View Full Version : Forgotten Hero: from Regia Aeronautica to Luftwaffe, from Luftwaffe to Foreign Legion

11-06-2014, 04:40 PM
Francesco Panitteri was first of all, a prodigy student: in 1937 at only 16 years of age he took the high school diploma in classical studies. Aged 20, he was the youngest graduate of the Italian Kingdom (Law Degree with votation of 110 over 110). He made the competition in the judiciary, and while he was waiting the results he enlisted in the Regia Aeronautica and obtained the pilot license: he flew as volounteer leutnant in Libyan, Maltese and Sicilian skies.

In April 1943 he took off from Chinisia airport on a Macchi C.202 and alone barred the sky to a squadron of Spitfires attacking the airport. In the combat his plane was hit and started to burn, so he was forced to prevent its explosion by catapulting with parachute.
Safety landed but seriously wounded at the left leg, he was discharged from active duty for a year of convalescence, not before being awarded of a silver medal for his action.
During this time he passed from the military active duty to the political active duty, becoming secretary and press officer of the Trapani (his hometown) Fascist Party. The Federale (the highest provincial Fascist rank) of Trapani Savorgnan liked so much Panitteri admiring in him the warrior, the lawyer and the loyal fascist.
When Mussolini fell, July 25 1943, Panitteri asked to be readmitted to operational duties in his squadron. As way of protest for the Regia Aeronautica’s denial to his request and for the new political course, he enlisted the Luftwaffe with the rank of oberleutnant. Marshall Kesselring honored his war attitude and his nonconformist personality giving him (also for propaganda purposes) the Iron Cross first class added to the second class already obtained the former year over the African skies.
In late August 1943 it was published the final list of competition in the judiciary. Included among the winners, Panitteri received the appointment of auditor (first appointment judge) waiting for the first destination. "That day he said - I realized I was the only one in Italy to earn three incomes: from Italian Air Force, from Luftwaffe and from the Ministry of Justice". Soon later he resigned from Luftwaffe, having being called to new duties in the new Fascist republican state. After September 8 1943, and the birth of the RSI (Italian Social Republic), the former Panitteri’s political leader and friend Savorgnan had become prefect of Reggio Emilia, where he asked the contribute of the old friend, just appointed judge, as chief of staff of the Prefecture. In this role Panitteri spent the rest of the war.
Panitteri was arrested April 27 1945 by red partisans on a mandate of the CLN (National Liberation Committee) that had established the death penalty for the fascist leaders, including judges (much less was enough for a death sentence in those last bloodiest times of the civil war). Actually he had been charghed to have ordered (with Savorgnan and other fascist authorities) without trial the execution of 9 partisans. Actually the method of retaliation and counter-retaliation was spread among all the factions, like in every civil war. Furthermore this method was in those days, as tragicomic paradox of history, widely adopted against the losers by those who accused Panitteri...
He escaped the execution showing to the American troops, fortunately arrived to the place of execution in the right moment, his badge of Italian Air Force pilot. The officer that commanded the American soldiers claimed the delivery of the prisoner, and he was aggregated with other prisoners directed under escort to the POW camp of Coltano.
On August 19, he was able to escape and, through various vicissitudes, he reached his home in Sicily giving himself to the spot .
He was also able to flee abroad: in 1948 he enlisted in the Foreign Legion under the name of Lagarde. The following year, after training, he was released from the training center of Sidi Bel Abbes with the rank of corporal and was sent to fight the communists of Ho Chi Minh and the gen. Giap in French Indochina. The command of the French Forces of South Annam wich had appreciated his military skills in the counterinsurgency missions already accomplished, July 27, 1949 destined him to a convoy of supplies for the north Annam positions.

The convoy of 15 vehicles leaves Ninh Hoa escorted by 1 section of Tunisian Scouts and 2 sections of the Legion; 6 miles south of De Co Ma, the convoy was ambushed by innumerable Viet - Minhs that set on fire by bazooka shots the column of armored vehicles and trucks.
The corporal Lagarde/Panitteri picks up the surviving legionaries and leads the counterattack, but soon he is the only one to survive, with the left leg mangled by an explosive bullet. Anyway he is able to reach an heavy machine gun by which he fires desperately, until a Viet jumps in and breaks the Panitteri’s skull with the rifle butt. Seeing Panitteri falling down the Viet believed to have killed the legionary, and when he was still realizing that he was suddenly struck by unexpected shots of the gun that Panitteri had pulled out from his side.
Bloodied from head to toe, Panitteri lies alone waiting for a never-ending time (many hours) the reinforcements called by radio during the ambush. At last he is rescued and taken to the nearest surgery unit. Because the severity of his wounds he was transported to Saigon, and later from Saigon to the Paris military hospital.
After months of medical treatment he could leave the hospital, without the left leg and the right hand, with the skull shaped by a metal cap, and with hundreds of scars all around the body.
In 1952, France awarded him the highest honor for military valor (military medal) and appointed him Knight of the Legion of Honor with the right to add to his surname the predicate of Lagarde. He became so Francois Panitteri Lagarde, guest of honor in all annual historical events of the Foreign Legion and the French Republic.
"This year (1980) – wrote a French newspaper – a corporal will have the honor of carrying the hand of Captain Danjou during the ceremony of Camerone (the annual parade of the Foreign Legion): Francois Panitteri Lagarde, great mutilated, hero of the fight of De Co Ma in Annam. He shows us an example of courage and strength by his exceptional nature.
Through him the Legion wants to honor all the legionaries whose devotion and sacrifice have secured glory to the Legion. "
Panitteri died in Trapani March 27, 1990 where he was born May 29, 1921 at the age of 69.

01-24-2015, 10:21 AM
You should make an article on English Wikipedia about him. There is only one in Italian Wiki.

01-24-2015, 03:28 PM
You should make an article on English Wikipedia about him. There is only one in Italian Wiki.

There many mistakes on his wikipage, some really absurd. The correct info are in this article (more or less).