Lt. Col. Carlo D’Este, who died on November 21, 2020, of a heart attack at his home, was a decorated soldier as well as a celebrated military historian and biographer. A long-time resident of Mashpee, he was 84, and leaves a widow, Shirley D’Este, as well as four children and their partners - Elizabeth Bone and her husband Peter, Liane Rippingale and her husband David, Danielle Pierce and husband Michael, son Christopher D’Este and wife Jennifer – and nine grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Born on on August 29, 1936, Carlo Winthrop D’Este was the only son of Charles D’Este, an Italian immigrant musician who played oboe and horn in the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini, and his wife Eleanor Crofts, a classical singer with her own radio show.
Brought up in Oakland, California, Carlo attended the New Mexico Military Institute Junior College Division, 1953-1956, then transferred to Norwich University, Vermont, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1958. He was commissioned in the United States Army, and served two combat tours in Vietnam and three overseas tours of Germany and England, then distinguished himself as the honor graduate of his 1974 class at the prestigious United States Army Command and General Staff College.
While in the military, D’Este obtained a Master of Humanities degree at the University of Richmond in 1974. On his retirement from the army in 1978 he took to writing military history, for which he won many prizes and achieved international recognition in the U.S. and Britain - beginning with Decision in Normandy, his revisionist history of the D-Day landings and Allied campaign in France in 1944. D’Este was not only featured in multiple television documentaries, but was asked to advise President Clinton at the White House before the president’s fiftieth anniversary visit to Normandy and Italy, in 1994.
Decision in Normandy was followed by two more major European WWII campaign histories, Bitter Victory (Sicily), Fatal Decision: Anzio (Italy) and WWII in the Mediterrean. Switching to biography, Lt. Col. D’Este then published perhaps his best-known work, A Genius for War: A Life of General George S. Patton, Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life followed, and finally his chef d’oeuvre, a life of Winston Churchill as soldier: Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945.
Awarded the Andrew Goodpaster Prize and the Pritzker Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing, D’Este never boasted of his accomplishments – decorated, as he was, with the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Meritorious Service Medal, and Army Commendation Medal. Instead, apart from his writing, he threw his energy into education and higher learning via seminars, conferences, C-SPAN interviews and library events. 1996, he co-founded at Norwich University the Colby Symposium (now titled the Norwich University Military Writer’s Symposium) - the only program of its kind at an American university that celebrates military writing, authors and ideas.
Despite his own, decorated achievements in wartime combat command, in writing books, and in promoting education, however, Carlo D’Este was proudest of the love he shared with his family - and especially with his wife, Shirley. “A gentleman and a gentle man”: this was the description of his father, Charles D”Este, and one Carlo aspired to become. His compassion for others, for his Cape Cod community and for the environment, became of utmost importance to him in his later years.
His kind demeanor, helpfulness, and his gratitude to Shirley for all the joys and the contentment she brought him touched everyone who knew them in Mashpee and beyond. Like many a veteran, he became disenchanted with the glorification of war, despite his national, indeed international fame as a military writer. Like Churchill, his larger-than-life subject, he came to see war in the modern world as too often plain “wickedness.” From the lips of such a modest, honest, yet celebrated individual, it was a most moving indictment.
We shall all – wife, family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, fellow veterans - miss him. Bless his memory. Service of commemoration to be held spring/summer 2021.