A World War II Vet's Untold Story
This Veterans Day has special meaning for a Pinehurst woman and her family.
Blanche Todd, the widow of Alfred J. Todd, has lately learned the amazing story of her husband's wartime experiences as a crewman on a B-25 bomber shot down over Nazi-occupied Italy in May 1944.
Sgt. Todd and a fellow crewman, Sgt. William Lanza, together with four others, bailed out of the plane as the pilot valiantly tried to keep it under control until the last moments when it crashed in mountainous territory.
Todd and Lanza were rescued by members of two Italian families who hid them for more than two months and helped them evade the Nazis. They were ultimately liberated by British troops.
The two airmen were initially listed as missing in action. Upon their release, they were ordered by military authorities to sign a directive from the Secretary of War which read in part, "You will ... disclose no information whatsoever beyond the fact of your return to duty from being missing in action ... to anyone ..."
Todd and Lanza further had to certify that they had read and fully understood the directive, and at all times would fully comply with it.
Consequently their story and the stories of the other crewmen on the ill-fated B-25 flight were never told to anyone, even to their closest relatives, until the Lanza's nephew, John Lanza, discovered in 2006 that the secrecy statements the men had signed were declassified in 1995 - 50 years after the end of the war.
During the ensuing four years, John Lanza has pieced together a captivating true story. The result of his efforts is a book titled "Shot Down Over Italy" in which he describes the events as told him by his 91-year-old uncle, still living in Revere, Mass., and how he has visited the two Italian families and connected with the families and friends of the deceased crew members.
"My husband, who passed away in 2002, never divulged a word of his experiences, although I and then my daughters and their husbands had pressured him to speak about the time when he was listed as missing in action," says Blanche Todd. "I found out the whole story through John Lanza - how 'Toddy,' as he was called, and Bill Lanza spent their time in a cave hand-dug by members of the Italian families and of their eventual rescue."
The Todds ran the Track Restaurant at the Pinehurst Harness Track for many years.
With her head held high, she says, "I am so proud of him. I just wish he had known that the secrecy ban had been lifted, because I know in his heart, he had wanted to tell the story of those months, and to be able to publicly thank the Sarri and Becattini families for their concern and courage."
For information about the book, visit www.shotdownoveritaly.com.
Contact Pinehurst writer Mary Elle Hunter at email@example.com.
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