Olympia Couple Honored by Italian Town


Submitted by Steve Robinson

This past summer Olympia author Gentian Powell received a Recognition of Civil Merit Award in the Italian town of Castel di Sangro. The award was presented in a formal ceremony by Mayor Angelo Caruso for a book she co-authored with her husband Jon, a former professor of communication at the University of Northern Illinois.

Gentian Powell award
Olympia resident Genny Powell holds the new award she received from the officials of Castel di Sangro, Italy, for the book written by her and her husband, Jon, “War Is Just Another Day.” Photo courtesy: Gentian Powell

The title of the book, in its English edition, is “War Is Just Another Day.” It tells the true story of Gentian who lived through a harsh childhood under the thumb of the World War II Nazi regime in Italy.

It was the second such honoring for Gentian by the officials of Castel di Sangro, the first following their initial publication of the book and this one after its translation and republication in Italy. The Italian title, “La Mia Guerra,” translates to “My War.”  The Italian officials said the award was presented in gratitude for preserving the memories of the town’s dark times under Nazi occupation.

During her recent return to Castel di Sangro Gentian visited all the places which remain vivid in her mind, both the horrors and happiness experienced before this indomitable town was liberated by the Canadian’s West Nova Scotia Regiment. Castel di Sangro has established a War Museum to honor their valor. Officials of the town also produced a documentary video using captured German film and featuring Gentian explaining the German occupation. This video was shown at a town’s theater when the Italian version of the book was presented.

Gentian Powell
Jon and Gentian “Genny” Powell on their deck overlooking Totten Inlet in Olympia, Washington. Photo courtesy: Steve Robinson

Castel di Sangro, Abruzzo, is the ancestral home of the third and last line of the house of Caesar, located in a mountainous area in Central Italy. In 1943, when the Nazi troops were retreating, they methodically blew up most of the homes. The town had been subjected to the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, then Adolf Hitler’s Nazis, then caught in the crossfire between Germany’s so-called Winter Line and the advancing Allied Forces. Of course, it was the people who really suffered. Many children witnessed sights and held fears that would haunt their memories for a lifetime. Gentian, whose maiden name was Genziana Alpina de Luise, was nine years old at that time. In the United States, her adopted country, she is known as Genny Powell, an active member of the Olympia “Bella Vita” Chapter of Sons of Italy for more than 30 years. She remembered every minute vividly. I could just close my eyes and go back in time,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. “Sometimes it was easy. Sometimes it was painful. The war came back to me as if I were reliving it.”

She says living in the town was indeed a time of great fear and desperation, of hiding, hunger and deprivation while the men were hauled away in the German army trucks. One night in November 1943, the family fled into the hills before the Nazis could take them away to some unknown place.

Gentian Powell WW2
In this WW2-era photo Gentian Powell is seen with her mother, Vera de Luise and sister Dryas while standing on the ruins of their house next to a Canadian soldier who’s holding a British flag fashioned by Vera de Luise. Photo courtesy: Gentian Powell

Gentian’s says one of her clearest memories is reflected on the cover of the book. “It was a time when I was on my way to school with my sister. When rounding a corner I came face-to-face with a Nazi. I was terrified, and couldn’t move. I finally looked up under the shadow of the Nazi’s Stahlhelm helmet. His fearless blue eyes glared down at me. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I had seen soldiers pointing their rifles at citizens before they were led away,” she said.

The book is available by title at www.Amazon.com or at Barnes and Nobel bookstores.

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