Luther Vaughn’s Daughters Forge A Friendship with the Cesari Family

Luther and Anna Vaughn

Adele, Loredana, and Francesca share old family photos with Judy Ingersoll during Judy and Victoria’s 2006 visit in Italy.

In January 2007, when I first set out to research the story of Camp 59, I made contact with Ian McCarthy of Associazione Casa della Memoria—the memorial association of Camp 59 in Servigliano, Italy.

Ian provided historical background about the camp, and he put me in touch with Judy Ingersoll and Victoria Vaughn, two daughters of American serviceman Luther C. Vaughn. Like my father, Luther had been a POW in Camp 59.

Victoria and Judy had recently been to Italy to see the camp and meet members of the Italian family that hid and fed Luther after his escape from P.G. 59.

On March 8, Victoria wrote, “How thrilling to hear from you! It is like hearing from a long-lost brother, as our fathers were brothers in arms.

“Dad was in the 1st Armored Division, 27th Field Artillery. He was a staff sergeant on a half-track. He deployed out of Fort Knox, Kentucky. His name was Luther Claude Vaughn, and I think his nicknames were “Ark,” “L.C.,” and who knows what else. He was captured at Tabourba, Tunisia, on December 6, 1942.

“On our visit to Servigliano, we met one family member who was living when Dad was there, as well as the descendants who were the warmest and most wonderful people.

“In 1943, Luigi and Lucia Cesari had three children: Renzo, Francesca, and Elena. Their son Pacifico had died in the war.

“Renzo married Adele, and their sons are Claudio and Pierluigi. Claudio is married to Laura, and Matteo is their son. Pierluigi is married to Enrica, and their daughter is Genny.

“Loredana is Francesca’s daughter.

“It was fascinating that everywhere we went in the area, people who heard our story recalled a GI who was with their families for some period of time. The Italians really seemed to embrace our POWs who escaped from Camp 59.

“Dad never spoke a lot about his experiences, and he died in 1965. I was 11 years old. We were four daughters —no sons —and I’m the third in birth order.

“I went to Italy with my eldest sister Judy last spring; she was about 20 when Dad died. Our mother is still living at 85 years old and is in good health. She worked in an airplane assembly plant in Evansville, Indiana, during the war, but after the war she was a full-time homemaker.

“Judy lives in Murray, Kentucky. Debbe lives in Atlanta. I live near Gainesville, Florida. And Mom lives near our youngest sister, Renee, in Okeechobee, Florida.

“Dad only told little anecdotes—ever the positive thinker. I wasn’t old enough to really ask anything about Dad’s experiences while he was living. So, I started researching in the ’80s and located several men who remembered him and generously shared their stories and memories.

“That’s how we put a lot of his story together.

“His unit sailed from New Jersey on the Queen Mary, which had been converted into a troop ship. The men trained in Ireland before heading for Africa. Dad was among the first to land in Operation Torch. He developed bronchitis and was sick when he was captured. His unit received a presidential citation for their actions when captured. They were holding the line so other units could move out when they were being surrounded by the Nazis.

“As I understand it, Dad was very ill at the time of the escape, when the Cesari family found him and gave him protection.

“He was hidden for six months, because he couldn’t get to the Allied lines. He finally was recaptured when the Nazis got a tip. Apparently, they started promising the return of Italian POWs to their families if the families would turn in the escapees. Had you heard about that?

“We met an Italian man who had been conscripted into the service by the Nazis, but deserted and was hiding out with the Allied GIs for a few months. He was recaptured at the same time Dad was. From there, Dad was taken to Germany and spent the rest of the war being moved from one German Stalag to another.

“While we were in Italy, we saw the camp walls, which now surround a soccer field and sports complex. We also saw where the hole had been made in the wall at the time of the escape. I would love to hear your father’s account of the escape. Dad had told our mom that some men escaped when the Italian camp commander threw open the gates. Apparently, that happened on one day and the wall being broken open happened on another day.

“Ian helped us locate the Cesari family and he made initial contact with them, for which we are eternally grateful.

Left to right: Laura, Matteo, Judy, Victoria, Francesca, and Adele

“We corresponded via e-mail with the family through the son Matteo, who spoke English very well and translated for us the whole time we were there. Judy took Berlitz Italian, so she knew a few words, and I know Spanish pretty well, so if I saw it written, the languages are close enough that I could sometimes figure things out.

“We would have struggled in that region if we hadn’t had a translator, because most people know a little English from school, but few are truly bilingual. It’s still a very rural region and very traditional. Absolutely beautiful!

“The people were so warm and wonderful, though, and very patient when we were off on our own. The Cesaris gave us their flat by the sea to stay in, and they came to get us each day to take us on our adventures. They basically gave us Matteo for the week that we were there.

“Ian met us at the site of the camp and served as translator when the president of the association came to do a presentation of the story of the camp and the times. It gave us chills to walk on the same ground that our dad walked and imagine his life at that time.”

Judy also wrote to me.

“I really hope you get a chance to visit Italy and Servigliano,” she said.

“Your dad was from farm country in Wisconsin, right? If you have lived in a rural setting, you would feel right at home there—it’s beautiful farm country. The only difference is instead of fields of soybeans and corn, it’s olive trees and vineyards—simply breathtaking to see the pictures from travel books come to life! Then there are the mountains in the distance that were snow covered when we were there.

“Unfortunately, my dad didn’t live long enough to start sharing, but we are piecing together some of the things we learned in Italy from an Italian who is still alive and was on the run with my dad.”

Last month, after not being in touch with Victoria or Judy for years, we reconnected.

Judy wrote, “How nice to hear from you again! Since we last corresponded, I was able to tell my dad’s story during Veterans Day celebrations this last year. I will send a copy of the article.

We will celebrate a remembrance in two weeks of my dad’s 101st birthday.”

The newspaper story of the sisters’ visit with the Cesaris is shared in “The Adventure of a Lifetime.”

Additional photos from that visit are below.

This weekend marks 53 years since Luther’s death and it’s Veterans Day. It’s a fitting time to share further details of his story.

Luther Vaughn

Luther and Anna

House where the Cesari family lived during the war

Adele in the kitchen of the old Cesari home

Inside the front door, stairs lead up to the living quarters of the house

Interior of the barn beneath the house, where Luther slept

Searching for the cave where the escapees were hidden

Nello Minetti, Francesca, Adele, Loredana, and Matteo

Nello, Francesca, Adele, and Loredana

Above and below: photos from the visit to Camp 59

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