All Roads Lead to Rome


All Roads Lead to Rome

Searching for the End of My Father's War

Bill Thorness

280 pages
15 photographs, 2 maps


December 2024


$32.95 Pre-order

About the Book

What happens when a seasoned journalist and travel writer takes on his most challenging assignment yet—crossing not just continents but also history—by retracing his father’s steps on the battlefields of Italy in World War II?

When a slim packet of his father’s letters came to light after his mother’s death, Bill Thorness began a quest to rediscover his father. Thorness traveled to the World War II battlefields where America’s first team of commandos fought. The youngest son of one of those commandos, Thorness gained a sense of the horror his father had kept from his family on the mountain where the First Special Service Force fought. Then, standing on a bridge in Rome, he reflected on the loss his father must have felt in not making it to the end of the campaign to liberate the Eternal City.

In All Roads Lead to Rome Thorness considers his father’s decisive moments in battle and beyond, and how he soldiered on as a disabled veteran through his life, raising a family and succumbing to an early death. Alternating between reimagined battle scenes and present-day travels, Thorness explores World War II and family history, the value and limits of memory, the attitudes of war, and our society’s inadequate understanding and support of combat veterans, who may return with physical and emotional scars that change them deeply.

Thorness steps into his father’s shoes to revisit his story and finish that walk into Rome, weaving a story that is part travelogue, part history, and part memoir about the ravages of war.

Author Bio

Bill Thorness’s varied work as a journalist has spanned more than thirty-five years, from early work as editor of a national business magazine to current work as a freelance travel writer for the Seattle Times. He is the author of five nonfiction books, including Cycling the Pacific Coast: The Complete Guide from Canada to Mexico.


“A moving and compelling story about the enduring power of the past. Bill Thorness juxtaposes two Italian journeys—his father’s during the Anzio campaign of World War II and his own retracing of it—to find a parent whose damaged leg disguised deeper wounds. He discovers a war’s lasting consequences.”—Richard White, Margaret Byrne Professor of American History emeritus, Stanford University, and author of Who Killed Jane Stanford?

All Roads Lead to Rome is a deftly woven history of one man’s attempt to understand his father’s taciturn and damaged life by hiking the route of his father’s army commando unit as it fought its way north from the Anzio beaches to liberate Rome from the Nazis in World War II. A warm memoir and a historical resource, All Roads Lead to Rome stands as a heartfelt attempt to bridge a generation gap and probe the brutal and fiercely debilitating impact of war.”—Kit Bakke, author of Protest on Trial and Miss Alcott’s E-mail

“A touching and outstanding story, All Roads Lead to Rome is Bill Thorness’s journey to understanding his father that takes us from the farmland of North Dakota to the battlefields of World War II Italy.”—Bill Woon, past executive director of the First Special Service Force Association and son of Force Veteran Dave Woon, 2nd Company, 2nd Regiment
“An expansive journey through World War II Italy, All Roads Lead to Rome is a poignant, picturesque memoir of redemption and truth between father and son, past and present.”—Alicia DeFonzo, author of The Time Left between Us

“Any hope that humanity will more quickly move beyond war as a method of conflict resolution will likely come as a result of leaders who, whether personally or peripherally, finally acknowledge and speak to the damaging ramifications of war on present and future generations. Books such as All Roads Lead to Rome are vital for what they can add to this awareness, and it’s one of the best books I’ve read so far on the cross-generational impact of military service, particularly combat.”—Tracy Crow, coeditor of It’s My Country Too: Women’s Military Stories from the American Revolution to Afghanistan

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Part 1: Difensa
  1. 2009 – Journey: Bringing My Father into Focus
  2. 1944 – War: Scaling a Mountain
  3. 2009 – Journey: An Initial Exploration
  4. 2009 – Journey: Replowing Dakota Soil
  5. 1944 – War: Talking la Difensa 
Part 2: From Helena to the Winter Line
  1. 2010 – Journey: The Language of a Quest
  2. 1942 – War: Becoming a Solider
  3. 1943 – War: Training the Braves
  4. 2011 – Journey: Returning to the Battlefield
  5. 1943 – War: Sailing to Naples
  6. 2011 – Journey: Meeting the Force Family
  7. 1943 – War: Boots on Italian Soil
  8. 2011 – Journey: Revisiting Difensa
  9. 1943 – War: From Winter Line to Anzio
Part 3: Anzio
  1. 2011 – Journey: Memorials to Begin the Trek
  2. 1943 – War: The D-Day Diversion
  3. 2011 – Journey: In the Command Caves
  4. 1944 – War: Landing at Anzio
  5. 2011 – Journey: Finding Foce Verde
  6. 2011 – Journey: Hot Feet on the Road
  7. 1944 – War: The Force Joins the Fight
  8. 2011 – Journey: Cisterna’s Buzzing Roads
  9. 2011 – Journey: History is What You See
  10. 1944 – War: Settling in at the Front
  11. 2011 – Journey: Conjuring up the “Billiard Table”
  12. 1944 – War: The Black Devils Raid at Night
  13. 2011 – Journey: Edging into the Hills
  14. 2011 – Journey: Dog Tired at the Top of the Town
  15. 1944 – War: Off the Beachhead
  16. 2011 – Journey: The Suffering of Cori
  17. 2011 – Journey: Last Legs to Artena
  18. 1944 – War: Making a Mountain Fortress
  19. 2011 – Journey: Castle Graffiti
  20. 1944 – War: Cut Down in Colleferro
  21. 2011 – Journey: Devastation of Mountain Villages
  22. 1944 – War: Forces at Rome’s Gates
  23. 2011 – Journey: Walking the Ancient Gates
Part 4: Postwar
  1. 1944 – War: Making the White Sheets
  2. 1944 – Family: A Soldier’s Rough Return
  3. 2011 – Journey: Commemoration
Author's Note

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