Monday, July 4, 2011

Sorry this July entry is so late, my father passed away on June 26th, and it has been very hard to get back to this blog, since he has been, and will continue to be, so much a part of it.

Independence day is a good time to remember that although he was very proud of his Italian heritage, my dad considered himself first and foremost, an American. Both of his grandparents and his Father were proud to become naturalized citizens of the United States, and growing up during World War II he developed a deep and abiding love for his country that is shared by the majority of Italian Americans.

He served in the U.S. Army from 1957 to 1950, between Korea and Vietnam, and though he never spoke of it, my mother once mentioned that even that long after WWII he had some restrictions placed on his clearance because he was of Italian decent.

Many of you may know that Japanese Americans were held in interment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbour. What you may not know is that when the United States declared war on Italy and Germany shortly thereafter, Italian Americans who were not naturalized citizens were classified as enemy aliens.

In 1942 there were more nonnaturalized Italians residing in the United States than any other ethnic group (some six-hundred-thousand of them). Enemy alien laws placed restrictions on Italians, who were subject to curfews and could not travel far from their homes, and were refused jobs in factories that supplied the military with munitions and equipment. They had to cary photo-identity cards, they couldn't posses guns or short-wave radios. An estimated 10,000 Italians on the west coast were forced to relocate, and within 6 months of the onset of U.S. Involvement of the war 1,500 Italians were arrested for violating these restrictive laws. Though Italian resident's of the United States faired better than their Japanese counterparts, some 250 Italians were sent to military camps, some for as long as two years.

This didn't stop Italian Americans from serving their country. More than 1. 5 million Italian Americans served in World War II, according to the late Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. In a speech to the Italian American War Veterans of America August 25, 1961, Rockefeller said that Italian Americans constituted "more than 10 percent of the might of the American forces in World War II.

One such Italian American was John Basilone, the only enlisted Marine in U.S. history to receive the nation's two highest military honors: the Navy Cross for valor and the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in World War II. Basilone, a Marine sergeant from New Jersey, fought at the Battle of Guadalcanal (1942), raised millions of dollars in war bonds, and was killed in action during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.

Another notable Italian American was Captain Don Gentile of the U.S. Army Air Force, who shot down over 30 Nazi planes during World War II. Eisenhower called the 24-year-old pilot a "one-man Air Force" and personally pinned the Distinguished Service Cross on him. The "Ace of Aces" was born in Ohio and bought his first plane when he was 15. He died in a training accident after the war in 1950 when he was only 30.

Italian Americans have held some of the highest possitions in the military such as Four-star General Anthony Zinni, a veteran Marine and the son of Italian immigrants, who commanded Operation Desert Fox, the U.S. bombing of Iraq in 1998. It was the largest U.S. offensive since the Gulf War in 1991. A highly decorated officer, he was Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Central Command.

And General Carl Vuono, who was the first Italian American to be appointed Army chief of staff. He served from 1987-1991 and was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

Who knew? American Patriotism and service, it's Italian!

Italian American service facts from The National Italian American Foundation who thank military historian Rudy A. D'Angelo.

Enemy Alien information from The home-front war: World War II and American society By Kenneth Paul O'Brien, Lynn H. Parsons and Italian and other internees in Canada and abroad By Franca Iacovetta, Roberto Perin, Angelo Principe

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