Monday, November 11, 2013

A piece of local history

I copied this, part and parcel, from the local media.  I copied it last year and never posted it.  It seems especially poignant on this Veteran's Day, which is also the weekend that St. Mary's parish in Umbarger celebrates their traditional sausage festival this year.

"They suffered the humiliation of defeat and capture, the death of five countrymen during internment, the loss of years of their lives and months of debilitating hunger, but on Saturday, four of the “Herefordiani,” – former internees of the Camp Hereford prisoner of war camp -- returned to the site of their imprisonment to rededicate the chapel constructed in memory of their dead.
The return to Hereford was especially poignant for Angerilli Adrino, who as a young lieutenant worked to construct the chapel in the waning days of WWII, knowing that when he and the thousands of other Italian POWs were finally repatriated to their homeland, five of their comrades – Pvt. Innocente Ortelli, Lt. Evaristo Fava, Cpl. Pierluigi Berticelli, Capt. Renzo Banzi and Sgt. Giulio Zamboni – would not be returning home with them.
The chapel now sits in a neat little space, surrounded by shoulder high milo, off a dirt road in Castro County, joined only by the base of the camp’s water tower as the only visible reminder that there was ever a prison – formally known as the Hereford Military Reservation and Reception Center -- at the site.
Adrino, now 91, was joined by Ezio Luccioli, 91, Giuseppe Margottini, 80 – who, because of lying about his age to enlist, was, at age 16, the youngest POW interred at Camp Hereford, and Fernando Togni, an Italian Marine captured at Anzio.
All four, because of their status as “non-collaborators” – loyalists to Benito Mussolini who refused to switch allegiance to the King of Italy after Italy’s fall to the allies, were assigned to Camp Hereford, which was considered “the end of the line” for non-cooperative Italian POWs.
The camp, which consisted of four compounds spread over 165 acres, was located largely in Castro County, but identified as Hereford because of its proximity to the small community about 5 miles away.
The four former POWs were joined on their visit by Italy’s Under Secretary of State Roberto Menia and the General Consul of Italy Cristano Maggipinto. The return to Hereford was also documented by Italian film and television crews.
A fifth Italian POW, Vincenzo Centofanti, who was captured in Ethiopia and interred by British forces in a number of camps throughout North Africa, also participated in the rededication ceremony.
POWs who signed documents disavowing their allegiance to Mussolini after Italy’s surrender in September 1943 were often returned to active duty and assigned to service units, according to historic accounts of the era, while the “Nons,” or “Mussolini men” as the non-collaborators were referred, were interned throughout the war, and as in the case of the Hereford internees, for a number of months after the end of hostilities.
The first POWs arrived at Hereford on April 3, 1943 and the last prisoners left on Feb. 7, 1946. Hereford was the second-larges POW camp built in Texas, and at its peak, held 3,860 prisoners during August 1943.
Adrino, who was captured in May 1943, was initially sent to a POW camp in Missouri, where he was afforded the chance to disavow his loyalty to Mussolini. Because he refused, he was transferred to Hereford.
On Friday night, during a press conference held at Hereford’s Best Western motel, Adrino, through an interpreter, said he was “very taken” with his experience in Hereford, “and still remembers the barbed-wire fences and barracks.”
Adrino, who has made several return trips to Hereford, professed that his only bad memory of his internment was when their U.S. Army captors suddenly cut rations to the prisoners to what Adrino referred to as a “600 calorie a day” diet.
The exact reasons for what the POWs referred to as “La Fame” or “the hunger,” vary, as do the actual amounts of ration reductions, but most accounts say the cut in POW rations occurred about the time of the end of fighting in Europe, when atrocities such as the concentration camps were discovered, but more importantly, when U.S. POWs were freed from their encampments in a highly-emaciated state, whereby military officials and civilian leaders called for the reductions of rations to POWs in America.
When asked if any POWs ever considered attempting to escape Hereford, Adrino answered first with a guffaw and a grin: “Everybody, everyday,” he said, adding that he himself had been involved in a tunnel escape attempt that discovered by their American guards about the time the tunnel had cleared the fence line. Equipment used to dig and support the tunnel, he said, was purchased by sales of prisoner-made alcohol that was sold to their U.S. guards, Adriano said.
History records there were at least initially successful escapes from the prison, but no prisoner actually evaded capture for long.
The goal, Adrino said, was simply “to get out.”
With the end of their imprisonment nearing, Adrino and several other POWs constructed the 10x10 chapel in just a matter of two weeks labor. At approximately the same time, another crew of POWs began work painting murals and creating woodcarvings at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Umbarger.
The work at St. Mary’s was completed in just six weeks – all of which occurred months after the final surrender of the Axis powers.
Following the rededication ceremony Saturday, the former POWs and their entourage dined at the Hereford Country Club before driving to Umbarger to tour St. Mary’s.
Vincenzo Arcobelli, president of Comites to Italians Living Abroad, representing Italians living in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, said the rededication effort at the chapel couldn’t have been completed without the assistance of labor and commitment of the people of Deaf Smith and Castro counties.
The effort, he said, “was to promote and protect a part of American and Italian history.”
Arcobelli, like many of the dignitaries who spoke at various events, took care to explain that while many of the Hereford internees were there because of their refusal to disavow their former leader, it was, for them, a matter of pride and honor, not political belief.
“They were soldiers,” he said. “It makes no difference if they belonged to one political party or another. They were soldiers, and men of honor.”
Menia, the highest ranking Italian dignitary, said the Hereford POWs “kept their own dignity and their own honor. They were soldiers of honor, not soldiers of fortune.""

1 comment:

Pamela said...

I didn't know that the prison camps had their rations cut.
I guess I can see why people felt that way, seeing how badly our military captured were treated.

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