Salvatore Mirabello—In His Own Words

two cards with Italian addresses

The family of Nazareno Marani assisted Salvatore Mirabello and the men with whom he escaped from P.G. 59.
Pietro Marani was Nazareno’s father.

Nazareno Marani
Frazne [Frazione] Molino
Monte S. Martino
Pcia [Provincia] Macerata

Pietro Marani
Via Lama
Ascoli Piceno

“My grandfather, Salvatore Mirabello, was an American POW at Camp 59 from approximately January through September of 1943,” says Nikki Morello.

“We have some exciting pieces of history we’ve saved from his experiences, including his biography—spoken by him and handwritten by my grandmother.

“I’d be happy to share any information to continue the understanding and preservation of this piece of history. I am also struggling to find details on the family who kept him safe while he lived in Italy from September 1943 through the spring of 1944. I have been scouring the Internet and but with misspellings and no living memories—my grandfather passed several years ago—I’m coming up blank. I would greatly appreciate any recommendations or assistance.”

I wrote to Nikki, “I take it your grandfather is the “Sam” Mirabello referred to in ‘Simmons’ Address Book—the Americans‘ and ‘A Southward Migration.'”

She replied, “‘Sam’ is most definitely him. I’m guessing he identified himself by saying he was Salvatore ‘Sam’ Mirabello and became ‘SS’—we’ve seen it on quite a few things throughout the years. His actual name was Salvatore Vittario Mirabello.’

Interestingly, four escapees Salvatore mentions in his bio—Francis L. Leap, Erich W. Sobor, Adolph J. “Al” Corona, and Joseph A. Nolle—are also listed in Charles Simmons’ address book.

Charles “Red” Simmons who Salvatore escaped with is featured in the post “Charles Simmons’ Recovered Bowling Ring.”

A playing card, front and back

An Italian Modiano playing card.
“My Pop was a ‘card shark’” Nikki told me. “He wrote about playing in his biography. I love that this made its way into his sacred possessions and survived his living as an escapee for months.”

“It’s exciting to know his story is being shared,” Nikki wrote.

“The fact that he ever wrote this is very interesting, because he stopped talking about the war altogether before I was born. He would always answer questions (very directly as I recall; I remember a lot of one-word answers), but I was shocked to learn he wrote this when I received it in my late-teens. My grandmother thinks they wrote it in the 70’s, but we all think he wrote it so that he could stop talking about it and know that the memories were preserved. He started down the path of Alzheimer’s when I was in high school, so these memories are more and more special the older I get. His wish was to return to Italy and find the family that helped him, which never happened.

“Finding the families who supported him feels like a void we’ve never been able to fill.”

Salvatore Mirabello

Here is Salvatore Mirabello’s story:

Memories of a POW

One day in the late summer of 1940, five of my friends and I were at the local pool hall. We knew it wouldn’t be long before we were called in the draft, so we went to the post office and signed up. The recruiting officer told us the best branch of service for us would be the Army, because they were going to Puerto Rico and it would be like a vacation. So, he signed all of us to the 26th Infantry Regiment.

We got our notice to leave November 25, 1940, and were sent to barracks in Plattsburgh, New York (10 miles from the Canadian border). We arrived there about 4 or 5 in the morning, and it was bitter cold. The barracks were made of cement and there were double bunks along walls. We had 21 days of training and were each put in two different companies, we went on maneuvers in Louisiana in the spring, and then we went to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, in the fall of 1941. Pearl Harbor happened December 7, 1941. All leaves were canceled—no trip to Puerto Rico!

All regiments became the First Division—16th, 18th, and 26th. We went to Camp Blanding, Florida, for maneuvers to toughen us up. We were also on maneuvers on a troop ship called the Leonard Wood. We stayed on the water over 30 days practicing beach assaults. We didn’t know it, but we were training for the invasion of North Africa. I was offered a job as a cadre (one who trains others in warfare), but I refused because I wouldn’t be going overseas with my group.

We left the States August 3, 1942, on the Queen Mary. There were over 16,000 on board—all First Division. They gave us $10 each, and we played craps. I broke two games—on different decks—then lost everything in the third. It really didn’t matter, ’cause we were headed overseas and didn’t know if we’d come back. We were escorted into the ocean from New York, and then the escort left us and we were on our own for five days. We heard over the ship’s radio that the Germans claimed to have sunk the Queen Mary with the First Division aboard. The Queen Mary was the fastest ship afloat at that time and never sailed the same course twice.

When we arrived in England August 8, 1942, we saw barrage balloons all along the coast. These were to protect the land from German planes; they couldn’t make a straight attack in. We were stationed in an English barracks called Tidworth. For two months we maneuvered in England and Scotland.

We left Scotland around October 1942, and traveled over a month before we invaded North Africa. We had to wait for more troops to come from America to join us in the invasion.

While on board ship, we did a lot of drilling and exercising to keep in shape. We went by the Rock of Gibraltar at night. We could see the lights on shore as we went by. It was November 8 at about 11 o’clock.

I was picked out of my platoon to make the first assault wave to land on North Africa. With me were a ranger and men from the First Division. It was very dark and eerie when we landed. I had two belts of ammunition around my shoulders, and about four rocket launchers hanging from my belt; plus my rifle, gas mask, and pack. If I was put off in high water, I would sink like an anchor.

We saw little action the first two days, but Lieutenant Gale and I went into the front lines looking for our regimental commander, Colonel Starke. We went right into a real hot battle. Someone shouted for us to come to where they were. It was Colonel Starke and Theodore Roosevelt [Brigidier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr.—the eldest son of President Theodore Roosevelt and First Lady Edith Roosevelt]. They were in a cave right up front with the men. The battle ended in three days—on Armistice Day, November 11.

Instead of putting us up in houses in Oran, they put out division in an olive grove, where we stayed for about two months. Living conditions were very bad. It rained a lot and it was damp and cold. A regimental band played for us, which helped pass the time away. The Arab kids from the town would come to listen to the band play.

Then we finally got the word we were moving up to the front lines. We traveled about two days by convoy. We went into the desert, to where a British observation plane was shot down, and took a machine gun from the plane’s wing—also ammunition. We left the camera behind, which wasn’t too smart. We mounted the machine gun on one of our Jeeps. We were so proud of it!

We were camped out one day, when we heard and saw six planes overhead. A friend of ours, Frank Holly, had been sent to a school for identification of enemy planes. Frank said, “They’re our planes—don’t worry. All of a sudden, the plane started to peel off and came right at us! They were strafing us and dropping bombs. Three of us went for a foxhole which only held one person. We were lucky none of us was hit.

When we arrived at Kasserine Pass, our platoon was picked to guard an ammunition dump. We were worried about it being blown up by enemy planes. Not far from us was a farm, where we met a nice old French lady. She invited us to eat and cooked us blood sausage. It sure tasted good after all the British rations we had been eating. I often wondered what happened to that woman, because much later the Germans drove us out of there.

The night before January 28, 1943, I was one of twelve picked to put up an observation post on a hill that we had taken that night. I had a fever and was very sick, but the next morning I went with the guys anyway.

Going out front we met our boys going in the opposite direction. They told us the Germans had taken the hill. Our Captain Peters told us to never mind them and to keep going. We went through a lot of heavy fire, but we continued on.

Going up the hill, we captured a bunch of Italians, and some of us were sent back down with the prisoners. We were told by Captain Peters to go back and get more prisoners, so we started back up the hill and ran into a group of German and Italian soldiers who captured us!

When they were taking us back, we were hit by our and enemy artillery barrage. Shrapnel was flying all around us and you could hear it plow into the ground. One Italian sergeant was hit. They finally got us out of there. Captain Peters was shot between the eyes, and the others managed to get back with the prisoners we had captured before.

Six of us had been captured and were taken back to the rear of the German lines. Besides myself, there were: Sergeant Simmons, Corporal Francis Leap, Erich Sobor, Al Corona, and Joe Nolle.

Back of the lines they had us empty a truckload of anti-personnel mines, which they were going to use against our boys. That made us feel real bad. We were taken to Tunis, Africa. They put us in an old schoolhouse, where we were kept prisoner. We were interrogated one by one. I remember when I was being questioned by a young German officer. He told me to sit down and offered me a cigarette, which I took. He asked me a lot of questions about what division I was with and where I was stationed in the States, and other things pertaining to my division. All I gave him was my name, rank, and serial number. He laughed and told me all about the First Division; where we had been stationed, where we had our maneuvers, when we left the states, by what ship, where we landed and on what day, and where we stayed in England. He spoke perfect English—he went to college in the U.S.

We slept in that schoolhouse in Tunis. They had straw on the floor and that was it! There must have been thirty of us in that room. They tried to get us out of Tunis a lot of times, but every time they tried, the Allies bombed the airfield. We were there a number of weeks before they finally got us out. That was the first time I saw a six-engine plane with bogie track wheels (like tank track wheels).

They flew us out in three-engine planes. They were transport planes with corrugated wings. There must have been 50 to 100 of them. A young German paratrooper was on leave from the front and got airsick in the plane! When we flew over the Mediterranean Sea we were about 200 ft above it. That was done so they wouldn’t be spotted by Allied planes. We landed in Palermo, Sicily, stayed there a while, then left for Germany.

Our plane was forced to down in Naples, Italy. While they were moving us, the city of Naples was being bombed by the Allies. We were 12 prisoners at that time being guarded by 12 Italian soldiers in a subway. While we were down there, the people going by were yelling and spitting at us.

We were all interrogated again, this time by an Italian colonel. When he came across my name and another prisoner who was of Italian descent, he was very upset and wanted to know why we were fighting against our own people. We told him we were Americans and proud of it. He was so mad that he told it to us that we would both be shot in the morning. That night they put us all in a cell that just about held us. We were really scared, and the other prisoners tried to console us. When morning came, nothing happened, and we were sent to prison Camp #98 near Naples. With us in the camp were Greeks, South Africans, English, and other nationalities. The 12 of us weren’t there very long. We were sent by train to North Central Italy to a camp called Servigliano #59. We were packed in freight cars like cattle. The train was very slow and took a long time to reach its destination.

The camp was just below Florence, Italy. There was a mixture of English and Americans—about 2,000 prisoners. We had Italian guards and were surrounded by a wall and barbed wire. Each corner had a machine gun mounted in its post.

They put us in barracks with rows of double bunks. At the far end were six holes in the cement of the floor; also a faucet for drinking and washing. Our bed was just wooden slats and a mattress full of hay.

We were given a Red Cross package once a month. They also gave us one ladle of soup and two hundred grams of hard bread, about the size of a hard roll, per day. We built blowers made out of cans that used handles to crank fans that blew the air up through an opening where another can sat full of water that we boiled to make our tea or coffee. The only exercise we had was walking around the compound. This went on for eight months—living like animals. The only way we kept our sanity was to talk about food and home.

September 14, 1943, about 11 o’clock at night, we broke out of Camp #59. We learned from Italian guards that the Italians had capitulated to the Allies, and they weren’t at war with us anymore. Of 2,000 who made an attempt to escape, I would say about 1,000 made it.

The six of us that I have mentioned before travelled all morning. We stopped by a patch of woods and slept. We were awakened at dawn by the sound of motors. Much to our surprise, we were right near a road. The motors were from German vehicles—looking for us! We took off fast and headed for the mountains. We came to a farmhouse and asked a man there for something to eat and drink. We told him we were Americans and escaped from the Germans.

The person who did the talking for us was Al Corona. He spoke the language fluently. By speaking to the man, he found out that he hated the Germans, and that he was a prisoner of the Germans in World War I. He also escaped from them! He took us in and we stayed with his family for quite a long time off and on.

The Allies dropped pamphlets telling the people to take in escaped prisoners and help them stay free from the Germans. They told them they would give them ten thousand Lira for every prisoner they helped. It wasn’t only the Germans we had to worry about; it was the fascist, too. There was one fascist who had a motorcycle with a machine gun on it that we were told to stay clear of. He was said to have killed about 50 prisoners. If we were caught by the Germans, they would send us to Germany. Nazareno Marani was the man who took us in. He had a wife, three sons, and two daughters. The one son saved us a number of times by telling us to take off because the Germans were coming up the mountain, or were searching all the farm houses. So we would leave and head for another town. The family had dyed our clothes black, so we wouldn’t be noticed in our uniforms. There were three towns we stayed at: [Monte] San Martino, Faleroni, and Macerata.

Sergeant “Red” Simmons had a bad case of athlete’s foot. It used to get so bad that we had to carry him from place to place piggy-back. We also had Emil Adams with us, who had a bullet through his thigh, and every once in a while it would swell up and he would got a high fever. We would have to make the infection come out; then he would be okay for some time. With all this, we still managed to elude the Germans. We stayed in a cemetery sometimes and we could see them marching with prisoners back to camp.

The Germans were looking for us constantly. They even dropped leaflets telling the people that if they were caught with prisoners in their homes, they would either shoot the fathers or ship them to Germany. They even dropped Germans behind the lines who spoke perfect English and dressed like us to find out where prisoners were hidden. Armando was the boy who saved us a number of times. He was one of the kids that the fascists and Germans took to train in the army. They were taking kids 15 years and up. When he came back to his family, he was so brainwashed that he tried to turn us in. His father was so mad at him, but we told him we would stay away until he left.

We used to sing the song “Comin’ Round the Mountain When She Comes” to the kids. They learned it pretty good. Sometimes when we were hiding out, we could hear Errico singing it while he was working in the fields below us.

One Sunday we went into town and attended church. Before it was over, we were told to run because the Germans were coming up the road. So we left in hurry. The road started at the bottom of the mountain, circled up into town, and went down the other side.

Whenever we had to leave, we often slept in haystacks, and covered ourselves with hay to keep warm. Our shoes were so worn, the family made wooden soles and nailed the leather from our shoes to them. One time at night we sneaked into town to see a doctor who had a radio. We wanted to find out how far the Allies were. We had heard through the grapevine that they started a big push. When we walked on the cobblestones with our wooden soles we made such a noise we had to abandon that idea.

One day Francis Leap and I were picked up to go to Faleroni, the town on the next mountain, to get some things that were supposed to have been dropped by Allied planes. We thought there might be weapons, food, and even clothes. When we arrived, we were told the Germans were there. So we went to a home that we stayed at a number of times before.

The woman was a widow whose husband was killed in the war. She had a daughter, about nine years old, who we all loved very much. Once before when we had stayed there, we took a chance and went to meet her after school. She was so happy and surprised to see us.

After staying there a while, we left. It was getting late and we didn’t like to travel at night because the mountains were dangerous. We usually stayed off the road and bridges, but we decided to chance it.

We were about one third of the way across a bridge when a command car pulled up by us. We didn’t hear it because the mountain pass blocked out the sound of the motor. There were three German officers and a driver. They had been drinking and we were feeling pretty good. We couldn’t run and to jump off the bridge would be suicidal. It was hundreds of feet down! One German who spoke English asked us if we were English, and we told him we were Americans. He said jokingly, “You won’t go far. Someone will pick you up later.” And they took off. We sure were lucky that time, and got across the bridge fast. We stayed out of sight until we made it back.

Another time we were celebrating Erich Sobor’s birthday—his 21st. We drank a lot of wine and were feeling no pain. Erich, the youngest of all of us, decided that he was going to go back through the lines and get back to the outfit—but we knew it was almost impossible. There were two German lines you had to go through, and with the weather being so bad, we had to force him not to go.

I think it was December 24th when it started to snow and kept snowing for two days straight. It must have been about four feet deep. Nothing moved for days. We didn’t have to worry about the Germans or fascists—and we couldn’t go anywhere. So we stayed with the family and helped them shovel snow to the well and also to the road. When the weather cleared up a little, we left the family again. There were a lot of vehicles on the road, so we stayed in the mountains.

One day while sunning ourselves, we took off our pants, turned them inside out, and killed the lice with our thumbs. While we were doing this, we heard the sound of motors and saw about eight Allied planes about the same height we were. They swooped down and blasted a German Convoy that they caught on the road just below us. It was like being in the movies and having front row seats. Some trucks were on fire and we could hear a lot of yelling. Later on, we went down to see what the area looked like. The Allies sure did a job on that convoy—and we also saw some fresh graves.

We met some Italian partisans—young boys who wanted us to join them to fight the Germans. We asked them for weapons, and they told us we had to get our own, so we didn’t go. There were no weapons available. They told us they were out to get Mussolini, the dictator of their country, and when they got him they were going to hang him by his toes—which they later did.

Toward the beginning of spring, we were back with the family. A few other prisoners that stopped by to see us said they were going south to a town called Comunanza. Red Simmons decided to go with them. It made us feel bad ’cause we had been through a lot together from the beginning. When Pietro, the old man, heard this , he decided to go and try to coax him to come back with him. He asked me if I would go with him, and I said I would. I had to dress like an Italian native and pretend to be his son.

We took off early in the morning and headed for Comunanza. When we arrived, Pietro did all the talking. The town was full of Germans and I was really scared. If I was caught the way I was dressed, I could have been shot as a spy. We found Red, but he said he wasn’t going back—so we got out of there in a hurry. I never heard from him after that, but I know he got back to the States alive.

We started to see a lot of action on the road. Most of it was coming from the German front lines. When we started to hear rumors that the Allies were starting a big push and were moving on to Rome. The Germans were retreating, and every day we could see the roads getting heavier with traffic.

One day we were hiding in the fields—off the road. I had to go to the bathroom so bad but I couldn’t hold it. As I was squatting, one of the Germans standing by a machine gun spotted me and opened fire. I took off through the field, pulling up my pants as I ran. Their convoy just keep moving.

Maybe three or four weeks went by and we ran into the British 8th Army. We were very happy to see them. We went back to see the people we had stayed with and thanked them for everything they had done for us, and we left them one of our dog tags so they had proof that they helped us behind the lines. The British sent us to the American 8th Air Force. They burned all our clothes and deloused us. Later we went for chow. The food looked so good I just piled it on my plate, but I couldn’t eat very much because my stomach had shrunk.

We were flown next to Oran, North Africa—where we had started from—and then shipped back to the States—exactly two years later. They sent me home on a 21-day delay en route. Later I was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia. There I made two bond tours—6th and 7th War Loan Drives. After that I was discharged.

While I was home my godfather, who worked for the Daily Record, came to see me. He wanted me to tell him about my experiences behind the lines. I told them I wasn’t supposed to say much about what happened to us because we had friends behind the lines yet, and they would be in danger if the enemy knew of their location. He told me he wouldn’t write about the area we had been in—but he wrote parts I told him not to.

I was called to Fort Dix and had to see a general who wanted to question me about the article. I told him my side of the story he said not to worry about it. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I was really worried about that meeting.

My family was really happy to have me home, even though they didn’t see that much of me. I spent most of my time at the pool hall or the bars. It took me about six months to get accustomed to civilian life again.

If I ever have the opportunity, someday I would like to revisit the towns in Italy to see how much they have changed.

newspaper article

This article, written soon after Salvatore’s return to the States, appeared in a local newspaper.

Mirabello Assigned to Demonstration Unit

Private, first class, Salvatore S. Mirabello, who was a prisoner of the Germans for nine months, and who escaped and lived behind the enemy lines for seven months, has been assigned to an Army Ground Forces “Here’s Your Infantry” demonstration unit, it was announced today.

The Doughboy, son of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Mirabello of 3 Ann Street, is one of many battle-seasoned infantrymen making up 25 demonstration teams touring the nation under the auspices of the Treasury’s War Finance Division in connection with the Seventh War Loan. The combat veterans are presenting a stirring exposition of infantry weapons and tactics. Pvt. Mirabello who was a rifleman in combat and who appears in the same role in “Here’s Your Infantry,” told of his capture by the Germans and his subsequent experiences.

“I was a member of Headquarters Company, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. On January 20, 1943, during the battle of Faid Pass in Tunisia, I was a member of an intelligence patrol. We were surrounded by a full company of Germans, and after a fire fight in which I used all my ammunition I was captured.

“That last day was one of the toughest I ever spent. We had to move though country infested by Germans and twice we were involved in fights with German patrols. But after we had gone that far we certainly weren’t going to let the Krauts stop us.”

Private Mirabello said he bought war bonds regularly overseas, and, soon after his return to American control resumed the bond purchases interrupted by his imprisonment.

Likes New Assignment

He’s happy about his assignment to “Here’s Your Infantry,” he said, because he believes his demonstration gives the civilian public an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with an infantryman’s battle duties and his weapons.

The demonstration is climaxed by an attack on a Jap pillbox by a jungle assault section, in which rifles, automatic rifles, grenades, machine guns, mortars, bazookas (rocket launchers), and flame throwers are used.

The Doughboys participating in the demonstration were specially trained at the Infantry School, Fort Benning, Ga.

Private Mirabello, who has been in the Army more than four years, was a “tree climber” in civilian life, employed by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. He is a graduate of Morristown High School. The 26-year-old Doughboy received his basic training with the 1st Infantry Division at Plattsburg, N.Y. He has been awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge for exemplary conduct in action against the enemy.

Badly Fed in Italy

“The Germans took me to a prison camp in Tunis, then flew me, along with other prisoners, to Italy. We were taken to a prison stockade near Florence where we were badly fed, overworked, and generally pushed around.

“When we heard of Italy’s capitulation, some of us decided to escape. On September 14, 1943, we made a break for it. For security reasons, I can’t tell you how we did it, but it wasn’t easy.

“We spent the next seven months in German-held territory, operating with Partisans, raiding enemy installations whenever we could, and generally making things unpleasant for the Krauts and Fascists.

“Moving mostly at night, we managed to make our way closer and closer to the Allied lines, and finally, on March 14, 1944, we made contact with an American patrol on the Anzio beachhead.”

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