Category Archives: Felice “Phil” Vacca

The Virgili Family

A few days ago Mario Vacca, one of Phil Vacca’s sons, sent me this information on the Virgili family during WW II.

The information, provided by Egisto Virgili, is below in both Italian and English.

Egisto and his family will be visiting Mario and his brother Tony here in the U.S. next month.

Con molto piacere cercherò di spiegarvi come era composta la famiglia Virgili. Mi pare di aver capito che le vostre conoscenze sono limitate a Elena, Sergio, Luigia ed alla loro mamma, Maria in quanto erano quelli presenti nel periodo in cui vostro padre, Felice, è stato loro ospite. In realtà i componenti erano otto (8). I genitori: Settimio e Maria con sei (6) figli: Nicola (1905), Erminia (1909), Elena (1910), Sergio (1914), Emilio (1916) e Luigia(1917).

With pleasure will I try to explain to you the makeup of the Virgili family. I think I understand that your knowledge is limited to Elena, Sergio, Luigia, and their mother, Mary, as they were the ones present at the time your father, Felice, was their guest. In reality there were eight in the family. Parents: Settimio and Maria with six children: Nicola (born 1905), Erminia (1909), Elena (1910), Sergio (1914), Emilio (1916), and Luigia (1917).

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Escapee Edmund Petrelli—An Obituary

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Several years ago, Mario Vacca attempted to discover what happened to the four men with whom his father, Felice “Phil” Vacca, escaped from Camp 59.

He sent one inquiry to New Haven, Connecticut.

Mario explained, “A kind doctor from New Haven, Dr. E. Anthony Petrelli sent me a letter with Edmund’s obituary and it had a photo. It was only by coincidence that he had just received my letter and saw the obituary.”

New Haven Register
Thursday, Febuary 10, 2005

Death Notices

Petrelli, Edmund

In the Mary Wade Home, Feb. 9, 2005. Mr. Petrelli beloved husband of the late Margaret Petrelli was born in NYC, Jan. 18, 1910 was educated in area schools, served our country honorably during WWII for the US Army and relocated to New Haven and married, he was employed as a gemologist for the former Spectors Jewelry Shop. Mr. Petrelli is survived by his in-laws Mrs. Charles Celotto, Mrs. Jennie Mauro, Dominic and Frank Amore, nieces & nephews, great nieces & nephews and his brother Edward Petrelli. He was predeceased by 3 sisters and 2 brothers.

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Post-war Letters from the Virgili Family

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Above left, Adele Virgili—also known as Lelena, or Lena
Above right, Virgili siblings Luigia (also called Gigetta) Sergio, and Adele (Lelena)

After his return from captivity in Italy, Felice “Phil” Vacca exchanged letters with several members of the Virgili family—the Italians who protected him after his escape from Camp 59. (See Felice “Phil” Vacca, Part 2—Camp 59 and Escape.)

These letters continued at least into the 1950s and 1960s.

In the first of two letters below, Virgili family matriarch Maria asks Phil about Giuseppe Montesi and Antonio Petrelli. Phil’s son Mario and I assume that Maria is in fact inquiring about Joe (whom the Italian family would have called Giuseppe) Mandese and Edmond Petrelli. Peter Calvagno, Edmond Petrelli, Joe Mandese, and Tony Spicola were the four prisoners with whom Phil escaped from Camp 59.

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Vacca Brothers—Tracing Their Father’s Trail

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Felice “Phil” Vacca attended services at this church with the Virgilis, even while the area was controlled by the Germans.

The church was the landmark that Tony used to find the Virgili family in 1968. He knew that it was just down the hill and across the river from the Virgili home, where his father had found shelter after his escape from Camp 59.

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Felice “Phil” Vacca, Part 3—War’s End

This post is the third and final installment of the story of Camp 59 survivor Felice “Phil Vacca, which began with “Part 1—Off to War,” and “Part 2—Camp 59 and Escape.”

“We landed at Boston, Massachusetts, on August 2, 1944. From there we were shipped to Camp Upton, Long Island, New York. At that time we were given a thirty-day vacation. After 30 days, on August 31, 1944, I reported to Camp Butner, North Carolina, for duty.”

There was a rule in force at that time that forbade Ex-POWs from returning to the same theater of action once repatriated. The military had the choice of sending Phil to the Pacific theater or keeping him in the U.S. He became a guard at the White House.

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Phil standing guard in front of the Treasury Building, September 1945

“At that time I was picked out by Captain Minns, from the 250th Military Police (SP),” Phil explained, “[and we were] stationed at 17th and E behind the State Department in Washington, D.C. We had four machine guns—two that were located on the grounds in front of the White House near the Washington Monument, and one each on the East and West Wings.

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Italians—Resist by Every Means!

Mario Vacca shared the following leaflet with me.

His father, Felice “Phil” Vacca, an escapee from Camp 59, later described distribution of the leaflets over the Italian countryside:

“…American planes dropped [these] leaflets by the thousands in the area, offering 5,000 lire to any Italian who would help hide and care for the escapees. There were so many leaflets it looked as though it had snowed.”

Shown below are the leaflet’s front and back sides and translation into English.

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ITALIANS UNDER THE GERMAN YOKE!

Throughout Italy’s roads, forests, and mountains partisan soldiers are in battle against the Germans.

Day and night from their shops, the railways, and fields, they continue to sabotage the oppressors.

Beyond their active struggle is work that everyone—regardless of age or gender—can do: help the English and American prisoners escape from the Germans.

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Felice “Phil” Vacca, Part 1—Off to War

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Private First Class Felice Vacca

I first heard about Felice “Phil” Vacca when his son Mario wrote to me last January:

“My father, Felice Vacca, escaped from PG 59 along with Peter Calvagno, Edmond Petrelli, Joe Mandese and Tony Spicola. I have visited the camp twice. I do have some history if you are interested.”

When I wrote back that of course I was very interested, Mario then sent me a long, detailed account of Phil’s experiences.

Mario had clearly invested a great deal of thought and effort into recording his father’s story. The format he chose was that of a scholarly research paper, complete with extensive footnotes, cross references to historical accounts of the war in North Africa (where Phil was captured), and links to web resources.

What I am posting here, with Mario’s permission, has been taken from that larger paper. Although I’ve removed the notes and references to external sources, the posts contain Phil’s full account of his experiences as well as additional details provided by Mario’s brother Jim.

Mario’s brother Tony was a resource for the paper, too. It was Tony who, when stationed in Italy during the 1960s, found the Virgili family—Phil’s protectors after his escape from Camp 59.

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Felice “Phil” Vacca, Part 2—Camp 59 and Escape

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Phil Vacca escaped from Camp 59 with four other prisoners, shown in this photograph. At rear (left to right) are Peter Calvagno, Edmond Petrelli, and Joe Mandese. In front (left to right) are Tony Spicola, and Phil Vacca.

This post is the second installment of the story of Camp 59 survivor Felice “Phil Vacca, which began with “Part 1—Off to War.”

“In January of 1943, we were taken by passenger car to Rome, Camp P.G. 50. Approximately 20 of us American-Italians spent about a month there being interrogated. The questions they asked were the same as before (and they already had the answers to them). There was a German planted among us who spoke American English quite fluently. The interrogators were an Italian Calvary and Mountain Troops (The Alpine Post). While I was there, I saw Mussolini’s Arabian horse. It was a beautiful horse.

“Our group of American Italians remained together for the rest of our trip by passenger car to Camp P.G. 59.

“When we were captured, we had regular uniform on. We had our heavy coats, since the nights were cool, even in North Africa. After our arrival at our permanent camp, P.G. 59, we were given gray jackets with a red 4 x 4-inch patch on the right side of the back of the jacket. On the pants they had sewed on another 4 x 4-inch red patch between the knee and hip. They let us keep our uniform, except for the gray jacket, which was theirs.”

Camp P.G. 59 had wood frame buildings for barracks, with windows and two doors—one at each end of the building. The barracks were intact, but with no heat of any kind. The windows were open to the outside. Bugs and lice were plentiful.

“You’d go in for delousing and come out worse than when you went in.” Phil said. “We passed time with bed bugs and body lice.

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North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial

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In a quiet 27-acre cemetery in Carthage, Tunisia, rest 2,841 individuals who gave their lives in military service.

Their headstones, set in straight lines, are subdivided by wide paths into nine rectangular plots, with a decorative pool at each of the paths’ intersections.

Along one edge of the burial area, bordering a tree-lined terrace, is a Wall of the Missing, upon which 3,724 names are engraved. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.

Most honored in the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial lost their lives in World War II in military activities ranging from North Africa to the Persian Gulf.

Among the buried soldiers is Phil Vacca’s cousin Battista “Bucky” Linico Jr.

Bucky was like a little brother to Phil. He and Phil had enlisted under the “buddy system” on January 3, 1941. They served together in North Africa, and Phil witnessed Bucky’s death at the battle for St. Cloud on November 10, 1942. Bucky was 21 years old.

Phil was captured the following month at Longstop Hill. He was eventually interned at Camp 59. Phil’s full story will be shared in upcoming posts.

Bucky’s death was announced in the (Lambertville, New Jersey) Beacon:

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Reported Killed

Private “Bucky” Linico
As reported in last week’s Beacon, Private Battista Linico, son of Mr. and Mrs. Battista Linico, of 38 Coryell Street, Lambertville, was killed in action in the “Western European area.” Information of his death was given in a telegram received by Mrs. Linico, Jr., of Phillipsburg.

Twenty-five Years After the Escape

Felice “Phil” Vacca escaped from PG 59 in September 1943, along with fellow American prisoners Peter Calvagno, Edmond Petrelli, Joe Mandese, and Tony Spicola.

I have been in touch recently with Mario and Tony Vacca, two of Phil’s three sons. They’ve sent me a wealth of material that I will divide into separate posts.

This first post concerns Tony’s contact with the Virgili family and his first visit to Camp 59. That visit occurred in 1968, 25 years after Phil and his companions escaped from the camp.

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Filippo Virgili at the gate to Camp 59 in Servigliano, 1968

While stationed in Pisa during the 1960s, Tony made contact with members of the Virgili family of Monte San Martino in the Marche—Sergio Virgili, and his sisters Luigia and Elena—who assisted his father during the war.

Tony explains, “It was on my second visit to the Virgili’s that I went to see the prison camp at Servigliano and to take photos for my father, per his request.

“Sergio Virgili guided me to the camp. It was a cloudy, dreary day. As we drove through Servigliano, I got an eerie feeling, as I could hear someone playing ‘Taps’ on the trumpet.

“Sergio took me straight to the main gate of the camp and we parked.

“That’s where I took the picture of Sergio standing at the front gate.

“It was like stepping into a ‘ghost town.’ It was very quiet—just Sergio and me – it was like the world stood frozen in time without occupants. The buildings showed signs of deterioration and were locked to prevent anyone from trying to live in them. As I walked around taking photos, I could not help but wonder what the living conditions would have been like for the prisoners. My father made very little mention of his experiences there.

“The only building that was pointed out to me was the guard shack by the gate. At the time I only speculated which buildings were the barracks.

“There were rectangular stone islands of sorts outside, located between buildings. They looked like some sort of outdoor wash stations.

“We also visited the train station across from the camp, which my father had told me about.

As a matter of fact, I have a small book, Il Campo Di Servigliano, 1915–1955, published by Casa della Memoria, which contains a map of the camp, with building locations, and some photos. The map layout is pretty much as I remember the building positions.”

See note after the photos.

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