Sergeant Manuel Serrano was the first American soldier known to have fought with the Italian partisans. A paratrooper, Serrano was captured in December 1942 in Tunisia. From there, he was transported to Camp No.59 in Servigliano, Italy, where he remained until his escape in September 1943 after the Italian armistice. Subsequently, he joined a band of partisans in the Le Marche region where, with limited supplies, they worked to capture German soldiers and Italian fascists, as well as help escaped allied prisoners.
Serrano suggests that they assisted approximately 100 soldiers reach allied lines. In July 1944, after a 20-month absence, Serrano finally returned to his regiment in Italy, much to their surprise.
The full story follows, in two versions. The version in the first window below is the original scanned version of the story. In the second window below is the transcribed version in plain text.
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Notes on Manuscript of Sgt Manuel Serrano 508th (American Paratroop Infantry Battalion
‘The Partisan from Brooklyn’ [Handwritten note] K.K.’s Summary made in ‘90’s
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Went into North Africa. Bombed on C’mas [Christmas] Day in Algiers Barracks with few casualties Says ‘Not withstanding my poor education.
As evening fell on 26th were off on 1st Mission to blow up bridge. Their nervous excitement was covered by the usual banter. Jumping last of 15 he had less than 500 feet before the ground rushed up towards him. After others disappearing not to come back two were left and as dawn came ostrich like they tried to hide in sand from Arabs and Germans all around. In evening a pistol held by a German forced him into becoming a prisoner but not alone as others were joined on to them. Their night in Sfaz [Sfax] was reminiscent of Christmas day except that it was Allied bombs falling around them
Put on an Italian destroyer at Tunis and driven by hunger Manuel Serrano conceived a plan to take the boat over but others restrained him.
At Palermo the eventful year of 1943 and his 23rd Birthday began.
Taken to Campo Concentramento 98 he says there were 215 Americans, a few South Africans 1 English and a platoon of French. (Lines later ’500 men for roll call’ and ‘two or three dead Englishmen carried away every week’)
(19) I It. [Italian] officer tries to make up to him but Manuel Serrano does not answer so thrown into prison but officer persisted. After 25 days swore at It. Col. [Italian Colonel] in It. [Italian] so thrown into prison and beaten, and during it told them soon ‘millions of bombs will soon drop to repay your savagery’ Nights later Palermo bombed.
He swore revenge for the barbaric way he was treated.
22) When the camp was moved the Col. [colonel] had to, reluctantly, let Manuel Serrano go with the others. Given three tins of meat and three biscuits for a three day journey. Manuel Serrano ate the lot in 15 minutes. At mainland put into cattle trucks – with no ‘facilities’. Steals food from sleeping guard. (Mentions a tin of milk and then says he eats the tin of meat). Arrived at Porto San Giorgio.
28) ‘The people of this new place seemed more friendly and offered us bread.’ Not out to spit at us as in the south. In the Camp greeted by the British with cigarettes, tea and snacks. Water, food and sheets! But not for Manuel Serrano who is sent to cell to continue month’s solitary. Food became an obsession. Then out to the warmth and generosity of the camp. Describes ‘blowers etc. Italians try to keep to Gen. [Geneva] Convention. Brit. Dr. [British Doctor] arranges unofficially for Manuel Serrano to have double rations as he has gone down from 195 to 145 lbs.
12 prisoners escaped. With others Manuel Serrano started to tunnel but it was found. Manuel Serrano writes of taking on the Boxing Champion of the Camp but does not mention the fight. Says all English sent north or to working camps or farms. (When KK arrived there two weeks before Armistice the camp was 50/50 Am. [American] Eng [English]
28) After escaping at Armistice Manuel Serrano with another American and others and 3 Poles stayed for 2 or 3 months with farmer (Antonio, Maria & daughters Caternia and Agata) not knowing what to do. Heard of partisans near Sarnano about 30 miles (kilometres KK) to the West. Found hide out. 50 Italians some Yugoslavs. First raid on Penna San Giovanni. Manuel Serrano went with 19 others and rounded up 5 fascists from their houses. Took them back, tried them and hung them. Manuel Serrano says 3000 lire paid for each POW (actually [more]) Fascists cornered the market in shoes, pasta and clothes. Some Fascists were given their own medicine – large doses of castor oil. Old Italian rifles, hand grenades and some captured German pistols. Six months after he joined (not long before liberation) British dropped machine guns. Radio Station called ‘Italia Combatte’ and their code name ‘Sole Tramonte’. Messages in code. (4LO One message gave details of the habits of leading Fascist in Ascoli. They went in and ‘let him have it there’. An It. Capt [Italian captain] was C.O. [Commanding Officer] 2 It. Lts, [Italian lieutenants] 6 Sergs [sergeants], and 2 other Americans. (No mention of 2 Eng [English] Sergeants or Corrodoni) (See R.A.) Manuel Serrano reckons they helped some 100 cross the lines (How did they know they got through). 3 girls helped. Names of POWs radioed to Bari.
(44) Walking in civilian clothes in P.S.G. Manuel Serrano says he saw a German soldier failing to salute a Fascist officer being told off by the It.[Italian] So the German killed the fascist. Sounds a rather mythical event KK)
(45) In April 44 Germans and Fascist made concerted effort against partisans. 5 Partisans captured and hanged slowly – by lowering and raising.
47) Guilio (aged 21) a small Italian was in charge of a Patrol of 8 men and each had a Bren gun dropped by the Brits. They attacked 5 trucks loaded with supplies and about 200 Germans (??). Some Gs [Germans] captured others fled. Removed from truck pictures and silverware stolen from houses. 20 Germans dead. 7 German wounded were taken by Part’s to Ascoli Brit. Hosp. [British hospital] (How through
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[Handwritten marginal note] Page 2 [typewritten text resumes]
the lines?) Germans returned next day and blew up 7 houses.
(50) Manuel Serrano told partisans to get all fascists now as Allies might be too easy on them
(51) While talking with a man in village of Servigliano a small girl comes up to the Italian and says her father wants to take a POW. So Manuel Serrano goes with her to stay with Alfredo Cutini (about 500 yards up above the town) a meat dealer, wife Elena and 3 children. Adrian, Carlo and Linuccia (12, 10 and 5). Wife had to collect water from well with a broca and down to the river to do her washing. His bed was heated by a large ‘warming pan’. He hid in a garden shed when 5 fascists came looking. Left to return to Sarano and stopped on the way where a young woman fed him. Her husband was a POW. She 57) lived with her little boy and old father. He fled again when hearing a patrol was coming and made for the partisans. Hears a prisoner killed and ‘a woman with small boy and old father taken and imprisoned by Germans.
Someone told him of a family who would help the partisans who were trying to free the three. Went to Monte Giorgio and asked. Told ‘Oh they are the family that guard the jail. There he was greeted by name. He was told he was expected two weeks before. He gave them news of their son who was dodging the fascists in the hills. He slept in a bed. Next day he saw the woman and old father both looking thin and tired. The old man said at 75 it was the first time he had been in prison. The woman asked for a gun when they came to liberate them but the ‘jailer’s wife said she had thought of that. Manuel Serrano stayed on and went out armed with ‘a gun and hand grenade’. One day a girl called to see him – (presumably from Servigliano. How did she know he was there) She said she had come by bicycle and would find him anywhere.
There were 20 political prisoners in the jail and fascist came to check up. He left promising to come back with partisans to release the father and woman but took off towards Ancona as ‘boats were leaving from there to get 73) behind the Allied lines. He headed back south and while walking on the road not far from Servigliano heard a car coming behind him. Had it been fascists they would have spotted his strange accent and asked for identity papers. It was Germans and he directed with the help of Italian hand waving to Belmonts [Belmonte]
76) He returns to Servigliano and family. After eating and hearing American radio he left as Germans were searching for food as well as partisans etc.
80) In March a farmer told them the fascists had captured and killed six POWs stripped them and buried them in a field near by after getting them to dig a grave for themselves. Manuel Serrano with two others went to the field but the bodies had been dug up by the Nuns of Comunanzia [Comunanza] after the fascists left and taken them back to clean the bodies where Manuel Serrano recognised them – 2 British and 4 Americans. He swore to himself that he would kill one fascist with his bare hands for each of those prisoners.
83) Came back to Servigliano and met 2 POWs and raided the old Camp now holding Poles, Jews, Tripolitanians and 20 Chinese internees. A Pole among them got into touch with the Poles in the camp and learnt where the stores where They made three raids into the camp for blankets etc. The Pole had seen his father and mother killed by Germans. Shirts and pants were made for them out of the sheets stolen from the camp. Left Servigliano as too hot and ‘helped families bring in grapes and make wine (in early summer?).
86) Divided his time between the two families outside Servigliano – Cutini and Luciani. Meets other Americans and then find themselves in the middle of a rastrellamento and so part quickly in different directions.
91) Returns to Servigliano and family he visits is silent. There is a strange girl but he remembers her flashing eyes from arrival at Serv. [Servigliano.] She says she hates Americans as an Amer. [American] plane straffed the bus her father was driving and he was killed. She and her sister had been going round spying on POWs.
He returns to Cutini family though those girls know he knew them. The woman who had been in prison came. The father returns and expresses pleasure as he had heard Manuel Serrano had been captured and killed. There was a knock at the door. It was the maid from the Fascist’s house. There was a meeting on and she had heard Manuel Serrano’s name mentioned Had the girl with the flashing eyes already exposed him he thought. Manuel Serrano goes and meets up with three American friends.
102 M.S. helps release five POWs who had been recaptured. Giulio Aliberti of Servigliano had a car hire firm and he was able to tell the partisans to spare him when he was transporting fascists. Again a girl comes to say other prisoner had been recaptured 1 shot and 2 taken away and they said were looking for Sgt Serrano and would shoot the whole family where he was
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Notes on Manuscript of Sgt [Sergeant] Manuel Serrano Page 3.
Page 107 Was the girl with the ‘panther’ eyes giving him away wherever he went? He decided to leave immediately. Returned to partisans but in jumping from a hill had fallen on a tree and a piece of branch entered his chest. The partisans asked if he knew the area Penna – Servigliano as two sisters were giving away POWs and three [handwritten marginal note] POWs had been caught and killed, [typewritten text resumes] one known to Manuel Serrano had been killed through their work. He wanted to leave immediately to hunt them out but told because of wound to wait. The sisters went North hearing the partisans were looking for them.
113)’Months passed I was now the leader of fifty partisans which I had to let go because we were hunted down’ It got very cold it had not snowed so much for 20 years’ (before he had been picking grapes after returning from months with the partisans. All this happened between September 8 43  and the liberation of the area in July 1944!) Manuel Serrano Got a cold which, living rough, turned to pneumonia. Manuel Serrano becomes obsessed seeking revenge on the two sisters who had betrayed his friends. He had become obsessed in prison camp staring out at her and she turned out to be the daughter of the man who drove the mail van from Servigliano to Ascoli and was killed by air attack.
125 Pietro Gualtieri hid two prisoners whose daughter aged 8 used to bring food to the hidden prisoners
128 Very sick with pneumonia hid in barn of the Marcozziz at Penna and they gave him boiled wine. When the Germans came farmer’s wife covered him with hay and then stuck the fork in to show the Germans there was no one there but they shot into hay – without hitting him. After two months he was cured as was his chest wound.
Still could not find Angela and her sister but Manuel Serrano was also looking for a Warrant Officer of the camp who had stolen parcels. When the POWs had gone he shot a woman, six months pregnant and her husband who had gone into the camp for blankets etc.
131) The Poles and the English arrived in middle of June 1944.
Manuel Serrano Returned to Servigliano. From the balcony he spoke (and how many others?) and said that anyone who had anything to do with the enemy should be in the square in 1/2 an hour and if they did not show up he would shoot them. About 40 turned up. He had them sent to Jail. The Capt. [Captain] of the Police came to offer his services and was also put in Jail.
Then Manuel Serrano got the message he was waiting for. ‘Ten of us have surrounded a house. Angela had returned 2 days before. The mother opened the door.’ On the other side of two persons that I knew well. One was looking at me full of the usual hate. The other was one of us, wounded he had been resting for a month. The Mother said ‘Angela did not know that the POWS would die. After that she did not do it anymore. Have pity’
‘There was no pity for those three friends of mine’ ‘You have to die.’ Then Angela started to cry. Elena Cuttini who had Manuel Serrano for so long entered. ‘No Manuel, no. I am her godmother. Manuel Serrano was still holding a gun. He turned to the young wounded partisan and asked him what he was doing there ‘I am her brother’ I have nothing to say you know the laws of the partisans and you must do as you’ Slowly my companion partisans cooled down’ I turned round and left’ The crowd outside was asking will he do it?. And so this was the last time I saw Angela, the girl with the beautiful eyes..
141 Now time for home. But in the piazza was the W.O. [Warrant Officer] from the Camp. The crowd waited and Manuel Serrano set to with his fists. He remembered the parents he had killed and left three orphans. [handwritten marginal note] Carlo Cutini confirmed this to K.K. T.A.M. September 1991 [typewritten text resumes] The crowd egged him on. He called for help but no help came, then when on the ground he went to draw a gun but Manuel Serrano took it and the crowd scattered and Manuel Serrano was going to kill him when a small voice came calling out ‘What are they doing Father?’ Another little girl joined her and the Piazza held its breath as the first girl took my hand and asked ‘What are you doing to my father?’ He got up and went to a bar to get treatment. Then hearing he was being taken away Manuel Serrano went with carabinieri and took him to British HQ at Fermo where Manuel Serrano explained to a Major all that had happened and that Servigliano would take action against him. Outside the two small girls with a man were waiting to find a way back to Servigliano. I gave permission for them to go in the car with me for the two hours journey back (Less than an hour) As the two girls had nowhere to sleep the Cutini family put them up and Manuel Serrano slept opposite. Manuel Serrano after making a speech from the Balcony left for Rome
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They slowly gathered themselves together and the next day were informed that there were a 1000 huns coming (on the road between Grasse and Cannes) Wounded and captured by Germans. Germans bandaged him and take him to a house where a French woman takes over. Germans leave and Americans and the Germans got shot up and captured and helped to carry him. Stopped at another house and woman rebandaged his leg and the house was shelled. His wound had entered and exited in a fleshy part of leg. Finally his Commanding Officer said ‘I’ll have you decorated but I ought to kick you from here to Brooklyn.’ Flown back to Rome
[handwritten marginal note] After Serrano’s drop into Southern France
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Manuel Serrano found his old Unit in Rome and tried to get in on a jump into France but Officer turned him down as having been a POW too long. However with others who got out of Hospital to go on the drop he made it. With the Path finder group and again jumped 15th. They jumped at 4.28 on 15th [1 word obscured by document fold] and later after getting together (and out of trees) had some lunch with some French who told them where others were.
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[Printed in THE BEST FROM YANK THE ARMY WEEKLY]
THE PARTISAN FROM BROOKLYN
By Sgt. [Sergeant] Harry SIONS
Somewhere in Italy – About the middle of the afternoon of July 14, 1944, a rough-looking, oddly dressed character walked up to the entrance gate of a parachute battalion’s encampment here and said he wanted to go inside. The stranger wore British Army shoes, mustard-coloured cotton pants, a torn GI paratrooper’s jacket and an Italian straw hat with an orange band. CpI. [Corporal] Milo Peck of Barre, Mass., [Massachusetts] who was standing guard at the gate, was not impressed.
“And what do you want inside?” asked Peck.
“I want to report to my outfit,” the stranger said. “I’m Manuel Serrano. Don’t you remember me?”
“Serrano!” said Peck. “I thought you were dead a long time ago, back in Tunisia. Where the hell have you been all this time?”
“Well,” said Serrano, “I’ve been to a lot of places, but for the last 10 months I’ve been fighting with the Eyetie Partisans up in the hills.”
“Well, I’ll be damned,” said Peck. “Come on in.”
And that was how Sgt. [Sergeant] Manuel Serrano, the first American soldier known to have fought with the Italian Partisans, returned to his outfit after an absence of 20 months.
Serrano is a six-footer, deeply sunburned and husky. He has a small black moustache and thick black hair streaked with grey. Born in Puerto Rico 24 years ago, he had lived in Brooklyn, N.Y. [New York], since he was 5, and before the war played the maracas and drums in a rumba band in a Greenwich Village hot spot. In February 1942 he volunteered for the Paratroops, trained at Fort Benning, Ga. [Georgia], and found himself in rapid succession at a POE [Port of Embarkation], in England and on the North Africa invasion.
A month after the November 1942 landing in Tunisia, Serrano – then a buck sergeant acting as first sergeant – was on a mission to blow up a bridge near El Djem. His patrol was surprised by the Jerries, a few of the 38 GIs were killed and several, including Serrano, were captured.
Four days later Serrano was put on an Italian destroyer with a batch of other Allied prisoners and shipped to an Italian prison camp at Palermo, Sicily. When Serrano arrived at Palermo, he weighed 190 pounds. When he was transferred to the Italian mainland one month later, he weighed 145 pounds.
His first stop in Italy was a concentration camp called No. 59, at Servigliano on the Adriatic coast. He stayed there nine months. No. 59 had an assortment of American and British prisoners, Yugoslav Partisans, Albanians and Jews of various nationalities. When they heard via the grapevine of the Italian surrender in September 1943, they made a general break.
The day after the break, Serrano met three of the Yugoslavs in the hills. They were on their way to an Italian Partisan camp in the mountains near Sarnano, about 60 miles to the south. Serrano asked the Yugoslavs what the Italians did and was told they killed Germans and Fascists. That was good enough for him, so he went along.
It took Serrano and the Yugoslavs three days to make the Partisan camp. The hide-out was buried so deeply in the mountain underbrush that they would never have found it except for the help of a friendly farmer. At the hide-out they met 50 Italians and a few more Yugoslavs. The Partisans weren’t too happy about their new recruits. They had scarcely enough food or weapons for themselves, and they wanted to know why Serrano had come without a good rifle and something to eat. They tried to prevent him, but he stayed.
Two weeks later Serrano was picked to go on his first raid. Like all Partisan raids, it would be made at night. The objective was Penna, about 15 miles to the east, where the raiders were to pick up several of the town’s leading Fascists and bring them back to camp for trial.
Early in the afternoon a couple of Partisans dressed in civvies circulated through the town to check on the number of Jerries there. If the place was heavy with Jerries, the raid would have to be postponed. There were only a few Jerries around. The raid was on.
Serrano and 19 other Partisans made their way down the mountain paths to the outskirts of the town where they waited for complete darkness. Then they sneaked in, one by one.
“I was pretty nervous,” says Serrano. “They taught me a lot of tricks at Benning and in England, but Fascist-hunting wasn’t one of them. Those Eyetie towns close up early at night, and of course there weren’t any street lights. I couldn’t hear a sound except maybe a dog howling far off or the footsteps of a Jerry or a Fascist carabiniere [carabinieri] patrolling the street. I’d duck down until he passed, praying he wouldn’t see me.”
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Serrano headed for the house of a Partisan sympathizer, first making sure that a red light was showing in the window; this meant the coast was clear. Inside he found the other Partisans. The sympathizer led them to the houses of the five Fascists on the night’s calling list. Four or five Partisans worked each house, quietly and smoothly. They bound and gagged the Fascists and carried them swiftly out of town and up to the Partisan camp in the hills.
“They hanged those five Fascists,” says Serrano. “They gave them a trial and then they hanged them. But the Partisans didn’t always hang the Fascists they caught. It depended on what they were accused of. If they worked with the Jerries, or if they were black-market operators, then they were sure to get strung up. Some of them helped Jerry fight us, especially if we were caught in a tough spot and it wasn’t too dangerous for them. Or they’d denounce us to Jerry if they knew where we were hanging out. Or they’d pick up escaped Allied prisoners for the Germans; they got 3,000 lire for every prisoner they captured, dead or alive.
“In a way, those black-market operators were the meanest of all the Eyetie Fascists. That La Marche region is a very poor country, and by the time the Germans got through stealing everything worth while, it was poorer still. The people have just enough to keep themselves and their kids alive. Well, these black-market operators were all big-shot Fascists. They’d corner the market on shoes, or pasta, or clothes, and then they’d sell them at terrific prices. They’d been doing it for 22 years, but they really went to town when the Germans came in. There was one town where the shoemaker – he was a Fascist – was charging such wild prices that an ordinary Eyetie couldn’t buy shoes. We finally got that guy, along with all his shoes. We hanged him and handed out his shoes to the poor people of the town.
“Some of the Fascists we let go – if they weren’t active in the party but just paid their dues or turned on the radio to listen to Il Duce when they were ordered to. We scared the sugar out of them first before we let them go. Some of them even wanted to join up with us, but the Partisans wouldn’t have them.
“And then there were some in-between Fascists we let go, but we gave them the castor-oil treatment first – just so they’d have a taste of what they used to hand out. We’d raid the Fascist headquarters and grab their stocks of bottled castor oil. Then we’d dose it out. If a Fascist was in the party 10 years, then we’d give him 10 doses, a dose a year. I know; it doesn’t sound pretty. But if you expect a pretty story, I might as well stop now.”
When the going was tough, the Partisans hid out for weeks in the mountain recesses, in caves or in forest groves on the hillsides. They wore nondescript uniforms – part British, part German, part American, part civilian clothes. Their only weapons were a few old Italian Army rifles and ballila (hand grenades) and some captured German pistols. They carried sharpened Italian bayonets and used them as knives. Six months after Serrano joined the Partisans, British planes dropped machine guns and rifles to them.
The band of Partisans to which Serrano belonged was evidently only one of many bands operating all over Italy, wherever the Germans were. The units were organized and controlled through a radio station known as Italia Combatte (Italy Fights).
“Every night,” Serrano says, “we’d turn on the radio to listen to our code signal, ‘Sole tra monte (the sun is between the mountains).’ When we heard that, we’d take down the instructions for our next raid.
“These orders came in code, too. ‘Pietro’s beard is white’ might mean to blow up a railroad bridge. ‘The snow in Russia is getting cold’ might mean to tear down telephone wires along a certain road. The Jerries kept putting the wires up and we kept tearing them down. It got the Jerries so sore they’d shoot anybody they caught standing near a telephone pole.”
Some of the instructions were repeated every night, such as the order to shoot individual Jerry motorcyclists or to help escaped Allied prisoners. Other instructions were longer and more involved. Serrano recalls one order about catching a big-shot Fascist in the town of Ascoli. The radio listed the homes the Fascist lived in at different times, his favorite coffee shops and the hours he visited them, his latest mistress and the color of her hair, and the address of their love nest. We located that Fascist late at night in the love nest, where he was waiting for his girlfriend to show up. We didn’t bother taking him back to the mountains. We let him have it right there.”
The band was organized on a semimilitary basis. “There was a captain in the Italian Regular Army,” says Serrano. “He was our CO. He gave the orders, and I mean orders. He was tough. Then there were a couple of lieutenants, I guess you’d call them. They were in charge of the units when we went out on a job. And about a half-dozen sergeants. The rest of us, including me, were privates. Of course, rank didn’t make much difference in where we slept
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or what we ate. There weren’t any special officers’ quarters in our caves, and we all ate the same food when we got it.”
The Partisans had no special insignia but they always wore something red. “Didn’t make any difference what it was,” Serrano says. “A red scarf, or a red handkerchief, or a red arm band. At first I thought it meant they were all communists, but they hardly ever talked politics. So one day I asked one of the lieutenants, and he explained that they wore these red things, first because the Yugoslav Partisans wore red, but mostly because it was the color the Jerries and the Fascists hated most.”
The Partisans in Serrano’s band came from all classes. There were workers and a couple of businessmen. There were Italian sailors, and officers and men of the Italian Army. And for a few months there were a couple of GIs from the 1st Division who had been captured and then escaped.
One of the most important Partisan jobs was to help escaped American and British prisoners. Serrano estimates that his band helped more than 100 prisoners back to Allied lines. Three girls worked with the Partisans on these deals, getting the names, ranks and serial numbers of escaped prisoners who had taken refuge in farmhouses in the area. The Partisans radioed this information to Allied headquarters at Bari.
But not all the escaped prisoners were able to make the Allied lines. Many of them were caught. If the Germans got them, the prisoners were usually just taken back to their prison camps. But they weren’t always that lucky if the Fascists caught them first.
One morning in March, while the Partisans were camping in the hills near Comunanza in the La Marche region, a farmer reported that the Fascists had captured and killed six escaped Allied prisoners. They had stripped the prisoners of their identifications and clothes, he said, and had taken them to a field near by. Then they had forced the prisoners to dig a long shallow ditch. When the ditch was dug, the Fascists machine-gunned the prisoners, threw their bodies into the ditch and covered them with a few shovelfuls of dirt.
“That night,” Serrano says, “three of us made for the field. We saw the ditch but the bodies had disappeared. We checked around and learned that nuns had taken the bodies to the convent in Comunanza after the Fascists left. We went to the convent and there were the six bodies, wrapped in white sheets and lying on slabs of wood. The nuns had cleaned the bodies and wrapped them in the sheets. I lifted up the covers from the faces and recognized them all. Four were GIs from the 1st Division, the other two were British. The nuns said they would give them a decent burial. Then we left.
“I walked out of that convent and back up the hills to camp. When I got to the top of the first hill I turned around toward the convent and those six dead soldiers, and I swore that for each one of those soldiers I would kill a Fascist with my bare hands. I think for the first time I really knew what it meant to be a Partisan.”
Even the Jerries didn’t like the Italian Fascists, Serrano says. “Once when I was walking down the main street in Porto San Giorgio, dressed in civvies, I saw a Jerry soldier walk past an Italian Fascist officer without saluting him. The officer stopped the Jerry and said: ‘Why didn’t you salute me?’ The Jerry took his pistol out of its holster, bashed the Fascist on the head and killed him. ‘That’s my salute to you,’ he said and walked away.
“The Jerries stopped me three times, but only to ask directions. They thought I was an Eyetie – I was dark and spoke the language with the accent of the La Marche people. Once in Servigliano a Jerry stopped me on the street and asked the way to a certain road. While we were talking he pulled out a pack of Chesterfields and offered me one. I asked him where he got American cigarettes and he laughed. He told me they came from Red Cross parcels for the prisoners of No. 59. Later I learned that the Fascists had kept the parcels for themselves, but when the Germans came in they took the parcels away from them.”
From April to June the Germans started going after the Partisans in earnest. Jerry planes tried to bomb them out of the hills and mortars tried to blast them out. In the last week of April a mixed unit of Fascists and Jerries had the band surrounded for three days.
“Most of us got away,” says Serrano, “but five were caught. The Fascists hanged them. Not a quick hanging, like we gave them, but the slow Fascist hanging. They pulled the bodies up above the ground, then let them down slowly till the toes touched the ground, then up again after a while. That way the hangings could last a couple of days. I tell you, those Fascists were no good. The Yugoslavs were right. When we had that first trial, they said: ‘What are you wasting time with trials for? Hang the swine.’ ”
The Partisans did not let the enemy hold the offensive against them but struck back. “One day about the end of June,” says Serrano, “we did a job on a Jerry convoy that was moving north up a mountain road near Sarnano. A guy named Giulio
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was in charge of a forward patrol of eight men. This Giulio was about 21 years old and a little guy, but he had a pair of shoulders as broad as this. He ran away from Rome when the Jerries started sending the young Eyeties to work up north.
“Each man in Giulio’s patrol had a Bren machine gun, part of a supply the British had dropped down to us. The patrol was waiting on a rise just overlooking a bend in the road when the convoy showed up ahead of time. There were five trucks, loaded with supplies, and about 200 Germans.
“Giulio let go at the first truck and put it out of commission. Then the other Partisans fired their Brens at the rest of the trucks. The Jerries scrambled out and took cover behind their trucks. For five minutes there was a hot little battle. Then the Jerries ran, with the eight Partisans chasing after them. Giulio caught two Jerries and was disarming them when one Jerry pulled a pistol on him. That got Giulio mad. He lined them up against a tree and machine-gunned them.”
When the rest of the Partisan band arrived, they burned the Jerry trucks, first removing all the supplies of food, clothing, pictures and silverware stolen from Italian homes. The Partisans counted 20 Jerry dead and picked up seven wounded, whom they took to the British hospital at Ascoli.
The next day the Germans came back in force, blowing up seven houses in the vicinity with mines. “They blamed the people for not warning them,” Serrano says. “The people knew, all right. They always knew.”
But the Partisans had their revenge, too. As the Germans retreated by night over the back roads before the advancing British, the Partisans struck and ran and struck again. For three straight nights they raided all the neighboring towns, seizing and shooting all the Fascists they could find. They used up all the ammunition from the Brens and all the fire they had taken from the Germans.
“I told the Partisans,” Serrano says. “I told them: ‘Get all the Fascists now, before the Allies get here. They might be too easy on them.’ ”
On the fourth day the captain called the Partisan band together and told them their work in La Marche was done. Those who wished could go up north to continue the fight behind the enemy lines.
Serrano made his way back up to Servigliano and rested for a few days in the home of an Italian friend. Those were happy, confused days for the people of Servigliano. The Germans had gone and so had most of the town Fascists, but the British had not yet arrived. The people dug up all the vino they had hidden from the Nazis and they danced in the streets. At night they gathered in their homes and drank and sang the half-forgotten songs of a free Italy, songs they had not dared to sing in the open for 22 years. Partisans who hadn’t seen their families for months came back, hailed as heroes.
On the day Serrano left, he made a speech in the town piazza. “I told them I’d be back some day,” he says, “and that I would tell the American soldiers what I had learned from the Partisans. They begged me to stay. They even wanted to make me mayor of the town. In fact, they wanted to give me the town’s prettiest girl for a wife. But I guess I’ll wait till I get back to Brooklyn and find a nice Italian girl there. I like these Eyeties. Maybe it’s because I’m a Latin, too, and understand them a little better than some other American soldiers.”
Forty miles from Servigliano, Serrano met an American Paratroop major, who told him where Serrano’s old outfit was stationed. It wasn’t very far away. A truck gave Serrano a lift and dropped him about eight miles from his unit camp.
“I walked those last eight miles,” says Serrano. “But it felt like floating on air.”
Back in camp Serrano met his old buddies. There were 75 left out of the original outfit as it was activated at Benning more than two years ago. After Tunisia, where Serrano was captured, the battalion had gone on to fight in Sicily and in Italy.
“I don’t know what the outfit’s going to have me do,” says Serrano, whose first sergeant’s rating came through a couple of weeks after he was captured in Tunisia. Whatever happens to him, he won’t be short of folding money. He has 20 months’ pay as a top kick coming, plus $50 a month jump pay, plus 20 percent overseas pay.
“I don’t know what I’ll do, but I know what I’d like to do. I’d like to drop back behind the Jerry lines again with an M1 and take 20 of these fellows with me.”
[Cartoon drawing of three soldiers – caption: “This is Sgt. Hunter. Look out he is plenty tough.” – Pvt. Tom Zibelli, Camp Davis, N.C.]
[Handwritten marginal note] This seems like an interview before he went off to France. i.e. two or three weeks after the Allies entered Servigliano. J.K.K.
[Digital page 9]
[Two photographs, one cropped out of view. Complete photograph – no caption: four men standing in a line]
[Digital page 10]
[Photograph – no caption: eight men standing posing for a photograph. Two additional figures obscured in background.]