Parisse Leoni—Italian Protector

I received a note from Michelle Leoni Hazelton of Monongahela, Pennsylvania, this week.

She referenced the name of her great grandfather, Orlando Leoni, in the “Clifford Houben’s Address List” post on this site.

Orlando Leoni’s name appears on one page of the list, and eleven pages later there is a seemingly unrelated reference to two locations:


Above these place names is penned “BRO.”

“MONONGHLA, Penn.” is evidently a reference to Monongahela, Pennsylvania, and “ACQUARTA, IT.” seems to reference the Italian comune of Arquata del Tronto.

My guess is that “BRO” is Clifford’s abbreviation for brother. All this was confirmed by what what Michelle shared with me.

In her email, Michelle wrote, “I am the great granddaughter of Orlando Leoni. He was mentioned in Clifford Houben’s list of addresses. There was also another entry ‘R.I. Arquata.’ I believe this may have been his brother, Parisse Leoni, who resided with his wife and roughly eight children in Faete, Arquata del Tronto, Italy.

“Orlando came to America and became a citizen around 1920 but traveled home often to support his family. In America, Orlando resided in Monongahela, Pennsylvania.

“I am trying to learn more about Parisse Leoni and any other relatives that remained in Italy. If you have any further information it would be most appreciated.”

Here is the text of a newspaper article Michelle sent me that describes Parisse’s activities during WW II:

Separated for 50 Years, Brother, Sister Reunited

By Jane Robinson
The Daily Republican (Monongahela, Pennsylvania) – Herald-American (Donora, Pennsylvania) Wednesday, August 19, 1970

“I’m so happy…I thought I’d never see my brother again,” said Mrs. Dominick Varone, now 74, with visible emotion.

After all, fifty years is a long time to wait.

The reunion of brother and sister took place just last week when Mrs. Varone’s brother, Parisse Leoni, 65, arrived in this country from his native Italy. The two had parted in November, 1920, when Mrs. Verone, then Benedetta Leoni, had left Italy for America at the age of 24. Her brother, who accompanied her to the bus but in the confusion never managed to say a final good-bye, was 15 at the time.

She arrived in America in December, sponsored by her brother, Orlando Leo [sic] of RD 1, Bentleyville, and within the next year was married to Dominick Varone. Her brother, Parisse, married too. He has lived and raised his family in the village of Faete, in the same house where he and Benedetta and all the children were born.

Orlando had made a trip to Italy in 1930 and had seen Parisse, then, but Mrs. Varone never expected to be reunited with her brother.

Arrangements for bringing Mr. Leoni to the U.S. were extensive and time-consuming, but Mrs. Verone was not aware of the efforts. A son and daughter, Tony of RD 1, Bentleyville, and Janet Varone, now of Miami, Fla. had planned a three-week trip together, and told their mother “just maybe” they would be able to bring her brother back with them.

An Anniversary Present

Actually, “it was a little scene we cooked up,” Miss Varone explained, “to celebrate mother’s anniversary a year early.” Her parents, she noted, will observe their 50th wedding anniversary Aug. 10, 1971.

A visa for Mr. Leoni proved difficult to obtain, but through the efforts of Miss Varone’s congressman in Florida, one was secured on Aug. 3—only a few days before the travellers were scheduled to leave Italy and return to America.

They flew back to Boston, transferred to Pittsburgh, and were met at the Pittsburgh Airport by Tony’s wife and 18-month-old daughter, and Vincent Varone of Bell Vernon, another son of Mr. and Mrs. Varone.

Mrs. Varone did not know her brother was in this country until he arrived at the doorstep of the Varones’ RD 1, Bentleyville farm.

“No,” brother and sister both said in accord, “we would not have known each other.” If the excitement of the family had not revealed the surprise, they admitted they would have needed a short talk to recognize each other.

Mr. Leoni, whose niece, Miss Varone, acts as an interpreter, is plainly overwhelmed at this unexpected opportunity to be reunited with his sister again and to visit the U.S.A. “I can’t believe it’s true.”

In fact, his incredulity is doubly derived. When he left his village, for his first airplane flight, he requested especially to sit by the window so that he might see the water beneath him. To his dismay, the plane flew above the clouds for the entire transatlantic flight.

“I still can’t believe I’m here,” he said, “I never caught a glimpse of the ocean.”

“It was so smooth, it felt like riding a bus,” he exclaimed.

World War II Efforts

Although on his first trip to the U.S., Mr. Leoni is by no means a stranger to Americans. He proudly displays certificates of thanks from the American government and the British Commonwealth governments for his partisan support in aiding their men to escape the enemy during World War II.

The certificates, one signed by Joseph T. McNarmey, U.S. Commanding General in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations, and the other by Field Marshall H. R. Alexander, Supreme Allied Commander of the Mediterranean Theatre, read:

This certificate is awarded to Leoni, Parisse as a token of gratitude for and in appreciation of the help given to the soldiers and sailors of the United States … British Commonwealth of Nations … which enabled them to escape from or evade capture by the enemy.

Mr. Leoni described in some detail his activities in his village which took place mainly between September, 1942, and June, 1943, when the Allies liberated the area, he said.

Faete, his village of about 50 people, very near to Arquata del Tronto, is located in the Italian mountains northeast of Rome. The nearest large town is Ascoli Picento [sic]. The location made his home a convenient stop for British and American soldiers and sailors on their way south to Cassino.

The military men, usually downed flyers or escapees from concentration camps, he would hide, he explained, in the stables or the wine cellar in the basement. “When the Fascists or the Germans would come,” Leoni said, “I would invite them inside, give them drinks and food. I was so friendly they came to think of me almost as an informer.”

“If I had the prisoners hidden in the wine cellar, I’d show them the stables, and if they were in the stables, I’d take them to the cellar.”

It was dangerous business, especially for a father of seven, with his wife expecting an eighth. And Mr. Leoni was well aware of the risk. He recalled how his wife’s sister in a nearby village had been shot, holding two babies in her arms, for hiding prisoners.

The people of Leoni’s village knew of his activity and many expressed their fears to him and urged him to stop hiding the prisoners. They knew that the entire village would be burned if Leoni’s activities were discovered.

He continued hiding them, however, and when they could safely leave, he would take them through the mountains, carrying their packs on his mule and direct them to Cassino.

“I told the villagers it was only a matter of time,” he said. And he kept on until the liberation.

Returns September 18

Mr. Leoni will leave the U.S. on Sept. 18 after his long-awaited reunion with his sister, and visits here with his brother, Orlandi, and his nieces and nephews.

Another reunion will be in store for him on his trip home—he has planned a stopover in Paris to visit a son who lives there. Originally the Paris stop had been scheduled on route to America, but Leoni learned that his son, ironically, was leaving then for Italy and a trip home.

Photo caption: “Parisse Leoni and sister, Mrs. Dominick Varone”


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