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Soldier 35570634: Tommy Mascari and Darby’s Rangers

From Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Summer 2018. To receive Traces four times a year, join IHS  and enjoy this and other member benefits. Back issues of Traces are available through the Basile History Market.

The first thing you notice are his eyes—clear, brown, friendly, and full of life.

But I have to admit, I was immediately searching behind those glasses for signs. What did Soldier 35570634 witness? What horrors did he suffer? What does he recall? How much has he pushed from his memory? The short answer: Everything and nothing.

The setting was an unlikely place for a World War II retelling. A comfortable, expansive home in Franklin Township, Indianapolis, full of children and grandchildren, flown in from all around the country to celebrate with a man who has always celebrated life more than death. You see, Tommy Mascari is ninety-six, and he just may be the last living Darby’s Ranger.

To be a Mascari is to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Tommy grew up at 948 South East Street in Indianapolis, one of ten brothers (with a sister, Josephine, to provide common sense). His father, Thomas Sr., brought his bride Marie to Indianapolis from Hamilton, Ohio, where Tommy had been born in 1922. The Mascaris were in the produce business, not unlike other Italian families in the city (Iarias, Corsaros, Bovas, and Caitos to name just a few). Thomas ran Mascari’s Italian Market on East Street, where Interstate 70 is now. Marie baked Italian bread for the market (the ovens were in the store) and raised all eleven kids on-site. Tommy and his family lived in view of the omnipresent Holy Rosary Catholic Church, just a few blocks away on Stevens Street. It was then, as it is now, an anchor for the Italian community.

Tommy’s first job was sweeping the floor of his Grandpa Bova Conti’s store at 960 South East Street. His grandmother let Tommy keep any change he found on the floor. Mascari’s Market kept a lot of people from going hungry during the Great Depression. The market was a family and neighborhood gathering spot. No one went without food. Everyone worked. Tommy’s first nonfamily job was riding his bike to Union Station to get out-of-town newspapers for local newsstands. He also ran errands for a bookie. When not working or wrestling with his brothers, Tommy often hung out at the Eli Lilly Company docks a couple blocks away, watching monkeys arrive to be used in experiments. On one day a monkey temporarily escaped his fate, and the neighborhood kids roared with laughter as Lilly employees chased the monkey up and down East Street.

All the Mascaris went to Manual High School. Tommy’s twin brothers, John and Michael, were track stars. Tommy broke his nose playing football, but that did not stop him from going into a boxing ring, blindfolded, with four other guys. People outside the ring egged on the competitors with boxing gloves taped to the end of a broom handle.

There were lots of pretty girls at Manual. Tommy knew he could improve his chances with the ladies if he had a car, so he bought a 1927 Model T for fifteen dollars, and the ladies noticed. He stayed busy taking them to ice skate at Garfield Park and roller skating at Riverside Amusement Park. The fun was ending, though. War talk was on every tongue, and in every language. The Mascaris routinely spoke Italian around the house and among friends. When Italy allied itself with Nazi Germany, it put loyal American Italians at odds with their relatives back home. The Mascaris hailed from Palermo, Sicily, but America was their home, and the Stars and Stripes flew proudly.

As 1943 began, the German army was suffering a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Russians at Stalingrad. Dwight D. Eisenhower had just been selected Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, and General Erwin Rommel was teaching the American II Corps a lesson at Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. As Tommy worked at Freeman Store Equipment Company, making display cases for jewelry stores, chasing girls, and being a typical twenty-one-year old Hoosier, another young man half a world away, was training more than 600 American volunteers to take on the toughest assignments the U.S. Army could give them. Major William Darby was picked by General Lucian Truscott to lead an American force that would be schooled in the finest traditions of the British Commandos. The unnamed American unit was made up of volunteers from the Thirty-Fourth Division and other units. They were headquartered at Achnacarry, Scotland, between Loch Arkaig and Loch Lochy.

The terrain was perfect. With the British Commandos based nearby at Spean Bridge, Darby had access to the lochs for amphibious landings, the slopes of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, for scaling exercises, and the dense surrounding forests for simulating European topography, such as the Ardennes. Darby’s force was meant to provide hardened training and early battle experience for the untested American ground forces. Truscott’s idea was to train the elite force, then salt them among green units to stiffen their spines and provide mentors.

But first the American volunteers needed their own mentors. After training for more than a year in Scotland, fifty Americans joined 6,000 Canadian and British troops in a raid on the port of Dieppe, France, on August 19, 1942. Winston Churchill and U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall wanted to test the Western Wall at Dieppe to see if a substantial raiding force could gain a foothold on the European continent. After just five hours, the Canadian and British forces suffered 50 percent casualties. Of the fifty Americans who went ashore, seventeen were killed, wounded, or captured. The Americans returned to the starting block. But their esprit de corps and their reputation as iron-jawed raiders had grown to the point where Darby requested they be set aside as the first U.S. “special forces,” to be known as “Rangers.” He even sketched a shoulder patch for the unit in a memo to Truscott. A contest was held for the design of a “Ranger Scroll,” and a sergeant won. The First Battalion, Darby’s Rangers, was born.

The Rangers’ first real battle came against the elite Italian Tenth Bersaglieri Regiment, at Sened Station, Tunisia. A night raid designed to shock the Italians and pull the German Fifth Panzer Division away from its focus on the American II Corps worked to perfection. Seventy-five Italian troops were killed, with the Rangers only losing one man. From then on, Darby’s Rangers were called “The Black Death” by the Italians.

Less than a month later, General George Patton commanded II Corps with the mandate to regain American standing in North Africa. The British assigned Patton’s troops to a diversionary role because they did not trust his demoralized soldiers. But Patton saw the opportunity to prove the mettle of II Corps, and score a significant victory. He chose El Guettar, a town between Gafsa and Gebes, that was key to cutting off the Germans. Once again, Darby’s Rangers were called upon for the most difficult duty.

Darby’s men scaled the 200-foot-tall cliffs of Djebel El Ank Pass, screaming Indian war cries, and handing ammunition and grenades hand over hand. They routed the Italian troops holding the north side of the pass, then crossed the valley and scaled the south side of the pass. The Rangers captured the critical pass while taking nearly 1,000 Italians prisoners and suffering only one member wounded.

A few days after El Guettar, Mascari received his draft notice. The army assigned him to the Ninety-Eighth Infantry Division, based at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky. Mascari was glad to be a soldier (even though the navy was his first choice, and the army air force was his second). In order to avoid forced marches with full gear, he volunteered for kitchen patrol. He was quite a dice player, too. Sometimes he would send $100 in money orders home to his mother to help with the family’s finances. But the dice rolled toward the challenge of his life.

After basic training, the Ninety-Eighth left Camp Breckinridge on August 31, 1943, for Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for maneuvers with the Twelfth Armored Division and the Thirtieth and Ninety-Fourth Infantry Divisions. It was at Murfreesboro that Mascari’s life changed forever. “I was a private, your basic soldier,” he recalled. “I did what I was told when I was told to do it.” But Mascari had an adventurous spirit that somehow shone through. “An officer came to my unit and said they were looking for eighty-six nonmarried volunteers for very dangerous duty,” said Mascari as he leaned forward on a maple kitchen table. “I wanted to get to the action, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ After twenty stepped out, I made my move. I got a fourteen-day pass.”

Mascari was separated from his buddies and introduced to a new group. They were harder, meaner, and tougher. The training became more intense. More climbing and additional live-fire exercises. For months they trained relentlessly in the hills of Tennessee. Mascari was not told where he was going, or what his mission would be when he got there. During the intense training he became hardened and more confident, and his marksmanship and hand-to-hand skills sharpened.

Tommy Mascari at 96-years-old with his lifetime membership in the Rangers card.

World War II veteran Mascari shows off his life membership card in the Ranger Battalions Association,
recognizing his service in Italy. “I just prayed every night that I was gonna make it,” Mascari said of his experiences.

In late fall of 1943, Mascari boarded the USS Croatan (CVE-25) a “flattop” that was ferrying troops and P-38 fighters to Casablanca, Morocco. “We pulled up in Bermuda,” said Mascari. “We had to wait for our convoy to form. There was safety in numbers.” The Croatan was a “hunter-killer” ship, specially outfitted for antisubmarine warfare. The voyage to Casablanca was incident free, but the ship became a legendary U-Boat killer, notching six sinkings in just over a year of Atlantic patrols. “The whole ride over, I had no idea I was to become a Ranger,” said Mascari. “The Mascaris are from Sicily. Palermo. I would have loved to help liberate my home area, but I was still in Tennessee then. It would have been quite an honor.”

Darby’s Rangers had been busy while Mascari was training in America. After their lightning raids were proven successful, Truscott asked Darby to take some of his First Battalion veterans and use them to form the nucleus of two new battalions, the Third and Fourth. The early summer of 1943 was spent training these new men to meet Ranger standards. When it came time for Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, Darby had more than 1,500 rugged soldiers under his command.

Patton led the American invasion of Sicily. It was really a competition between Patton’s Seventh Army and British general Bernard Montgomery’s Eighth Army. The Allies faced 200,000 Italian and 70,000 German troops, including the famed Herman Goering Division. The first army to capture Messina, located on the northeastern tip of Sicily, would wear the laurels of victory. Montgomery landed at the historic invasion port of Syracuse, and quickly got bogged down against tougher than expected German resistance. Patton’s troops were supposed to protect Montgomery’s flank, but Patton was not about to be a sideshow.

Once again Darby’s Rangers got the toughest assignments. Attached to General Terry Allen’s First Division (The Big Red One), Darby was tasked with taking the port of Gela. It was at Gela that he earned his second Distinguished Service Cross for racing back to the port, grabbing an antitank gun, and single-handedly taking on a German tank. He cleared the way for his Rangers to move through the narrow streets of Gela and inland. In one of the great military advances in history, Patton (with General Omar Bradley as a subordinate) and his forces raced north to Palermo, then east, arriving in Messina to massive celebration just hours before Montgomery’s troops arrived. Two miles across the Straights of Messina lay the Italian mainland.

The fates of now-Colonel Darby and Mascari were moving toward convergence. After a stop in Casablanca, where he guarded an ammo dump, Mascari and his unit were ferried to Oran, Algeria, then to Naples, which had already been taken. Mascari was fresh fodder, a replacement soldier. Approximately 100 miles to the north of Naples stood the Tenth German Army, and the Gustav Line, a last line of defense before Rome. The Allied strategic plan was for Montgomery and his Eighth Army to drive up the Italian boot along the Adriatic coast, while General Mark Clark with his Fifth Army (including Americans, Free French, Indians, New Zealanders, Poles, and Moroccans) would move up the historic Appian Way. The key to unhinging the Gustav Line was the town of Cassino, and the 1,400-year-old Benedictine Abbey that loomed above, on what was known in military parlance as Hill 593.

Upon arrival at the port of Naples, Mascari was taken to a racetrack, which served as a rest area for soldiers waiting to join fighting units. He rolled more dice and visited Pompeii. It was at the racetrack that he learned he was to be a member of Darby’s Rangers in Second Lieutenant Dews’s platoon of Captain Bond’s company, First Scout of the First Battalion, to be exact. On January 21, 1944, Mascari and his fellow Rangers were loaded, along with 40,000 American and British troops and 5,000 vehicles, on 238 landing craft that were part of a convoy of five cruisers, twenty-four destroyers, and 300 support ships. Once at sea, the troops were told they would be making an amphibious landing at Anzio. “I’ll never forget,” Mascari recalled. “Our Captain’s final words were ‘God be with you.’”

After the convoy feinted toward France, it took a hard right toward the beaches. “I was launched with nineteen other guys in a little British assault boat,” said Mascari. “The damn rifle weighed more than I did.” That was a bit of hyperbole. A fully-loaded M-1 Garand, the standard-issue army infantry rifle, weighed about ten pounds; he weighed 143 pounds when he entered the army. Mascari was more afraid of drowning than being shot. “The landing beaches and defensive positions inland had been pretty well shelled,” he remembered. “There was little resistance. I didn’t know how to swim. Fortunately, we hit a sand bar and piled out in water that was not over my head.”

On Jaunary 22, 1944, Allied forces established a ten-mile deep beachhead at Anzio. The Rangers were attached to the Third Division. A breakout was planned for January 29, but Allied intelligence was way off. Instead of old men and young boys in front of the Americans, Ranger scouts found the vaunted Twenty-Sixth Panzer and the Herman Goering Divisions blocking the way, and a full six miles forward of what intelligence reports had indicated. The breakout was delayed twenty-four hours to January 30. The Rangers were told their objective was Cisterna, four miles behind German lines. They were to infiltrate through German positions, capture Cisterna, and hold it until relieved. The strategy was to cut Highway 7, the ancient Appian Way, and sever both German supply lines and their route of retreat.

First Battalion, Darby’s Rangers, under the command of Major Jack Dobson, jumped off early in the morning on January 30. Their instructions were, “Don’t fight, bypass resistance and leave the battle for the 3rd Division.” The weather was foggy, but drainage ditches were supposed to serve as cover and guide paths for the First Battalion. “We walked through ankle-deep water, then along the Molle-Dole Creek, also known as the Mussolini Canal,” said Mascari. “We walked right through the German lines. We could hear them talking.”

Things went wrong fast. Four radio operators from the Third Battalion (following the path of the First) became lost and separated from the First, which split in two in the foggy, moonless night. Three companies under Dobson moved forward, while three companies waited, hoping to make contact with the Third. Companies were strung out in the ditches, without communications. The sign-counter sign, “Bitter-Sweet,” was useless, as were the flashlights that were supposed to flash “red” recognition beams. “Once we emerged from the ditches on to flat ground, we heard the German tanks,” recalled Mascari. “They opened up on us with machine guns. We split up into groups of eight or ten. I had two bandoliers of ammo for my carbine. We had some sticky grenades too.”

When the Germans fired flares, each Ranger would close one eye, to maintain night vision. Some Rangers made a break for outbuildings in Cisterna and were shot down. Others bunched for cover in the ditches, but did not have the firepower to defeat the massed tanks and machine guns. The message was passed down to each man, “Retreat on your own.” After about ten minutes, Mascari found himself “out of ammo and out of luck. The Germans pointed their guns into the ditches and said ‘Americans. Lay down your arms.’” Of the 767 Rangers in the First and Third battalions, only six made it back to friendly lines without being killed, wounded, or captured. Darby’s Rangers had ceased to exist.

Mascari and the other captured Rangers were taken to Castel Romagn, a cheese factory that served as German headquarters. “That night,” he said, “British fighters arrived and strafed us. After two days, we were put on trucks and paraded through Rome, to show they were winning the War. It wasn’t how I had imagined seeing Rome.”

On the move again, Mascari and his fellow prisoners of war were trucked to Laterina, near Arezzo, southeast of Florence. “We slept on cement floors, covered with straw,” he said. “We could not get Red Cross supplies. Each day we were fed only one piece of hard dark bread, one small bowl of soup, and no potatoes.” Conditions were unsanitary. The prisoners had no clothes to change into, and the opportunity to bathe was rare. “There were so many lice,” Mascari recalled, “they used your chest for a playground.”

In addition to having to deal with the mental pain of being captured, Mascari had to also deal with great physical pain. Three toes on his right foot had turned purple from Trench foot, a common GI affliction. “I kept yelling to the German guards, ‘Shoot me, Shoot me.’ It was the [worst] pain of my life,” he remembered. After more than six months in a POW camp south of Florence, the Allied front was closing in. The Germans decided to move all prisoners to Germany. “We were given a small can of tuna and a half-loaf of bread that was supposed to last us two days. By the time we had marched to the train station I had already eaten all of mine,” said Mascari. Twenty-two POWs were loaded into each boxcar, and each boxcar had a guard, except for Mascari’s. “When I saw that we didn’t have a guard, I made up my mind that I was going to get out of there,” he noted. Mascari had experience in jumping from moving trains. As a boy in Indianapolis, it was great fun for him and his friends to “hop” trains and ride the rails to their favorite fishing spot. “There were two small ventilation holes, about twenty by thirty inches, with wire screening covering them,” he said. “I took the wire mesh out. Four of us, including Brit William McNeil, decided to make a break.”

As the POW train slowed to drag itself up a grade, Mascari was the first to squeeze through the port, sliding down the side of the car and rolling into the overgrowth along the rails. McNeil and the others followed. They split up into twos, and made their way cross country. Mascari knew not to go to nice homes, as they probably belonged to fascist sympathizers. Instead, he and McNeil approached an old home way off the road. When Mascari knocked on the door, an elderly man opened it. Inside were a group of other old men playing cards. “I told him in Italian that I was an American soldier,” said Mascari. “He gave me a loaf of bread and a good hunk of salami, and told me to go to Mount Morello, about ten kilometers away.” The men wolfed down the food, and promptly vomited. They walked at night and hid during the day until they came upon young shepherds, who took them to the Partisans. “A British lieutenant was the ranking officer. The band was made up of escaped Allied POWs and young and elderly Italians too old or too young to serve,” Mascari said. One boy, Umberto Raffaelli, took Mascari to meet his mother. “The lice were still driving me crazy, so Umberto’s mother boiled my clothes. But because they were in the seams, it did not get rid of all of them,” he said. “She burned my clothes so the Germans wouldn’t find them, and gave me some of her son’s clothes.”

The German SS were everywhere in the villages. Mascari and McNeil stayed in a cave on the mountainside above the village at night. Umberto’s family would hang a white towel in their window during the day if the coast was clear. Even then, it was risky to move about. “One day the SS found that two British soldiers had been staying at a farmhouse, helping with farm work,” said Mascari. “I saw the family’s home burned to the ground and the elder man of the household executed in front of the home as a warning to other residents.”

Mascari and McNeil decided to try to reach Switzerland. But monks encountered along the way told them the Swiss would intern them in camps, too. The monks were afraid of reprisals, so the Rangers could not stay at the monastery. So it was back to Umberto’s hometown of Legri, located north of Florence. Relative comfort invited sloppiness, and McNeil took one risk too many, going to the village when the white towel was not in the window. He was captured by the Germans. Mascari never heard from him again.

As Mascari played a deadly game of hide and seek with the Germans, the Allied front moved ever closer. He began to spot British observation planes, a sure sign they were tightening the noose on the German Tenth Army. In the meantime, he met another Brit, Albert Rummy, who had walked out of an Italian POW camp when Italy surrendered to the Allies and opened the gates. Before the Germans could arrive to close the gates, Rummy was gone. Together, the two men harassed the enemy. As they moved at night they would come upon isolated Germans. “We messed with them,” said Mascari. “They were the Goering division, but I was a Ranger. I won’t tell you what I did to them. I had been given a small Berretta, but could not fire it for fear of attracting more Germans. Let’s just say the best weapon in the World is a belt. I’ll leave it to your imagination.”

Mascari became even more daring, walking right through San Pedro, which was swarming with Germans. With Italian clothes and his fluency, he did not raise any alarms. His best day, maybe ever, came after spending more than a month on or near Mount Morrello. “I saw a British squad coming up the mountain. I ran the fastest mile I ever ran. I made the mistake of yelling ‘Americana.’ I should have yelled ‘American’ or ‘Yank,’” he said. British soldiers took him back to their headquarters and, doubting his claims, interrogated him for four or five days. They quizzed him about American baseball, the presidents, and the Midwest. Finally satisfied, the British interrogators sent Mascari to Naples, where he was interrogated again by American intelligence. It was then he learned he had been listed as missing in action.

Under Geneva Convention rules, Mascari could not be sent back to the front. American officials gave him a choice—fly to Africa and hook up with a ship returning to the United States, or remain in Naples and wait for a ship. Mascari chose Naples. An American captain gave him twenty dollars, which he managed to multiply by gambling. After a month hanging out in Naples, sailing day arrived. Rucksacks were checked for contraband and it seemed as though every soldier wanted to bring home the dog he had adopted overseas. When heavy seas hit, the dogs started barking. “A voice over the loudspeaker bellowed ‘All you soldiers with dogs are going to be quarantined stateside until your dogs get their shots,’” Mascari recalled. Much of the trip home was spent below deck, as the ship encountered a hurricane and had to navigate around it. Though a few days behind schedule, nothing looked better to Mascari than the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.

Sent briefly to Virginia, Mascari ended up at Camp Atterbury in Indiana for processing. “They gave me a fifteen-day pass at Atterbury. I called home to tell them I was in Indiana,” he said. Mascari hitched a ride on a military bus headed for Indianapolis. “When I saw I was near my old stomping grounds on Bicking Street, I asked the driver to let me out. I could walk to South East Street,” he remembered, surprising his entire family with his appearance. His sister showed him all the correspondence she had sent and received to and from the War Department. She had a telegram that said he was MIA, and another that said he was back fighting at the front.

The reunion was brief. Tommy was still in the army and as a former POW he had to report to Miami Beach, Florida, for evaluation. The army had requisitioned all of the hotels in Miami Beach and Mascari and his fellow former POWs stayed two to a room. Free tickets to the dog track, dance studios, and fishing boats were available at the front desk. After six weeks of rest, sun, and medical and psychological exams, a captain called Mascari in and asked where he wanted to be sent. He offered assignment as an military policeman in Miami Beach or assignment to invasion preparation for Japan. Mascari had a one-word response: “Home.” The captain saw the emotion in his eyes and promised him a medical discharge, justified by his damaged toes. A week later he saw his name on the discharge list in the hotel lobby. It was back to Atterbury and more waiting. “I was so close to home. I asked for a three-day pass and was denied.” remembered Mascari. “I told them ‘I’m going out that gate.’ Their response? ‘Then you’ll get a dishonorable discharge.’ After all I’d been through, that was the last thing I wanted to do, smear my record. So I waited.”

Just before Christmas, Mascari received his discharge and made the same bus ride to Union Station in Indianapolis. And at the same spot on Madison Avenue, right where the Blue Point auto parts store was, Mascari asked the driver to let him off so he could walk home. This time, only his sister, Josephine, was at home. He met her at the door. They hugged, cried, and laughed. After a few weeks reconnecting with friends and family, Mascari realized it was time to think about his future. His old drafting teacher at Manual High School, Mr. Davis, gave him a good price on a broken-down Pontiac convertible. A new starter, points, plugs, battery and roof, and Mascari was ready to start dating.

It was a tiny blonde girl he met at the Roller Rink, Winiogene Portteus, who caught his eye. She told him to call her “Gene.” After a three-month courtship, they were engaged, marrying on Veterans Day, 1945. Mascari returned to his job at Freeman Store Equipment Company, making cabinets. He and Gene saved and bought their first home for $2,800, a two-bedroom bungalow at 156 South Seventh Street in Beech Grove. A son, Mark, arrived in 1947.

Life for the Mascaris was not much different than it was for millions of returning veterans—marriage, children, and a career. Tommy did flirt with flying lessons at White Cloud airport. The GI Bill paid for the lessons. On his test flight for his license he landed in a farm field near Hope, Indiana; he was supposed to land at the airport. After the GI Bill assistance ran out, flying became too expensive. Mascari focused on his love for midget racing. The Pontiac was traded for a Crosley station wagon, then that was traded for a Studebaker when his daughter, Marcia, arrived in 1950. The Studebaker was Mascari’s first new car.

Mascari indulged his independent spirit when he left the Freeman Company to start his own cabinet shop behind his family’s store. He refinished pianos and made countertops and shelves. He even joined the family design and construction team when his brother, John, designed a new Mascari’s Italian Market store. When competition from Owens Corning undercut his pricing, Mascari went to work for Indiana Gear, making the hulls for fiberglass jet boats. His layoff from Indiana Gear became an opportunity and a life-changing experience.

A chance meeting with salespeople from Arena Craft near Oakland, California, led to a job offer. Gene was happy (her parents had moved to San Leandro), so it was off to California in the family’s 1957 Ford station wagon. The car was so overloaded that Mascari had extra spring leafs installed. The Arena Craft job did not last long, but Mascari was never out of work. He went back to his first love—cabinet making. He made cabinets for tract-home builders, then for a company that built prefabricated schools. When Mascari noticed all of the company’s supplies were arriving cash on delivery he knew it was in financial trouble. It was as good as any time to retire.

Umberto Raffaelli, the teenage shepherd who had aided Mascari while he was on the run, continued to live near Legri. He always wondered what had happened to that rag-tag Ranger he had met on Mount Morello. Friends of Umberto’s in Glastonbury, Connecticut, offered to help him find the American soldier. After reaching out to all ten Thomas Mascari families in the United States, they found Tommy and Gene. A June 1994 reunion in Oakland brought back a rush of memories and a commitment never to lose touch again. The next year, Tommy and Gene were invited to visit Legri and the caves with Umberto and his wife, Alda. Umberto’s brother still ran the family farm below Mount Morello. While the ladies stayed down below, Umberto and Mascari took a jeep up the mountain to explore the caves where the Ranger had hidden fifty-one years earlier.

For several years Mascari faced a challenge more difficult than hiding from the SS, but more rewarding than his dedication to his fellow Darby’s Rangers. Gene suffered from Alzheimer’s and lived in a long-term care facility near the family home in Hayward. Twice each day, even at the age of ninety-six, and still as sharp as he was as a twenty-one-year-old Ranger, Mascari drove himself to be at his wife’s side.

He knew she did not recognize him, but there was always touch, and the hope that she knew his voice. Gene died on April 28, 2018, after seventy-three years of marriage. Yet, Mascari soldiers on, his survival instincts taking over, just as they did on Mount Morello in 1944.

As Mascari walked me to my car after the most amazing interview I have conducted in my life, he smiled and said “You know, my eyesight isn’t great. My hearing is going bad. But I can still run a country mile.” Then he made a bicep and said, “And I still think I can take somebody if I had to.”

Michael B. Murphy, an Indiana state representative for sixteen years, received his bachelor’s degree in American studies from the University of Notre Dame and his master’s degree in history from Indiana University–Purdue University at Indianapolis in 2009. His book The Kimberlins Go to War: A Union Family in Copperhead Country was published by the Indiana Historical Society Press in 2016.

For further reading:

Aliteri, James. The Spearheaders: A Personal History of Draby’s Rangers. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1960. | Atkinson, Rick. The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943–1944. New York: Henry Holt, 2007. | Black, Robert W. The Ranger Force: Darby’s Rangers in World War II. Mechanicsburg, PA : Stackpole Books, 2009. | Jeffers, H. Paul. Onward We Charge: The Heroic Story of Darby’s Rangers in World War II. New York : NAL Caliber, 2007. | Stewart, Jeff R. “The Ranger Force at the Battle of Cisterna.” Master’s thesis, General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS, 2004.

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