Category Archives: Letizia Del Gobbo

The Departure of Heroes

Antonio Del Gobbo on his ninety-second birthday
Marino Palmoni is interviewed by Italian historian Filippo Ieranò (left) and Ian McCarthy (not shown), 2010

My father, American Sgt. Armie Hill, was a prisoner of war in P.G. 59 Servigliano during the Second World War.

He escaped from the camp in September 1943, shortly after Italy signed the armistice with the Allies. Although the Italian government had capitulated, much of Italy was still held by the Germans. Escapees from prison camps across central and northern Italy found themselves on the run in enemy-occupied territory—and were at the mercy of local Italians for protection.

The Italians themselves were divided between fascists, who cooperated with the Germans, and partisans, who fought for liberation of their country. Rural laborers and farmers, the contadini, were faced with an ethical dilemma when ragged POWs turned up at their doorsteps asking for food, shelter, or directions. 

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A Haven in Smerillo

an old Italian woman carries a bundle of sticks on her head

Letizia Galiè in Del Gobbo

This story has a remarkable heroine—Letizia Galiè in Del Gobbo, who lived during the war in the Marche comune of Smerillo, roughly 10 miles from Servigliano. Days after the prison camp breakout from P.G. 59, she was approached by two ragged, hungry American soldiers.

Widowed just seven years earlier, Letizia was left alone to provide for and raise six children. Yet she did not hesitate to welcome the escapees into her home.

Marco Ercoli shared the story of his grandmother’s courage and humanity with me.

He wrote, “My grandmother, Letizia Del Gobbo, hosted in Smerillo two American prisoners escaped from Camp 59 in Servigliano. She remembered just their names: Michele, whose his parents were Italian emigrants, and Beo.

“They arrived in Smerillo on September 1943 and remained there until June 1944, when the U.S. Army moved into the Marche region.

“The family Del Gobbo in 1943 was made up of my grandmother Letizia, widowed in 1936, and three sons—Antonio, Giacomo, and Giuseppe—and three daughters—Maria, Chiarina, and Palma (my mother). Antonio had lost a leg in 1940, when he was 17, and they were very poor.

“Yet they had the strength to host—at great risk—the two Americans.

“Only Antonio, 96 years old, lives still in Smerillo. The others have all died.

“Two years ago, Ian McCarthy [of La Casa della Memoria] gave him a filmed interview.” Also, Pasquale Ricci, an Italian with an interest in the escape stories, has written about the Del Gobbo family in his book 9 Settembre 1943: Lo Sbando e La Fuga.

“I am writing a short story about the experience,” Marco said. “When I finish it, I will send you an English version. And I’ll send you photos of Antonio (called Ntontò) and my grandmother Letizia (“nonna Litì”).

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