A Soldier’s Garden by Sal Crisanti

A true story told by Andy Santefamio

Many years ago I had an old friend that had served in the U.S. Army during the Second World War. He and I had a great friendship, and anytime we got together, we would talk of our family life. There was one story that he told me, I’ll remember well, and will never ever forget it.

His name was Andrew (Andy) Santefamio and he grew up in the Stowe Township area of Pittsburgh. Andy’s family possessed a strong Italian heritage, and it was richly versed in the daily rites and routines of life.

He enlisted in the army when World War II broke out and eventually was deployed to the European war theater. His entire platoon was captured by German troops behind enemy lines and were sent to a prisoner of war camp where they were destined to serve out the rest of the war. The internment conditions were harsh, tough, and mean. The day to day life was a grinding challenge to try to exist and stay alive. He told me that he and his men fought through it mentally because they wanted to go home and reunite with their families. However, some of the troops started to get dangerously malnourished. The camp officials neglected to feed them adequately, and ignored the code of the Geneva convention to treat POW’s humanely.

Andy and his fellow soldiers had to work all day on chores and jobs that taxed their strength, laboring outdoors in the fields. It was in these surroundings that he discovered something that he knew would help his platoon survive this ordeal.  Wild dandelions and onions and other edible plants were growing right where his men were forced to work. He remembered as a child his mother had cooked these same plants and served them in everyday meals. He realized that he could use these wild greens to make soup and broth for his men.

He told the soldiers to pick as much as they could hide in their shirts and bring their collections back to camp. He managed to find pots and water to boil the plants, and cook them. They kept the broth in canteens and other containers that they could find. All the while, they had to be very secretive about their plan. If discovered, any one of them faced punishment and possibly death. This simple concoction sustained these men over their camp imprisonment, and helped them to get necessary nourishment.

Andy said that they all survived until they were liberated by other American troops. His childhood knowledge of gardening and cooking taught to him by his family had saved all of them from perishing during that dreadful time. He recollects that  when he finally returned home, he viewed the lowly dandelion a lot differently, knowing what it had done to keep him alive.

Andy has left us but his story is so inspirational. His thoughtful ingenuity was a masterpiece of courage. What he learned from his family of Italian gardening and cuisine provided a resourceful way for his troops to survive.

God bless Andy.


Recollections of his story as told by Sal Crisanti

March 8, 2013