- Associated Press - Saturday, May 6, 2017

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. (AP) - Half-brothers Victor Fogelsonger and Roberto De Angelis met for the first time this week - more than 70 years after their father was swept up in World War II.

The brothers have wanted to meet since learning about each other in 2009.

“I’d always wanted a brother,” Roberto said. “This news came, and I had a brother. A big brother at that - four months older. How impossible is that?”

“It was pleasant to find out I had a brother,” Fogelsonger said. “I had a longing to see what he looked like.”

Their father, Elio De Angelis, an Italian soldier, fathered sons on two continents. The sons, now 70-year-old grandfathers, are far removed from the mores and sentiment of the 1940s.

Elio was among 51,000 Italian prisoners of war held in the U.S. during the war. After Italy surrendered in September 1943, he and 1,200 other former Italian POWs were assigned to what was then called Letterkenny Ordnance Depot to help with the allied war effort. The handsome 25-year-old worked at a printing machine just a few feet away from 16-year-old Betty Jane Gilbert. They fell in love.

Betty became pregnant about the same time Elio was sent home to Italy in September 1945. It’s unclear how she told Elio the news. Elio wrote from Italy that he really cared for her and wished things could be different, but he was already married. Betty was devastated.

Elio meanwhile was dealing with two years’ absence from his family in Rome. He learned that his daughter, Anna, had died when she hit her head in a fall at home. She was 2 years old when he was taken prisoner.

Elio and Betty broke off contact with each other.

Betty gave birth to Victor on June 4, 1946. Roberto was born Oct. 12, 1946 to Elio and his wife.

Betty was married and divorced twice, the second time to John Fogelsonger, who adopted Victor. She has said she never resented Elio. Her child’s good looks constantly reminded her of Elio. Victor from time to time wondered about his biological father.

Elio never told Roberto about his life as a POW. Roberto thought Elio was kidding when he sometimes said that he just might have a son in the U.S.

“This surprises me about my father,” Roberto said. “I didn’t know him this way. I wish he had told me straight up. This is a story he never told me. To know I had a brother.. My sister had died. I was an only child.”

Roberto spoke to a Public Opinion reporter through a translator, Alan Perry, a professor of Italian at Gettysburg College. Partly as a result of Victor’s search for his father, Perry co-authored the book “Italian Prisoners of War in PA, 1944-45: Allies on the Home Front” with Italian scholar Flavio Conti.

It’s been a slow go for the brothers. Victor doesn’t speak Italian, and Roberto doesn’t speak English. At dinner they communicate through a smart phone’s English-Italian translation tool. The conversations are sometimes frustrating and sometimes funny.

They share a sense of humor, Victor said.

“We love him already,” Victor said.

Roberto, retired from laying out ads for the newspaper L’Unità, has two sons. Victor, a retired mason, has eight children. They both have plenty of nephews.

Public Opinion spoke with Victor and Roberto at Letterkenny Chapel. Soldiers with the 85th Italian Service Unit built the chapel from stone and other material salvaged from abandoned farm buildings on the newly established Army ammunition depot. The soldiers, predominantly Roman Catholic, had been holding religious services in a barracks, but wanted their own chapel.

Pinned to the chapel’s history bulletin board is a black and white photograph of Betty posing beside a truck.

“She’s just a little girl,” said Roberto’s wife, Teresa, of Victor’s mother.

Victor and his wife, Mary, had searched for many years for Elio De Angelis. Around 2008 they turned to Filomena Caretti, a native of Naples who owned a Chambersburg pizza shop. She told their story to the directors of the Italian television show “Chi l’ha visto?” (“Who’s Seen Him?”). A priest at the Vatican saw the broadcast. He remembered Elio’s name and his wife who had come to him during the war in hopes of finding out where he was in the U.S. The priest sent in the De Angelis family’s address from 1940, but the family had moved.

Caretti searched the Rome telephone book and found eight listings for De Angelis, Roberto said. She started calling and eventually spoke to Elio’s sister-in-law. The sister-in-law did not believe that Elio had a son in the U.S., but gave Caretti Roberto’s telephone number. Caretti talked to Roberto for an hour.

Victor sent photographs to Roberto and the two have communicated since.

The contact came too late for Elio, who had died a year earlier in 2008 at the age of 87. He had retired from driving a truck for a slaughterhouse.

Through the efforts of Victor’s son, Justin, and Justin’s wife, Katie, local officials organized a celebration in 2015 at the Letterkenny Chapel. The 70th anniversary of the Italian POWs returning to their home country included 21 visitors from Italy. Betty died nine months before the event.

During their visit to the chapel on Tuesday, Roberto became serious for a moment and asked Victor if he held any ill-will toward their father. Roberto said he has known that Betty felt no resentment, but never knew how Victor felt.

Victor simply shook his head and said, “No.”

The brothers were to have three days together before Roberto left for New York and Rome.

Roberto said this was his first and last time to fly. He.has invited Victor to visit him in Rome.

A reunion in Rome appears doubtful.

Roberto said, “He’s more afraid of flying than I am.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2pBC88w

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Information from: Public Opinion, https://www.publicopiniononline.com


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