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Bishop's memories of World War II Army service in Italy still vivid


  • Sgt. Louis DeSimone, assigned as an Italian translator with the U.S. Fifth Army in World War II during the campaign in Italy in 1943-44, would later be ordained a priest and auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. (CNS photo/Archdiocese of Philadelphia)
  • Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Louis A. DeSimone poses at his episcopal ordination in August 1981. Bishop DeSimone was assigned as an Italian translator with the U.S. Fifth Army in World War II, serving during the campaign in Italy in 1943-44. He was ordained a priest in 1952. (CNS photo/Archdiocese of Philadelphia)
  • Retired Auxiliary Bishop Louis A. DeSimone of Philadelphia concelebrates the annual chrism Mass April 13 at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. (CNS photo/Sarah Webb, CatholicPhilly)

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PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- It is no accident that each year many films shown on television between Memorial Day and the June 6 anniversary of D-Day center on World War II.

After all, with more than 16 million men and women under arms, it was easily the largest and deadliest war ever fought by the United States.

Only a tiny percentage of them are still alive, and one of them is a Catholic bishop -- retired Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Louis A. DeSimone, 95.

Back in 1944, he was Sgt. Louis DeSimone, a 22-year-old translator of Italian attached to the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Army. Joining it in Casablanca, Morocco, during the African campaign and continuing through Sicily, up the Italian boot to Montecassino and after that to the deadly Anzio beach landing, he arrived in Rome a few days after the bloodless liberation of the Italian capital.

He could not know it immediately, but this last event would affect his entire life.

Bishop DeSimone minimizes his wartime exploits by explaining he was not a frontline infantryman, he was part of the support staff. But the young sergeant was definitely in harm's way, just a step or two behind the action. He saw things he would rather forget.

A Pennsylvania native born in Bridgeport in 1922, Bishop DeSimone is the eldest and last surviving of three brothers. The thought of priesthood was on his mind, but he wasn't quite sure about it at the time.

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