Ocean Springs Adelchi Pilutti will long be remembered as a military veteran, a World War II paratrooper and a hero who made it home from the D-Day invasion.
But for Marla Polgrean, Pilutti will be remembered as her grandfather who stepped in to fill her dad’s shoes. Her father died when she was 10.
Pilutti, 94, died Friday in Ocean Springs.
“I love him so much, and I miss him so much,” she said. “He’s not just a World War II vet. He was a dad.”
When her father died in 1980, Polgrean said her grandfather became her dad.
Pilutti was born in 1921 in Rivignano Italy, but grew up in Ohio. He was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne during World War II. After D-Day, he became a U.S. citizen and finished fighting in the war. He was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the French Legion of Honor.
He was retired from the civil service in training aids at Keesler Air Force Base.
Finally made it home
Polgrean said one of her favorite memories of her grandfather was his story of “whistling down the road.”
“My grandma waited on him (after the war). One night, she couldn’t sleep so she got up and she heard someone whistling. She knew it was him coming home from the war.”
Polgrean said her grandmother was living at her mother-in-law’s house and Pilutti used several modes of transportation to get home, the final 2 miles a long walk from town.
“He said it was a long walk, but it was worth it to see his Alice Rae,” Polgrean said, referring to her grandmother.
“He finally made it home.”
In 1957, he and his wife moved to Ocean Springs, where he retired as a sergeant major after his 33-year his military career. He was honored by the city in March 2015 for his service during World War II.
Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran said she had known Pilutti most of her life and went to high school with his son.
“He was just a very humble, but iconic, hero,” she said. “He was beloved in town. He would sit on his front porch and wave at everyone.”
Last year, when the city honored Pilutti, Moran said more than 300 people turned out “including the brass at Keesler.”
And just a few weeks ago, she said, while attending a change of command ceremony at Keesler Air Force Base, she spoke to several airman about Pilutti. They expressed an interest in meeting him.
She had no more than received an email from a master sergeant asking about having Pilutti come speak to his students at Keesler and “meet a true American hero” when Moran got the news that Pilutti had been put into hospice. He died the next day, she said.
“It’s just amazing that up to the last day, they wanted to bring him to Keesler to talk to young airmen,” she said.
Moran said Pilutti got the nickname “Ducky,” from neighborhood children, who couldn’t quite get the pronunciation of his given name, which was Italian. “Everyone just called him Mr. Ducky,” she said.
I’m going to miss him
Doug Mansfield with the GI Museum in Gautier called Pilutti a personal friend and a “true hero of the United States.”
Mansfield said he’s known Pilutti for more than 20 years.
“One of the best days my life was the day I met him and one of the worst was the day I found out he died,” Mansfield said.
“He taught me so many life lessons. He taught me how to be strong. I admired him so much for what he did for our country.
“I’m going to miss him.”
Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Ocean Springs Chapel of Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Home. Visitation will be from noon until service time. He will be buried at Crestlawn Memorial Park.
“People keep asking me if he’s going to be buried at Arlington (National Cemetery) or at the National Cemetery here,” Polgrean said. “No. He’s going to be buried at Crestlawn next to Grandma.”