joe spoke to his brother in Italian, for that was the only language the two of them spoke at that moment of geographic epiphany.

When Danny's father told this story to me, he said it this way, sort of in Italian-English: “I say-a to Francis-a, 'This-a no place-a for a-you or-a me. Its-a time us leav-a.'”

According to Joe DeSanto, the two of them didn't stop until they got to the United States.


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    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 5 years ago from USA

      Hi Alastar -

      You are abundantly correct about the Italian campaign in Ethiopia.

      As to my friend's father and uncle, and according to his father, they considered that they were spared a throat-cutting so that they might spread the word among their fellow soldiers. Their own thought was to remove themselves from Ethiopia and "go over the hill" to better surroundings.

      Gus :-)))

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Few wars have seen such a lop-sided contest as The Duce's invasion of Ethiopia. And few are more brutal than savage guerrilla actions as Joe and Francis found out. Their epiphany led them in the right direction as things turned out. I wonder if preternatural protection was with them that night or if perhaps they were spared to tell others of the horrible mornings discovery- you know, lowering morale or something. Anyway great piece Gus- Up and very inter my friend.

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 5 years ago from USA

      Hi teaches12345 -

      It is interesting how one good story manufactures another story, isn't it. There were actually two generations of the DeSanto brothers - the ones who got out of Ethiopia and my friend Danny and his younger brother. Both generations showed great determination and gained fine success.

      Gus :-)))

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      What a great story of two determined young men. I admire their stamina under conditions of war.

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 5 years ago from USA

      Hi Kathi (Fossillady) - I am sure that you are correct that they lived the experience over and over for as long as they still were breathing. I never did talk to Danny's uncle about the events, but his papa telling me was quite enough. I was probably 15 years old at that time (like 65 years ago...), but perhaps I was only 14. I have never forgotten about it either, as you learned from the hub. The background information was all stuff that I learned from the history books, but the tale from Danny's father was straight-out stuff. Scary to listen to, and I do remember that, too. Thanks for reading about it.

      Gus :-)))

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 5 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Good evening Gus, Stunning story that I imagine stayed with the brothers for the rest of their lives! Somehow it was destiny that they escaped to tell it! How old were you when they told you?

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 5 years ago from USA

      Hi Patrick (Paddyboy) -

      Well, I think my friend's father was telling me the facts of his Ethiopian experience. Surely did sound reasonable to me that the two brothers would want to skedaddle out of there. Nothing quite like getting your Depends soaked when a whole encampment full of soldiers get their throats sliced except for "me and thee." I suppose that Mussolini didn't pay enough to make me want to try my luck some more... Glad you enjoyed their story.

      Gus :-)))

    • PADDYBOY60 profile image

      PADDYBOY60 5 years ago from Centreville Michigan

      That is quite a story Gus. I sure enjoyed it. Thanks.

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 5 years ago from USA

      Howdy Good Doctor bj (drbj) - That whole Haile Salasse thing is downright interesting. It's connection likely closer to your area than to mine is the business about Haile Salasse being considered by the Rastafarian folks to be one of their deities. After the Ethiopians had been thoroughly whipped, Mussolini ordered his generals to let Salasse leave the country into exile. The generals had wanted to bomb the escape train they knew Salasse was on. He wound up in several places of which the Middle East was the first. He also got to London. There's a whole lot to that tale. Gotta watch what is said about the guy, seeing as how he is a deity and all... Nothing quite like lionizing the Lion of Judah, right? :-)

      Just got the word from the Lion of the Kitchen. She allowed as how supper was ready.

      See you around the area...

      Gus :-)))

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      The brothers were very lucky to be spared, Gus. Interesting and very sobering story of war. I can remember seeing newsreels long, long ago in the theater of Haile Selasse and recall that he died in 1975. It was believed that he had been assassinated.

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 5 years ago from USA

      WND" (wetnosedogs" -

      Glad you liked to read this piece. It was fun remembering what Danny's father had told me so long ago. He had gone on to say that he believed that the Ethiopians had sneaked into the Italian encampment in the night, did their throat-slicing without making a sound, and left Joe and Francis alive to "spread the word" to the other Italian soldiers that the Ethiopians were "going to get them all..." Quite a memorable experience for my buddy's father and uncle, anyway.

      Gus :-)))

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 5 years ago from Alabama

      Amazing those two were unharmed and actually able to leave to safer grounds. Good hub to read.