Italian American WWII Hero Sgt. Lou “Red” Vigliotti

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, using the tag #IAWW2Heroes on social media.

This entry is a special submission from Sgt. Vigliotti’s son, Lou Vigliotti Jr.

Lou “Red” Vigliotti served in World War II from 1941 to 1945 and fought in the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign in the jungles of Philippines. While there, he contracted malaria, but his service did not waiver and he continued to fight for his country.  In addition to various honors and medals, he was awarded the prestigious Bronze Star for his heroism and bravery after the war.

He was born and raised in Bradford, Pa., and after the war he returned home and married Helen. They lived in the small town of Lewis Run, Pa., and raised three children there. 

He was the son of, Dominic and Dominica Vigliotti, who immigrated from the Naples, Italy, area (Cervino) in the early 1900’s. 

His son, Lou Jr., says he is “proud to be part of the Italian family and continue to carry on traditions.”

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Italian American WWII Hero MSGT Joseph DeMarino

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, using the tag #IAWW2Heroes on social media.

This entry is a beautiful tribute and submission from Joseph DeMarino’s daughter Kay DeMarino.

Joseph DeMarino was born in Echhart, Maryland, in 1925, the eldest son of Italian immigrants Michele and Pauline DeMarino.

During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army and was stationed at the Allied Military Intelligence Headquarters at the Royal Palace in Caserta, Italy.

“The photo [above] is very special to the our family because it captures Dad while he’s bringing supplies and the American ‘can-do’ spirit to the war-torn villages of southern Italy,” said his daughter Kay DeMarino. “But it’s not just any town, this is Monopoli in Apulia and the man with him is his grandfather, whom he is meeting for the very first time.”

After the war, Joseph DeMarino was awarded a Bronze Star for his meritorious service and continued to serve his country in the Army Reserves.

He also devoted many years as president of the Western Maryland lodge of Sons of Italy.  

Kay proudly shared, “He is our Italian American hero!”

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 Robert J. DeMark

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, using the tag #IAWW2Heroes on social media.

This entry is a special submission from Petty Officer DeMark’s great-grandson, Mayor Jondavid R. Longo of Slippery Rock, Pa.

Robert J. DeMark served his country as a United States Navy Seabee who fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II and also served in the Korean War.  He achieved the rank of Petty Officer 3rd Class (BUL3). 

PO DeMark’s parents came to America from L’Aquila in Abruzzo, Italy, at the turn of the 20th century. They came to the New Castle, Pa., area and eventually settled in Mahoningtown.

His great-grandson Mayor Longo shared, “Thank you [NIAF] for continuously recognizing and honoring Italians, Americans of Italian Descent, our proud heritage, and culture.”

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 Frank Mario Benimeo

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, using the tag #IAWW2Heroes on social media.

This entry is a special submission from Frank Benimeo’s daughter, Maria B. Silvia, who has shared with us her father’s story of sacrifice and love.

Frank Mario Benimeo was born on November 4, 1925, in and all-Italian neighborhood of East Orange, N.J. He volunteered for service in the US Army upon graduation from high school. He served with the rank of staff sergeant in the 5th Infantry Regiment, 71st Infantry Division, Company D.

A young man who had never been away from home except to attend Brooklyn Dodgers games at Ebbets field, Frank landed in France in February of 1945. He had trained as a radio operator and saw combat in Central Europe and the Rhineland. He was later stationed in Austria and Germany as part of the Allied Forces occupation.

Frank was awarded the Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, and EAME Campaign Medal and of course, the Good Conduct Medal. He was discharged on May 4, 1946, and returned to family and friends in East Orange. He would later marry and move to Nutley, N.J., after finding work with the Coca Cola Bottling Company.

Frank was fluent in Italian. After VE Day, Frank was able to visit his mother’s birthplace in Avellino, in the region of Campania, where he was welcomed as an American soldier. Frank’s father hailed from Penne, Pescara Province in Abruzzo, though it would be 25 years later before Frank could visit that ancestral home as a private citizen.

Our father instilled in his four children the values of faith, family, and love of country. His example remained with us even after his premature death at 47 years old, after a serious illness. Our mother, Josephine at age 99, is still in love with her handsome beau.

Only as we grew and experienced life ourselves, did we appreciate his service and his sacrifice, like that of so many others who fought to keep us free. Our Dad was a true Italian American son of the greatest generation. And he will always remain our hero.

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 Sgt. Horatio J. Petrocelly Sr.

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, using the tag #IAWW2Heroes on social media.

This entry is a special submission from Sgt. Petrocelly’s granddaughter, Mia Petrocelli, who has shared with us the incredible story of how her grandfather fought in D-Day and survived as a POW for seven months.

Born on February 26, 1918, Oratzio Giovanni Petrocelli was the son of Italian Immigrants Virgilio and Giulia (Delfino) Petrocelli of Acquaviva di Isernia, Italy.  A lifelong resident of Pittsburgh, Penn., he married Mary A. Furguiele on May 4, 1941, 11 days before being inducted into the U.S. Army.  His name on U.S. Army records and on documents post-war was permanently changed to Horatio John Petrocelly.

Following basic training in the U.S. Army, Petrocelly was assigned to the 29th Infantry Division and became a Technician Third Grade, Headquarters Medical Detachment.  For the D-Day Invasion, he was part of the 121st Engineer Combat Battalion, 18th Medical Detachment. His Military Occupation Specialty was as a Surgical Technician (861). 

The events recorded below are primarily from Petrocelly’s hand-written notes documenting what he experienced starting on D-Day—June 6, 1944, and ending Feb 3, 1945:

On June 6, 1944, Petrocelly landed on the coast of Normandy, France, specifically on the western edge of Omaha Beach above Place de Vierville/St Mer.  Shortly after landing, Petrocelly was injured, receiving a bullet wound to the foot.  He treated himself, and then continued to tend to the wounded throughout the day.  In the evening, they broke through German defenses and moved inland, only to be cut off and surrounded.  He and members of his platoon attempted to evade the enemy but were ultimately found hiding in their foxholes and were captured, becoming Prisoners of War (POW) on June 7 at 6:30 a.m.

On June 9, Petrocelly arrived at Notre Dame Monastery (Church of Notre-Dame-sur-l’Eau).  The prisoners called it “Starvation Hill” because they were not given any food for 10 days.  During this period, he and others were subjected to abuse by the Germans, including mock executions.  When the German commander discovered that Petrocelli was a medic, he was given some protection so that he could treat Germans.

Back in the United States, the U.S. War Department declared that Petrocelly was Missing in Action and sent a telegram to notify Petrocelly’s family on July 18, 1944.

On July 28, Petrocelly left the Notre Dame Monastery and marched to Limberg, Germany, arriving to a German POW camp for Allied soldiers, Stalag XII-A, on August 3.  He was then transferred to another POW camp, Stalag III C, near Alt Drewitz in Eastern Germany and arrived on Sept 20, 1944. 

Petrocelly’s hand-written notes.

Finally, on January 31, 1945, Petrocelli was freed when Stalag III C was liberated by Russian troops. Petrocellly spent a total of seven months as a POW.

Horatio J. Petrocelly was honorably discharged from the Army on July 5, 1945, with the Rank of Staff Sergeant.

For Petrocelly’s action during the D-Day invasion, he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre. He also receivedthe American Defense Service Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, the Foreign Service Clasp/WWII Victory Medal, and The Purple Heart.

Following the war, Petrocelly returned to Pittsburgh and to his profession as a pressman. While remaining in the printing business, he also opened an Italian Restaurant, Petrocelly’s Pizzeria in 1962.

Sadly, Petrocelly passed away from a heart attack on November 26, 1974.  He was survived by his wife Mary; his sons Horatio Jr., John, and Richard; and daughters Julie and Maria.

His courage and sacrifices will never be forgotten.

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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Reflections – The Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Voyage of Discovery (VOD)

-In light of the 2020 VOD being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic-

By Anthony Pizzo, Alumnus of the 2002 Gift of Discovery/Voyage of Discovery

In 2002, I had the life changing honor to go to NIAF’s Voyage of Discovery program (or Gift of Discovery back then). I was just a young college student when I was selected to go on the Voyage of Discovery, and the experience completely changed my life.

Before going on the Voyage of Discovery, I was just an Italian American kid from a working class in South “Philly.” I was in college at the time but did not know what I wanted to do with my life. I had never left the country nor did I every really think I would have the opportunity.

I remember in late December of 2001 my father showed me about this program for Italian American students to visit Italy. I shrugged my father off and did not think I had any real opportunity to qualify for any program. At the time, I was also working 7 days a week at an Italian pastry shop where I worked from 3AM until 7AM every morning before I went to school. Applying was just not a priority for me. But on the deadline for applications, something inside me told me to apply. A few weeks later I was absolutely shocked to receive a letter (how times have changed!) from NIAF. The letter stated that I was accepted for the Voyage of Discovery program to go Sardinia, Italy, with Italian American students from all over the U.S.  

The trip itself was amazing and brought about ever-lasting changes. For nearly two weeks in May 2002, we traveled throughout the beautiful island of Sardinia, interacting with locals, taking in the sights, and I learned about the world outside of my little bubble of South Philadelphia than I ever could have imagined. But the real changes did not end there, in fact, they had only just begun.

Living in a working-class area of Philadelphia, PA, the Voyage of Discovery gave me the opportunity to meet Italians and Italian Americans who went beyond the stereotypes of Italian and Italian Americans I had grown up watching on TV. I realized then that Italian Americans were capable of doing great things and I wanted to be able to give back and make a difference.

After I returned from the Voyage of Discovery, I immediately enrolled in Italian courses. Within a year, I had applied for and received my Italian citizenship. By the time I graduated from college, I was accepted to St. John’s University MBA program in Rome, Italy. I lived in Rome for two years and I knew then that I wanted to be able to come back and stay in Italy. I also decided that I wanted to be an inspiration to fellow Italian Americans in a pivotal stage in their lives – college. So, I was determined to get a doctoral degree and return to Italy as a college professor. It took a while, but in 2019, I graduated with my PhD in Business Administration. While the current economic environment has put my dream of returning to Italy and working as a professor on hold, I encourage all of this years of Voyage of Discovery award winners to maintain their fortitude.

We, as Italian Americans, have been graced with fortitude. Although recent events have temporarily set us back, I encourage all of this year’s participants to stay the course and see the bigger picture. Indeed, even back in 2002, our Voyage of Discovery trip was almost cancelled due to the September 11th attacks.

I know it is easy for me to tell you to stay positive. But there is a large and supportive organization with NIAF, myself included. Please use us as a resource on your voyage moving forward. I hope my story brings you a little sense of tranquility. Never forget that you are apart of an organization which will be a constant source of inspiration for you.

Although this year’s VOD trip has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage those who are interested in the program to learn more by visiting https://www.niaf.org/programs/voyage-of-discovery/.

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NIAF Membership Giveaway with My Dad’s Sauce

By Nicolette Turano, Co-Founder of My Dad’s Sauce

Our dad, Pat Turano came from Calabria, Italy, in 1971 and opened his first pizzeria, Casa Turano at 21 years old. From there he opened, operated, and sold several restaurants and pizzerias – his most recent was Trattoria Rustica in Montclair, N.J. In 2016, he won a competition on Restaurant Impossible with Robert Irvine. When asked why he loves what he does he said, “I love creating new dishes, it’s a lot about making people happy.”

In January 2019, my siblings Brianna and Ryan, and I decided to start jarring “My Dad’s Sauce”—the tomato sauce that we grew up enjoying with our family and friends. To keep our product fresh, we jar in small batches. Our product is vegan with no artificial flavors or preservatives and no added sugar.

During quarantine, we realized the potential we had to expose our sauce to a much larger audience. With the help of social media and a great community we are seeing our dream become a reality. Right now, we are selling online as well as a few local markets. We recently launched our product in Shoprite Bloomfield, N.J., as of May 22! We hope this sauce can become a household staple that symbolizes family.

We are so excited to be collaborating with the National Italian American Foundation for this giveaway in honor of Father’s Day!

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The NIAF Membership Giveaway with My Dad’s Sauce – Enter by June 10!

In honor of Father’s Day, NIAF is offering its members a chance to win a jar of My Dad’s Sauce along with: a NIAF Buon Appetito! apron, a NIAF “Make Sunday Italian Again” wooden spoon, and Celebrity Chef Mary Ann Esposito’s latest cookbook Ciao Italia: My Lifelong Food Adventures in Italy! NIAF Members eligible to win this gift must follow these three steps:

  1. Like NIAF, Mary Ann Esposito, and My Dad’s Sauce’s Facebook pages;
  2. Follow both NIAF and My Dad’s Sauce’s Instagram accounts; and
  3. Email media@niaf.org confirming that they did steps 1 and 2 above.

The contest will run until June 10. The winner will be announced on June 12. Not a NIAF Member? Join today to be eligible to win this fantastic giveaway: https://www.niaf.org/membership/join-niaf-today/.

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My Dad’s Sauce’s Connection to NIAF

Brianna and Nicolette Turano, two of the three siblings that started “My Dad’s Sauce” have been fortunate enough to take part in the Ambassador Peter F. Secchia Voyage of Discovery (VOD) trip with NIAF in 2013 and 2018. Brianna and Nicolette still look back on these trips as one of their best life experiences!

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NIAF Congressional Fellow: Part 3

By Sam Pedalino, 2019 NIAF Congressional Fellow

2019 Fellow Sam Pedalino with U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell Jr. (N.J.-09)

This past fall semester I had the privilege of working for Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr. (N.J.-09) who is Co-chairman of the Italian American Congressional Delegation (IACD). My work primarily focused on working with constituents by receiving and documenting their calls, assisting staffers in gathering support from other Members of Congress for bills and letters, as well as attending briefings and hearings.

Coming from an Italian American background, it is especially inspiring to see fellow members of the community succeed. Being an intern on Capitol Hill was an experience that I never could have imagined. An opportunity as exclusive and exciting as this gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for the everyday commitment our country’s representatives give to their work and their constituents in hopes of making our country a better place. This first-hand experience has given me the tools to feel confident in having the ability to thrive in whichever field I plan to pursue.

Sam Pedalino is a student at the University of Oklahoma and is from Kinnelton, N.J.

The 2020 NIAF Congressional Fellowship application is open until June 1. For more information, visit: https://www.niaf.org/programs/congressional-fellows/.

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NIAF Congressional Fellowship: Part 2

By Luke Ferrante, 2019 Congressional Fellow

Minority Whip Rep. Steven Scalise (La.-01) shaking hands with 2019 Congressional Fellow Luke Ferrante

My Italian American heritage has always played a large role in my life. From a young age, the stories of my family’s hard work to make a new life for themselves in America inspired me to put my best foot forward in not only my studies but also in my career.

As a political science major, working in Washington, D.C., was frequently thought of as a dream job for some far-off future. Luckily, I did not have to wait as long as I expected when I was offered this Fellowship and placed in the Office of Republican Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.-01). I am incredibly grateful to NIAF for giving me the amazing opportunity to make my dream a reality. I was able to work alongside very smart and talented people and see first-hand the inner workings of how a congressional legislative and leadership office operates. Thanks to NIAF, I learned valuable professional skills which I will use in future jobs and was exposed to countless opportunities to pursue when I graduate.

Luke Ferrante is a student at Ramapo College and is from Morris Plains, N.J.

The 2020 NIAF 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 Heroes

By Chris Tremoglie

Vice President Nelson Rockefeller once said, “I think of the 1.5 million Americans of Italian descent who made up ten percent of the armed might of the United States in World War II, and many of these men you have met in years still well remembered.”

May 8th – VE Day (Victory in Europe) – is the anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allied forces, ending World War II in Europe. Approximately 3% of the world’s population perished in combat during the world’s deadliest war. In the United States, Italian Americans played a pivotal role in fighting the Axis Powers – many of them sacrificing their lives. Often honored as the “Greatest Generation,” let us honor some of the brave Italian-Americans who served as we commemorate the 75th Anniversary of VE Day.

John Basilone

John Basilone is arguably the most well-known Italian American to serve in World War II. In fact, Basilone’s story was one of the main plots of the HBO miniseries, The Pacific. Basilone was a United States Marine Gunnery Sergeant and fought in the Pacific Ocean theater of World War II. Remarkably, he also served in the United States Army three years before his service in the Marine Corps.

Basilone’s heroic feats during the Battle of Henderson Field in Guadalcanal are of mythical proportions and almost impossible to believe. His unit came under heavy fire from about 3000 Japanese soldiers. Basilone “was commanding two heavy .30-caliber machine gun sections from First Battalion, Seventh Marines, that were tasked with holding a narrow pass at the Tenaru River.” Basilone and his men were hammered with wave after wave of brutal Japanese attacks.

As his unit suffered significant casualties and ammunition was running critically low, Basilone’s heroism saved the day. He moved an extra gun into position and maintained continual fire against Japanese forces. Through all of this, he repaired a broken machine gun and went to replenish ammunition. During this sprint, Basilone: carried “about 90 pounds of weaponry and ammunition, ran a distance of 200 yards through enemy fire while fighting off Japanese soldiers along the route with his Colt .45 pistol. He continued running back and forth between gun pits, supplying ammunition to those desperately in need and clearing gun jams for his fellow Marines.” He also wound up burning his hands and arms while fending off an “entire wave of Japanese soldiers.”

By the time reinforcements had arrived, only Basilone and two other Marines were alive and Japanese forces opposite their section of the line had been virtually annihilated. For his actions during the battle, Basilone received the United States military’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor.

Afterwards, Private First Class Nash W. Phillips recalled:

“Basilone had a machine gun on the go for three days and nights without sleep, rest, or food. He was in a good emplacement, and causing the Japanese lots of trouble, not only firing his machine gun, but also using his pistol.”

Basilone would ultimately be killed in action in Iwo Jima protecting his fellow Marines from an enemy attack. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Navy Cross. Basilone was the only enlisted Marine “to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross for his extraordinary heroism in both battles.”

Henry Mucci

Henry Mucci was a Colonel in the United States Army. Mucci was a West Point graduate who was assigned to Hawaii. Mucci is known for his heroism in liberating over 500 survivors (most American soldiers) “of the fall of Corregidor and the Bataan Death March from a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines.”

He survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and then joined the Army Rangers. He also had two brothers serve in the military during World War II. The 2005 film, The Great Raid, was about Mucci’s heroism.

The USO website highlights Mucci’s skill and bravery in executing the “Great Raid.” It states that “there were only 48 hours to plan the liberation and no time to practice the logistics. Mucci had just 121 Rangers with him and they were outnumbered at least two-to-one. They also had the hefty goal of rescuing more than 500 prisoners of war (POWs). Still, Mucci led his men behind Japanese lines, following their Filipino guerilla guides as they trekked through the jungle to prepare for their attack.”

Mucci was praised for the discipline of his unit in planning and executing the raid. In his obituary in the New York Times, his valor was highlighted. It was also noted that it was this discipline that enabled Mucci and his men to “penetrate 30 miles behind Japanese lines north of Manila” who were captured for three years “endured an excruciatingly brutal confinement in a camp named for the nearby town of Cabanatuan.”

Anthony P. Damato

Corporal Anthony P. Damato was an Italian American World War II hero who served as a Marine in both the Europe and Pacific Theaters.

Damato enlisted in the Marines about a month after Pearl Harbor. He was a participant in the Allied invasion of North Africa known as Operation Torch. Damato “helped seize the port of Arzeau, Algeria” and advanced in rank as a result of “his meritorious conduct.” His heroism involved “entering the port from seaward and assisted in boarding and seizing vessels in the harbor as well as the seizure of the port.”

His bravery continued when he saved the lives of two American soldiers while fighting in the Marshall Islands. Corporal Damato threw himself onto an enemy Japanese grenade that landed in his foxhole. He died instantly.

On April 9, 1945, Corporal Anthony P. Damato was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Medal of Honor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Of Corporal Damato, President Roosevelt said: “Corporal Damato’s splendid initiative, fearless conduct and valiant sacrifice reflect great upon himself and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his comrades.”

Gino J. Merli

Sergeant Gino J. Merli was another Italian American who valiantly served in World War II and received the Medal of Honor. He served in the 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. He was among those who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day. He also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. His courageous efforts are also of epic proportions that resemble more of a Hollywood sequence than real events.

At a small Belgian town known as Sars-la-Bruyere, Sergeant Merli’s company faced a vigorous attack from 100 German soldiers. His position was overrun with German soliders and the men in his company began a retreat. Merli stayed behind and provided machine gun cover for his men. Ultimately, German soldiers overran his position, he faked his death as German soldiers “prodded him with bayonets” to make sure he was dead.

As the German soldiers were moving on from his alleged dead body, Merli “leapt up and opened fire.” He repeated his ruse several times in a heroic gambit to stay alive and fight off the Germans all night. As reinforcements emerged the next morning, the Germans asked for a truce. Merli was found with bodies of fifty German soldiers in front of him.

Merli “single-handedly caused significant damage to the enemy and put himself at great risk, he was awarded the Medal of Honor from President Truman. He also received two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star and the Battle of the Bulge Medal.”

Vito R. Bertoldo

Master Sergeant Vito Bertoldo’s heroism almost did not happen. Because of poor vision, Bertoldo was ineligible for the World War II draft. He enlisted in the Army anyway. He talked “his way into training as an infantryman and was assigned as a cook.”

Bertoldo fought in a battle near Hatten, France. As German troops were shelling the town, Bertoldo volunteered to “provide rearguard defense” to help other American troops move to an alternate location. While under fire, Betoldo “mounted a machine gun at the CP’s entrance, enabling him to cover the main approach. He held his fire as German tanks shelled the building, then fired at the advancing infantry that followed.”

He continued his bravery the next day. He continued to defend against the relentless German shelling. He “exposed himself to enemy fire to throw hand grenades at the advancing Germans.” Later, the Germans fired a “self-propelled 88-millimeter gun directly into the room from which Bertoldo was shooting, the concussion from the third round knocked him across the room and left him dazed.” After ensuring the safety of his assistant gunner, Bertoldo “returned to his machine gun and continued the fight. He continued to fight as the battalion staff withdrew from the alternate command post and did not withdraw himself until everyone else had moved to safety.”

Bertoldo was awarded the Medal of Honor, Combat Infantryman Badge, Bronze Star Medal with oak leaf cluster, Purple Heart, and French Croix de Guerre.  

His Medal of Honor citation can be found here.

Ralph Cheli

Major Ralph Cheli served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. Initially a student at Lehigh University, Cheli left before graduating to enlist in the Army Air Forces.

Cheli served as the commanding officer of the 405th Bombardment Squadron in the Fifth Air Force’s 38th Bombardment Group, based out of Duran Airfield, Port Moresby, New Guinea.

Cheli flew in over 40 combat missions. In the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, Cheli “led his squadron in the first masthead bombing attacks ever executed during daylight against enemy shipping in the Southwest Pacific.”

While flying a mission on the “heavily defended enemy airdrome of Dagua near Wewak, New Guinea, Cheli was shot down.” He was captured by the Japanese and sent to the POW camp at Rabaul. He was either executed by his captors or killed when the enemy ship he was being transported to Japan on was sunk.

His medal of honor citation can be read here.

William J. Guarnere

“Wild Bill” Guarnere was a United States Army soldier who fought in the 101st Airborne Division. He was a non-commissioned officer with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He gained widespread recognition as a character in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.

Originally from South Philadelphia, Guarnere and his brother enlisted in the military shortly after Pearl Harbor. His brother, Henry, was killed in the Italian campaign at Monte Cassino.

Guarnere’s first combat jump was on D-Day. He became known as “Wild Bill” as a result of his hasty and reckless attitude towards the Germans. Guarnere’s killing of most of a German platoon near the village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont was an example of this and portrayed in Band of Brothers.

Another example of his reckless attitude, but also endeared him to fans of the miniseries, was after he was wounded in battle, he tried to sneak out of the hospital he was in to rejoin his company. He was caught, demoted to private, court-martialed, and sent back to the hospital. He told officials at the hospital that he would continue to go AWOL “just to rejoin Easy Company.” He was later allowed to leave.

Guarnere fought in the Battle of the Bulge. While under a massive artillery shelling from the Germans, his friend and fellow soldier, Joe Toye was hit. Guarnere tried to drag him to safety but was also hit during his attempt. Both men lost their right leg.

Guarnere was awarded “the Silver Star for combat during the Brecourt Manor Assault on D-Day, and was later decorated with three Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts, making him one of only two Easy Company members (the other being Lynn Compton) to be awarded the Silver Star throughout the duration of the war while a member of Easy Company.”

Italian American Heroism in WW2

These are just some of the countless Italian Americans who served in World War II. Many gave their lives so that freedom would endure. My great-uncle, who I never met, Albert Tremoglie, was killed in the European Theater on D-Day. Many others, like my grandfather Joseph Tremoglie who fought in the Aleutian Islands against the Japanese, showed great courage and survived the war and returned home. All of them should be regarded as heroes.

Here is a list of other Italian-American soldiers who were awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II (as well as all the Italian American Medal of Honor recipients).

Chris Tremoglie is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania where he is pursuing a double major in Political Science and Russian and Eastern European Studies. @chris_tremoglie

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