As I drove up and got out of my car, he was in his wheelchair on the porch. Although I'd never met him, I felt as though I had. My daddy, Henry "PeeWee" Beaugez, was really good friends with Mr. Pilutti. Daddy had told me many stories about how Pilutti had jumped into Normandy on D-Day, how he'd taught Daddy about reloading, how they'd gone to the range to shoot, and how they both loved to watch birds in Pilutti's backyard. They were good friends.
Adelchi Anthony Pilutti has been in Ocean Springs for many years, but not before immigrating to Canada from Italy, into the United States, living in several places, only to become interred during World War II.
It seems he didn't have a stamp on his passport with his port of entry and the date he'd come into this country. His visa was for Canada. He was imprisoned for 68 days on an island beside Alcatraz.
Once released, he wanted to serve the country which had just interred him. He loved the United States and all that she stood for.
Before leaving for the war, he'd met the love of his life, Alice Rae, while he was stationed at Camp Shelby in Mississippi.
She was from a little town in Smith County called Taylorsville. Just to hear him speak of Alice was a privilege. He loved her so. He still does to this day. He spoke of her cactus garden that he had helped her plant in the backyard until Hurricane Katrina destroyed it. He spoke of how difficult it was when her dementia became almost unbearable; not because he was unwilling to take care of her, but because he said he really lost her before she passed away.
Mr. Pilutti is in the Library of Congress on tape talking about his experiences in World War II, specifically jumping into Chef-du-Pont in the Lower Normandy region of France on D-Day, June 6, 1944. I asked him this question when he began to speak of that day, "What stands out in your mind about that day; a sound, a smell, something you saw, a feeling?"
"I was standing in the door of the plane, all hooked up, waiting to jump. You know, I was the first man out. We had just flown over Sainte-Mere-Eglise, heading for Chef-du-Pont. The only thing I could think about was whether or not I'd make it out of the plane without getting shot. We had just seen another plane blown up by anti-aircraft. You see, the Germans were shooting at us while I stood in the door.
"I'm not sure if I was pushed by a buddy, or if my knees gave way; all I knew was that I was falling and I only had 500 feet until I hit the ground. I knew I only had about 6 or 8 seconds from the time I left the plane until I hit the ground. I had to open my chute at 250 feet, all the while being shot at. I was afraid. Once on the ground, about three of us grouped together and began to shoot at the Germans. I was glad I was out of that plane."
Mr. Pilutti went on to tell me he was in that region of France for 37 days fighting the Germans. He asked if I'd ever seen "Band of Brothers." I told him no. He said the movie really depicted the way things were. I will most certainly have to watch it at some point.
When I asked what his most significant relationship with one of his buddies was during the war, he didn't hesitate and said, "Polack. I called him Polack and he called me Dago. He had my back and I had his." Pilutti went on to say they had jumped into Normandy together and then into Holland.
One morning, he went to the foxhole in Holland where Polack manned his post. He said Polack had fixed it up real nice; that it had been a shell hole; that it had a seat where he could lean back; that his gear pack was in the hole; that they had eaten breakfast together; that Polack raised up for a second and fell into his arms, a hole in his head, dead from a bullet from a German sniper's gun.
They had been through Normandy together, but Polack literally died in his arms in a foxhole after eating breakfast. He said it had hit him hard. It most certainly hit me hard.
The loves of a lifetime
Pilutti has three children, Blake, Aleta and Cathy. He has been dealing with cancer for years. He lost Alice Rae in May 2005, just before Katrina.
As I listened, it seemed this man has been through so many difficult times, but obviously has continued to love life. He loves his family. He loves watching people from his wheelchair on the porch, and loves it even more when they come over to speak with him. He loves to watch the birds. A cardinal came for a bite in the bird feeder by the porch while he was talking to me. He stopped and motioned in the direction of the bird feeder, obviously never tiring of his feathered friends, appreciating their beauty and their company.
I looked at him and said, "You've told me three things that would be most trying and difficult for anyone. One was losing your wife with regard to dementia. Secondly, you were in the war and saw many, many horrible things. And third, you've been dealing with the ravages of cancer. Which one of those have been the most difficult?"
He looked at me without hesitation and said, "Losing Alice the way that I knew her. Now that was really hard."
Privileged am I, having encountered the man known as Pilutti.
Privileged are we, as Americans, to have a man such as Pilutti willing to give his life for the freedom we so enjoy.
Privileged is what he would call himself for the riches of his life, his family, his country and his feathered friends.
Should you ever find yourself on Calhoun Street in Ocean Springs, take the opportunity to meet Mr. Pilutti. He will enrich your life, and you, too, will feel privileged.
Sarah Beaugez of Ocean Springs is a physical therapist who likes to write about ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Email: email@example.com