Librarian uncovers Natick veteran’s true story: OSS Operational Group
NATICK — Cary Holmes, a reference librarian at Morse Institute Library, was reviewing records as part of a project to dedicate a memorial to the town’s fallen service members when he made a stunning discovery.
Crammed in the back of a dusty folder was a copy of a 212-page, single-spaced typed letter from the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS — America’s first intelligence agency — to the widow of Army Sergeant Alfred DeFlumeri, who had died in World War II on March 26, 1944. It was mailed to 1 Harrison St. in Natick and dated Aug. 6, 1945.
The letter, which provides details of an ill-fated 1944 OSS operation behind enemy lines in Italy to destroy a German railroad tunnel, reads like a bestselling novel — with a tragic ending: All 15 uniformed US soldiers were executed, including DeFlumeri, a Natick native. The rediscovered letter came as a surprise to Natick and to Holmes, a retired teacher who has become the town’s unofficial military historian.
‘‘It was astonishing,’’ said Holmes, who found the letter a couple months ago.
The town had known that DeFlumeri had died in the war, and had even dedicated a bridge in his memory. ‘‘But why, the atrocity, that was unknown,’’ Holmes said.
Holmes showed the letter to Joe Keefe of the National Archives and Records Administration’s Waltham office. ‘‘I was shocked at the amount of detail in the letter,’’ Keefe said. ‘‘Coming from a spy agency, I’m surprised it made it past the censors. I’ve never seen anything like it.’’
The letter may have been an attempt on the part of the commanding officer to provide solace to the wife. ‘‘My guess is that he was probably very close to DeFlumeri and felt that he had to explain to her the details of his death,’’ Keefe said.
Ida C. DeFlumeri had been informed in a letter from the War Department that her husband had been captured and killed, but apparently had not known the details of his death until the letter from her husband’s commanding officer in the OSS arrived two months later.
‘‘It may be some consolation to you to know the facts concerning Alfred which until now we either did not know or could not disclose,’’ wrote Colonel Russell B. Livermore.
As the letter describes, DeFlumeri was in an operational group of the OSS designated as Company A, 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion. ‘‘In joining this unit he had volunteered for extra hazardous duty in carrying out such operations behind the German lines in uniform, as might be directed by the Army Headquarters,’’ said the letter.
Read the entire story of their incredible mission HERE
It was later learned that the men had been captured by the Germans on March 24 and executed two days later.
The United States Graves Registration Service exhumed and identified the bodies, and buried them in the US Military Cemetery at Granaglione in Italy. Services were conducted by a Catholic chaplain. ‘‘The act of the German command in executing these men was a wanton disregard of the rules of warfare and constitutes a war crime,’’ the letter said. ‘‘Every effort has been made to apprehend the Germans responsible for this act.’’
According to news accounts, the two officers and 13 enlisted men were discovered in a common grave with their hands tied behind their backs. Joseph A. Libardi of West Stockbridge, Mass., and Liberty J. Tremonte of Westport, Conn., were reportedly among those executed.
German General Anton Dostler, acting on a 1942 order from Hitler to execute commandos without a trial, had ordered the execution despite resistance from officers within his own ranks. He was found guilty of war crimes and was shot by firing squad on Dec. 1, 1945.
Paul Carew, veterans services director for the town, said the atrocity was beyond anything he had encountered involving service members in his territory.
‘‘I’ve heard a lot of stories about atrocities involving veterans, but nothing to this extent,’’ he said. ‘‘These men were executed in uniform.’’
They died in the service of their country, for the cause of Freedom. Honor them - S.L.