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Italian woman searches for Philly GIs who liberated her village

Discussion in 'WWII Today' started by LRusso216, Sep 7, 2014.

  1. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    I read this article in today's paper. I hope she and her son are successful. I wish she knew what units she was talking about. I wish them luck.
    [​IMG]


    She has captivated family members with enthralling stories that carry them back 70 years to a horrific time when World War II invaded the peace of the Italian hilltop village of Fornelli.
    She told them about German soldiers who stole her family's food, burned houses, and hung the mayor and five others in the piazza in front of the church, while playing music and dancing in celebration.
    But for Antonia Lucia Petrarca Antonaccio, the bad memories pale in comparison with the good ones of American GIs from Philadelphia who drove out brutal occupiers, gave her family food, blankets, and candy, and treated them with respect.
    The soldiers told her family, the Petrarcas, to visit them after the war and gave them their addresses in America. Then, a few months later, they donned backpacks, slung rifles over their shoulders, and marched back down the hill.
    "I think about them every day," said Antonaccio, 77, who is still trying to find the veterans in the Philadelphia area. "At least once a day my thoughts go back there."
    The GIs' addresses were lost before her family immigrated to America, but Antonaccio of New Providence, R.I., never gave up hope. Her son, Thomas, a retired Army master sergeant, tried without success to find them online and through an ad in the Army Times.

    Stark contrast
    "Why didn't we keep those addresses?" asked Antonaccio, who still sometimes tears up when talking about the soldiers. "They have to be in their late 80s or 90s now."
    "If I saw them, I'd say, 'Thank you, thank you, and God bless you for the kindness and comfort you showed us - from the first time you stepped off the jeeps,' " she said.
    The contrast with the German occupiers was stark. "They arrived in 1943 and just took over, doing whatever they wanted to do," said Antonaccio, whose family and friends call her Lucy. "They took the food we had, including the chickens."
    But local opposition grew. "Someone threw a grenade and wounded [a soldier] in the back," Antonaccio said. "He got back to the camp, and within an hour or two, the mayor and five others were picked up and hung."

    'Don't be afraid'
    Then came a change, heralded at end of 1943 by distant thunderous explosions, announcing the coming of the Americans. The Germans loaded trucks with their wounded and equipment and beat a hasty retreat.
    But would the GIs be any different from the previous occupiers? Antonaccio, then about 7 years old, soon found out.
    "They were smiling and told us, 'Non abbiate paura' - 'Don't be afraid,' " she recalled. "They said, 'We're Americans'; most of them were from a place called Philadelphia."
    The GIs came bearing gifts. "They had blankets, food, and drinks," Antonaccio said. "Our house had two floors - upstairs where we stayed and the downstairs where the stable was."
    "That's where the soldiers stayed," she said. "They'd come up to cook food sometimes."
    The GIs made Cream of Wheat, spread liberal amounts of sugar on it, then told the family "bambini primi" - children first. Antonaccio's mother said, "No, no, no. Soldati primi," Soldiers first.
    The GIs made a "wonderful impression," Antonaccio said. "They used to joke with my older sister, who was 16.
    "Everyone wanted to marry her. My father said jokingly, 'Give me some money, and you can have her.' "
    One day, the soldiers tied a string around her brother Pasquale's waist and filled his shirt with candy.
    One GI received a package of cookies from his family and told the Petrarcas he wanted to share them because it made him "feel like I'm with my own family."
    Others shared chocolate and marmalade.
    But in 1944, a few months after they had arrived, the soldiers from Philadelphia were ordered to move out. They stood in line to kiss Antonaccio's baby sister, Giovanna, and marched away.
    At the time, the Petrarcas did not realize they would be heading to the United States. Antonia Lucia Petrarca and her father arrived first, in 1954. She was 17 and began working in a jewelry factory. Her father grew mushrooms on a farm.

    Son's help
    "We got busy working, and none of us spoke English," said Antonia, who married in 1958 and had two sons, Thomas and Michael.
    The decades passed, and she was unable to find the soldiers - even with help from Thomas, 50, who served in the military and tried to learn the name of the unit that was posted at Fornelli, 75 miles northeast of Naples.
    "I remember hearing my mother's stories since I was a boy; she told them to uncles, aunts, and cousins," said Thomas Antonaccio, who was once stationed in Naples and fell in love with Fornelli during visits there.
    Antonaccio, a Veterans Affairs health systems specialist who lives in Tucson, Ariz., eventually wrote a self-published 2012 book about his mother's experiences called The Generosity of Strangers - When War Came to Fornelli.
    "To the Americans, my mother and her family were strangers, and to my mother's family, the Americans were strangers, but the memory and the fondness is still there, 70 years later," he said. "They formed a bond."
    Antonia Lucia Antonaccio has returned to the village of her birth about six times, and always remembers the "kind and gentle" GIs.
    "They showed us that we had nothing to worry about," she said. "It was a feeling you can't express after being so scared.
    "I would give them a big hug for all the chocolates and Cream of Wheat with lots of sugar. I have good memories and just overlook the bad ones."
    http://www.inquirer.com/local/20140907_Italian_woman_searches_for_Philly_GIs_who_liberated_her_village.html
     
  2. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    You know I love to find these places and units...

    According to the map below the first unit in Fornelli should have been the 504th PIR (top right). Given this was on the right flank of the US VI Corps and US Fifth Army there should not have been a lot of rear echelon behind them.

    From the Chronology
    http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-SS-Chronology/USA-SS-Chronology-3.html
    12 November 1943
    .....133d Inf, 34th Div, is pinched out by 135th Inf on right and 179th Inf on left; 135th Inf makes contact with 504th Para Inf, which has pushed past Fornelli to Colli and is maintaining contact with Br Eighth Army.

    http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/volturno/map28.jpg

    [​IMG]
     
  3. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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    I found this account of the 504th in Fornelli cited on another forum:

    Of course, it could just be coincidence that the two 504th men quoted in the article were from Pennsylvania, but it does support your suggestion that the soldiers were of the 504th PIR. It seems that Lt. Gorham eventually became Maj. Fordyce Gorham, S-2 of the 504th. His photo appears under the Regimental HQ listing.
     
  4. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    According to the map, the town was also in the 34th Division zone. I would guess that any men there for several months were support troops of some kind. The 34th is a midwestern National Guard unit, but all those guard units were broken up and refilled by men from all over the country. It would make sense that once the fighting was past, that guys with some Italian might be put into the towns behind the lines in a logistics role and a liaison with the locals. And too, it might be just that after 70 years the locals only remember those Philly guys who spoke Italian.

    At any rate, I wouldn't assume they were from the 504th, when another Division was there also. And of course, these could have been logistics guys from whatever Corps these several Divisions were under, and so weren't attached either the 82nd or the 34th.
     
  5. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    I wonder if this has been investigated? I don't know the make-up of the 504th. Is it possible that some were from Philadelphia?
     
  6. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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    There were at least two. (see post #3)
     
  7. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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    First, nothing is being "assumed" here. We are only suggesting the most likely unit based on specific evidence.

    Yes, Fornelli is in the 34th zone, but the 504th PIR was covering the right flank of the 34th. The 504th was in Fornelli (see post #3) or in the vicinity of Fornelli (see map above) during Nov 1943 and is most likely the unit that "drove out [the] brutal occupiers". The only reference I found indicating the 34th was in Fornelli was a reference stating that the 133rd Regiment assembled in its vicinity in December 1943.

    I will, of course, acknowledge that the account stated in the OP may have conflated the 504th with other rear echelon support units. After all, if you've seen one GI . . . :)

    This would also explain why the story suggests they were there for a "few months", which is not the case with the 504th. But again, my point is that the 504th is the most likely candidate for the initial American unit that was there.

    I also found the following reference to the 2nd Battalion, 504th operating in the vicinity of Fornelli:

     
  8. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

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    Tommy, I meant by the author and his family. It's obvious that some research is being done here. Does anyone have a roster of the 504th? It does seem that the occupation by American troops occurred in 1944, so I would guess that most of the unit would have moved on by then. Who occupied the town then? It would seem that these events occurred after the 504th moved on.
     
  9. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    See the map in post #2. The 34th Division.
     
  10. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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  11. Skipper

    Skipper Kommodore

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    TD-Tommy776 likes this.
  12. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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    Just because I like maps, here's one more. If you want the full map, I found it here:

    View attachment 21356


    To Lou's question about a roster for the 504th, I have only found some partial rosters which don't have hometown info. Some of the ASNs indicate some of those listed were from the 3rd Corps Area, but that does not necessarily mean PA. In thinking about the Pennsylvania angle, it occurred to me that the family would likely have not come into contact with an entire regiment or even company. More likely, it would have been a platoon or even squad. Assuming the latter, 3 or 4 men from PA would be a significant number.

    As for which units were there after the 504th left, that's a good question.
     

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  13. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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  14. Earthican

    Earthican Member

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    Were any from Philly? ... just kidding.

    The arrival of the Commonwealth troops in the spring of 1944 would coincide with the relief of US Fifth Army by 8 British Army. That would be the likely departure point for US troops from Fornelli.



    I would not expect sustained contact with the rifle platoons but headquarters, support and service troops. The 504th PIR also included the 376th PFAB and Company C of the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion.

    From the Chronology, the 504th PIR was relieved, along with the 34th ID, about 8 December 1943, so they spent about one month in the area.
    http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-SS-Chronology/USA-SS-Chronology-3.html

    There is some information about the engineer operations in the US Fifth Army area which include the French Expeditionary Corps. If not engineers then maybe an ordnance or quartermaster outfit.
     

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