By Michael Isam
St. Augustine, Fla, (June 15, 2013) – “It is fitting and proper we do this on this special day, the 238th anniversary of the United States Army,” said Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw, Adjutant General of the Florida National Guard as he awarded The Bronze Star with “V” device to the family of Staff Sergeant Egilio P., “Gene”, Delaini. The medal was originally awarded on or about July 27, 1945. The certificate did not reached him before his death in 2005.
Many times during a sometimes tearful award ceremony Claire Kaiser Delaini, “Gene’s” wife of more than 60 years, rubbed her thumb across the medal. It was as if husband and wife were together again. The moments were not lost on Maj. Gen. Titshaw, who presented the medal. It was evident in his speech and as he hugged her at the end of the presentation.
Delaini’s son Bruce presented facts about his father’s service, some of which are presented here.
Delaini, a first generation Italian-American, was born in 1915 in northwestern Connecticut. Drafted into the Army at age 25, he spent his first 18 months of service in the New Jersey Army National Guard artillery unit which was sent to Washington State. He became extremely bored and volunteered to become a paratrooper. After completion of jump school, he was summoned to Washington, D.C. and interviewed by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He soon found himself a member of the elite OSS or 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, Separate (Provisional) as it was known.
In a room filled to capacity with national guard personnel, many of whom are battle-hardened, and some only briefly exposed, each person had the “look”. The look that made faces as easy to read as a large-print novel while the circumstances of Delaini’s service were sounded for all to hear. Each one present listened intently and the memory of their own similar path was relived, if only for a moment.
“A demolition expert, his OSS Operational Group (OG) was assigned to the Nancy Mission as part of the preparation for the Allied invasion of southern France in August 1944”; “a 15 man unit parachuted into France on August 12th”; “worked independently on France’s border with Italy to thwart any enemy relief attempt once the Allied invasion began”;” there were numerous clashes with German forces,” and that was just France.
Looking over the audience, it was as if a cartoon character balloon was above the head of each attendee announcing “No wonder they are called the ‘Greatest Generation’ ”.
Delaini was pulled to North African to recoup and soon found himself reassigned to an OSS German OG. After being briefed, he was again parachuted, this time as during the Tacoma Mission in northern Italy. Part of a 4 man team, his rank and fluent Italian made him an extremely valuable asset. The German Army searched for his unit extensively, but never found them.
Delaini told of an incident where he was hidden in the barn of a partisan and could hear the German army march past him. His son Bruce quoted him as saying, “It was a little unnerving.”
The Tacoma Mission was the topic of many articles in the Cleveland Press and Reader’s Digest and a movie starring Gary Cooper was loosely based on this mission.
Delaini and his team operated in Italy from mid February until the end of the war. Many of the operations brought them into frequent contact with the Germans and Italian Fascists who were hunting them.
Bruce Delaini remarked that his father never fired a weapon or went hunting after the war. “I know what it is like to be the hunted,” said elder Delaini, and I can’t do that to any creature; ever.”