By Von Diaz and Emma Bowman
Around Memorial Day of 2000, Emily Aho took her then 75-year-old father, Emilio “Leo” DiPalma, on a trip back to Germany, where the World War II veteran served as a guard at the Nuremberg Trials.
Coming up on Memorial Day two decades later, Aho holds those memories with him especially close. Last month, DiPalma died of complications from COVID-19 at 93 years old in Holyoke, Mass.
“He had all these things he wanted to talk to me about. I’ll never forget it. I may not have had a lot of time with my dad before, but I had that week,” Aho, 62, said.
In a remote StoryCorps conversation recorded this week, Aho, speaking from Jaffrey, N.H., and her 30-year-old daughter Hannah Sibley-Liddle, in Mill Valley, Calif., remembered DiPalma.
Among those DiPalma guarded at Nuremburg, Aho said, was Hermann Göring, who organized the Nazi police state and established concentration camps.
“[My father] was 19 years old and told me that Hermann Göring stood there, glaring at the side of his face. And my father said he did not react to him at all and took him down to the cell block,” Aho recalled. “My father stood up to that man.”
Aho told Sibley-Liddle that she last saw her dad a month before he died when she visited him at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke.
“I just got this feeling that I needed to go see him. And I needed to go see him that day,” she said. “I told him that he was a good dad and that I loved him, and I talked about our trip. And he looked up at me and he held my hand, and he smiled.”
He’d been living at the Massachusetts veterans nursing home since 2018.
He was alone after his wife died in 2006, Aho said. “Over time, he started to get a little forgetful. And so, we quickly moved him to an assisted living place. And he was thrilled. Because he was with all veterans. He was really happy about going there.”
When she left the nursing home after her last visit with her dad, Aho asked a nurse to contact her if his health worsened. DiPalma was diagnosed with COVID-19 two weeks later.
“By that time, they had started restrictions and then they shut the place down,” Aho said.
He was the 28th COVID-19 patient to die at the nursing home.
“I wanted to be there, but I didn’t get that chance. That was probably the hardest part,” she said.
Due to a combination of overwhelmed funeral homes, stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements, she was unable to organize a funeral for her dad, adding to her grief.
“It’s kind of like … a long pain that’s just carried out. So, it’s tough,” she said.
“But I knew my dad, and he wanted people to never forget what he did during World War II so that the rest of us could stay safe for the future,” she said.
“I feel like I need to carry that on. I’m honoring his life, not how he died.”