Eugene (Gene) Falgione
VE-day was the beginning of the process that freed American Prisoners of War (POWs). It took some time for all of the POWs to connect with American troops, and their records often took extra time to catch up with them thus delaying their return to home and freedom. Such was the case of Eugene Falgione.
Gene Falgione was captured on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1944 in Vielsalm, Belgium. Gene and five others, with machine guns and BARs were positioned by Lieutenant George Lamm at key points to defend the railroad and motor vehicle bridges over the
Salm River. He was a member of Lieutenant George Lamm's rear
guard platoon left to defend the two bridges as the main body of the regiment pulled back to a new MLD (Main Line of Defense.)
German artillery hit near Falgione. He suffered shrapnel
wounds and a concussion, which left him unconscious. When he came to the rear guard had pulled back and Germans were guarding him. His captors had stripped him of his outer clothing and boots. They marched Gene, wearing only long underwear and socks, to a building filled with other POWs awaiting interrogation.
Some had already been questioned and had been treated roughly by the interrogator. The GI nearest to Gene confided to Gene, "I'm really scared because I'm Jewish."
Gene suggested, "'Pretend you converted to Christianity."
"If I knew some Christian prayers, I might try that," replied the Jewish POW.
Gene offered, "Take my rosary, and we will repeat together
Our father and Hail Mary until your turn comes to be questioned!."
The Jewish prisoner was a fast learner, and as he was led away, he counted his beads and repeated, "Our Father which art in heaven..." and immediately followed with "Hail Mary, Mother of God..."
The interrogator, who was probably sympathetic toward Christians, dealt kindly toward the pious prisoner. Gene's friend successfully disguised his ethnic background and he was not singled out for extra brutal treatment.
All of the POWs with Gene Falgione suffered terribly in the
days that followed, as they were marched by foot out of Belgium and through southwestern Germany into Czechoslovakia . The Germans took their outer layer of clothing, overcoats, combat jackets and pants, and their paratrooper boots. It left them with their long-john wool underwear and wool shirts and pants. Gene told about the treatment of the German population as they marched through their communities. Some threw rocks at them and screamed obscenities at them as they marched through. Gene
wrapped his feet with pieces of pasteboard and rags, but he
ended up with frozen feet from the exposure . After walking to
the POWs traveled by train to a German Prison.
While on a work detail away from the prison camp, Falgione escaped and was able to join the advancing Russian army. During a battle between the Russians and the Germans, Gene saved the lives of two Russian women. These Russian women sent letters on his behalf to his family and to his future wife, Wilma, letting them know he was still alive.
The Russian and American armies met at the Elbe River, but the Russians blocked the access to the bridge when Falgione tried to cross to the American side. Not to be denied, Falgione jumped into the icy waters and swam across. The Russians fired at him in the river, but the Americans fired back at the Russians, which aided his swim to safety.
Gene could not prove his identity to the American Authorities so he borrowed some clothes and made his own way
across country to a French port, where he was put on a ship to the USA.
By coincidence, on the same ship was the Jewish POW to whom he gave a rosary and taught Christian prayers. They landed in New York together . It was Gene 's turn to learn about Jewish
traditions His friend took him to his home in Brooklyn and they
had a Jewish celebration. After the party, Gene found several fifty-dollar bills stuffed in his jacket pocket by guests at the party.