Above left, Adele Virgili—also known as Lelena, or Lena
Above right, Virgili siblings Luigia (also called Gigetta) Sergio, and Adele (Lelena)
After his return from captivity in Italy, Felice “Phil” Vacca exchanged letters with several members of the Virgili family—the Italians who protected him after his escape from Camp 59. (See Felice “Phil” Vacca, Part 2—Camp 59 and Escape.)
These letters continued at least into the 1950s and 1960s.
In the first of two letters below, Virgili family matriarch Maria asks Phil about Giuseppe Montesi and Antonio Petrelli. Phil’s son Mario and I assume that Maria is in fact inquiring about Joe (whom the Italian family would have called Giuseppe) Mandese and Edmond Petrelli. Peter Calvagno, Edmond Petrelli, Joe Mandese, and Tony Spicola were the four prisoners with whom Phil escaped from Camp 59.
Here is a translation of Maria Virgili’s letter:
March 3, 1945
A few days ago I learned that you wrote to my daughter Lena. I was very happy to know that you are home, together with your mom and sister and the people closest to your heart.
We all remember you almost every day, and even more when I go to that hut, where you prisoners had found refuge. As I look at that hut, tears come to my eyes, because I know that there you have lived, for a long time, with the fear of being killed by the adversaries.*
I would like to receive news about you, many and often. Do not get tired of writing to us, because we desire to receive your letters. Your departure was painful for me as if you had been my son, and for this reason remember me often.
There are only a few people left in the family, only four: me, Sergio and Luisa and a nephew.** As you already know, Lena got married to Filippo.
Prisoner Giuseppe Montesi wrote twice, and wrote two long, long letters to Cardinali, where he says he’s been discharged and is home, and many more news. We do not have any news about Antonio Petrelli; if you know any news about him, please write to us about him.
Felice, do you remember me often? Remember when you used to say, “Grandma, I love you very much, I will never forget you,***” etc.? When you answer back to me, if it is possible please send me a picture of your family, especially of your mom. My knife, do you still have it with you? I do, yours. How is your health? And your family’s? We are all well. Greetings to you and to all in your family and also to your fiancé; and you did not get married yet.
Please forgive me if I write on this ugly paper, but nowadays there is scarcity of it.
Please answer me promptly, because I like to have news about you.
Maria Virgili and Family
* In a peculiar choice of words, Maria Virgili says “adversaries”, rather than “enemies”.
** “Nipote” in Italian means both “nephew” (or niece) and “grandchild”. Here it is clear that Maria is talking about a male, because of the article, which is masculine, but it is not clear if she’s talking about a nephew or a grandson.
*** It appears that Felice would use the English grammatical construction in Italian, so, literally, the back translation of what Maria Virgili writes he was saying is: “Grama, I want you well a lot, I never forget you”
Below is the translation of a letter Phil received from Lena. Although the date of the letter isn’t known, it is probably the one Maria refers to in her letter.
Mario wrote to me, “I do believe Lena was the daughter that my father wished to marry and bring to America. Funny how things work out in life.”
I cannot meet your wishes for what you ask, because I am already married—Let’s leave these things out!
I want to assure you that you can’t imagine how happy I am, knowing that you are home safe and sound, close to your Mother and Sister. Now you will enjoy the greatest happiness, will you not?
Let me know whether you are home because you have been discharged or just on leave for a few days!
And what happened to Gloria?
When it will be possible to ship the packages, I will send you the little things that you left here.
How is it going with the girls! You find many of them, perhaps one every day!
I imagine you are through with all sacrifices: sacrifices have changed to entertainment, isn’t it true?
How many trips do you make you car take every day? In any case, I wish you many beautiful things, a good fiancé and then good wife, who makes you happy forever.
Loving greetings and wishes for many beautiful things,