The 85-year-old South Venice, Fla. man was a machine gunner who served as a sergeant during World War II in the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, a Canadian unit. He and 10 of his buddies from the old unit, wearing their red berets and blue blazers, went back to central Sicily to see the cliff they took away from the Herman Goering Regiment.
Mountenay and his regiment had to scale the 1,100-foot cliff in the dark. They had to do it quietly, so as not to alert the sentries at the top. Then they had to dispatch the German guards without alerting anyone, then surprise and attack one of the enemy’s elite divisions that was holding the cliff.
They succeeded valiantly, and Mountenay did it while hauling a machine gun up the mountainside in the dark.
The Hastings and Prince Edward Regimental Association members, of which Mountenay is a member, meets annually in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, to commemorate their WW II experiences. He hasn’t missed a meeting in 25 years.
Anyway, the group decided to go back this year and visit the site of their regiment’s high-water mark during World War II. Last month, 11 of the members of the unit who took part in the battle for Assoro, together with 80 current soldiers in the unit and a number of relatives, made the seven-day trip to Sicily and Italy. They were accompanied by reporters and photographers from three Canadian daily newspapers who recorded their trip. There were 112 people in the group total.
Mountenay’s son, Ronald, who also lives in South Venice, and his cousin, Bill Mountenay, from Canada, went on the excursion with him.
After a 10 1/2-hour flight from Toronto, Canada, to Rome, the group flew on to Catania, Sicily, and went to a hotel there, which they used as a home base. The first day they visited the beach where the unit first landed in Sicily. They erected a bronze plaque on the beach commemorating their landing.
The next day they visited the Canadian World War II cemetery at Agira, Sicily. There are almost 500 Canadian soldiers buried in this cemetery. They held a short ceremony to remember their fallen comrades.
On their second day in Sicily, they went to visit the hillside town of Assoro. It was an experience Mountenay said he will never forget.
“We got a beautiful reception from everybody in the town. They all came out to greet us, and the mayor gave all 11 of us plaques to commemorate the occasion. He made us honorary citizens of Assoro,” Mountenay said with a smile.
Then they took mini-buses up the narrow road leading to the top of the cliff where the remains of King Robert II’s 12th-century Norman castle still stand. They put up another bronze plaque noting that the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment had taken the stronghold by force more than six decades earlier.
“We had a little ceremony on the top of the cliff with bagpipes and flags flying. The bunch of us sang ‘Oh Canada’ and ‘Amazing Grace,'” he said.
“There was a Sicilian gentleman talking to one of the young Canadian soldiers after the ceremony. He walked over and said, ‘Do you remember me?’ Of course I didn’t.
“Then he said, ‘Goat!’ Right then I knew who he was. He had been a young boy with a goat we met in the valley who walked part of the way with us just before we scaled the cliff. Today he is 77.”
Both his son and his cousin thought the trip was great. On the return home, Roland told his father, “‘Dad, I never realized what you guys went through.’
“For 62-years I’ve been trying to figure out how we scaled that cliff in the dark. I finally got a chance to go back and take a look at it during the day, and I still don’t know how we did it,” the old soldier said.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Oct. 31, 2005 and is republished with permission.
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