Launched in 2020 to remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war through the #IAWW2Heroes initiative.
This entry is a special submission from Max Scoli, who is currently a Senior at the University of Michigan in honor of his great-grandfather, Leonard J. Verrilli.
Leonard J. Verrilli was born on December 11, 1913, in Harrison, N.Y.
The son of Italian immigrants Giuseppe and Lucia Verrilli of Castelfranco, Veneto, Leonard was a veteran of World War II, serving as a Staff Sergeant and Ball Turret Gunner for the 728th Bomb Squadron and in the European Theater with the 452nd Bomber Group.
The 452nd Bombardment Group flew 44-8531 MIASSIS DRAGON B-17 Flying Fortresses from Deopham Green, Norfolk, in January 1944. The aircrews hit strategic sites in Germany but also supported the movement of ground forces across Europe after D-Day. On June 6, 1944, D-Day itself, the Group bombed coastal defences before the landings. The 452nd Group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for bombing a jet fighter base at Kaltenkirchen, northern Germany, on April 7, 1945, under intense pressure from enemy fighters and anti-aircraft flak.
On that same day, Verrilli volunteered to be the gunner for this mission after the assigned gunner fell ill. While serving as the ball turret gunner aboard the B-17 bomber, Sergeant Verrilli received burn wounds to his face when the plane was hit at 18,000 feet by enemy fire near Scharmstedt, Germany, as he parachuted out.
Sergeant Verrilli related that, after the crash, his wounds were treated by a German woman who told him that she wanted to take care of him because her son had been taken care of by the Americans.
Verrilli was eventually taken into custody by German authorities and placed in a prisoner of war camp, at which time he had been officially reported as “missing in action.” A month later, he was liberated from the camp and sent to a hospital in England.
As a result, Verrilli was awarded the Purple Heart and Prisoner of War Medals, which honors soldiers who are wounded by an instrument of war and those who were held captive at the hands of the enemy. He would also be awarded the Air Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal for his service.
Verrilli passed away on September 26, 1999, and is survived by a daughter, Lucille Scoli; grandchildren, Bobby Jr, Michael, Trebor, and Gregg; and six great-grandchildren.
“I personally never had the privilege to meet since he died the year I was born,” says Verrilli’s great-grandson, Max Scoli. “However, my family could not speak more highly of his character, all describing him as the most selfless and loving man that had ever been in their lives, so I took it upon myself to write this submission in hopes that he might be recognized.”
If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to firstname.lastname@example.org.