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This photo was taken in the field of Dux di Pietragalla in 1943, near to the time when Robert Dulac’s plane, known as the Fyrtle Myrtle, was shot down. Vitangelo Di Fino, here 11 years old, is the first child sitting on the ground to the left, wearing a black shirt, a fez on his head, and with his hands crossed. Photos for this post are courtesy of Vitangelo’s daughter, Maddalena Di Fino.

Michele Potenza was 13 years old when he witnessed the downing of an American bomber from the skies over his village of Pietragalla, Italy. It was a memory impressed in his mind for life (see “Lost Airmen Remembered in Pietragalla.”)

Yesterday I learned from Michele of another child who was drawn into this disturbing event.

Vitangelo Di Fino was a boy of 12 when the plane came down, and he was the first on the ground to reach Robert Dulac. He quickly rendered emergency first aid when he saw that Robert was bleeding.

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Detail of Vitangelo from the above photo

I asked Michele if he knew whether Robert had suffered head injuries or even had been blinded. Fellow crew member Edward Dzierzynski later noted in the official Missing Air Crew Report that Robert “was seriously injured around the eyes – head” by the crash.

Michele responded:

No, non era cieco. A causa del bail out, nel cadere a terra, si è fratturato il malleolo.

No, [DULAC] was not blinded, [but] due to the bail out, in the fall to the ground he broke his ankle.

Il teste DE FINO Vitangelo, in un’intervista che io ho registrato e che vedro’ anche di mandarti, racconta di aver trovato DULAC a terra, con il malleolo rotto da cui sgorgava molto sangue. DE FINO non dice niente sulle ferite alla testa ed agli occhi: come ripeto egli si preoccupo’ solo di evitare che DULAC potesse morire per emorragia e per questo,non avendo niente di specifico appresso (garze, fasce, disinfettante, cerotti, ecc.), con la sua maglietta fasciò la rottura e consegno’ DULAC ad altri che lo accompagnarono all’Ospedale di POTENZA.

The witness, Vitangelo DE FINO, in an interview that I recorded and I will see that send to you, said he found DULAC on the ground with a broken ankle from which flowed much blood. DE FINO said nothing of wounds to the head and eyes. I repeat, he worried only about preventing DULAC from bleeding to death and for that, not having relevant supplies (gauzes, strips, disinfectant, bandages, etc.), he bandaged the wound with his shirt and delivered DULAC and his companions to Potenza Hospital.

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Researcher Janet Dethick kindly shared information she discovered concerning Robert Dulac, one of the survivors of the crash of the American B-24 bomber known as the Fyrtle Myrtle on July 16, 1943.

See “B-24 Bomber Fyrtle Myrtle Discovered.”

In the official Missing Air Crew Report, Staff Sergeant Edward Dzierzynski shared this information about the survivors:

“S/Sgt. R.E. Dulac—at a hospital in Potenza, Italy—was badly injured about the eyes – head. S/Sgt. C. F. Johnson at Potenza, Italy. We there boarded the same train for P.O.W. camp. Johnson was in good condition.”

Edward Dzierzynski and Cyrus Johnson were interned at P.G. 59 Servigliano. Robert Dulac, because of his serious injuries, was treated at a military hospital in Perugia.

Here is what Janet had to share regarding Robert:

“I thought you would be interested to know that Robert E. Dulac, the third survivor of the USAAF 376 bomb Group crash featured on your website, was at some stage admitted to Perugia Military Hospital from where on 6 October 1943 he was transferred to Perugia gaol. On 15 October he was transferred to Campo PG77 at Pissignano (Campello sul Clitunno) along with several other servicemen who had also been in hospital with him and it was from there that he would have been transferred to Stalag Luft III.”

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I received a note from Michelle Leoni Hazelton of Monongahela, Pennsylvania, this week.

She referenced the name of her great grandfather, Orlando Leoni, in the “Clifford Houben’s Address List” post on this site.

Orlando Leoni’s name appears on one page of the list, and eleven pages later there is a seemingly unrelated reference to two locations:

MONONGHLA, Penn.
R.I. ACQUARTA, IT.

Above these place names is penned “BRO.”

“MONONGHLA, Penn.” is evidently a reference to Monongahela, Pennsylvania, and “ACQUARTA, IT.” seems to reference the Italian comune of Arquata del Tronto.

My guess is that “BRO” is Clifford’s abbreviation for brother. All this was confirmed by what what Michelle shared with me.

In her email, Michelle wrote, “I am the great granddaughter of Orlando Leoni. He was mentioned in Clifford Houben’s list of addresses. There was also another entry ‘R.I. Arquata.’ I believe this may have been his brother, Parisse Leoni, who resided with his wife and roughly eight children in Faete, Arquata del Tronto, Italy.

“Orlando came to America and became a citizen around 1920 but traveled home often to support his family. In America, Orlando resided in Monongahela, Pennsylvania.

“I am trying to learn more about Parisse Leoni and any other relatives that remained in Italy. If you have any further information it would be most appreciated.”

Here is the text of a newspaper article Michelle sent me that describes Parisse’s activities during WW II:

Separated for 50 Years, Brother, Sister Reunited

By Jane Robinson
The Daily Republican (Monongahela, Pennsylvania) – Herald-American (Donora, Pennsylvania) Wednesday, August 19, 1970

“I’m so happy…I thought I’d never see my brother again,” said Mrs. Dominick Varone, now 74, with visible emotion.

After all, fifty years is a long time to wait.

The reunion of brother and sister took place just last week when Mrs. Varone’s brother, Parisse Leoni, 65, arrived in this country from his native Italy. The two had parted in November, 1920, when Mrs. Verone, then Benedetta Leoni, had left Italy for America at the age of 24. Her brother, who accompanied her to the bus but in the confusion never managed to say a final good-bye, was 15 at the time.

She arrived in America in December, sponsored by her brother, Orlando Leo [sic] of RD 1, Bentleyville, and within the next year was married to Dominick Varone. Her brother, Parisse, married too. He has lived and raised his family in the village of Faete, in the same house where he and Benedetta and all the children were born.

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Brian Sims oversaw the dedication of this memorial plaque and a commemorative tree planted in the National Memorial Arboretum several years ago.

My first connection with researcher Brian Sims was on June 2, 2013.

In an earlier post on this site I had speculated on the presence of New Zealanders in PG 59, to which Brian responded with this short note:

“There were a very small number of New Zealanders in PG 59—2 in March 1942—3 in May 1942—and only one up to December 1942. None are recorded for 1943.

“The information comes from my database of Red Cross reports copied in the UK National Archives. —Brian Sims”

Thus began a rich two-year correspondence with Brian during which he introduced me to or shed additional light on many aspects the POW experience including:

  • The SS Brandenburg Division operations in Italy
  • I.S.9 rescue operations along the Adriatic coast
  • Recommendations put forward by British and American officers for honors and awards to Italian helpers
  • British Special Investigation Branch (SIB) inquiries into the murder of escaped prisoners
  • POW escapes into Switzerland
  • Sam Derry, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, and the Rome Rescue Organization

Brian’s research into the POW situation in Italy went back 23 years, to the time of his retirement from a career in mining. What began as a quest for information on his father—a British POW who drowned when an Italian ship on which he was being transported was sunk in the Mediterranean—quickly became a calling to learn all that he could about Allied POWs in Italy, and to make that information available to others.

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Lance Sergeant John Henry Jewell, Service Number 5495162, of the Royal Hampshire Regiment

I received a note a few days ago from Jackie Keenan of the village of Whittlesford in Cambridge, England.

She and her sister, Margaret, have been attempting to trace the details of their father’s wartime experience.

“Our father, John Henry Jewell, was taken prisoner in North Africa on 3rd December 1942,” Jackie explained.

“I have been through [accounts of] other prisoners taken in the same battle, on the same day, from the same regiment and it would appear that they were taken to Camp 98 in Sicily on 5th December where they stayed until being moved on 31st December to Camp 66 at Capua. On 2nd March 1943 they were moved on again to Servigliano where they remained until 14th September 1943.

“After the POWs escaped from Servigliano, my father was reported missing until being traced as a prisoner in Stalag 7 in Moosburg.” His prisoner number there was 130605.

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Detail of Joe Pojawis’ military identification card, issued in July 1942 before his overseas departure

I received a note this past week from Wally McCollum of Maryland.

Wally has a family connection to American soldier Joseph Pojawis, who was interned at PG 59 January 23–September 14, 1943. In his note, Wally related how he and his wife discovered new information about Joe’s combat and POW experiences just one week ago (over the U.S. Memorial Day weekend):

“This past weekend at a family reunion I came into possession of a diary kept by my wife’s uncle Pvt. Joseph E. Pojawis, who served in a light mortar squad, Company A, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. He was captured on December 23, 1942 in the Battle of Tunisia. He was first taken to a POW camp in Sicily, but was transferred to Camp 59 in late January 1943. In addition to the diary I have ten letters he wrote while at the camp. He was among the mass escapees in September 1943. He eluded capture for several months, but was unable to get through the German lines to freedom. He linked up with Allied forces and was sent to the USA, where he was discharged in poor health in December 1944.

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Giovanni Nebbia with the football team he organized at his Marine School (Scuola di Avviamento Marinaro). The photo was taken in the year they won a championship. December 3, 1940.

In 2005, at a ceremony in Monte Urano, Italy, to honour Ken de Souza—a former POW and author of Escape from Ascoli, which Annelisa Nebbia translated from English into Italian—Annelisa shared an account of a rescue mission her father experienced that nearly ended in tragedy.

Annelisa’s speech is here translated into English:

“Missions to rescue escaping POWs from the Adriactic coast frequently failed due to the Italian captains’ lack of local knowledge, resulting in their being unable to find the exact point of the coastline where escapers were to be picked up.

“Allied Headquarters in Termoli asked Elio Tremaroli—who worked for them and crossed the lines [into enemy-occupied territory] continuously—if he knew somebody who was truly an expert on the Adriatic coast.

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Giovanni Nebbia’s partisan identification card, issued in 1950 by the Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d’Italia, or National Association of the Italian Partisans, acknowledges his involvement with the Banda Gran Sasso from September 25, 1943 to June 20, 1944

Captain Giovanni Nebbia’s activity as an I.S.9 “helper” took place along the Adriatic coast of central Italy, including the port towns of Termoli, Manfredonia, and Vieste.

In 1943 Captain Nebbia spearheaded an operation to save the fishing fleet of San Benedetto del Tronto, which was under threat of seizure by the Germans, who were due for arrival in the town the next morning. On completion of the mission, Radio Bari broadcast news of the successful event, today described in Italian history books as ‘Operazione Nebbia.’”

An account of “Operation Nebbia” in Giovanni Nebbia’s own words, translated into English by Annelisa, is below. The original document in Italian is at the end of this post.

To Major R. E. ITALO POSTIGLIONE
Commander 23rd and 24th Patriot Groups
GROTTAMMARE

Having returned home after my departure from San Benedetto del Tronto in the night of 4-5 October 1943, I hasten to give you notice of the mission entrusted to me by you and of subsequent events.

According to the orders that you had given to me, on that date I immediately proceeded with the help of other officers from the groups of patriots to steal the fishing boats/trawlers and minesweepers requisitioned for certain capture by the Germans; such vessels in the port of San Benedetto del Tronto were equipped with local elements, and we launched them for the ports of southern Italy that were already in the hands of the Allies.

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Farm building on a remote property owned by the Italian couple Gaetano and Maria Vaccarezza, where five escapees from P.G. 52 were sheltered

I received a note last month from Frank Vaccarezza. Frank explained that for a time during the war, his Italian grandparents had sheltered five Allied POWs, all escapees from P.G 52.

Frank who was born in Italy, has lived in the U.S. for most of his life. However, he is in communication with cousins in Italy, who live near his grandparent’s old property. Frank has asked that I post information about his grandparents’ assistance to the soldiers in the hopes of his making connections with the servicemen’s families.

Here is the information Frank sent:

I am trying to locate the families of several British Commonwealth soldiers who escaped during WW2 from P.G. 52 near Chiavari, Italy and hid from the German army in an old stone structure. Chiavari is a town on the Mediterranean Sea coast just about 25 miles south of Genoa. It’s believed these soldiers escaped some time in 1943, but I can’t really be sure of the year.

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I am pleased to have added today a new name, British Sergeant Arthur Page, to the master Prisoner List on this site. Information on Arthur was sent to me by researcher Janet Kinrade Dethick.

She wrote:

“I have just come across the translation into Italian of part of a book by Sergeant Arthur Page, 5501857, captured near Tunis on 3 December 1942, who after a period in a camp in Sicily and then PG 66 at Capua was sent to Servigliano. He escaped at the Armistice, was recaptured and put on a train for Germany.

“He escaped from the train and, passing through (or near to) Bologna, Florence and Città di Castello, he arrived in Nocera Umbra, where he met a young man who took him up into the hills where he was sheltered firstly by the family of Attilio Tulli at Verchiano and then by the Spuntarelli family at Croce di Rocca Franca.

“When the worst of the winter ’43–44 was past, he and a fellow escaper, South African Piet van Rensburg, left for the Allied lines. They met the Allied troops not far from Servigliano.”

Janet said the original English version of Arthur’s book is entitled A Walk in Wartime Italy. It was published in 1995 by Airforce Publishing Services, P.O. Box 236, Swindon, Wilts. UK.

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