VNA patient and U.S. veteran Pat Nardone shares his epic story growing up in Italy during World War II below (the article was originally published in the Italian Tribune). Although Pat was born in Italy, he is an American citizen thanks to his father who was a naturalized U.S. citizen at the time of Pat’s birth, and who made sure Pat and his siblings could hold an American passport too. When Pat was three, his father returned to live in the U.S., settling in Nutley, New Jersey. After the war, Pat, his mother and siblings joined their father in New Jersey. But Pat, who had recently turned 18, didn’t stay in the U.S. for long as he was drafted by the U.S. Army and stationed just outside Nuremberg, Germany. While the official war was over, it was still necessary for the U.S. to maintain a presence in Europe to help ensure the peace. When Pat finished his tour of duty, he returned to New Jersey where he met his current wife of 53 years, Rae, and had two daughters, Patricia and Laura. Eventually he and Rae retired to Florida, moving to Vero Beach last December to live with their daughter Patricia who resides in the quaint seaside village. “We love Vero,” Pat quips. And he also loves the care he receives from VNA. “I fell once here and the (VNA) nurse came in the middle of the night and she was wonderful,” he says gratefully. But most of all, he loves his adopted country. “I’m so proud to be an American,” Pat says, choking back tears.
A BOY AT THE GUSTAV LINE: SURVIVING THE BATTLE OF MONTE CASINO
by Pat Nardone.
I lived in San Giorgio a Lira, Italy, near the Monte Casino Monastery. The topography of the region made it very difficult for the Allies to continue their march toward Rome. The mountains made it an ideal place for the Germans to dig in. They called it the Gustav Line.
The following are my memories of the German occupation of my hometown, when I was 12 years of age. In early 1944, the Germans came to our small town, rounded up every civilian in sight and took them sway, probably to a concentration camp. The rest of the people took refuge in the surrounding hills and mountains. Soon we started to hear bombing and shelling, an indication that the battle was moving closer to our area. The townspeople dug underground for safety and to hide from the Germans.
The Battle of Monte Cassino was one of the biggest battles of the war in Europe. It was a time when we had to learn to survive. The Germans knew that we were in the hills and anyone who was found and captured was either put to work for them or sent away to an almost certain death. This became a constant hide and seek situation. At one point, I was mistaken as a spy. I was captured by the Germans, taken out of the war zone and interrogated for several days. At some point, they realized that I was not a spy and as a result, paid less attention to me. I was then able to escape and walked along the river Garigliano. It took me to the foot of the mountain Cantalupo. When I arrived at the underground, I didn’t see happy faces. The Germans were looking for me. My mother cried and said, “Figlio mio, you can’t stay here. The Germans were here looking for you.”
They decided that I should go higher into the mountains where there was another underground overlooking the next valley- Santo Opollinaro. It was where the Italians were spying for the Americans. I stayed there until the Germans decided to round up all the civilians in the area. We could hear the screams. I was told that i would be best to rejoin my family down below. However, once there, we were captured and taken to Campo e Concentramento of Cesano. It was hell! We tried to devise a way to escape and once one was discovered, we left.
Outside the camp, we walked along a farm road near a field of fava beans. We waited to see if any more escapees were coming. By the following day, we moved on. We came to a bombed-out farmhouse. No one was living there, so this became our refuge until we were liberated by the Allies. At the farmhouse there was no food or water. Each day, we had to venture out to find whatever we could and this involved going further and further away from the farm house. At one point, one of the groups saw a shepherd tending sheep and came back with cheese and ricotta. The next day I wanted to go with them to help bring some food back. We could see the shepherd with his flock; we stopped and waited, it could have been an ambush by the Germans. After a while, it seemed that everything was okay, so we approached the shepherd. He was a tall man with a beard down to his chest. The only thing visible were his eyes and teeth. As we were following him at one point he stopped and looked at me and asked, “Where are you from?”
I responded ” San Giorgio a Liri.” With a happy loud voice he said, Pasqualino (Patsy)!” It turned out he was my uncle. He gave us food, meat and cheese, but before we left, he took me aside and said that he had a secret and that I should bring the first Americans that I encountered to him.
One morning we heard the sounds of trucks and tanks. My friend and I went to the Americans to tell them that my Uncle had a secret to tell them. It took some time to convince them; finally they agreed to drive to where my Uncle was. When they saw the shepherd, they waited to see if it was safe. When my Uncle saw the American Jeep, he ran toward us shouting in English (I never knew that my uncle had lived in America). My Uncle’s secret was that he was hiding two Army Airmen who had been shot down. I still feel a sense of happiness whenever I think about that day.
After being liberated by the Americans, I was trucked back to my hometown. Months later, new American troops landed further North at Anzio and marched into Rome, passing under L’ Arco Triofole, the same arch where Julius Caesar marched his troops when returning from battles.
This is my personal account of the events. After the war, I was reunited with my father, an American citizen who had emigrated to the U.S. To this day, I am grateful for his vision to come to this country so that I could fulfill the American dream.
When Pat came to this country at the age of 18, he resided in Nutley, New Jersey. He became a business owner, with his wife Raffaella and two daughters, Laura and Patricia, both of whom are very successful and attribute this to the work ethic instilled in them by their father.