When little Del left his home town of Cosenza, Calabria and arrived in America, he had no idea that he would return in twenty years to help liberate Italy from their fascist leader, Benito Mussolini. As the oldest of his siblings, he grew up knowing it was his job to protect his younger brothers and little sister. So it wasn’t surprising that when war broke out, Del enlisted with the Allied Forces. Italian born, but raised in America, Del must have felt a need to not only protect America, but also to free his homeland from tyranny.
At first, he was stationed in Northern Africa where he fought the Axis forces of the German and Italian armies. While stationed in Africa, Del also faced another enemy, malaria, and fought for his life. The Axis forces surrendered in North Africa on May 13, 1943 after sustaining a total of 620,000 casualties. After surviving war in Tunisia and his bout with malaria, Del was transferred to the fight in Italy.
His battalion moved through Italy and arrived in Calabria in November of 1943 at an Italian concentration camp called Farramonti di Tarsia, just north of Del’s hometown of Cosenza. Farramonti di Tarsia was Italy’s largest concentration camp. There were 3,823 Jewish Internees, only 141 of those were Italian citizens. In spite of the difficult conditions, restrictions, and the lack of food, this concentration camp was not a death camp or a work camp. People were hungry, but they did not starve. The only violent deaths that took place at this camp were a result of an aerial dog fight in 1943 that caused the deaths of four inhabitants. In fact, the prisoners were sheltered from the atrocities at the German concentration camps by what survivors called the, “decency of the people from Calabria.” In particular, there was an Italian priest who went so far as to intervene when he heard that a German officer was coming to visit the camp. He had the internees make a crude quarantine flag which they raised at the entrance. When the German officer arrived, the priest met him and told him he was free to go inside but that there was a cholera epidemic at the camp. The officer declined and left without viewing the conditions of the prisoners.
Six weeks after Mussolini met his downfall in September of 1943, Del and other Allied soldiers moved in and liberated Ferramonti di Tarsia. For the first time in their lives, the children inside the camp tasted chocolate as the American soldiers doled out their rations. Del shared his rations with a young teen-aged Russian boy named Zabotin Kastia. Del took Zabotin under his wing and helped him obtain a visa to America.
(Internees at Ferramonti di Tarsia after liberation)
Del was stationed at the concentration camp until 1945. On Easter Sunday in 1944, he took time to visit his aunts, Celestina and Ida, and his young female cousins in Cosenza. He hadn’t seen his aunts since he was seven years old. Because his jeep was needed by an officer, Del asked two British soldiers, Byron and Foster, to drop him off at his aunts’ house and arranged for them to return to pick him up again at the end of the day. But when the British soldiers arrived later that afternoon, Del could tell that they had been drinking all day. Celestina and Ida offered the young soldiers some wine and they gladly accepted. The soldiers started to flirt with Del’s cousins and he took offense to this and suggested they all take their leave. Del, seeing the condition of his companions, offered to drive the jeep but they refused his offer. Byron was insulted and stated that he was fine to drive. On the drive back to camp, Byron was driving and Foster sat in the back seat while Del sat in the passenger seat. Byron drove too fast and lost control of the vehicle and collided with a bicyclist. Foster was thrown from the jeep and died instantly. Del was injured and woke up in the hospital. Byron was also injured and, eventually, was court martialed for his actions. Del’s aunts took their nephew in upon his release from the hospital and nursed him until he was well enough to return to duty.
(Del is on the left)
After the liberation of Italy in 1945, Del returned home to New York to be married to his sweetheart, Kitty, in 1946.
Zabotin Kostia had made it to America in 1943 and had been housed at Camp Oswego in New York. Once the war ended and Del returned home, Zabotin came to visit Del and meet his family. The two continued to maintain contact for many years. Zabotin returned to Europe and ultimately became a Vice President for Air France.
Del and Kitty raised two daughters and a son in Maspeth, New York. He passed away at the age of 93, surrounded by his loved ones.
http://www.theresadodaro.com Author of The Tin Box Trilogy