Fearless WWII Partisan Mary Jane Leggero Stangarone

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 Richard Stangarone, in honor of his mother Mary Jane Leggero Stangarone.

Mary Jane Leggero Stangarone was born on May 4, 1918 in Chicago, Ill. Her father Giuseppe Leggero was from Villareggia, Torino, Italy. Her mother Margherita Franzone was from Vische, a village also in the province of Torino. Giuseppe and Margherita immigrated to the United States at different times, but met there and married in Chicago in 1914. They had one other child Frank who was born in 1916. Giuseppe was a baker and ran a small bakery in Chicago and Kenosha, Wis.

In 1931 the family left Chicago and returned to live in Villareggia where Giuseppe’s family still lived. When it appeared war would break out, Frank left Italy and returned to the United States where he joined the U.S. Army. Frank would later survive the U.S. landing at Anzio and returned to Chicago after the war.

Relatives in front of the Leggero family home in Villareggia, taken in 2011.

Mary, remaining in Villareggia with her parents, joined a group of Italians, known as the partigiani (partisans) that coalesced into a resistance group against both Mussolini and the later occupying Nazi forces. As a member of the partigiani, Mary helped to take POWs and Allied soldiers, including a downed British pilot, across the border to safety in neutral Switzerland. On her return from Switzerland, she would often smuggle weapons back across the border to support the resistance.

The Nazis would go on to occupy her village affecting daily routines tremendously and increasing her risk for working with the partigiani. Food for the Nazi troops took priority, so villagers such as her father would be forced to feed their occupiers before their neighbors. To ensure this, her father would be walked at gunpoint to bake the daily allotment of bread. Since her home was the one of the largest in Villareggia, it was used by the Nazis as a local base while she and her family continued to live there. Despite their presence, necessity forced Mary to use the house as hiding place for an Allied soldier looking for safety. 

The town church in Villareggia

Most of the village knew of Mary’s involvement with partigiani, but she trusted them, though not without some worries to keep her secret. When Mary would leave Villareggia for long periods of time, her family would cover for her by saying that she was visiting family in another town or off picking truffles in the woods.

Despite these concerns, later in life Mary would often reflect on how history and duty put people in circumstances they would not choose. Two of the Nazis who occupied her home were Austrian and she would remark on how both were kind to her family—one would often make pancakes for them in the morning.

As the Allied forces began the liberation of Italy, Mary’s role in the war shifted. Fluent in English, she played a valuable role as an interpreter and helped the Americans to facilitate the disarmament of the local Nazi forces. In appreciation of her services, and for her protection, the American forces provided her a driver, Ernest Matlock. Matlock eventually proposed to her, but his proposal was not the only one that she would decline.

With the war ending, Mary’s parents encouraged her to return to America so in 1946 she returned to the U.S. aboard the liberty ship Marine Shark.

Left: Mary (in middle) sitting with Italian relatives in Villareggia in 1998. Right: Mary in her later years.

Returning to Chicago to live with her brother Frank and his wife, Mary renewed her friendship with John Stangarone. They married in February of 1947. Mary and John had four sons of which I am the oldest. They both lived rich full lives and shared many happy years together. In 1998 Mary returned to Villareggia to visit her family; it was a joyous reunion for all involved.

Maria and Richard Stangarone during their visit to Villareggia 2011.

In 2011 my wife and I visited Villareggia and enjoyed seeing Mary’s old home and visiting with family who still occupy the house along with other relatives who reside in the town. Mary passed away in June of 2008 at the age of 90.

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s Pensieri Blog, email us at media@niaf.org.

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NIAF’s 4 Summer Essentials

Live la dolce vita this summer with these four Italian fashion & food essentials from NIAF—limited edition products and discounts below!

1. Super Chic Dolce Far Niente Tote Bag

Embrace dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing) with this chic canvas tote bag! A large main compartment and inside zippered pocket make it a great option for any trip or occasion–the beach, pool, mountains or even the local farmer’s market. The tote is made of heavy canvas and available in five colors. Order now because this NIAF limited-edition tote is only available until May 16 at 11:59 p.m. EST!

2. Italian Ingredients from Terra Foods

Make your family favorite recipes this summer by ordering unbeatably fresh and authentic Italian ingredients from Terra Foods! As a NIAF supporter, use code NIAF52021 to get 10% off and if you spend $100 on your order, you’ll also receive a free item courtesy of Terra Foods! Offer valid until May 31.

3. Carina Clutches

Inspired by the vibrant colors of the Italian coast, Carina clutches make the perfect gifts! An Italian American mother-daughter duo launched this line of vegan leather clutches with trendy sayings a passion project during the pandemic in 2020. The aim was to create luxe quality yet affordable gifts to send to friends and family while distance kept them apart. NIAF members get 10% off by using code NIAF at checkout on www.shopcarina.com.

4. Dolce Italiana – New Products!

Enjoy a piece of Italy always with Dolce Italiana luxury phone cases, and the newly launched Apple Watch bands and home accessories featuring hand-painted artisanal Italian designs! NIAF Members receive 10% discount on all purchases from Dolce Italiana by obtaining the discount code through their NIAF Membership Portal.

If you’re not a NIAF Member, join today: www.niaf.org/join.

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Book Review: Italian Short Stories

The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories

Edited By Jhumpa Lahiri

“The entire twentieth century can be read as a battle of wills between the wall of Fascism sought to erect around Italy and Italian culture, and those—many of the writers represented here very much among them—determined, despite running grave risks, to break it down.”

An exceptional introduction to Italian literature for English readers, the 40 authors compiled in this anthology gift us with vivid stories that when placed into one binding challenge trite perceptions and unveil a raw, more realistic portrait of Italy, from its birthing pangs as a modern nation to the end of the 20th century.

The award-winning author and Princeton professor, Lahiri’s thoughtful selection of authors exhibits a remarkable cross-section of Italian society that includes both men and women, well-known and unknown, who hail from different parts of Italy, belong to various social classes, and are employed in various professions, from poets to politicians, from musicians to editors, and beyond.

Before each short story, readers are briefly introduced to its author and the Italy in which he or she lived and challenged. This anthology is devoted to portraying an authentic Italy. More than a third of its stories are translated into English for the first time. Short stories, as Lahiri’s writes, are “a source of resistance, a means for creative risks and experimentation,” and perhaps that may be the reason why you won’t be able to put this book down.

— Review by Natalie Wulderk

This book review was published in the 2021 spring issue of NIAF’s Ambassador magazine. Check out the rest of our insightful reviews by visiting niaf.org/ambassador and flipping to page 66.

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The Secret to Authentic Carbonara

One of the most famous pasta dishes in the world, the traditional Roman carbonara is made of only 5 ingredients: guanciale, pecorino romano, eggs, pepper and spaghetti!

Guanciale, the star ingredient of the dish, is pork cheek rubbed with salt and spices (typically ground black or red pepper, thyme or fennel, and sometimes garlic) and cured for three weeks or until it loses approximately 30% of its original weight. Its flavor is stronger than other pork products, such as pancetta, and its texture is more delicate. Upon cooking, the fat typically melts away, giving great depth of flavor to carbonara and other dishes it’s used in!

Where to Find Guanciale

Guanciale is hard to find in the United States, so Americans usually use pancetta or bacon to create the dish. Good news is that Terra Foods has partnered with NIAF to offer fresh guanciale straight you!

As a friend of NIAF’s, use code NIAF52021 to get 10% off and if you spend $100+ on your order, Terra Foods will also send a free item! Order fresh Italian groceries today: http://www.terrafoodstore.com.

P.S. Don’t forget to try this carbonara recipe too!

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NIAF Congressional Fellowship: Reflections by Anthony Falcone

Anthony Falcone was a 2020 NIAF Congressional Fellow and is a student at The Catholic University of America.

This past fall I had the honor to intern in the office of Congressman Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.-AL) as part of the NIAF Congressional Fellowship. My primary responsibilities included answering phone calls from constituents, sorting through constituent emails and mail, and assisting other staff members with any tasks or errands they had for me. During my internship, Congressman Gianforte and his office worked on legislation dealing with veterans, suicide prevention, and public lands.

This past year was certainly an interesting time for our country, so it was helpful for the Congressman to hear directly from constituents about how they felt about the many issues facing our country today. Working in the office of an at-large district with COVID-19 safety measures and social distancing practices in place, provided the unique opportunity to work for all of the citizens of a state, not just those of a particular district. This internship gave me a greater insight and appreciation for the legislative process that takes place every day at the Capitol and for all those who work diligently to make it possible.

As a person who values my Italian heritage, it was a privilege to work for a fellow Italian American who holds public office. To see his dedication to the citizens of Montana and our entire nation reminded me of the patriotism of my grandmothers, who passed on their rich Italian culture to their grandchildren, while instilling a love for the United States. This blend of working for the ideas and goals of the United States and our Constitution, while never forgetting the traditions and culture of Italy has been a driving factor in my life. My experience interning as a NIAF Congressional Fellow allowed me to experience this first-hand. I am very grateful to NIAF for this beneficial opportunity that has helped me to develop both professional and personal skills.

The 2021 Congressional Fellowship application is open now until June 1. For more information, visit: https://www.niaf.org/programs/congressional-fellows/.

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Italian American WWII Hero: Joseph LaTorre Jr.

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 Joanne LaTorre Anderson in honor of her late father.

Joseph (Giuseppe) LaTorre Jr. (1919-1990) was born in San Jose, Calif., to Italian immigrant parents from Gioia del Colle, a comune in Bari. He married his wife Ann on December 7, 1941, the day of the infamous Pearl Harbor attacks. In response to the attacks in Hawaii, California mandated blackouts, which altered some of the couple’s plans.

Shortly after, LaTorre was drafted into the U.S. Army. In 1944, he was sent to Europe where he fought in and survived the Battle of the Bulge. LaTorre’s first daughter was born while he was in Germany. He met his daughter, Joanne, for the first time when she was 11 months old. Note the signature on the photo he sent to her: “To my Angel, From Daddy.” 

Photo of Joseph LaTorre Jr. with his message to his newborn daughter: “To my Angel, From Daddy”

A few years later, he and his wife welcomed their second daughter, Janis, who completed their family.

“He was a man of love, bravery, integrity, fun, hard work and devotion to his Italian family!” shared his daughter, Joanne LaTorre Anderson.

After he returned from the war, he went into a wholesale produce business: “He provided wonderful vegetables and fruit for our family dinners and generously shared with other family members, neighbors, and friends,” shared Anderson. “Over the years, he spoke frequently about his army ‘buddies’ with a sense of a strong brotherly love and pride! Joe LaTorre was a humble man, and his family is extremely proud of his participation in the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ which changed the world forever!”

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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NIAF Congressional Fellowship: Reflections by Benjamin O’Hara

Benjamin O’Hara was a 2020 NIAF Congressional Fellow and is currently a senior at Georgetown University.

This fall semester, I had the opportunity to work remotely for the office of Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). I have felt very privileged to work for Congressman Pascrell not only because of his work on behalf of the Italian American community, but most importantly because of his fight for values that my Italian American grandmother instilled in me: decency and justice for all. This semester, I am proud to say I was able to do my small part in assisting the Congressman in his work.

During my time as an intern, I also learned a great deal about the legislative process and writing skills that will be useful as I enter my early career. I greatly enjoyed drafting co-sponsor memos for the congressman; in this way, I learned about interesting and important congressional bills that are rarely discussed in the media. Through this task, I also learned how to effectively summarize large amounts of information so that the reader can quickly understand the heart of the subject.

In addition, I had the opportunity to listen to hearings concerning the PPP loan program and Federal Reserve policy. These hearings gave me a deeper understanding of issues that are especially important during the pandemic.

Although my work this semester was remote, I learned and grew a lot from the experience. I am especially thankful to Congressman Pascrell’s staff members for giving me tasks that were engaging and fruitful. During this difficult and busy period, they took the time to make my experience as a NIAF Congressional Fellow as rewarding as possible, and for that I am grateful.

I deeply appreciate the opportunity NIAF and Congressman Pascrell’s office gave to me, and I know I will make use of the skills I gained this semester in my professional career after college.

The National Italian American Foundation’s Congressional Fellows program serves as an opportunity for first-hand experience in public service for the next generation of Italian American leaders in government. Fellows learned about the legislative process, issues facing Congress, and the operations of a Congressional office while working for an Italian American leader who has climbed the ladder of public policy success.

The 2021 Congressional Fellowship application is open now until June 1. For more information, visit: https://www.niaf.org/programs/congressional-fellows/.

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Italian American WWII Hero: Albert N. Marchio

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 Jim Marchio in honor of his late father.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Albert N. Marchio helped defend his country during the Second World War, honorably serving in the United States Coast Guard from October 1942 to April 1946. He began his Coast Guard service on Long Island, N.Y., as walking patrol along the beach to spot German U-Boats off the coast and thwart potential infiltration attempts. 

He later served as a radarman on a Coast Guard cutter patrolling the east coast, from Brooklyn to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, protecting vital sea lines of communication and allied shipping from German submarines.   

Born in 1922 in Plainfield, N.J., Al worked in his father’s grocery and butcher shop prior to enlisting. Both his father (Niccola, born in Pitigliano, Toscana) and mother (Anna DeMatteo, born in Alvignanello, Campania) emigrated to the United States prior to the outbreak of the First World War.  Al returned to his father’s shop after the war but eventually went on to have a very successful career as a beer and liquor salesman. 

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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The Philly Cheese Steak’s Italian American History

By Bob Masullo

Excerpt from “6 Italian American Sandwiches That You Won’t Find in Italy” in NIAF’s Ambassador magazine, 2021 Spring Issue.

The most popular, and in the opinion of many the most delicious Italian American sandwich, comes from Philadelphia—the Philly Cheese Steak. Made with thinly sliced, sautéed rib-eye beef and melted cheese—usually cheddar, or American, even Cheese Whiz, though provolone has been an option from the start—and served on a long, crusty roll with fried onions, spicy peppers, sometimes sautéed mushrooms and tomato sauce.

The sandwich’s name doesn’t hint at its ethnic roots, but in South Philly, the city’s Little Italy, Italian Americans Pat and Harry Olivieri invented it in the 1920s. Pat used to sell hot dogs from a small street stand. One day, having grown tired of his own fare, he asked his brother Harry go to a nearby butcher and buy some beef. Pat grilled the beef, added some onions, put it on an Italian roll, and as he was getting ready to eat it, a cab driver smelled the beef and asked for a steak sandwich himself.

“You ought to sell these…,” said the cabbie. According to legend, cab drivers from all over the city started coming for the steak sandwiches. Pat added the cheese  years later.

In 1930, Pat opened Pat’s King of Steaks on E. Passyunk Avenue, specializing—and still does—in cheese steaks. Served hot, the sandwich spread to other Philadelphia eateries—including across the street at the famous rival cheese steaks at Geno’s—and then went nationwide.

Read about the other five Italian American sandwiches at niaf.org/ambassador and flip to page 54.

NIAF Members receive the printed glossy magazine as a membership benefit. Join NIAF today.

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NIAF Remembers Devastating Abruzzo Earthquake

On this day 12 years ago, residents of Italy’s mountainous Abruzzo region were woken up by a devastating earthquake that shook the very foundations of their lives. The magnitude 6.3 quake resulted in 308 deaths, more than 1,500 injured and the displacement of 65,000 people. At the University of L’Aquila, administration buildings and residence halls collapsed, with eight students dying in just one dormitory.

We will never forget April 6, 2009.

In response to the tragedy, the NIAF Abruzzo Relief Fund raised nearly $800,000 for relief efforts, while a public-private partnership between NIAF and the State Department helped bring 52 displaced University of L’Aquila students to the United States to continue their studies at American universities. NIAF was chosen by the U.S. State Department to lead this initiative.

For 46 years, with your support, NIAF has answered the call to help our brothers and sisters in both Italy and the United States: https://bit.ly/2wodHmM.

To help the Foundation continue its mission and answer the call for relief missions, join NIAF today.

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