Pete Marlo of Holiday Estates in Englewood, Fla. served in the 62nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion from Totten, Long Island, N.Y. His unit was attached to Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army during part of World War II. They fought Field Marshal Irwin Rommel during the disaster at the Kasserine Pass shortly after the Invasion of North Africa in 1942. He wrote me a letter about his experiences.
“Kasserine Pass was our first battle. We kinda got pushed around by Rommel. I got lost during the fight, but finally found my outfit,” he wrote. “After North Africa, we followed Patton’s armored division through the heart of Sicily and ended up in Palermo. We set up our guns and waited for action.
“Like every veteran, I could have written about my service time in Algiers, Morocco, North Africa, England, Sicily and much more. I could have told you how I got the shrapnel scars on my back and my experience in a hospital in Morocco. I could have told you what it was like to be on the Queen Mary when a torpedo from a German U-boat missed us. Like many other veterans, I could have told you about the pain of war,” the 84-year-old wrote.
“But I had one very important spot in my life while serving in the Army, and I thought your readers would find interest in it. At last, a World War II story with a happy ending!
“I thought about my dad. He was one of the poor immigrants that is written about on the Statue of Liberty. I don’t know what year he came to America, but it was in the early 1900s.
“I thought it would be a great thing if I could find my grandparents while I was in Sicily. I wrote my dad and asked him where he was from in Sicily. He wrote back and said he came from Vittoria. Vittoria was about 15 miles from the Commisa Airport, near where we landed at Livorno in southern Sicily. The airport was the most important target in Sicily. It was taken by the 82nd Airborne Division.
“While in Palermo, I made friends with a very prominent lawyer who said he had a brother in Vittoria. He wrote to his brother, and the brother said he would do whatever he could to help me find my relatives. My captain (company commander) was all for it and gave me a four-day pass. I grabbed a C-47 (transport plane) from Palermo to Commisa Airport and started out on my quest.
“I was met at the airport by my friend’s brother, George, with a horse and buggy. Gas was almost impossible to get, so a car was out of the question. We went to a municipal building and found all the people in the Vittoria area named Menzzalsalma.”
That was Marlo’s name before he shortened it later in life. I figured it would be easy to find such a name in the listings. It was like looking for Smith in America.
“There were dozens of Menzzalsalmas in the register. I was ready to give up, but my new friend, George, said it would be all right. We took the whole list and started out with his horse and buggy.
“We soon found out that everyone in Sicily has a long-lost relative in America. I was getting hugs and kisses from a lot of gentle old ladies that swore I was their grandson. I was not convinced so we kept on going,” he wrote. “It was getting dark when we came to this nice little house in the country. I told George this was the last one for the day. I was really getting discouraged.
“A gentle little old lady answered the door and I went into my spiel about the boy from America looking for his grandparents. She invited us to come in. Hanging on the wall in her living room was a picture of my dad, myself and my two brothers. It was the exact same picture my dad had hanging in our home in America.
“I had truly found my grandmother and grandfather. Emotions swept over everyone. It was a moment in time I will never forget. My grandparents were overjoyed to see me, and I loved every minute of it.
“It was war time and food was scarce. They had a few rabbits and goats. My grandmother put a feast together and invited a lot of people I didn’t know. We had a great time until Monday morning when I had to head back to Commisa Airport and catch a plane back to Palermo. I never saw my grandparents again.”
For Marlo it was back to war. A few days later, he crossed the Messina Straits to Italy. The Italian Campaign was launched. Marlo and thousands of other young American soldiers were pinned down on the beach at Salerno, Italy, fighting for their lives. It was the beginning of what would be a very rough year for him and every other U.S. soldier fighting in Italy.
By December 1944, about the time the Battle of the Bulge began and hundreds of thousands of fresh German troops almost overwhelmed Allied forces in Belgium for a couple of weeks, Marlo had amassed enough points to be rotated home. He served the rest of the war stateside.
Despite the three major invasions and five major campaigns he was involved in during the war, what Cpl. Pete Marlo, who grew up in upstate New York, recalls most about WWII is a picture on the wall of a small country home in southern Sicily.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, July 31, 2005 and is republished with permission.
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