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Tampa-area World War II vets who fought Nazis have message for Charlottesville marchers

Caesar Civitella, who killed more than a dozen Nazis in World War II and helped capture more than 3,800, has a message for the neo-Nazis who staged a deadly rally in Virginia over the weekend.

"I would tell them that we have no use for Hitler-type philosophy in the U.S. and that they can either stop being a Nazi or people will give them bodily injury," said Civitella, 93, of St. Petersburg.

Civitella was reacting to a march Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., in which one of the neo-Nazis is accused of driving a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19. Additionally, two Virginia State Police officers were killed when their helicopter, which was monitoring the rally, crashed.

During the war, Civitella served with the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the CIA. On Aug. 29, 1944, he and a team of fellow OSS operators jumped into occupied France to help the French resistance. Working with the French Maquis, he helped capture nearly 4,000 Nazis, according to his official government biography.

Seeing the neo-Nazis marching, he said, "was terrible.

"I thought we eliminated that in World War II," he said.

Gerald "Bud" Berry, 96, of Clearwater, flew transport missions in Europe during the war and was in Etain, France, the day the Nazis surrendered on May 8, 1945.

"I would be completely opposed to" neo-Nazis marching around waving swastikas and giving the stiff-armed Nazi salute, Berry said.

Still, he said, they have a right to express their opinion.

"Whether I fought them or not doesn't matter," he said. "I am absolutely opposed to what they are trying to do, but still, it is their right as far as I am concerned."

When he was rolling across Europe with the 134th Infantry Regiment, better known as "The Nebraska Boys," Harvey Lentz saw some of the worst of humanity in what the Nazis had done.

In April, 1945, the retreating Germans had marched prisoners from a concentration camp, rounding up hundreds of them — those too tired or ill to continue — in a barn near the German town of Gardelegen.

The Nazis set fire to the barn, killing nearly everyone. Those who lived were shot as they tried to escape the flames.

More than 1,000 were burned alive.

"I'm a little bit angry," Lentz, 100 and living in Riverview, said of the Virginia rally. "They ought to find their own country, but everyone has their own opinion."

On Aug. 1, 1943, U.S. Army Air Corps Staff Sgt. Robert Rans was on a B-24 that took off on a mission to bomb the Nazi oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania.

But before his plane could deliver its ordnance, it was shot down and Rans, now 96 and living in Tampa, was taken prisoner by the Nazis and held by the Romanians.

"I think it's stupid," he said of the rally.

"What the hell would you be doing supporting something like that," he said. "Why would they want something like Hitler and the swastika idea?"

To Rans, "there is no such thing as white supremacy as far as America is concerned. That is not our principles."

Like Civitella, the OSS operative, Rans has a message for neo-Nazis.

"I would say ... he should get the hell out of here if you don't like to see a black person or Indian person or Eskimo or Jewish guy," he said.

Contact Howard Altman at or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.

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