When his duffel bag disappeared on a train trip from Scotland to southern England in 1942, Mario Dolfi never expected to see his diary again.
“When they lost the shipment, I just thought, ‘The heck with it,'” Dolfi said. He never kept another diary during the next three years as he followed Gen. George Patton across Europe during World War II. He accumulated four Battle Stars, three Good Conduct Palms and the Berlin Airlift medal along the way. Today, each is proudly pinned to a blue wool uniform shirt.
But in November, the 82-year-old Army Air Corps and Air Force veteran received his diary in the mail from an Easthampton, Mass., woman. Susan R. Taylor had found it in a trunk of her mother’s belongings when she was cleaning out the attic.
To this day, it’s a mystery how Taylor’s mother got the diary, Dolfi said.
The diary is only a plain notebook, the kind that cost a nickel during the war, said Dolfi’s wife, Betty Dolfi. Inside, it’s filled with line after line of carefully scripted black ink. There were originally two notebooks, but the first remains missing. The second dates from Nov. 5, 1943. The last entry, shortly before boarding the infamous train, is dated Nov. 17, 1943. Most of the entries were addressed to Dolfi’s first wife, Eva Anderson Dolfi.
“He wrote how much he missed his wife, and all about the military,” Taylor said in a Nov. 11 article in the Hampshire, Mass., Union News.
Taylor tried to find Dolfi for a year before she was successful. She contacted the address in the back of the diary — Dolfi’s former mother-in-law in nearby Chicopee Falls. The family had long since moved. Next she tried contacting the Army, Air Force and Veterans of Foreign Wars. But the military would not release Dolfi’s contact information. She finally located Dolfi after exhaustive Internet research.
“Most people would just pitch it out and not bother,” Dolfi said.
Taylor hopes to visit the Dolfis’ Gainesville home in the spring.
“She wants to come down and meet us when the weather [improves],” Dolfi said, “It’ll be nice to talk to her.”
“He’d forgotten half the stuff in there,” Betty Dolfi teased.
But Dolfi hasn’t forgotten much.
A spry man with an errant twinkle in his eyes, Dolfi described the trip to the war. Less than a week after his first marriage, he was aboard the Queen Mary bound for Scotland, leaving his new mother-in-law’s home in Chicopee Falls far behind. The 18,000 U.S. servicemen aboard the Queen Mary docked in Scotland, where they boarded a train with completely blacked-out windows to an air base in southern England.
“We actually didn’t know where we were going,” Dolfi said, “My duffel bag was lost somewhere between Scotland and England.”
Upon arriving at the English airfield, the American airmen were taken to a pile of straw.
“We didn’t know what it was for, until they gave us a mattress cover and said, ‘fill it,'” Dolfi laughed.
Dolfi retired as a senior master sergeant from the Air Force after 26 years, mostly in the transport division. He described it as “a beautiful career,” and his stories of life in the service are varied and colorful.
Dolfi saw action in the Battle of the Bulge, the Nazis’ last offensive in WWII. After the war, he traveled Germany and Eastern Europe, seizing hidden German aircraft engines.
“They’d hide engines in farm yards,” Dolfi said, “We’d take two and then destroy the rest. [Those saved were] shipped to Wright-Patterson in Ohio, where they do a lot of testing.”
Dolfi oversaw former SS guards during disarmament of German V-1 and V-2 rocket factories. The rockets had been a major part of Hitler’s offensive against the British home front during the Battle of Britain.
Later, he worked at Andrews Air Force Base, where he met presidential stewards working on Air Force One, President Harry Truman’s secretary of state and Mamie Eisenhower, wife of Dwight Eisenhower the 34th president.
Dolfi’s parents immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1914, and this was another reason for joining.
“We saw what this country did for us,” Dolfi said. A brother enlisted in the Air National Guard.
“He went to the Pacific while I was in Europe,” Dolfi said.
“A lot of my friends were going in at that time,” Dolfi said of enlisting in the Army Air Corps in 1939. They knew that America would get in the war, and Dolfi “wasn’t going to miss it.”
After basic training at Langley, Dolfi attended gunnery training school in Florida. He was eventually assigned to teach gunnery school in Westover, Mass., where he met his first wife. Only three days after their wedding, Dolfi was sent to England, where he set up air stations for fighter outfits.
After his demobilization in 1945, he worked for two years in California as a foreman for Kaiser, laying wood floors. But he enjoyed the Air Corps, so he decided to join the newly-created Air Force in 1947. He retired from Andrews Airfield in 1973.
“I was scheduled to go to Vietnam, but that’s when I got out,” Dolfi said.
Dolfi hopes to complete his own search for part of his missing past soon. While he has his Air Force service records from 1947 to 1973, he was never given copies of his service records for his three years with the Army Air Corps.
“I want to go back and check my records for WWII. They retired those records and I never could retrieve them [while in the Air Force],” Dolfi said.
He hopes to look up some old friends in those records. He admits he doesn’t make it to many veterans events — he’s too busy playing golf, he laughs.
Staff writer Maria Hegstad can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 121.