Italian American WWII Hero: Joseph Tollis

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 Cindy Farina, dedicated to her father.

Joseph Tollis, born Giuseppe Guido Tollis on November 19, 1921, was from Pacentro, L’Aquila, Abruzzo. He came to the United States in June 1937 to join his father, Pasquale Tollis, in Detroit, leaving his mother and three siblings behind.

Upon turning 21, he was drafted into the army and selected to serve as an Italian interpreter when he was in basic training. As part of the 441st Division, he and his fellow soldiers processed and interrogated Italian and German prisoners of war. His tour of duty brought him to England and France, following the Invasion of Normandy.

While in England, camping near Stonehenge, Tollis told his children about a day he recalled when a constant stream of tanks rolled down the road. Soon after, the sky filled with airplanes. Unbeknownst to the troops, the Invasion of Normandy had begun.

He also told his children about the time he stood on guard duty knee deep in the snow at midnight on Christmas Eve under a star-filled sky during the Battle of the Bulge.

Around the time of the Battle of the Bulge, he and his fellow troops adopted a stray dog, who became their buddy. When it was time to move on, they left their pet to a local French farmer.

When the war ended in Europe, he was sent to Texas to serve as a military police officer until he earned enough points for discharge. They offered to promote him to sergeant if he stayed on, however, he declined and chose to go home.

He arrived home on Christmas Eve 1945 to find his dad sitting alone in a chair listening to the radio. Tollis’s father asked him if he was home for Christmas, and Tollis said he was home for good. 

“My dad was so proud of his service in the army that I am glad to have opportunity to share a bit of his story,” said Cindy. “He had medals for good conduct, the Battle of the Bulge, and marksmanship. His service in the army also earned him American citizenship.”

She added, “I always remember him saying ‘The army during peace time was not a bad deal. But when there’s a war, look out.’ Thank you for honoring the Italian Americans who served in World War II. I’m delighted to be a member of NIAF.”

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

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