Minneapolis family heads to Sicily for WWII commemoration

Marian Johnson (right) with
daughter Hayley and grandson Owen


Three generations of an Edina family are heading to Sicily next month to join the commemoration of Allied landings on the island, which took place at a turning point in the Second World War, 80 years ago.

Mother of five, Marian Johnson, will be joined on her journey by daughter, Hayley Johnson, 22, a Tulane University master’s student and grandson, Owen McLain, 16, a junior at Edina High School. They plan to follow in the footsteps of Ms Johnson’s father, Edmund O’Sullivan, who was born in London and conscripted into the British Army in 1939. He served in the London Irish Rifles, a formation mainly recruited from men of Irish descent in Britain’s capital.

 “My father Edmund was just one of hundreds of thousands of young men and women from the UK, USA and Canada, who served in the campaigns in Sicily and mainland Italy,” Ms Johnson says. “But unlike thousands of others, he survived. We are going to Sicily not only to remember him but also all those who perished.”

The Sicily landings in 1943 involved the largest amphibious landings of the war up to that point. A joint American and British operation, Operation Husky was crucial for the success of the Operation Overlord D-Day landings in Normandy 11 months later. Many commanders in Sicily including General Dwight D Eisenhower, General George Patton, General Omar Bradley, General James Gavin, and Britain’s General Bernard Montgomery went on to play pivotal roles in the defeat of Naziism in western Europe in 1945.

Ms Johnson and her family will be joined in Sicily by her younger brothers from the United Kingdom, Gerard and Richard O’Sullivan. They will attend the two-day Sicily Peace, Security & Prosperity Conference* in Catania on July 7-8, which will commemorate the events on the island in the summer of 1943. This will be followed by Remembrance services in war cemeteries in Catania and Syracuse on July 9, and landing beach events at daybreak on July 10, marking the moment the landings started.

Ms Johnson and her family will then follow the route the London Irish took in July and August 1943 to Piedemonte Etneo, a town on the slopes of Mount Etna. From there, they will continue to follow her father’s footsteps into mainland Italy, to Monte Cassino and finally through the Northern Apennines to Castel del Rio, south of Bologna.

“This is a pilgrimage as much as a journey,” says Ms Johnson. “All those we have loved and lost will constantly be in our minds.”

* The Sicily Peace, Security & Prosperity Conference in Le Ciminiere Festival Centre is free to attend for registered delegates. 


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