2nd Lieutenant Rocco DeFilippis (1919–1944)

Rocco DeFilippis circa 1944 (Courtesy of the DeFilippis family)
Home StateCivilian Occupation
PennsylvaniaBookkeeper
BranchService Numbers
U.S. Army Air ForcesEnlisted 33313638 / Officer O-765628
TheaterUnit
European359th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy)

Author’s note: Delaware’s World War II Fallen occasionally highlights men and women without a direct connection to the First State.  2nd Lieutenant DeFilippis was a friend and bombardier training classmate of a Delawarean, the late Paul J. Collins.

DeFilippis in an undated portrait (Courtesy of the DeFilippis family)

Early Life & Family

DeFilippis was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 9, 1919.  It appears he was the youngest of four children born to Italian immigrants Domenic (Dominic, Domenick or Dominnick on some records, a baker, 1886–1940) and Maria (Mary on some records, née Laselva, 1894–1997) DeFilippis.  He had an older brother and two older sisters.  

DeFilippis grew up in South Philadelphia.  His family was recorded as living at 629 Sears Street on the 1920 and 1930 censuses and at 1829 South Rosewood Street on the 1940 census.  According to the 1940 census and his enlistment data card, he was a high school graduate.

When DeFilippis registered for the draft on July 1, 1941, his occupation was listed as bookkeeper (though his enlistment data card recorded his occupation as stenographer or typist).  The draft board registrar described him as standing five feet, eight inches tall and weighing 152 lbs., with brown hair and eyes.


Military Training & Overseas Service

DeFilippis was drafted.  He was inducted into the U.S. Army in Philadelphia on May 16, 1942.  The following year, he began training as a bombardier and navigator in the U.S. Army Air Forces.  A friend of his, the late Paul J. Collins, recalled meeting DeFilippis on the train to Nashville, Tennessee, to begin their training.  Collins remembered that DeFilippis, known as Rocky, was a fast runner and “very personable” but also “one tough cookie.”  He remembered that DeFilippis was quick to get into a fight but protective of his friends, so Collins was never on the receiving end!

As Collins recalled it, Western Flying Training Command Class 44-1 began with about 130 aviation cadets.  Some 101 of the students made it through their training without being washed out (plus a few who were rolled into the next class for various reasons).  They spent nine weeks in preflight training at Santa Ana Army Air Base in California, followed by six weeks of gunnery school in the summer heat at Kingman, Arizona.  Finally, they completed 18 weeks of bombardier and navigator training in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  That day, Collins and DeFilippis were commissioned as 2nd lieutenants upon graduation on January 15, 1944.

Western Flying Training Command Class 44-1 graduation list (Courtesy of the Cadwallader family)

DeFilippis invited Collins to his wedding in Philadelphia.  The two flew on a commercial flight aboard a DC-3 back to the East Coast.  DeFilippis married Anna T. Habuda (1921–2017, the daughter of Polish immigrants, John and Anna Habuda) in Philadelphia.  Collins recalled that the reception was at Palumbo’s—a nightclub where DeFilippis had worked before joining the military—and that the party was still going strong when he left around 5 a.m. the following morning to catch a train home!  Both were assigned to B-17 crews in Florida early in 1944.  Collins couldn’t remember for certain whether he had seen DeFilippis there, but if he did, it was the last time, since they were assigned to different units in the U.S. Eighth Air Force.

DeFilippis and his wife at their wedding on January 22, 1944 (Courtesy of the DeFilippis family)

Eugene E. Girman (1923–2004), the radio operator in Lieutenant DeFilippis’s crew, recalled meeting the other members of the crew at Avon Park Army Air Field, Florida.  After training together for a period of time, they flew to Bangor, Maine, and then on to Newfoundland (on or around June 3, 1944 according to a veterans compensation document filled out by DeFilippis’s wife after the war).  Girman recalled being delayed in Newfoundland for about six weeks due to two members of the crew being sick.  Eventually, they made the transatlantic flight to the United Kingdom.

On July 16, 1944, DeFilippis and his crew were assigned to the 359th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), operating out of Royal Air Force Station Molesworth in Cambridgeshire, England.  His first mission was a raid on Merseburg, Germany, on July 29, 1944.  During following month, DeFilippis flew eleven more missions against targets in Germany, France, and Belgium.


DeFilippis’s crew in a photo dated August 17, 1944, one week before they were shot down. Standing from left to right: Jack R. Hillary, William Robertson, III, John E. Rice, Rocco Defilippis. Front row from left to right: Neldon R. Bishop, George E. Paul, Harry R. Sansum, Eugene E. Girman, James R. Watson (Official U.S. Army Air Forces photo, National Archives via Fold3)

Final Mission

On August 24, 1944, Lieutenant DeFilippis was serving as bombardier aboard a B-17G, serial number 42-97291, nicknamed Myasis Dragon—flown by 2nd Lieutenants Jack R. Hillary and William Robertson III— during another raid on Merseburg, Germany.  The raid, DeFilippis’s twelfth mission, targeted the Leuna synthetic oil plant.  During the bomb run, his plane was hit by enemy antiaircraft fire.  Missing Air Crew Report 8212 included questionnaires filled out by Technical Sergeant (then Staff Sergeant) Girman.  He wrote that Lieutenant DeFilippis “asked the Pilot if he should salvo the bombs since we had one Engine Gone” but that Lieutenant Hillary “told the Bombardier to hold his bombs until Reaching Target.”  (To salvo the bombs would be to jettison them all at once.)

Another statement in M.A.C.R. 8212, by 2nd Lieutenant George C. Lawrenson (at the time, a tail gunner aboard another plane), recorded what happened next: “Over the target the missing A/C [aircraft] received a direct hit in the bomb bay by A/A [anti-aircraft] gunfire. The missing A/C peeled off and went into a vertical dive.”

Moments later, the B-17 exploded in midair so violently that other B-17s were struck by the debris.  The plane came down near the village of Weßmar, west of Schkeuditz, Germany.  There were only two survivors from the crew of nine: Staff Sergeant Eugene E. Girman (radio operator) and Sergeant Neldon R. Bishop (ball turret gunner) parachuted to safety and were liberated from captivity when the war ended.

Map from M.A.C.R. No. 8212 showing the approximate location where DeFilippis’s B-17 went down (National Archives)

The remainder of the crew was initially buried by the Germans.  On August 2, 1950, DeFilippis was reburied in Section 84, Site 187 in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in Missouri in a group burial with three other officers from his crew: 2nd Lieutenants Jack R. Hillary (pilot), William Robertson III (co-pilot), and John E. Rice, Jr. (navigator).  

DeFilippis’s crew was depicted flying B-17 serial number 42-38050 (nicknamed Thunderbird) in the 1975 Keith Ferris mural Fortresses Under Fire, displayed for many years at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C.

Lieutenant DeFilippis’s widow, Anna, never remarried.  She died in 2017, aged 96.  Her nephew, Ken Tracey, recalled: “My aunt rarely talked about about Rocco.  He was the love of her life and never really got over his death.”


Crew of B-17G Myasis Dragon on August 24, 1944

The following list was adopted from Missing Air Crew Report No. 8212 with grade, name, service number, position, and status (killed or captured). 

2nd Lieutenant Jack R. Hillary, O-757200 (pilot) – K.I.A.

2nd Lieutenant William Robertson, III, O-819712 (copilot) – K.I.A.

2nd Lieutenant John E. Rice, O-710315 (navigator) – K.I.A.

2nd Lieutenant Rocco DeFilippis, O-765628 (bombardier) – K.I.A.

Staff Sergeant George E. Paul, 36557309 (top turret gunner) – K.I.A.

Staff Sergeant Eugene E. Girman, 35582692 (radio operator) – P.O.W.

Sergeant Neldon R. Bishop, 39918069 (ball turret gunner) – P.O.W.

Sergeant Harry R. Sansum, 36233045 (waist gunner) – K.I.A.

Sergeant James R. Watson, 32282335 (tail gunner) – K.I.A.


Notes

Name

Although his first name is Rocco on all records, the family’s last name was recorded differently on practically every historic record: Filippes, Difilippo, Diphilipis, De Philips, and finally DeFilippis or De Filippis—the name on his marriage and military records.


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the late Major Paul J. Collins for providing his memories of 2nd Lieutenant DeFilippis.  Thanks also go out to the DeFilippis family as well as the Hell’s Angels: 303rd Bomb Group (H) website for the use of their photos.


Bibliography

“359th Hillary Crew.”  Hell’s Angels: 303rd Bomb Group (H) website. http://www.303rdbg.com/359hillary.html

Collins, Paul J.  Phone interview with on July 21, 2020, and follow-up interview in New Castle, Delaware, on September 25, 2020.

“DeFilippis.”  The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 3, 1997.  Pg. B4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/89254141/maria-defilippis-obit/

Girman, Eugene E.  Interview conducted by Troy Hanson in Highland, Indiana, circa 2002.  Eugene Girman Collection (AFC/2001/001/02436), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. https://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/story/loc.natlib.afc2001001.02436/

Interment Control Forms, 1928–1962.  Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985.  National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2590/images/40479_1521003239_0475-02777

“Missing Air Crew Report No. 8212.”  Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985.  The National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/91049912

Social Security Death Index, Master File. Social Security Administration. https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=3693&h=14829411

Tracey, Ken.  Email correspondence, December 18, 2020.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census.  Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920.  National Archives at Washington, D.C.  https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4383871_00659   

United States of America, Bureau of the Census.  Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930.  National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4639448_00156

United States of America, Bureau of the Census.  Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940.  National Archives at Washington, D.C.  https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/M-T0627-03711-00240   

World War II Army Enlistment Records.  Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration.  National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=1&cat=all&tf=F&q=33313638&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=3792826  

World War II Veterans Compensation Applications.  Record Group 19, Series 19.92, Records of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/3147/images/41226_2421401757_0365-02145

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Pennsylvania, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947.  Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System.  National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44033_03_00075-01463


Last updated on November 22, 2021

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