by Gene Cowan
After World War II ended, a number of us stayed in Italy on occupation duty. and began publishing a weekly newspaper that we called The Foggia Occupator.
One afternoon, I was walking down the main street of Foggia when I found myself surrounded by angry marching demonstrators. Marches were not unusual. Italians marched in religious parades, political parades and apparently parades just for the hell of parading. But this time the marchers were combative and carried signs saying, "Pane e Lavoro" (bread and work).Some marchers were swinging clubs, and others were stopping trucks and beating up the drivers. The belligerent crowd was friendly enough toward Americans in uniform, so I asked a demonstrator what was going on. He explained that, even though people were starving here in southern Italy, those bastards in the north were shipping grain out of the country to get higher prices, and the demonstrators were going to put a stop to that.
That was a story I wanted to cover, but it needed pictures. I ran back to our office to look
for our contract photographer but couldn't find him or his camera. Damn! I wasn't going to miss
this one. I searched around and found a K-20 aerial camera on a shelf. It was a heavy blunderbuss that looked liked a small steel pig. On the left of its snout was a handle and on the right, a lever, like a slot machine. You aimed the snout, cranked the slot-machine lever to move the film and pulled a trigger to click the shutter. It had been used to take bomb-strike photographs from bomber aircraft, but once I had asked a Signal Corps photographer if it could be used to take pictures on the ground. He said, "I suppose you could. Its focus is set at infinity, but I guess if you got back about fifteen or so feet, you'd get a picture."
So I picked up the monster, got back out on the street and began following the crowd that
had by now gathered into a seething mob at the train station. They were going to commandeer a
train, get grain off that was being shipped out of the country, and then deal with those
black-marketers on board.
I stepped back and waited until the train arrived. A boarding party climbed aboard, and
then I heard shots, but couldn't see who had fired at whom or whether any one had been hit.
Suddenly a man came running off the train. The crowd closed in, clubs flew, and then the crowd
parted in front of me. The rioters wanted to punish these people, but apparently not kill them.
A badly beaten figure limped miserably toward me. When he saw my camera, he took his hands
away from a bleeding face and said in Italian, "Look what they did to me!" Crank, click, and I got a picture.
Behind me, jeeps with U.S. military police pulled into place to contain the riot. Another man came running off the train, the crowd closed in, delivered its punishment and I cranked and clicked. From somewhere, a horse-drawn cart showed up and men began loading sacks of grain
off the train. Atop the cart flew, of all things, an American flag. Crank, click.
Then the people on the train apparently decided to fight back. They leaped off, picked up rocks from the other side and began pelting us. I watched rocks fly, decided I could dodge them,
and pointed my camera at more action.Crank, WHAM! A rock had hit the blunderbuss camera. I
looked at the welt in the steel snout and wondered what would have happened if that had been
Just at that time, the MPs came up with the answer, and a jeep roared up beside me. "Lieutenant," said a G.I. with a sub-machine gun, "you'd better get your ass out of here before
you get hurt." I agreed and left, happy that I had apparently gotten some good pictures and
pleased that not once during the melee had any Italian protester threatened this screwy American
soldier who was taking pictures in the midst of shooting, flying rocks and flailing clubs.