For the thousands of Allied soldiers who had fought and suffered for so long in the shadow of the abbey of Monte Cassino, Tuesday morning, February 15, 1944, was a time of joy and celebration. The men hated and feared the abbey, standing four stories tall atop the 1,700-foot mountain above them. The troops knew that it was finally going to be destroyed, and they were more than eager to see it happen.
“Like a lion it crouched,” wrote American Lieutenant Harold Bond, describing the abbey 20 years later, “dominating all approaches, watching every move made by the armies below.” Everyone was convinced that German soldiers occupied the abbey as an observation post to track the Allies’ movements in the valley below and thus direct artillery fire on them. Clare Cunningham, a 21-year-old lieutenant from Michigan, said, “It seemed like we were under observation all the time. They were just looking down on us all day long. They knew every move we were making.”