Mike Mignogno spends most of his days at the Milford Senior Center shooting pool, talking with friends or helping the center’s administration plan for future events. At the age of 91, Mignogno has been a husband, father and businessman. Always seen wearing his World War II Veterans baseball cap, he does not speak much about his time in the United States military but his service is an amazing story to be told. Serving overseas in Africa and Italy during the global conflict, Mignogno was captured by German forces and placed in a prison camp until he escaped and found his way home.
Mike grew up in Glenside, PA and was the first son of immigrant parents from Italy. At 18 years of age, he began working for a printing company in Philadelphia that printed tickets for local sporting events. He was drafted to the United States Army in 1943 and spent 13 weeks in Camp Croft, SC before being transported overseas where he became a runner, delivering messages from headquarters to the front line.
“When I was drafted I was happy to go, I was always patriotic. Growing up I remember having to prove to my friends I was just as American as they were even though my parents were from Italy,” said Mignogno. “The only thing that occurred to me while stationed overseas was that I was here to fight for the USA.” Not know to Mignogno at that time, his connection with Italy would later save his life.
As Mignogno traveled to Africa to join the 34th Infantry Division Army, the United State had already completed combat in Northern Africa and was preparing to invade Italy. He would join allied troop from Algiers, Tunisia and Morocco as the invasion took place in September 1943. During his duties as a runner delivering urgent messages between camps, Mike was wounded twice.
While in Northern Italy, which was still under the control of German forces at the time, Mignagno was taken prisoner by German soldiers on patrol. He was put to work, building highways and bridges that were destroyed by the Allied Forces during the invasion. While on work one day, an allied plane flew over head and his German captives ran to hide under a nearby bridge. Mignagno decided to take advantage of the situation and began running towards a mountain range known as the Alps.
“I started running and never looked back, I climbed as high as I could for as long as I could,” commented Mignagno. “I found a cave were I spent three days until I spotted a house.”
After watching the house to look for any enemy activity, he decided to approach the home one evening around 6pm. The family welcomed Mike “with open arms”. Never disclosing their names in fear of retaliation from the Axis Powers, the family took Mignagno to a friends home and eventually to Naples, Italy where he met up with an allied division. Mignogno contributes his knowledge of the Italian language and his Italian descent with saving his life.
“I think the reason I was helped was because I was Italian,” commented Mignagno. “Why they helped me, I am not sure.”
After being interrogated by allied forces for four hours, Mike was sent back to his outfit where he remained until November 1945 when he returned home. Back at home, he began working for Globe Ticket Company in Philadelphia where he started as a paper cutter and moved into the press room where he pushed the press onto the paper for local events. He also worked as a furniture salesman in Philadelphia until he reported to work at a bowling business where he moved up the chain to General Manager. He married his wife Roslin in Pennsylvania as the couple spent 28 years together and had three sons, before she passed.
Although he does not share his personal story of his experiences during the war with family and friends, Mignagno found comfort in sharing his story. Even at the age of 91, he stated that the memories of WWII veterans must not be forgotten and that future generations must remember the lessons of that war.
“The only way you can describe war is hell, the only purpose is to kill or be killed. I am glad that none of my kids had to see anything like that,” stated Mignagno. “It is important to learn from it so we can prevent it from ever happening again, so people like Hitler do not start anything like this again.”