24TH MEU (SOC) STUDIES ANCIENT ROMAN HISTORY WHILE DEPLOYED

14 Jul 2001 | 1stLt Ryan Prince (Contributing writer)

During a recent port visit to Brindisi, Italy, Marines and Sailors of the 24th MEU (SOC) embarked on a tour of Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried in ash by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.  Following is a description of the trip by 1stLt Ryan Prince, of the Command Element's Radio Battalion Detachment.

Our recent tour of Pompeii was memorable, to say the least.  As representatives of the MEU's Command Element, BLT 2/8, HMM-266 (Rein), and MSSG-24, we enjoyed ourselves while learning a great deal about Italy and ancient Rome.

Ironically, while the eruption of the volcano destroyed Pompeii, it also preserved the city for generations to come.  The eruption lasted two days and three nights, expelling enough molten lava to bury a city 7 miles away.  While lives were lost in the eruption and the resulting chaos, the city was encased in lava and preserved in its natural state. 

Eighty percent of the city has been uncovered and turned into one of the largest open-air museums in the world.  Only days before our visit, rare gold coins were recovered from the debris, contributing even more to the historical insight offered by this ancient city. 

From USS KEARSARGE, we boarded busses bound for Pompeii on July 7, 2001.  Nearly six hours later, we arrived and met up with our tour guide, Giardini.  Constantly being reminded to "take your time, quickly please", we were shepherded through the walls and alleys of the city.  All were amazed at the detail that was still evident within the sculptures and architecture.  The city is a snapshot in time.  Even the ovens had evidence of bread that was being prepared when the baker fled the city 1,922 years ago (although Giardini pointed out that it was slightly overcooked). 

We transitioned from the city of Pompeii to Mount Vesuvius, where we enjoyed an Italian meal about half way up the mountain.  Our bus driver earned his pay as we snaked our way further up the mountain, providing us with breathtaking views of lava covered cliffs and the cities of Naples and Pompeii thousands of feet below.  While many would have preferred that the bus take us all the way to the top so that we could have digested our lunch in peace, the only way to reach the top was the same way they would have done it during the height of the Roman Empire: on foot.

The bus dropped us off at the start of the footpath and our tour guide immediately levied a time constraint on us.  Fortunately, Marines are well trained for speed marches, so most managed to complete the hike to the summit in record time.  The effort was well worth it, as the trail came to an end at a one-of-a-kind vantage point.  To one side, you could peer down into the center of the volcano and see the crater left behind by the eruption.  To the other side, the clouds circled the mountain at our feet.  Cameras were traded back and forth as everyone tried to capture the moment on film. 

After a hurried trip back down the mountain and a short opportunity to purchase souvenirs, we loaded the bus yet again for our fateful return to the ship.  Yet again, Marines and Sailors twisted their bodies into unimaginable contortions as they tried to get comfortable in the bus seats.

While the bus ride was long, the trip was well worth it.  We witnessed the beauty and history of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius.  Many attempts have been made to recreate extinct societies, but it's not often we are given the opportunity to view the original construction of a city developed thousands of years ago. 

Follow the 24th MEU (SOC) deployment on their website at www.usmc.mil/24meu.