Story needs finishing; help sought

By Don McAlavy: CNJ Columnist

At Duffy Sasser’s 90th birthday party an inevitable question was asked: “What is it that you, Duffy Sasser, wish to finish — what would you still like to achieve?”

Here’s what Sasser had to say:

“There does happen to be one project that I was absolutely unable to even make a dent in and Don McAlavy should take it on. Don can find the way where I couldn’t. The project came back to haunt me when a feature article appeared on the first page of the Living section of the Sep. 20 issue of the Lubbock Avalance-Journal, he said. It’s a story about the Hereford prisoner of war camp where Dr. Michele deMaio was imprisoned.

“My total failure . . . getting Dr. deMaio to write about, or make recording of, his experiences there and while serving as an Italian army physician. He would talk about his memories but he refused, again, again and again, to allow them to be put into written or recorded form. Dr. Sam Neff suggests that Ann deMaio might, at this late date, be willing to talk (with you Don) for publication.

“There are some stores he told that seem to be true (verified by others). He was drafted by the Italian Army against the strongest objections his highly-respected family could muster. He appears to have been assigned as the personal physician of Gen. Erwin Rommel, the German “Desert Fox.

“While in the prisoner of war camp he did help the people of Hereford with their health problems. Hereford had only one remaining practicing physician at the time, and deMaio was allowed to leave the camp, so long as in the company of Hereford locals, and he treated the people and wrote prescriptions (but signed by the one remaining physician).

“He helped with the woodwork that enhances the area surrounding the altar at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Umbarger, Texas. The Umnbarger church is the main topic in the Avalanche-Journal article. He helped build the chapel at the prisoner of war camp. Then he helped build the structure still standing at the memorial mentioned in the A-J article.

“When the war ended, my father, George Sasser, convinced deMaio that the people of Clovis would welcome him if he would establish his medical practice here, which he did. My father had a close connection with the people of Hereford. He worked in a drugstore there when he was about 20 years old. He met my mother there. She, Addie, was one of 13 children of the Anthony family of Hereford.”

The late Dr. Michele deMaio, when the war was over and they returned him to Italy, studied medicine and became a doctor and eventually came back to America to practice medicine in Clovis. He became one of Clovis’ outstanding citizens and doctors.

DeMaio died on Nov. 4, 2004, at age 89.

(If you have any information about Dr. deMaio contact Don McAlvay.)

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:

dmcalavy@telescopelab.com