They started the final phase of shoring up the Leaning Tower of Pisa on Tuesday morning, around the same time that Leon Weckstein, 6,000 miles away in California, ate one last piece of birthday cake and turned in for the night.
Workmen clamped giant steel braces around the monument and adjusted the weights hanging from it. Gravity and soggy footings were making the tilt too sharp and threatening to collapse 150,000 tonnes of Renaissance stone on top of tourists. Disasters apart, in a few months Italy will declare one of the wonders of the world saved and open for business.
What the glitterati who assemble to celebrate will not realise is that if it was not for a terrified 23-year-old American soldier, it would not exist today at all.
Towards the end of the second world war, Weckstein was one of the GIs struggling through the marshy ground that surrounds Pisa, advancing on the stubborn Germans who still occupied the Tuscan town. Had he uttered just six short words -"This is Able George One. Fire" seconds later an infantry division with batteries of 155mm cannons and a destroyer moored offshore would have blasted the tower to dust. But two things conspired to stop him - his fear and the tower's beauty.