Thursday, April 28, 2011 3:29 PM EDT
By Bob Montgomery
Not only was Pasquale J. “P.J.” D’Amato, who died at age 94 on April 22, 2011, a devoted husband, father, brother, uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather, he was a man with a heroic story. A World War II U.S. Army veteran, he was a POW escapee while one of only six survivors out of 767 of William Darby’s Ranger battalion during the famed Battle of Anzio.
D’Amato, who went on to a 44-year career at Associated Spring, often wondered how he ever made it out of Italy alive and thought about the many men he knew and the others who had died on Jan. 30, 1944. This was when two battalions of American Rangers, 900 strong, infiltrated enemy lines in the early days of the Anzio beach operation. They nearly reached Cisterna before being surrounded by overwhelming German forces. After eight hours of battle, the Americans surrendered. The POWs included Pfc. Pasquale D’Amato of Bristol, 26 years old at the time.
“It’s not something I would like to experience again,” he told Bristol Press reporters in 1987.
The main objective of the Anzio action — called Operation Shingle — was to liberate Rome quickly. D’Amato was there because he had been bored and joined up with the Rangers after being shipped to Casablanca from bootcamp in Georgia.
“I was young, maybe didn’t know any better,” he once said.
D’Amato and his fellow captives spent two days in a building outside the village of Cisterna. They were then marched to Rome where they were paraded before Nazi officers — and cameras — as the first Americans to march into Rome.
Eventually, they were placed in a German prison in Florence and 12 days later, he and his buddy, Pfc. Jim Adamson of Clearfield, Pa., escaped in donning civilian clothes given to them by British soldiers.
They had planned a night escape, but were told that any Americans showing their face outside their hut at night would be shot and killed. Thus, at 2 p.m. on Feb. 12, 1944, the pair dressed as Italian laborers and made their escape.
D’Amato’s ability to speak Italian helped. Carrying a tile pipe they had taken earlier, D’Amato walked slowly toward the gate with Adamson close behind. In an Italian gesture, D’Amato explained to a German guard that they needed to lay the pipe tile outside the gate in a small tool shed that was near. The two entered the shed for effect and waited a short time before darting out the back door and into an open field. They assumed the Germans would find them missing later that day, but were later told the Germans were never aware of the escape.
In the meantime, it was sleeping by day and moving at night with the fear of the Germans being on their trail. On the way to Rome, D’Amato, who would become a corporal, used his knowledge of the Italian to befriend families who would feed and shield them.
“Every day was a nightmare and so were the nights,” D’Amato told an American reporter after arriving to the U.S. “We had several narrow escapes and more than once were close to being recaptured.”
At this time, D’Amato’s wife, Clara, with whom he would be married for 70 years, was never given notice as to his whereabouts because the Germans never told the Red Cross of his capture. In March, she was told by the secretary of state that he was missing in action and went through three hellish months before learning he was safe and alive.
During March, the weather was too poor to travel and the two escapees had to hide in caves with five other soldiers, all South Africans, near the town of Farneze.
By April, they were on the move once again. About 90 miles from Rome, they mistakenly walked into a German encampment and were spotted. They quickly hid in bushes and remained there for an hour and a half before it was safe enough to move on. D’Amato would learn after the war that two of the South Africans soldiers with whom they hid out were captured and killed by the Germans.
“Being in civilian clothes, we would have been shot as spies,” D’Amato said.
A few days later, the Americans had taken Rome and an Italian boy came running into the town, Allumiere, where the two were hiding, screaming out that U.S. troops were advancing rapidly.
“After we came out of hiding, the word spread around that there were two Americans in town,” said D’Amato. “We got a big ovation. I’ll never forget.”
Soon reaching the outskirts of Rome, a 400-mile and five-month trek for D’Amato and Adamson since their escape, they spotted two American officers and a private riding in a jeep. They yelled out to them in joy and relief and were bought to Civitavecchia for debriefing. Their clothes, which they had worn since their escape escape, had to be burned to kill the lice.
It was a practice to bring American soldiers home after being POWs and D’Amato returned in June 1944. Adamson also returned home and lived until 2003.
“I never used to talk about this,” D’Amato said to a Press reporter four years ago, “but a couple of years ago I started talking and it seems I can’t stop. It must be because I’m getting old.”
He had also said at one time, “God must have been with me. I was a very lucky man.”
Pat D’Amato certainly was a lucky man. He lived a good long life that was well-deserved as one of Bristol’s most storied WWII soldiers. He was a true American hero. My condolences to family members.
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© Copyright 2011 The Bristol Press, a Central Connecticut Communications. All rights reserved
Pasquale’s obituary can be found at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/hartfordcourant/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=150565868