The Adventure of a Lifetime

This article was published one year ago in the Murray Ledger & Times (Murray, Kentucky). Victoria Vaughn has offered a few corrections, which are in brackets throughout the article.

Victoria Vaughn, far left, and sister Judy Ingersol, middle, are shown during their 2006 visit to Servigliano, Italy with former Italian soldier Minetti Nello, second from left, Francesca Cesari and Adele Cesari, both members of the family that gave help to the sisters’ father, Luther Claude Vaughn, as he dodged the German military in World War II. The Cesari house is shown in the background.

Adventure of a lifetime

Murray’s Ingersoll tells story of meeting family who helped dad in World War II

Murray Ledger & Times
Saturday/Sunday, November 11-12, 2017

MURRAY – On the occasion of Veterans Day, a local woman says she owes a debt of gratitude to the Italian family that kept her injured father safe while he was fighting in Europe during World War II.

Judy Ingersoll said this week that the reason she had not gone public with the story of how her father Luther Claude Vaughn had survived his Army duty of WW II was because she did not think anyone would be interested.

“There are a hundred stories just like this here in Murray alone,” Ingersoll said.

However, there is another part to this story, one that happened about 11 years ago in a small town in Italy, the same place her father had spent a lot of his time during the war. It wouldn’t be called a reunion, because she and other family members had never met the Cesari family of Servigliano, the family that provided safety as Vaughn and others tried to hide from German troops.

“When I told friends about that part, they immediately said, ‘Judy, you have to tell this story! You just have to,’” said Ingersoll on Wednesday, just days before America observed Veterans Day, a day that acknowledges soldiers who emerged from combat alive, as her father somehow did in 1945.

Vaughn had left his home in Webster County to join the Army in 1940, well before the war started. He would marry his sweetheart, Anna May Muye, of Evansville, Indiana while on leave in the summer of ’41, having asked a member of his platoon for $10 to borrow. His bride would eventually work in an Evansville factory helping manufacture airplane wings during the war.

[Judy explains, “My mother, Anna May Muye was actually from Clay, Kentucky, also but was living in Evansville, Indiana, working first as a hospital aid to help pay off her father’s medical bills and later ‘Rosie the Riveter’ working on the wing of an airplane. (My mom is still alive and living in Florida).]

Meanwhile, Vaughn and his outfit, Battery C of the 27th Armored Field Artillery unit based in Fort Knox, were thrust into war preparation after the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. By early ’42, the unit was being shipped by the British luxury liner The Queen Mary to the European theatre of the way to battle Germany and Italy.

Soon upon arriving in Northern Ireland, though, Vaughn encountered a major medical issue that probably should have ended his campaign before it started.

“They did a lot of parade marching and it was more for the people than anything because, at that time, they were being bombed a lot by Germany. Well, one day they were marching in one of those parades and they were crossing a hill and Dad said, ‘The next thing I remember I was in a hospital,’” Ingersoll said. “We’re not sure that happened, but we think Dad had an asthma attack. The doctors wanted to send him home, but he wanted to stay with his group. He didn’t want to get separated from those friendships.”

Later in ’42, Vaughn’s unit was in Tunisia on the African continent and things seemed to be going well, particularly for the corporal from Clay. The desert was good for his asthma and his unit was moving well.

Then came a rare rainstorm. The 27th bogged down and suddenly found itself under attack from the Germans. Vaughn would take a bullet in the chest before he and the rest of his unit were taken prisoners.

[Judy clarified, “Dad was not technically shot in the chest, but hit with shrapnel.]

“So the first thing the Germans made them do was a formed march, and with his condition I don’t know how Dad made it,” Judy said. “Anybody that fell out, the Germans just shot them and left them.”

By Dec. 6, Vaughn was in a prison camp on the island of Sicily. Quickly, though, the group was moved to what was known as Camp 59 in the small Italian mainland town of Servigliano, where Vaughn was housed with Australian and British soldiers, along with his American teammates, and one AWOL Italian soldier named Minetti Nelo.

[Judy says, “The Italian’s name is Nello Minnetti. He was 85 at the time we met him.”]

“The idea was for the prisoners to be taken to Germany eventually, but in September 1943, (Italian dictator Benito) Mussolini signed the armistice taking Italy out of the war so the guards vacated the prison,” she said. “There was one problem, though. They didn’t let them out before they fled. I don’t know how they did it, but somehow (the prisoners) cut a hole in a wall and climbed out, because they knew the Germans were coming back.”

[To clarify, the armistice was signed by a representative of Marshal Pietro Badoglio, Italy’s prime minister since the downfall of Benito Mussolini in July.]

They did come back, but Vaughn had bigger problems. He was still ailing from being shot, plus there was the added burden of his asthma, not at all conducive to cool, wet climate of the Italian hill country. However, among the group with whom he had escaped was the resourceful Nelo, who knew his way around the Servigliano area.

Soon he had his group safe in a cave, but the moisture was too much for Vaughn. So he went searching for better conditions and soon came across a family, the Cesaris. The head of the house, Luigi, took him in, along with his wife Lucia and children Renzo and Francesca.

“They had just learned that their son, Micivico, had been on a ship that had gone down and he hadn’t made it,” Ingersoll said. I think Daddy took his place.

[The son the Cesaris had lost was named Pacifico—pronounced Puh-CHIEF-ee-ko—not Micinvico.]

“Renzo was only 12, but he kind of would run interference for Daddy. Eventually they made a deal where if they had enough food, they’d take it to the cave. If not, well, Daddy was good at trapping and fishing. He’d find food on his own. Also, every night, Daddy would sleep in the barn, which was actually the first floor of the house.”

By May ’44, though, the Germans were regaining possession of the thief prisoners and soon found Vaugh’s group. For any family that had provided shelter, there was a price to pay.

“They beat up Renzo,” Ingersoll said. “Nelo would later tell us, though, that when they tried to get Daddy to admit that it was the Cesari family that helped him, he wouldn’t do it. Nelo also told us that the first thing a lot of the guys would do when they escaped was to go get drunk. He said Daddy wouldn’t. Daddy was upstanding and treated the people who helped him very well.”

[Judy clarified, “They beat up daddy in from of the Cesari house, not Renzo. They were trying to get Lucio to come out and stop them. Adele says that is the only time Renzo (who would later become her husband) had ever seen his dad cry.]

Back in German hands, Vaughn would spend the remainder of the war going from one prison camp in Germany to another, mainly to stay ahead of approaching Allied liberation forces. Diagnosed by German doctors with pneumonia, Vaughn had to endure more marching along the way. Eventually, the Allies finally caught the Germans, liberating him and the others in May 1945.

“By then, he’s had an interesting time,” Ingersoll said. “Those marches would last seven days, and he was back in cold weather again.” He only survived through sheer will.

“He was never healthy after that. He always had problems, but he was able to work for several years after that.”

Vaugh would die November 10, 1965, the day before Veterans Day, in Tucson, Arizona. His military rites were carried out on the holiday. He would have been 100 last week.

It was 2006 that Judy and younger sister Victoria found themselves face to face in Servigliano with the Cesari family. The visit was prompted by Victoria coming across a photograph of Camp 59.

“We said, ‘If we can find this. Maybe we can find the Cesaris,’” Judy said. “So we began looking for information and eventually we come across someone there who tells us, ‘Yes! I know the Cesaris!’ So we go. It was a life-changing experience.”

The sisters saw everything. They saw the house, a rugged two-story structure built in 1794. They saw the first-floor door where their father sneaked though to find dry refuge from the cave every night. They also saw the prison, now a soccer complex, where Nelo, then 95, proudly showed the group where they had cut the hole out of the bricks that led to their, though short lived, freedom.

“There was a lot of crying,” Judy said, remembering two times [in] particular when the emotions overflowed. “The most emotional moment for me was seeing the place where Daddy actually slept, inside that door. Then came the day we were visiting the prison and Adele (widow of Renzo, who had died previously) just begins to week uncontrollably. We couldn’t understand all she was saying but one of the family members told us that the prison reminded her of the day she remembers Daddy being beat up for not telling them that the Cesaris were the one who had helped him.

“Everyone in the family knew the story, even the ones who came after Renzo and Francesca. All we could do was tell them several times that we (along with sisters Debbe and Renee) that we wouldn’t be here if it had not been for them.”

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