Laila Kunes holds the Italian Medal of Honor awarded to her father, Francesco DiFilippo, during a ceremony with Massimo Paolillo, Italian honorary vice consulate of Phoenix.

Submitted photo

A former POW and Italian soldier who fought for his country during World War II was awarded the highest military decoration bestowed upon those who risk their lives in the call of duty.

Because of the nature of its criteria, the Italian Medal of Honor is often awarded posthumously.

Francesco DiFilippo was set to buck that trend in August, when the Italian Consulate of Phoenix decided to honor his service and bravery during World War II.

However, delays occurred in the process, and DiFilippo died before he could receive his award.

DiFilippo, who lived in Surprise for five years, died Jan. 2 at age 94 from complications of leukemia.

The Italian Consulate of Phoenix presented his daughter, Laila Kunes, with the Italian Medal of Honor Feb. 24 at St. Clare of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Surprise.

The presentation occurred during a monthly meeting of the church’s Italian Catholic Federation.

Massimo Paolillo, Italian honorary vice consulate of Phoenix, spoke about DiFilippo before awarding Kunes with the honor, upon which time she shared her father’s anecdotes of a time he wished would have never taken place, a memory during his lifetime he would have rather forgotten.

“Some of the stuff he talked about should never have to be repeated because it was that ugly,” Kunes said. “He talked very little about his experience.”

From January to April 1941, DiFilippo was stationed in Albania with the Italian Army’s 18th regiment. He then served a stint from November 1942 to September 1943 fighting in the Balkan region of Greece.

DiFilippo, a native of Roccacasale, Italy, was captured by German soldiers Sept. 8, 1943, and became a prisoner of war in a German concentration camp for a year because of his refusal to kill American troops, Kunes said. He was freed by Russian soldiers.

“He never really hated the German people. He always said people are people,” Kunes said. “He never said bad things about them. He just said war is ugly, and war is bad.”

DiFilippo’s life was spared on another occasion.

Kunes said a female spy approached him one day while at work at an airplane hangar and told him not to show up the next day because the facility would be bombed.

The information proved to be accurate as U.S. bombers decimated the German airplane hangar the next day.

Despite the inglorious nature of war, Kunes said her father’s experience shaped him to view life differently and to live and enjoy every day.

DiFilippo, who was liberated Sept. 12, 1943, married his wife, Clara, on Feb. 11, 1946.

The couple immigrated to the United States in 1955, and he became a carpenter to support a family that eventually included three daughters.

DiFilippo became a U.S. citizen in November 1985. He stayed active during his later years, visiting children and grandchildren spread across the country, while also volunteering his time with the Knights of Columbus and Italian Catholic Federation.

Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or

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