Two Families Honor Fallen WWII Pilot

Neill Walker was a WWII pilot until his fateful flight in 1943, which saw the end of his military career as well as his life. His crash was witnessed by an Italian family which was sympathetic with other families who lost their young to the battles of the war. When his plane came down, it crash-landed mere feet away from where Caroline and Gaetano Simonelli were living as children at the time. The WWII pilot was ceremoniously buried on their farm.

The Simonelli family did not agree with the then-current fascist policies of Italy, and felt compassion for the family who lost the young Allied airmen to the effort for freedom. They recently met with the surviving family of the WWII pilot. Both of them took part in the same memorial service, one family thankful for the Simonellis’ treatment of their relative’s body, the other thankful for Walker’s service in the liberation of Italy from a fascist regime.

Walker hailed from Rock Hill, from which many youths came during the war to fight for freedom. He had been a college student at the time, but dropped out for what he considered to be a much greater cause. The Simonelli family did not know the identity of the WWII pilot when they first honored his sacrifice so many years ago, nor did Walker’s family know anything of those who buried him. Even the military was not immediately aware that Walker had died, the reports.

Despite the lack of information on both sides, Walker’s family was determined to discover the fate of his body. Guy and Caroline Simonelli were eager to meet the Walkers once contacted; they had buried him with full knowledge that the WWII pilot had family back home who would want to see his body treated with grace and kindness. Walker had been found in 1948, his body transported to America, but still his family knew nothing of those who had buried him.

The meeting between the family of the WWII pilot and the Simonelli siblings was thus enlightening, as it answered questions on both sides. One family got to meet the kin of those who brought a heroic young man into the world, and the other family got to meet those who brought him out of it. Many others attended the recent memorial, though none so connected as the Simonelli and Walker families. Though somber, it was also a joyous occasion; the death of a single WWII pilot was enough to bring two families together as one, bridging gaps between once-divided nations over generations of history.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE