Sept. 7, 1943: In the midst of World War II’s Italian campaign, a former Maine governor, William Tudor Gardiner, takes part in a secret mission to meet with Italian generals before the Italians strike an armistice with the United States.
Italian forces smuggle Gardiner, then a U.S. Army colonel, and Army Brig. Gen. Maxwell Taylor, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division artillery, into Rome, making it appear to onlookers that they are ordinary prisoners of war. Taylor and Gardiner confer with Italian military leaders, who have lost control of much of their country to the Germans in the wake of dictator Benito Mussolini’s fall from power in July.
The Italians’ description of their inability to hold Rome if the Germans attack prompts the Americans to send a coded message by radio to their superiors, advising them to call off a U.S. plan to drop 82nd Airborne Division troops on Rome to assist the Italians, given the Germans’ overwhelming military presence around Rome. The flights carrying the 82nd airborne troops are launched anyway, but they are called back in time to avert a military disaster.
The next day, in quick succession, the Italian government capitulates to the Americans, but the Germans occupy Rome, which they hold for nearly a year.
Gardiner returns from his secret mission unscathed. Ten years later, he dies when a plane he is flying over Pennsylvania explodes and crashes, killing him and two passengers.
Sept. 7, 1958: Seven people die in a crash involving an empty chemical tank truck and a car in Richmond. The crash, which causes the highest traffic accident death toll in Maine history up to that point, wipes out a family of four in the car and all but one member of another family, a boy who is ejected from the car.
Police say the car’s driver failed to stop at a stop sign, causing the car to strike the truck, which tipped over onto the car, crushing the occupants.
Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]