Op DISTINCTION deployment leads to a family reunion for Governor General Horse Guard member
By Michael Timmermans, ADM(PA)
A Crewman for Toronto’s Governor General’s Horse Guard (GGHG), Corporal Simon Pittarelli, never guessed deploying on Operation (Op) DISTINCTION – the 75th Anniversary of the Italian campaign, would lead to family.
Op DISTINCTION is the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) contribution to the Government of Canada’s Military History Commemoration Program led by Veterans Affairs Canada.
On December 1, 2019, after participating in a Ceremony of Remembrance in the town of Cassino, Italy, Cpl Pittarelli mentioned to Op DISTINCTION Commander Lieutenant Colonel (LCol) Jim Mills he had been given an address for family in Italy who lived close by. They weren’t expecting him, but he hoped for a chance to visit while in the country.
Immediately, LCol Mills offered Cpl Pittarelli his vehicle and authorized leave so the Cpl could visit his family. By 10 a.m., Cpl Pittarelli and fellow GGHG reservist, Cpl Christopher Sellan, were on the road to Cpl Pittarelli’s hometown of Guardiaregia, in the province of Campobasso.
Upon the military duo’s arrival in Guardiaregia, their GPS stopped working and they became stranded on a tiny and narrow country road. However, through a series of fortuitous events, the opportunity for a family reunion was unfolding.
Thankfully, a local man named Mr. Nicoangelo, who spoke a little English and German, noticed the corporals were lost and invited them into his home for a homecooked meal. With Cpl Pittarelli’s limited knowledge of Italian and Cpl Sellan’s ability to speak German, the trio conversed as best they could. By complete coincidence, it turned out Mr. Nicoangelo had known Cpl Pittarelli’s family for many years.
“Finding this out, I was brought to tears,” recalled Cpl Pittarelli. “Meeting a random person in a random situation that brought us together actually connected me to stories and facts of the past I would have never known.”
“We told him why we were there and that we wanted to visit my family’s home,” Cpl Pittarelli continued.
Exclaiming “Andiamo!” Meaning, “Let’s go!” Mr. Nicoangelo led the two Corporals to a nearby home that had belonged to Mr. Giovanni Pittarelli, Cpl Pittarelli’s great uncle.
“We knocked on the door, and an elderly woman opened the door and asked what we wanted and why we are there,” recounted Cpl Pittarelli. “Once I told her who I was and who my father was, she exclaimed with great joy “‘Hurry up! Come in and eat!’”
Cpl Pittarelli and Cpl Sellan bid farewell to Mr. Nicoangelo. The elderly woman turned out to be Cpl Pittarelli’s Great Zia (great-aunt) Giovanna. They talked about his family back in Canada. Unfortunately, Giovanni had died, and Great Zia told Cpl Pittarelli she was the last remaining elder of the family still in Italy.
“Once we got caught up, she led us to the old family home that my Great Grandfather had built in 1900, in the mountains, as a family home for his big family of 13,” said Cpl Pittarelli.
This was the same home where, in 1940, his Great Grandfather had escaped the invading Nazis, carrying his younger sister on his back.
With emotion, Giovanna recounted the family’s history. She then led he and Cpl Sellan to a memorial in town on which Cpl Pittarelli’s Great Uncle Pietrantonio Minichillom’ name was engraved. She then introduced them to her son and his family, rounding out the incredible experience.
“We then took some pictures, kissed on the cheeks, hugged each other goodbye and went on our way,” shared Cpl Pittarelli.
“This whole experience was thanks to Op DISTINCTION – the 75th Anniversary of the Italian Campaign and LCol Mills,” said Cpl Pittarelli. “Without these people and events, I may have never been able to see my Aunt, find out all about the family history and what it was like during the Second World War.
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