Susegana honors pilots in 100th annual Pagliano e Gori ceremony

Pagliano e Gori

Italian air force honor guard members stand at a memorial, Nov. 19, 2017, at Susegana, Italy. In 1917, Maurizio Pagliano, Luigi Gori and their two gunners were shot down outside Susegana by an Austro-Hungarian fighter pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cary Smith)

Pagliano e Gori

Banner-men representing local Italian air force and army veteran associations participate in a parade, Nov. 19, 2017, at Susegana, Italy. The parade started from Susegana’s town square and proceeded to a memorial site commemorating Maurizio Pagliano, Luigi Gori and their two gunners who were shot down in WWI. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cary Smith)

Pagliano e Gori

Italian and U.S. Air Force service members salute the raising of the Italian flag before a memorial ceremony, Nov. 19, 2017, at Susegana, Italy. The ceremony honored Maurizio Pagliano, Luigi Gori and their two gunners for their heroic deeds during WWI. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cary Smith)

Pagliano e Gori

Banner and honor guard members stand at attention during a memorial ceremony, Nov. 19, 2017, at Susegana, Italy. The ceremony honored Maurizio Pagliano, Luigi Gori and their two gunners for their heroic deeds during WWI. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cary Smith)

Pagliano e Gori

Classic WWI planes fly over a memorial ceremony, Nov. 19, 2017, at Susegana, Italy. In 1917, Maurizio Pagliano and Luigi Gori and their two gunners were shot down outside Susegana, Italy, by an Austro-Hungarian fighter pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cary Smith)

Pagliano e Gori

Italian and U.S. air force service members pay respects at a memorial, Nov. 19, 2017, at Susegana, Italy. The memorial was constructed at the crash site of an Italian WWI plane piloted by Maurizio Pagliano and Luigi Gori. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cary Smith)

Pagliano e Gori

Representatives of Susegana, Italy, and the Italian air force speak to memorial ceremony attendees, Nov. 19, 2017, at Susegana, Italy. The ceremony honored Maurizio Pagliano and Luigi Gori, the two whom the near-by Italian air base was named after, Aeroporto di Aviano Pagliano e Gori. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Cary Smith)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- Drums, brass instruments and the sounds of shuffling shoes echoed through quiet streets, Nov. 19, 2017, in Susegana, Italy. Behind the band marched a parade of banner-men representing local Italian air force and army veteran associations, followed by Italian and U.S. Air Force military members.

However, this was not a celebration; it was a somber walk of remembrance for two pilots and two gunners shot down in 1917.

“The history of Maurizio Pagliano and Luigi Gori was recorded by one of the most famous Italian poets in the 20th century,” said retired Col. Roberto “Bobe” Sardo, Italian pilot and former Aviano Airport Commander. “They were brave, almost dare-devils who became well known in their successful bombing missions in WWI.”

The parade marched to the site where their plane crashed 100 years ago. Guest speakers delivered speeches at the memorial ceremony to honor the crew, and a group of classic military aircraft flew over the gathered crowd.

Before “Taps” played, two Italian air force members placed a wreath and attendees saluted to show respect and appreciation for the effort of these two pilots and others in the Great War.

In the fight against Austro-Hungarian forces, Pagliano teamed with Gori and together they pushed the limits of aircraft and pilot capabilities.

“One famous mission, the two pilots chose to disregard their orders to bomb one location, and instead continued on for another 100 km south to bomb a different area,” said Sardo. “A long-range flight like this had never been done before, almost two hours at night in a bi-plane with an open cockpit and low visibility.”

Pagliano and Gori continued to impress the Italian air force and were chosen as the “go-to” team for many long-range and dangerous bombing missions.

Another mission was planned to reach Vienna, Austria, but the plane first needed to prove it could withstand the distance. Although the Vienna mission never took place, the two pilots flew a non-stop test flight to Turin, Italy, and back, totaling more than 1,000 km.

In the months to follow, Pagliano and Gori built up their reputation after proving their capabilities time and time again, until their final mission.

“On Dec. 30, 1917, as they were flying to Padova, the two pilots split from their formation and were practicing some new strafing tactics, flying low to the ground,” said Sardo. “They crashed here in Susegana. They were shot down by an Austro-Hungarian ace fighter pilot prowling the area for a kill.”

The local Italians around the base grew concerned when the formation returned home without the bomber. A month later, their worst fears were realized.

The Red Cross notified the bomber unit in Pordenone, Italy, that one of their Caproni planes was shot down outside the town of Susegana. Inside the plane was in fact Pagliano and Gori, along with their two gunners.

To honor the men, the Italian air base in Aviano where the two were stationed and was officially named Aeroporto di Aviano Pagliano e Gori.

With the final note of “Taps” trailing off, the crowd formed together and slowly marched back to Susegana's town square.

“This area has much history with the wars, and these men were heroes,” said Sardo. “Today, Italy and the U.S. came together to pay respect to these men, who the base is named after.”

An alliance built more than 100 years ago continues as the Italian air force provides a home and a base of operations for the 31st Fighter Wing. The partnership is seen worldwide as Italy and the U.S. work together with other NATO countries.

“In 1917, 600 U.S. Army pilots trained and fought with the Caproni bombers in Italy. Today we continue our training together to keep this partnership strong,” said Sardo. “Italy and the U.S. started a beautiful symbol of cooperation then and we must carry on what our predecessors started and stay together as a team for the dangerous challenges we face in the future.”