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A special encounter on DC trip for Easthampton veteran

  • Eugene DeFilippo sits under cherry blossoms in full bloom in Washington D.C. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • At the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C., on Friday, April 6, Easthampton’s Eugene DeFilippo — a former Northampton High School football coach and vice principal, and a World War II veteran — hugs a woman who recently lost her father, who was also a veteran. Submitted photo

  • —Submitted photo

  • —Submitted photo

  • DeFillipo and his wife Anne under the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. At top left, DeFillipo at the World War II Memorial. Submitted photos



@dustyc123
Friday, April 13, 2018

Eugene and Anne DeFilippo had never seen the cherry blossoms in full bloom in the nation’s capital, the brilliant burst of pink and white encircling the Tidal Basin between the Potomac River and Washington Channel. 

So at 93- and 92-years-old, respectively, the Easthampton couple hopped in the car last week and drove the 7.5 hours down to Washington D.C. for the experience. 

The two were visiting their daughter Adele Tatro, 60, in Virginia last Friday, and decided that a trip to the World War II Memorial was obligatory; Gene had himself gone off to war at only 18 years old, flying 52 bombing missions from Italy in a B-24.

“We were young and we were foolish,” DeFilippo said on the phone Wednesday afternoon. “I joined the Army Air Corps six months out of high school.”

While at the memorial, DeFilippo had an experience that many veterans of that global war are likely witnessing. “Of course I’m using a cane, and people were complimenting me because I had an Air Force retiree hat on,” he said. “One woman practically attacked me, she threw her arms around me and thanked me.” 

The moment was captured on film, and the National Park Service has been in touch with Gene’s daughter MaryLou about putting the photo in the National Archives.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, only some 558,000 are still alive to share their memories, including 15,398 Massachusetts veterans, according to 2017 numbers compiled by The National WWII Museum in New Orleans. The woman who approached DeFilippo had just lost her veteran father.

“He’s crying, I start crying, my mother starts crying,” Tatro said. “He was so overwhelmed, even though he’s seen it before.”

“It was rather moving,” DeFilippo said of the interaction. “And brings back some memories: some good and some bad.”

A longtime former Northampton High School vice principal, many know Gene as “coach” from his days leading the school’s varsity football team from 1955 to 1968. He played football himself, with the Gazette describing him as a “star backfield man at Holy Cross,” where he played in the Orange Bowl while on the GI Bill.

“He took his friends up flying and his coach was livid,” DeFilippo’s daughter MaryLou told the Gazette with a laugh. “We were lucky enough to be alive,” DeFilippo said. 

DeFilippo appears to have the same energy as always, driving around everywhere and only giving up flying at the age of 85.

With so few WWII veterans remaining, their memories of that bloody war and its consequences are being increasingly lost to time, left only in history books DeFilippo — a former history teacher — has always loved.

“I have grandchildren and all they have is these iPhones,” DeFilippo said, adding that he and his fellow veterans were just a product of their time. “It was a different era and a different environment… If we were born today we would be just like the kids today.”

“I think the thing youngsters should have is some belief or goal of what they want to do and stick to it with perseverance,” he added. “They have to stick their roots into it.”

As for his assessment of modern life, given his life experiences, DeFilippo finds the current political moment deeply troubling.

“I believe that this country has morphed into a corporatocracy instead of a democracy,” he said. “Corporations have gotten so big, so powerful and so rich that they control our political process, and they pollute it with the money they throw at senators and congressmen.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.