Italian American WWII Hero: Giuseppe Messina

Launched in 2020 to remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war through the #IAWW2Heroes initiative. 

This entry is a special submission from John Messina in honor of his late grandfather.

Giuseppe (Joe) Messina was born in Porto Empedocle, Sicily, in 1920. His mother delayed the recording of his birth for one year out of concern that he would be drafted into the Italian military as a child. Mr. Messina immigrated to the United States with his mother in 1928 in order to join his father who had settled in San Francisco several years earlier. 

Mr. Messina dropped out of school after the death of his mother and took up welding at around the age of 12. With the outbreak of World War II, he initially received a military deferment due to his welding skills which were needed to rebuild the U.S. fleet after the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Marie Concetta

Mr. Messina’s father was a fisherman and his boat, the Marie Concetta (pictured above), was seized by government officials during the war. 

During the latter part of the war, Mr. Messina went on to serve in the U.S. Army. He stormed the beach on D-Day during the invasion of Normandy and was later injured by mortar fire during the Battle of the Bulge. Mr. Messina received a Purple Heart and Silver Star for his service.

Mr. Messina resided in South San Francisco until his death in 1996. 

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to media@niaf.org.

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Italian American WWII Hero: Antonio Francis Federico

Launched in 2020 to remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war through the #IAWW2Heroes initiative. 

This entry is a special submission from Nancy Federico in honor of her late father.

Antonio (Tony) Francis Federico was born in Aprigliano Corte Cosenza in the Italian region of Calabria in 1915 and immigrated to the United States in 1927. After moving to America, he lived in Portland, Oregon, with his parents Rocco Federico and Maria Rosaria Muto Federico along with this two siblings, Teresa and Angelo.

Tony Federico joined the U.S. Army in 1941 and completed the U.S. Army Officer Engineer Course, where he earned a diploma in 1942.  He went on to become a 1st Lieutenant and a Platoon Commander-Engineer Unit, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge at Normandy as a M1A Shoulder Fired Anti-Tank Rocket Launcher Bazooka Gunner. Using the Bazooka Gunner made Mr. Federico permanently deaf in his left ear.

Mr. Federico was awarded a European and American Theatre Ribbon with 3 Stars; Normandy, Central Europe, Rhineland, and an American Defense Victory Metal. He left the Army in 1946 with Honorable Discharge.

Mr. Federico returned home and married Giacoma Apa. They had five children named Diane, Nancy, Teresa, David and Delores (who are twins).

 In 1956, Mr. Federico moved his family from Portland, Ore., to Santa Clara, Calif., in the Santa Clara Valley, now known as Silicon Valley.  His civilian career was with, The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company (Pacific Bell), and after working with Pacific Bell more than 29 years, he retired in 1977.

“In 2004, I honored my father with a WWII Certificate of Honor from the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., when the wall was completed,” shared his daughter, Nancy Federico. “In 1989, my father was also honored by another one of his children, with a certificate from the State of Liberty-Ellis Island, signed by Lee A. Iacocca, as ‘An American Immigrant Wall of Honor’ recipient, and his name was also engraved on a wall of Ellis Island. This honor was also given to my mother, Giacoma (Jacqueline) Apa.”

Mr. Federico lived to the age of 77 and is survived by his children and several grand and great-grandchildren

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to media@niaf.org.

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Italian American WWII Hero: Daniele Abbate

Launched in 2020 to remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war through the #IAWW2Heroes initiative. 

This entry is a special submission from Diamond Abbate in honor of her late grandfather.

Born in 1933, Daniele Abbate was raised in Millstone, N.J. His parents Gaetano and Anna Abbate were Italian immigrants from Naples. 

Abbate was the youngest of seven, six of whom were boys that all served in the U.S. Military. Abbate was drafted into the National Guard during World War II and served for 14 years. Afterwards, he had a successful career with General Motors, becoming the Plant Manager in Trenton, N.J.

Abbate passed away in 2015, leaving behind four children, nine grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to media@niaf.org.

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Italian American WW2 Hero: Joseph Anthony Longo

Launched in 2020 to remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war through the #IAWW2Heroes initiative. 

This entry is a special submission from NIAF friend Stephanie Longo in honor of her late grandfather.

Joseph Anthony Longo was born on September 21, 1916, in Guardia Lombardi in the Province of Avellino, Italy, and arrived in the United States at age 11 in 1927. The Longo family settled in Scranton, Pa. He entered the US Army on June 27, 1945, and served until August 5, 1946. He served at the Infantry Replacement Training Center at Fort McClellan, Ala.

As first cook, Mr. Longo supervised and directed the activities of 12 mess hall workers in the preparation of meals for a company of 200 enlisted men. He also assigned personnel to duties and enforced kitchen sanitation regulations.

When Mr. Longo returned home from service, he worked as a barber in Dunmore and in Scranton. His wife was the former Anna Mascaro (1914-1958) and they had two children, Joseph Gaetano “Jay” (1942-2019) and Ann Marie (born 1948), Stephanie Longo’s mother. Mr. Longo died of lung cancer on April 1, 1973.

“He’s the inspiration behind my Italian American activities—I was born in 1981, so I never knew him, but Mom always told me how he wanted to go back to Guardia and never made it,” shared Stephanie. “That stuck with me from the time I was a child and as I got older, I had to learn more. The rest is history.”

Stephanie Longo traveled to Italy for the first time with NIAF as a Gift of Discovery student in 2002. The program is now named the Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Voyage of Discovery. Today she is the Associate Producer and Administrative Office of The Italian American Podcast.

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to media@niaf.org.

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Italian A Day: Gino Bartali for Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today’s Italian A Day was a special submission from Jonathan of Team Gino Bartali, in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day (or Giorno della Memoria), which began last night and continues until tonight at sundown.

Gino Bartali (1914-2000) was an incredibly popular, Italian champion road cyclist who saved a number of Jews from Nazi persecution at great personal risk during World War II.

[Photo: Fulgur Photo-Press]

Born in Ponte a Ema, Florence, Italy, Bartali was the son of modest farmers. He began working in a bicycle shop when he was only 13 years old and began racing soon afterwards. By the age of 21, he was already riding and competing professionally; just a year later, in 1936, he won the Giro d’Italia. He would go on to win the Giro d’Italia a total of three times, as well as a number of individual stage wins. He also won multiple individual stages at the Tour de France, and won the Tour de France’s yellow jersey twice – most famously in 1948. He was also the rival of Fausto Coppi, another Italian biking legend.

However, Bartali also became revered for his actions during World War II. Not only did he hide a Jewish family in his cellar from Nazi occupiers, putting himself and his family at great risk, he also became a courier for the Italian Resistance movement via bicycle.

He was so popular with the Italian people that neither the Fascist nor the German troops dared to act on their suspicions and arrest him, for fear of the Italian people’s reaction. Bartali, pretending to be training on these rides that were over thousands of miles long, saved numerous Jews in hiding by tipping them off about raids on safehouses.

He would later assist in getting Jews out of Italy and into Switzerland by cycling with an attached wagon that had a secret compartment in which he would hide people. When stopped by authorities, he simply stated that it was part of his training. Bartali’s work saved hundreds of lives, but he never spoke of it.

His son recounts that when people called Bartali a hero, he would say, “No, no – I want to be remembered for my sporting achievements. Real heroes are others, those who have suffered in their soul, in their heart, in their spirit, in their mind, for their loved ones. Those are the real heroes. I’m just a cyclist.”

Bartali retired from cycling in 1954 and passed away in 2000.

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In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, please consult the following resources and events:

IIC Los Angeles is streaming I Only Wanted To Live (Volevo solo vivere | 2006) by Mimmo Calopresti, available for online streaming from January 27 – 31. Register here.

The Italian Academy at Columbia University published an exclusive interview with with Liliana Segre, a survivor of Auschwitz who was named a lifetime member of Italy’s Senate in 2018.

Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò at New York University is live-streaming a series of clips from past programs here.

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Italian American WWII Hero: Anthony W. Venezia Sr.

Launched in 2020 to remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war through the #IAWW2Heroes initiative. 

This entry is a special submission from Anthony Jr. and Janine Venezia in honor of their father.

Anthony W. Venezia Sr. was the first in his family to be born in the United Statesin Union, N.J.on April 27, 1920. His parents and siblings were born in Bernalda, in the Italian region of Basilicata.

Venezia went on to proudly serve in the U.S. Army during World War II where he received a Purple Heart during combat. 

His passion for serving his country and others was his life long mission. Upon returning home from WWII he started his career as a firefighter for the Township of Union’s fire department. There he eventually achieved the appointment of captain. He lived his entire life in Union, N.J.

He was also a past Grand Knight of The Knights of Columbus. 

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to media@niaf.org.

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Italian American WWII Hero: Leonard J. Verrilli

Launched in 2020 to remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war through the #IAWW2Heroes initiative. 

This entry is a special submission from Max Scoli, who is currently a Senior at the University of Michigan in honor of his great-grandfather, Leonard J. Verrilli.

Leonard J. Verrilli was born on December 11, 1913, in Harrison, N.Y.

The son of Italian immigrants Giuseppe and Lucia Verrilli of Castelfranco, Veneto, Leonard was a veteran of World War II, serving as a Staff Sergeant and Ball Turret Gunner for the 728th Bomb Squadron and in the European Theater with the 452nd Bomber Group.

The 452nd Bombardment Group flew 44-8531 MIASSIS DRAGON B-17 Flying Fortresses from Deopham Green, Norfolk, in January 1944. The aircrews hit strategic sites in Germany but also supported the movement of ground forces across Europe after D-Day. On June 6, 1944, D-Day itself, the Group bombed coastal defences before the landings. The 452nd Group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for bombing a jet fighter base at Kaltenkirchen, northern Germany, on April 7, 1945, under intense pressure from enemy fighters and anti-aircraft flak.

On that same day, Verrilli volunteered to be the gunner for this mission after the assigned gunner fell ill. While serving as the ball turret gunner aboard the B-17 bomber, Sergeant Verrilli received burn wounds to his face when the plane was hit at 18,000 feet by enemy fire near Scharmstedt, Germany, as he parachuted out.

Sergeant Verrilli related that, after the crash, his wounds were treated by a German woman who told him that she wanted to take care of him because her son had been taken care of by the Americans.

Verrilli was eventually taken into custody by German authorities and placed in a prisoner of war camp, at which time he had been officially reported as “missing in action.” A month later, he was liberated from the camp and sent to a hospital in England.

As a result, Verrilli was awarded the Purple Heart and Prisoner of War Medals, which honors soldiers who are wounded by an instrument of war and those who were held captive at the hands of the enemy. He would also be awarded the Air Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal for his service.

Verrilli passed away on September 26, 1999, and is survived by a daughter, Lucille Scoli; grandchildren, Bobby Jr, Michael, Trebor, and Gregg; and six great-grandchildren. 

“I personally never had the privilege to meet since he died the year I was born,” says Verrilli’s great-grandson, Max Scoli. “However, my family could not speak more highly of his character, all describing him as the most selfless and loving man that had ever been in their lives, so I took it upon myself to write this submission in hopes that he might be recognized.”

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to media@niaf.org.

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Italian American WWII Hero: George Garille

To remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war. This entry is a special submission from Timothy Garille in honor of his father.

“My father, [George Garille] told me that out family was living in Hoboken, N.J., and listening to FDR’s 1941 radio broadcast about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. [My father] had four brothers. Three of the four immediately enlisted.  Two served in the U.S. Army. My father enlisted in the U.S. Navy,” shared Timothy Garille.

George Garille with his mother, Maria Garille.

George Garille served in combat during WWII as a gunner and radio mate on a converted B-24 in the Pacific Theater. The bomber craft was used to track and destroy Japanese submarines. 

“[My father] was very skinny, so he could fit in the glass bubble on the plane that had some kind of heavy weapon to fire,” said Timothy Garille.

George Garille’s father left Mareto, Comune di Farini D’olmo, Provincia di Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna, and traveled alone from La Harve, France, in 1896. His last name was changed at Ellis Island to “Garille” from its original “Garilli.” He settled on Hester Street, in Little Italy, NYC. 

Garille’s mother was also from the same town and embarked from La Havre alone, arriving to the United States a young woman when she was around 18 years old. She settled on 13 Mott Street in Little Italy. In 1901 George’s parents were married at what in now the Church of the Transfiguration. Shortly thereafter, they moved to Hoboken, N.J., which was predominately, an Italian and German enclave.

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to media@niaf.org.

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Italian American WWII Hero: Benedetto Joseph Matassa

To remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war. This entry is a special submission from Linda Mele in honor of her father.

Benedetto Joseph Matassa served in the U.S. Navy during and post WWII from 1943 to 1947.

Born in Tusa, Sicily, in 1924, he came to the United States when he was four years old.

He lived most of his life in Connecticut, moving to Florida in the 1990s where he passed away in 2002.

“Thank you for recognizing Italian American military heroes,” said Linda.

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to media@niaf.org.

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Italian American WWII Hero: S/Sgt Carmen A. Catanese

To remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war. This entry is a special submission from Carmela Del Vecchio in honor of her cousin’s service.

Carmen A. Catanese was born in Rossiter, Penn. He was the son of Antonio Catanese, who was born in San Pier Niceto, Messina, Sicily and fought for the United States in WWI.

Carmen Catanese in Guam, December 1945

Carmen A. Catanese was in the U.S. Army and served in Guam as an airplane power plant mechanic from April 4 until December 28, 1945.

During his service in Guam he was a Crew Chief and responsible for the maintenance of the aircraft at all times. He inspected the maintenance and repair of airplanes, observed operation of airplane power plants and made adjustments as necessary for proper functioning. He made replacements and assisted in removal and installation of new engines.

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to media@niaf.org.

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