Enduring friendship—A Virgili/Vacca Reunion


The Virgili and Vacca families at Pike’s Place Market in Seattle.

Left to right: Mario Vacca, Antoinette Perez (Tony’s daughter), Nancy Vacca (Mario’s wife), Maria Anna and Egisto Virgili, Tony Vacca, Joseph Perez (Antoinette’s husband), Cathie Vacca (Tony’s daughter), Christopher Howell (Cathie’s boyfriend), Brenda Vacca (Tony’s wife), Brendan Perez (Antoinette/Joseph’s son), and Alessandro Virgili, and in the very front is Alexis Perez (Antoinette/Joseph’s daughter).

Last March, I received a note from Mario Vacca, a son of Camp 59 escapee Felice “Phil” Vacca, announcing, “We’ve gotten news that some of the Virgili family are coming to Seattle this fall for a visit. They anticipate arriving on September 5 and staying five days.”

This was exciting news. Vacca brothers Mario, Tony, and Jim had kept in touch with the family who had sheltered their father since Tony made contact with the Virgilis in 1968. Egisto’s mother was Adele (Lelena) Virgili, who was a young woman when Phil lived with them.

Mario has a piece of paper that his Phil returned to the States with, a “receipt” acknowledging the protection the Virgilis has given him.

It reads:

Monte San Martino – July 3, 1944

From September 13, 1943 until today, July 3, 1944, we, the family of Sergio Virgili – son of Settimio, assisted the undersigned in the community of Monte San Martino

Province of Macerata, Marche

P. F. C. Felice Vacca
12011751 U. S. Army
Sergio Virgili

Although the three brothers have visited the Virgilis several times over the years (Jim passed away several years ago), this was the Virgilis first visit to the U.S.

Tony sent me the following account of the visit, which I am pleased to share here:

“Recently, my wife Brenda and I were honored to host Egisto and Maria Anna Virgili, and their son Alessandro, on their first visit to America. They arrived in Seattle on Tuesday afternoon, September 3rd, less one suitcase that missed their connecting flight. (It was delivered safely the following morning.) We grilled hamburgers that evening, served with sides of baked beans and potato salad for dinner—their first taste of American cuisine.


Alessandro on whale watch

“On Wednesday, we headed to Anacortes, WA, with reservations for Island Adventures Whale Watch Cruise. We were not disappointed, as the three resident orca pods were converging at that time. The Virgilis were very excited to watch all of this activity. That evening, we returned to our hometown of Everett, where we met my brother Mario and his wife Nancy at a local restaurant for dinner. I am sure the conversations were interesting for anyone who was near. Egisto and Maria Anna do not speak English (Egisto a few words here and there), with Alessandro knowing enough to make his point with the aid of computer translator programs. Mario, Brenda, and Nancy are novices to Italian, and my skill was rusty due to lack of use for 40 some years. Mario had our waiter bring samples of potato wedges and mashed potatoes. The mashed potatoes seemed to be a hit.


Using technology to help with translation


Egisto and Alessandro in the cockpit at Boeing

“Thursday morning, we did the Everett, WA, Boeing tour. Unfortunately, all tours are done in English, so I did my best to point out highlights to Egisto and Maria Anna. Afterwards, we headed to Seattle Center, the Monorail, Space Needle, and dinner. The Virgilis wanted to eat Italian, so Italian it was. I think Egisto was a little disappointed; as we were guided to our table, he started talking Italian to our server—who couldn’t understand or speak Italian. I don’t think any of the waiters could.


Northwest Trek

“Friday we were off to Northwest Trek, where we met our daughter Antoinette and her husband Joseph (who had visited the Virgilis in Italy), and their children, Brendan and Alexis. We toured Northwest Trek, which contains wildlife native to the Northwest. They were amazed by the animals, which included elk, bison, deer, mountain goats, bears, and raccoons. We stopped afterwards for lunch. Maria Anna did not like the soup she had ordered and did not eat it. When their bill arrived, Egisto thought there was an error on the bill as they were charged for only one soup and not the two they had ordered. We explained that since Maria Anna did not like nor eat her soup, it was removed it from the bill. Their comment: that would not happen in Italy.


Enjoying clams at Tillicum Village

“On Saturday, we had reservations for Tillicum Village. We boarded a ferry to Blake Island for a salmon and bison stew dinner, with a program that would introduce everyone to Northwest Native Americans. Egisto loved the chinook salmon. Amazingly, our table was up front—we could not have asked for better seating for the live performance and dances. After the show, we were able to wander and take pictures with the dancers in full native costume. Next, we returned to Seattle for a tour of the Seattle Aquarium. Afterward, we met our youngest daughter Cathie Jo and her boyfriend Chris.


Maria Anna putting gum on the wall

Together we headed to the famed “Wall of Gum.” Alessandro did not believe it existed. By then everything was starting to close, so we headed home for a grilled chicken dinner.

“Sunday, we gathered together in the morning for brunch at our home, then said goodbyes, as my brother and daughter had to leave. Egisto and family packed their bags. Their flight to New York was that night. We spent what little time remained at a local nature park.

“And so our wonderful visit ended, but we continue with plans to see each other again. Thanks to the efforts of my brother Mario and Alessandro, our communication and friendship has endured. Upon my return home from Italy in 1969, I had no idea I would return to Italy or that these wonderful people would someday be welcome guests in my own home.”

After Tony sent me the account of the visit, his daughter, Antoinette Perez, sent me the photos to accompany the post.

She explained, “Three years ago, my husband and traveled to Italy and had the pleasure of meeting Egisto, Maria Anna, and Alessandro Virgili… along with Raphael and his children, who live at the farmhouse where the Virgilis hid my grandpa (Raphael’s wife Rosana was in Rome at the time). Giuseppe Millozzi also took us to the camp and nearby church.

“There is a beautiful connection here and we are blessed to know the Virgilis. Numerous times during our visit the Virgilis asked us when we will come again… so we have promised that in 2017 we will return to Italy. And they made us promise to bring our kids this time as well.”

Who could have foreseen that his act of kindness—a poor Italian family’s welcome of a ragged soldier who turned up near their home seventy years ago—would have led to this lovely, abiding, intergenerational friendship?

Read the following posts about the Vacca-Virgili family ties:

Felice “Phil” Vacca, Part 2—Camp 59 and Escape
Post-war Letters from the Virgili Family
Twenty-five Years After the Escape
Vacca Brothers—Tracing Their Father’s Trail
The Virgili Family

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