Knox Press

Braided in Fire: Black GIs and Tuscan Villagers on the Gothic Line 1944


BRAIDED IN FIRE is the stirring author’s search to understand the drama that unfolded between the Italian peasants and African-American infantrymen of the 366th Infantry Regiment, – attached to the celebrated “Buffalo Division, 92nd Infantry”- whose lives were lost, or changed irrevocably by a village battle in Tuscany during the Battle of Garfagnana.

Cultures and relationships are intertwined to become BRAIDED IN FIRE in Sommocolonia, a medieval Tuscan village in the Apennines directly on the highly fortified Third Reich’s ‘Gothic Line’ stretching across northern Italy. Only at Sommocolonia did attacking German troops break through that formidable line, with dire consequences to the inhabitants and their defenders, a handful of black GIs, who were outnumbered three to one by the Axis troops. In the desperate fight, Lt. John Fox sacrificed himself with supreme heroism. (He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor 52 years later.) Although the military action, (and tragic inaction of certain senior white officers), is described in detail, BRAIDED IN FIRE is not just military history, but tells of the human toll of war: the drama, the folly, the heartache – all present in grand measure for two peoples marginalized over the years for reasons of race and economic circumstances.

BRAIDED IN FIRE is a celebration of human dignity in desperate circumstances. This book is painted in a narrative befitting the beauty and rich hues of the Tuscan hills and its people, juxtaposed by the toils of a segregated America in black versus white, even while in Army green. Together these two worlds are BRAIDED IN FIRE with all of the passion, heartbreak, and violence of war, ultimately providing the reader with a redemptive peace, and cultural harmony.


Braided in Fire tells the story of Lieutenant John Fox, a forward artillery observer and posthumous Medal of Honor recipient, who directed friendly artillery fire on his own position as German troops overran Sommocolonia, Italy, on December 26, 1944. Fox’s selfless sacrifice went unrecognized by the U.S. government for half a century simply because he was black. Solace Wales has invested decades in researching this instance of forgotten valor, producing a rich tapestry that interweaves the experiences of the black GIs and Italian villagers caught in the hellish maelstrom that engulfed Sommocolonia the day John Fox died. The result is a moving meditation on the cost of war and a tribute to the African Americans who fought for a country that treated them like second-class citizens. ~ Gregory J.W. Urwin, Professor of History, Temple University, author of Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island

Braided with Fire vividly recounts the intertwined histories of the small Italian town of Sommocolonia and the black 366th Infantry Regiment, which intersected during the German Winter Storm Offensive in December 1944. At the center of Solace Wales’ story are the brave Biondi family and forward artillery observer Lieutenant John Fox, who won the Medal of Honor for his heroism in Sommocolonia. Thoroughly researched and dramatically retold, Braided with Fire adds a valuable new page to our understanding of the Second World War. ~ Ian Ona Johnson, P.J. Moran Assistant Professor of Military History, the University of Notre Dame

Solace Wales contributes a remarkable, unique account which is not available anywhere else. . . Because of her gracious literary style, she vividly captures the ways in which the African American soldiers and the Italians of Sommocolonia’s lives became intertwined. The book breaks new ground. ~ Carolyn Ross Johnston, author of My Father’s War: Fighting with the Buffalo Soldiers in World War II