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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