War story from soldier who saved five kids, untold until now

Street Stories

NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — This is a chapter in the story of Frankie and “Fil” — hidden for decades.

Until Filomena Rapone’s daughter started looking for a place to hide some Christmas presents.

Phyllis Rapone, who now lives in the home built by her father Frank, dug deep into a closet.

“It was way back there,” Rapone said, pointing to the shelf where she found several letters and documents stuffed in an envelope that was secured in shrink wrap.

One of the first letters she pulled out of the bundle was written to “Fil” from Frank about 75 years ago.

“‘First of August, 1945,'” Phyllis read. “‘Dearest darling wife.'”

“I never pictured my father saying that,” Rapone said with a giggle. “My dearest darling wife? It was usually, honey, get me a beer.”

There was also a reference to a musical gift for her mother.

“I finally think I’m going to send you the accordion,” the letter said. “I think I have it fixed up with one of the fellows in the new post office.”

Rapone learned to play the accordion as a child, following in her mother’s musical footsteps.

“But now I wonder what happened to the accordion my dad mailed to her,” she said.

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There was also a yellowed certificate from January 1946 in the bundle.

Staff Sgt. Frank Rapone saw action with the Army’s 337th Harbor Craft Division in Nazi Germany and on other European fronts.

“He never talked about it,” his daughter said.

The document detailed a daring day in France

“Rapone saw this vehicle coming down the hill,” according to the certificate.

It was packed with five kids.

“And the youngest one whose age was about two was at the wheel,” his daughter read.

Rapone said she imagined her father jumping out of the jeep and running down the hill.

The parents were running after the car, too, the document stated, but Rapone got there first.

“Sgt. Rapone stopped his jeep and chased it on foot just as it was about to go over a bank which might have been fatal to the children,” the certificate said.

Rapone imagined the day.

“And the parents coming down and thanking him,” she said, acknowledging it was something out of a movie.

“I’m dying to tell my kids about it, because this is unbelievable,” Rapone said. “I had a hero for a father.”

She stopped for a moment to rephrase her thought.

“He was always my hero,” she said. “I miss him. He was funny. He was a good man.”

She recalled what she thought the moment after she read the letters.

“He wasn’t here to say anything to,” she said. “So, I just looked up and said, Dad, you should’ve told us.”

The end of this particular chapter in the life of Frankie and Fil is best summed up by the final words of that love letter.

“I hope they don’t keep us here much longer,” the letter said. “Good night precious darling of mine. I love you truly. Frankie.”

“Very sweet,” their daughter said, with a few tears in her eyes and that 75-year-old letter in her hands.

Email Walt at wbuteau@wpri.com with your story ideas and follow us on Twitter: @StreetStories12 and @wbuteau.

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