Louis VanSlooten before going overseas
I have known Louis VanSlooten’s son Tom VanSlooten since 2008.
Tom was one of the first family members of Camp 59 POWs I met when I began my research into the camp’s history. I met him through email the same month I began this site.
Tom’s dad was living and active then.
At the time, Tom wrote, “My father has been writing his story off and on for many years and has recently started writing again. It has been a difficult task for him. He told me just a week ago when we were at our family cabin in Northern Michigan that he has spent 65 years trying to forget what happened, and now is having in some way to go back and relive it again to write it all down.”
Louis came close to finishing this memoir before he died in 2011. His granddaughter (Tom’s niece) Jessica Lyn VanSlooten edited and completed the story, which I am pleased to share in this post.
The story is full of excellent detail. Of particular interest to me are the attentiveness and lifesaving efforts of the camp medical doctors, Captain J. H. Derek Millar and Adrian Duff. In his research, Giuseppe Millozzi references Dr. Duff as having cut his own arm, collected blood, and then donated it to his patient through a rubber tube. As it turns out, Louis was a witness.
On a sunny morning late last September, Marino Palmoni and his son Antonello took a group of us to see the area of Montefalcone Appennino where, during World War II, the Palmoni family sheltered escaped prisoners of war.
Along for this tour were: Anne Bewicke-Copley and David Runciman (who own a home in Montefalcone), Aat van Rijn (from the Netherlands, now a resident of Montefalcone), Steve Dickinson (visiting from England), and Mark Randolph and I (visiting from the United States).
The road to the Palmoni home—Casa Palmoni—in Montefalcone Appennino, Italy.
Casa Palmoni and the Marziali Property
This is the house where the Palmoni family lived for over 100 years. There were over 20 people living in this house during the war: Mario’s grandparents—Iginia and Luigi Palmoni—Luigi’s four brothers and their wives, and all their children.
They were contadini—sharecroppers working on the property of the rich Marziali family. The Palmonis didn’t own the house.
Marino remembers—as a boy—taking food to the prisoners who were hiding in the woods above his home. His family looked after four of the prisoners who stayed with them in the house—two English soldiers and two Americans (Louis VanSlooten and Luther Shields).
John Davison, his family, and new Italian friends explore the grounds of the old Cararola farm, where Norman Davison was at first assigned to work and where he later found shelter.
Steve Dickinson and Dennis Hill were among visitors to Camp 59, where Steve’s uncle Robert Dickinson and Dennis’ father Armie Hill were imprisoned. At center was the hole in the wall—since mortared shut—through which many prisoners escaped from the camp.
For three individuals who have an intimate family connection to the prisoner-of-war camp at Servigliano, this fall was a unique time for discovery.
John Davison this year made contact with descendants of Giovanni Bellazzi, the northern Italian farmer who sheltered his father, escaped prisoner G. Norman Davison. Giovanni and his friends helped to arrange for Norman’s safe passage to Switzerland.
Norman had been a prisoner at Camp 59 before he was transferred to camps farther north, where he was required to work on farms.
In early September, John and his family visited the town of Vigevano and experienced a thrilling welcome. (See posts In Their Fathers’ Footsteps, Part 1 and Part 2).
Then, at the end of September, Steve Dickinson and I were among visitors to Camp 59 in Servigliano, where Steve’s uncle Robert Dickinson and my father Armie Hill were interned.
Sometimes recognition for meritorious service is quick, and sometimes it comes unexpectedly after a long passage of time.
For Luther Shields, much delayed honor came last October at in a Vista Grande Inn ceremony in Cortez, Colorado. He was presented with a half-dozen medals earned during World War II.
Read the story, WWII vet finally awarded medals 60 years after serving country, in the Cortez Journal online.
Also, several posts on Luther’s fascinating escape story are available on this site.
An article by Steve Grazier, “WWII vet finally awarded medals 60 years after serving country,” appeared in the online Cortez [Colorado] Journal on October 17. Luther Shields, now 90 years old, received his fine assortment of military service medals at a ceremony at the Vista Grande Inn in Cortez on October 6.
Marino’s parents, Iginia and Luigi Palmoni (Marino genitori, Iginia e Luigi Palmoni)
This recollection of the experiences of Marino Palmoni during the long winter of 1943–44 was provided by his son Antonello Palmoni. Antonello interviewed his father for this story in May 2009.
The story is presented here in Italian and translated into English.
First, the English translation (Tradotto in inglese):
In September 1943, my grandfather Luigi, my father Marino (10 years old), and my uncle Gino (5 years old) were plowing the field near the woods beneath the cliff, when out of the woods came a man. Although he did not speak Italian, we understood from his gestures that he was hungry.
Grandfather asked my father to return home and bring something to eat, so Marino did and returned with bread and cheese. Our family was poor and large; there were more of us at home.
Luther Shields and his wife Jimmie visited with the Palmoni family in 1983. The Palmonis hid and fed Luther and fellow POW Louis VanSlooten after their escape from Camp 59.
At top: Luther and Jimmie (far left) with the Palmoni family. Iginia “Mama” Palmoni is the woman with white hair and gray dress.
Above left: Luther with Marino and his brother Gino. The man in blue is Primo Pilotti. Above right: Marino and Gino Palmoni with Luther indoors.
Following Luther and Jimmie Shield’s 1983 visit to the Palmoni family, Luther sent an affectionate thank you note to Iginia “Mama” Palmoni and her family. This letter was scanned by Antonello Palmoni (Marino Palmoni’s son), and sent to Luther’s daughter Cindy Jackson 25 years later, on December 29, 2008.
The text of the letter, both in Italian and translated into English, follows.
News article—Part I
Forty years later: Reunion with Italian partisans—Local Cortez veteran man shares prison camp experiences
BY SUSAN SHIELDS
Cortez [Colorado] Journal, circa April 1983
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the first part of a two-part account of the capture, internment in a prison camp, and ultimate escape of Luther Shields in a World War II battle which took him from north Africa to Italy during the height of intensive fighting.)
December 8, 1941: The United States declares war on the Axis countries. Private Luther Shields of Goodman Point had already been through training for the U.S. Army at Fort Bliss, and had written home to his parents, “I don’t think the army is so bad after all.”
On May 19, 1942, Private Shields would again be writing to the folks back home from Northern Ireland, where he and thousands of other American troops were engaged in serious training maneuvers, ostensibly, in preparation for thwarting the German Wehrmacht’s assault on Russia.
On this set of American Red Cross “Aviator” playing cards Luther Shields recorded the names and addresses of his friends in Camp 59. Most of them are likely from his camp section.
He carried this “address deck” with him when he escaped.
Note that a couple of the cards bear colorful descriptions: “Hill Billy Sheep Hearder” and “Honkey Tonk (Kid).”
There are 55 addresses in all. They are:
James L. Rogers
(U.S. National Archives on-line POW database indicates Pvt. James L. Rogers, Army Infantry, of Indiana was returned to military control, liberated or repatriated from CC 59 Ascoli Picenzo Italy 43-13.)
507 S. Richardson
Roswell, New Mex.
(U.S. National Archives on-line POW database indicates Pvt. Guss O. Teel, Army Corps of Engineers, of New Mexico was returned to military control, liberated or repatriated from a POW camp, but no camp name is indicated.)
601 Walnut Street
Dawson Springs, Ky.
(U.S. National Archives on-line POW database indicates Sgt. Paul I. Wakefield, Army Infantry, of Kentucky was returned to military control, liberated or repatriated from CC 59 Ascoli Picenzo Italy 43-1.)