Nicholas J. Defino (1924-Present)
Nicholas J. Defino was born in Essex Fells, New Jersey on June 18, 1924 to a family of Italian immigrants. While not much is known about Defino’s life before and after the war, he trained as a stenographer prior to his enlistment in the U.S. Army in April 1943.
In late August 1943, Defino began working as a clerk with the MFAA in Italy. He served first in Palermo, at the Office of the Advisors on Fine Arts and Monuments to The Allied Military Government of Occupied Territory (AMGOT), and later at the MFAA Sub-Commission of the Allied Military Government (AMG). His duties included establishing a filing system, typing memos and reports, and relaying messages submitted by numerous British and American Monuments Officers including Maj. Paul K. Baillie-Reynolds, Lt. Col. Mason Hammond, and Capt. Fred H. J. Maxse. He also occasionally served as driver for Monuments Men Mason Hammond and Fred Maxse, who undertook trips throughout Sicily and southern Italy.
One of the greatest obstacles the Monuments Men confronted was the crippling shortage of supplies. Typewriters, cameras, and even radios were considered luxuries. The same was true of reliable transportation. Defino drove a notoriously unstable Balilla (nicknamed “Hammond’s Peril”), a short-lived Lancia, and finally a Fiat nicknamed “Defino’s Delight,” all of which were in desperate need of repairs.
Defino served as an assistant, driver, and clerk until early 1944. He accompanied Hammond to Naples following his appointment as Deputy Director of the MFAA Sub-Commission in December 1943. There, the only available typewriter was Hammond’s personal portable. In the words of Monuments Man Lt. Col. Theodore Sizer, “With three officers whose handwriting is not too legible, the work of the office has been handicapped.” Despite such circumstances, Defino worked furiously to keep up with the incoming reports, memos, and correspondences. He was reassigned in late February 1944 and departed Italy the following April.
Photo courtesy of the Defino Family (private collection).