Felice “Phil” Vacca attended services at this church with the Virgilis, even while the area was controlled by the Germans.
The church was the landmark that Tony used to find the Virgili family in 1968. He knew that it was just down the hill and across the river from the Virgili home, where his father had found shelter after his escape from Camp 59.
That first reconnection between the Vaccas and the Virgilis occurred when Tony, then in the service, was stationed in Pisa.
(See “Twenty-five Years After the Escape.”)
The church from another perspective, 1968
Left to right: Tony Vacca, Keith Kilby, Jim Vacca, and Mario Vacca
Mario Vacca said, “My two brothers and I went to Italy in 2001. Tony is the oldest and I am the youngest. Jim passed away several years ago.
“We left for Italy on September 18, 2001, seven days after 9/11. The huge airplane had the three of us and an older woman with her two granddaughters who were returning to Italy.
“It was by accident that we ran into Keith Killby, who was staying with Giuseppe Millozzi.
“Egisto Virgili worked in a bank and had just learned that we had visited his cousin Rosanna. Keith Killby happened to be in the bank. Our meeting was most fruitful, since my father never explained how the escape took place.
“I believe I had sent Keith my father’s story several years earlier.”
As founder of the London-based Monte San Martino Trust and a former prisoner in the Camp 59, Keith had established a research collection of books, manuscripts, and other materials related to the escaped Allied prisoners.
Keith Killby as tour guide. Left to right: Jim Vacca, Tony Vacca, Keith Killby, and Giuseppe Millozzi.
Touring Camp 59 with Keith and Giuseppe
Keith stands beside a brick patch. Many prisoners—including Keith himself—escaped through a hole that was knocked in this wall in September 1943.
Route traveled by Phil and his fellow escapees from Servigliano to the Virgil home
House where the Virgilis lived during World War II being remodeled in 2001
The barn next to the Virgili house
The escaped prisoners hid in the bushes in a crevasse beside this field
“I have since kept in touch with Giuseppe Millozzi and his family as well as the Virgili family,” Mario said.
In a recent e-mail that I was copied on, Mario asked Tony, “I wonder if dad ever knew he could write home?”
For some reason, I think he did or may have,” Tony relied. “If he wrote home that his cousin was killed and he was captured, his mother nor sister either didn’t respond, or did with a brief response on how they felt. Their family pride was at stake and a lot of them considered it dishonorable to have given up and been captured.
“Dad commented one time, regarding giving up, ‘what do you do when you’re out of ammo….?’
“It’s surprising what cultural beliefs can do. I guess we will never know.”