Pierced Steel Planking: the gates of the war

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  • The kids of Venosa and the airmen


    (Nina Fioretti, Rino Savino, Teresa Lotumolo, Antonio Preite, Joe Rippinger: memories)




    Who are the children in the photo?
    An email from Mr. Terry Boettcher indicates to us the website of 456th BG, located at Stornara air base (http://www.456thbombgroup.org) where a series of photos of a young airman of the 485th BG appear, Harold "Red" Kempffer (who is Mr. Jerry  WhitingĎs friend, which we discover a few days later) with images taken in Venosa: old people, children, workers in the regained and still fragile normality of  the immediate postwar. 
    Hungry children, dressed in rags: glittering results of Mussoliniís war.
    ...and where is the photo of Nina? 
    In regards to these photographs... Mrs. Nina Fioretti, from Venosa, in 1944 was a child. She remembers, with emotion, that an American soldier wanted to take a photo with her, because Nina reminded him much of his own daughter.  Nina never saw the photo, but it remained a beautiful memory in her mind, one of many and much more dramatic memories of that tormented time period, especially before the arrival of the Allied forces. 
    The Germans wandered the town looking for requisition vehicles, and asked for her fatherís car to be ready for the next day. During the night her father dismantled the entire car, hiding all the pieces so that the Germans would not be able to find it.  The next day the German patrol did not return: they were killed by during machine-gun fire by airplanes. Other impressive memories for a child during that time: the German plane that fell between Venosa and Lavello, the slaughter that took place in the nearby town of Rionero where Germans and fascists killed unarmed civilians. 
    When we found this image of a little girl from Venosa on the 456th  BGís website, a little girl with strange sunglasses, we think immediately: she is Nina Fioretti!   
    But unfortunately it isnít her photo. 
    She remembers the photo was taken with the American near her:  the airman, who was much taller than her, had crouched down near her, and so the photo was taken.
    Little Movie Star (Photo 485th BG, in http://www.456thbombgroup.org/kempffer/kempffer2.html 
    So Mr. Jerry Whiting sent us the photo of an airman near a little girl, exactly the photo we were searching for: itís one of his favourite pictures. 
    We look at the picture, amazed, this is a beautiful image. 
    The girl is dressed in an American military shirt, still with ranks; in the belt she has the garrison cap of airman, who is near her in such a friendly manner, as a father or  an older brother. 
    The airman, B. W. Nawman, was in the same crew of Wayne B. Whiting, Jerryís father. However, this is not yet the photo that Nina remembers.  
    We keep searching. Jerry, in the meantime, sends us other photos. 
    Hey! Look whoís here! Again the little girl with sunglasses, with other images of little scamps.
    The child with sunglasses and "Large Shoes" (from: Jerry Whiting - photo 485th BG)
    Nina canít recognize herself in the photo with airman, but in another image recognizes her brother, Vincenzo Fioretti
    Vincenzo, the one with the white shirt in the group of children near the statue, in which one of the kids  is drinking from a big bottle (probably milk; people remember often airmen would bring powdered milk to them ask a gift). 
    Mrs. Nina remembered: once her brother Vincenzo asked another sister to sew the two letters "MP" on a strip of cloth to imitate some American soldiers. 
    Then he arranged the strip on his arm and went out to play with his friends. Immediately he was "arrested" by a real American MP who seriously thought the boy had stolen the strip; Vincenzoís mother had to reassure the soldier that the strip wasnít original, but only a copy.  
    No serious charge against the little boy, but the MP told his family: regardless, this was absolutely forbidden. 
    Vincenzo, the brother of Mrs. Nina, died in an accident in 1987. 
    And so Nina was able to again see her brother when young: a small, happy emotion! Mrs Nina, along with her relatives, recognized another well known person (lower right side), still living: Mr. Rocco Modello, also called in venosine dialect "Z' Rucc" (Uncle Rocco).
    B.W. Nawman and the little girl
      (from: Jerry Whiting - photo 485th BG)
    Kids in Piazza Castello, near the statue of  De Luca
    (from: Jerry Whiting - photo 485th BG)
    Story of Dyn
    Casually, showing photos and talking with people, we find other stories. 
    Several stories, indeed, arenít strictly related to Venosaís airfield; we understand a lot of people worked also in other American airfield: San Severo, Foggia, Pantanella... 
    Rino Savino tells us a story about his father.  
    "My father Dino Savino, when he was about 12 or 13 years old, went to an American air base near San Severo city. He worked here, assigned to the officerís mess hall; and later he received a tent and a camp bed for himself .
    The young assistant cook was amazed that the Americans didnít eat a lot of food: often they were brought chickens, and he had to cut off the necks and the claw and throw them away. 
    Throw them away? What a strange waste! With such hunger that was known during that time, he asked for it as a gift... 
    Soon, all the Americans knew him. Everybody treated him well, just like fathers or older brothers, even if nobody was able to pronounce his name correctly; his name was Dino, but everybody called him "Dyn".  
    Sometimes Dyn observed vacant seats in the mess. 
    The seat of one of his older friends that he knew so well.  
    When it happened, Dyn cried desperately, because soon he learned: a vacant seat, a man missing in action. He couldnít believe it! 
    Then, the friends of the missing person took him aside, tactfully, comforting and explaining him the destiny of war. 
    At last, the day came in which the airmen would return home. It all happened so fast, the entire airfield was quickly demobilized. 
    Dynís American friends had to think of something for him, so they arranged a special treatment: a little toast. It was the first time in Dynís life that he became drunk, drinking with airmen. 
    Before he knew it, he was blind drunk, because he was absolutely not accustomed to alcohol and became very sleepy, even in all the  chaos of the imminent departure.  
    The day after, at dawn, the boy woke up in the middle of the air base, where he had slept on his military bed. He had a horrible headache: around him, his tent was dismantled and taken away. All his friends had disappeared without saying so much as goodbye, and slowly Dyn understood. 
    The Americans wanted to avoid a sad farewell, with their friend crying their last moments together. Now the boy was completely alone. Alone. 
    No airplanes, no airmen, no more frantic activity of the day before. 
    The airfield, at present deserted and peaceful, had been forever abandoned."
    "Broken Shoes" (from: Jerry Whiting - photo 485th BG)
    Col. Walter E. Arnold at Venosa air base, little before the shooting down of his plane. Who is the kid behind him? (from: Jerry Whiting - photo 485th BG)
    Also Teresa Lotumolo remember: his maternal grandfather, Rocco Silano, was called by friends "Rocco the Reporter" because he liked read books and newspapers, and talking about  them with all the family and friends in the evening around the fireplace. He worked for the Americans, on the Venosa airbase. He had to collect airmen's uniforms, carrying them to the town's women. The women washed the clothes in the public fountains of Venosa, and then he brought back to the base. Sometimes pieces of clothing would disappear because the women would get confused or some child had stolen it at fountain: then, great confusion and troubles happened in town. 
    Teresa has other stories to tell.
    "My grandfather Antonio Lotumolo (father of my father) sent two of his young sons to work with the Americans. My uncle Luigi Lotumolo was at Foggiaís air base. Once, he involved his father Antonio in a strange adventure. Uncle Luigi sent to tell his father: ďWait outside the fence at the Foggia airbase, in a certain place at a certain time, and wait.Ē  Taking a mule-cart, with one of his friends, my grandfather arrived in Foggia. At the established hour, in the agreed-upon place, someone behind fence, from inside the airfield, tossed two packages out. Two parachutes!  At the time, the parachutes were a very popular item, and many military warehousemen made a small fortune selling or exchanging similar objects. The family of my father ( 7 sons....), could now clothes for everyone..
    When airmen didnít return...  
    Teresa Lotumolo remembers again:
    Also my father, Tommaso Lotumolo, when he was 13 years old, worked in Pantanella airfield. He was assigned to the field kitchen. He had to open mountains of meal-tin: one time he hurt his and badly with a deep cut, of which you could still see the scar. There was another job for the Italian boys in the airfield, a sad job. Sometimes Americans gave them clothes, not as a gift or for washing, but for burning. A lot of clothes. Initially the boys asked if they could take something for their families, but in this case the Americans always quickly answered no. Why not?  Soon my father and other boys understood the reason. The burning of the clothes would happen when an airplane did not return to base after a long wait. In this case the wardrobe of that crew would be burned... . The airmen would never return."
    Note - Jerry Whiting says this is the first time he heard of this practice.  
    Usually, if an airplane didn't return, the tents of crew were taken under surveillance; in case of K.I.A., the personal items were sent to the families, not burnt.
    To the fountain (from: Jerry Whiting - photo 485th BG)
    Life in the street (from: Jerry Whiting - photo 485th BG)
    The sun of Antonio Preite  
    Jerry Whiting asks if someone in Venosa remembers anything about spies or sabotages happening in the airfield? We consult Antonio (Tony) Preite, then a child, if he know something about spies; but he donít give much importance to the question. 
    Tony never heard anything about spies, and believes that the question is marginal.  Insisting the question, he answers simply and in concrete terms.
    "Spies..." Tony says, musing the question, a silly question for him, and immediately: "Impossible. When the Americans came to Venosa, we saw the sun!"  Then he spoke about the living conditions of the time: the war who abducted men, making the poor poorer, the hunger, the ancient backwardness, the women with big headscarves hiding their hair, like Islamic women... Antonio Preite offers us a small example. He had a small ice-cream cart; every time an airmen came to Castle Square, he happily paid for ice-creams for all the yelling, cheering, exulting band of children that encircled him... 
    Everyone of us has listened to an infinite number of similar stories, from fathers and grandfathers. Nobody, in those times, could think of spying for the damned nazis and fascists (all vanished as cowards when the Allied forces arrived); in addition, at the time it was absolutely impossible to communicate with the Germans in North Italy. Antonio Preite, anyway, splendidly summarized the situation: " the Americans brought the sun."  
    What else? Nobody can digress toward the darkness.
    Airmen and children (from: Jerry Whiting - photo 485th BG)
    The mandolin's boy
    Besides the photos, some memories of the kids come from America.
    Jerry Whiting writes: Joe "Rip" Rippinger, a pilot who was there the last five months of the war in Italy, recently sent him a photo taken in Venosa, with a mandolin. 
    "There was an Italian boy that periodically went to visit Joe at the tent camp. The boy had a mandolin; his job was to tidy up the tent, for the occupants. Joe doesnít remember his name, and the boy, in the meantime, learned a few words of English. When the war ended, the boy went to the tent and said something like: "Hey lieutenant, me hear radio speak and say possible war finish". It is probably impossible to identify the boy, but here is his photo."
    The boy with mandolin (from: Joe "Rip" Rippinger - photo 485th BG)
    The children are playing (from: Jerry Whiting - photo 485th BG)
    Pierced Steel Planking: the gates of the war
    HOME Pierced Steel Planking: the gates of the war 15th USAAF, Airfields  in Apulia
    Thanks to the 485th BG Vets First contact Old ties
    Mount Vulture, Old Sawtooth Life at the Venosa Airfield during World War II  The kids of Venosa and the airmen
    Bombs Away, the magazine With the eyes of the children 2008: impressions
    2008: return to the base Bibliography & Links INFO
    Search and texts: Pasquale Libutti   rapacidiurni@gmail.it       Page connected to www.storiedelsud.altervista.org