LONGARONE, Italy — U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF) participated in the 60th Anniversary of the Vajont Dam disaster observances in Longarone, Italy, on October 8th, 2023, and the Vajont Dam on October 9th, 2023.
The observances paid respects to the Italian lives lost in the flood and honored the heroism of the Italian and American first responders in the aftermath.
“Vajont is part of our shared history with our Italian hosts,” said SETAF-AF commanding general Maj. Gen. Todd R. Wasmund. “It’s a critical part of the legacy left for those Americans fortunate enough to be stationed here in the Veneto.”
On October 9th, 1963, at 10:39 pm, a catastrophic landslide fell into the Vajont Reservoir, triggering a mega-tsunami that flooded the Piave Valley below, claiming nearly 2,000 lives, leveling entire villages, and forever altering the landscape.
“The first rescuer I saw came in a U.S. Army helicopter,” said Giovanni De Lorenzi, Vajont Foundation Director and disaster survivor. “Those three helicopters evacuated all 486 people from my village. Even if it was a tragic day, I remember it with joy because those U.S. helicopters saved us.”
SETAF-AF, then Southern European Task Force, dispatched six U.S. Army 110th Aviation Company helicopters, the first aircraft on the scene, with medical supplies and Army Medical Corps personnel to assist with rescue efforts. SETAF-AF also established mobile hospitals and donated other equipment throughout the operation.
“Just as we did 60 years ago, SETAF-AF still stands ready as a crisis-response force,” said Wasmund.
On October 8th, SETAF-AF participated in a street naming ceremony for the Vajont rescuers, unveiling six 2.5-meter plaques with historical photos of the first responders. The street’s name, Viale Soccorritori Del Vajont, honors the Italian and U.S. first responders, and one plaque showcases a picture of a the U.S. helicopters landing in the valley.
“It’s important for SETAF-AF to be present and connect with our host nation in deep ways like at the Vajont 60th Anniversary,” said Capt. Emilie Anderson, the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion (HHBn) operations officer, SETAF-AF, who attended the ceremony. “Some of the Italian first responders have not talked to a U.S. servicemember since the disaster, so to hear their stories and be a reminder of the bond they forged with American Soldiers during such a dark time was very humbling.”
SETAF-AF Soldiers heard survivors’ stories, reinforcing the organization’s shared history with its Italian host.
“The American Soldiers arrived when we arrived, working day and night without stopping, always with those three helicopters in the sky,” said Parise Ferdinando, a retired Italian Army Soldier who aided in the rescue efforts. “They even donated lights to facilitate 24-hour operations. That really changed our opinion about the U.S. Army.”
On October 9th, SETAF-AF attended the official 60th anniversary ceremony at the Vajont Dam with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
“The United Nations has classified this event as one of the most serious man-made environmental disasters in history,” said President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella. “For this reason, 9 October has been designated by Parliament as ‘National Day in memory of the victims of man-made environmental and industrial disasters.’”
In the heart of Longarone, amid somber reflection, the 60th anniversary of the Vajont Dam tragedy serves as a reminder of the past, a chance to honor those who died and served, and a reaffirming commitment between the United States and Italy.
"The heroism displayed by Italian first responders and Soldiers from U.S. Army Southern European Task Force lives as an enduring example of the bonds between our countries,” said Wasmund.