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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40 Lire, and A Dream.

By Paul Fioravanti, NIAF Member

A tribute to my grandfather, Giuseppe Gugliemo (Joseph William) Fioravanti (1897-1978).

You sit in your wooden rocking chair in the home you built three decades ago, after the war, and your brown eyes peer out the window at your impeccably manicured lawn and the plethora of pink and red blooms that contrast with the rich green bluegrass.

It’s the summer of 1976.  The United States has just celebrated its 200th birthday and you think that’s really young for a country.  You clean your glasses, put them back on and stare again through the glass and your mind wanders.

For a moment, you are a young man, and it’s the freezing cold winter of 1921. 

You just finished a tour of duty in World War I.   You’ve always thought bigger, been a risk taker. You have never let yourself be confined by bounds, yours or others.

Your mind races backward, and you recall sitting in a chilly stone home warmed only by the hearth glowing from your mother’s bread in the oven, as you sit on a creaky wooden chair, you contemplate a journey which would ultimately entail traveling overseas in a rat-infested ship for 3 or 4 weeks to a place where the only people you know are your two brothers. A place where you don’t speak the language. You think about what it means to leave your homeland where 50 generations of people with your last name have lived.

Staying here is risky, because it’s not economically viable, but it’s all you know.

Can you turn your back on your loved ones, on the verdant rolling hills and sunshine – on the familiar sun that rises over the hills of Prato, glistens on the ancient stone streets and sets on the Bisenzio river?

You will never see your mother, father or sister again.

You don’t have a job.

You’re 24 years old with no formal education. You don’t speak the language.

You’re sick and you might not make the journey. You have no healthcare. Healthcare hasn’t even been conceived yet.  Healthcare just means making it through another day, healthy.

You have nowhere to live.  No home. No family of your own, other than your brothers who have their own struggles.  You have 40 lire to your name, and you need to somehow make that last long enough to get food and transportation and shelter long enough to reach your brothers. You have a dream. Perhaps you don’t know what it is yet. The one thing you are sure of is your belief in yourself.

How’s that for commitment? How’s that for a leap of faith?

So, you boarded the musty ship with others who also want more.  Some of you won’t make it.  You know you will.

You learn a trade, you learn English, you build a family, you build a business, you clear a path.

Less than 100 years later your leap will have produced two children, six grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, six great great grandchildren (and counting…), all magnificent in their own way?

Your old thought comes to mind, “the decisions we agonize the most over, turn out to be the right ones, don’t they?”

Down below, sick in the hold of the ship, rocking across the waves for 4,300 miles, was that a thought?

You ask yourself why you chose this quest in February and not May? You boarded on January 20th and you saw the welcoming glance of Lady Liberty on February 3rdFebbraio freddo.

How would it turn out? Oh, pretty well. You worked hard, didn’t you? 

Was this your American dream? Or was it your Italian dream? How much did you make of yourself? Where did the time go? How did you go from a child to a patriarch of many generations of children?

How much return did you make on your 40 lire investment?

What was your legacy? And in a flash, it’s not 1976 anymore, it’s some time much later and you feel happy and free.

You appreciate where you’ve been and recognize where you are, and you see it all. All the smiles, all the people, all the flowers, all the trees. You see the sun and the sky and the land and the sea. You’re on terra firma.

The sounds of your grandchildren laughing, the glow on their faces from the candles that lit many birthdays, and the happiness that your son and daughter have brought you, you know now as you rock softly in your chair, twiddling your thumbs back and forth, silent in gratitude, the aroma of warm soup on the stove and the sound of your Ida’s(you sarcastically call her Madame) voice.

You adjust your bifocals and a contented grin comes over your face, accentuating your cheeks and chin as you thank the almighty for the blessings he has bestowed.  You recall the worry when your son was at war and you realized now how your own parents felt, when they worried about you.  You wonder what became of them and remember them. You fast forward your mind through many Christmases and remember each grandchild’s dolls or games or bicycles, and it all went by so quickly. You remember every customer in your store, the ones who have stuck by you all the years, and the ones who’ve passed.

You think about your life and you whisper E’passato troppo in fretta. Yes, it all went by too fast.

Two more years lapse in a blink and you’re not sure where you are but you feel nothing but love, and your family is all close by, and you can see them all, all at once. You look at them and the tears of joy come.

Your view speeds along, and the moments of your life replay in artistic detail and vivid color. You get to relive the splendor of your life once more, and the hard times don’t hurt anymore, and the good times feel even better, and you’re somehow both a child and an 80-year old man, as one, atop a hill in Prato, looking down, and you see all of it. It’s as you remembered it, but the expanse is wider and more beautiful.

Standing there still, you see it, your life, close but from afar, from atop the rolling hill among the Lombardy pines, across the ocean, down from the blue sky, onto your legacy. And you feel the warmth of all those you embrace, and smile.

Ahh, la vita sulla terra merita di essere vissuta.

E tu hai vissuto.


And you’ve lived.

If you’d like to write for NIAF’s Pensieri Blog, submit your proposal to media@niaf.org. To learn more about how to support NIAF and its mission, visit www.niaf.org/join.

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Italian American WWII Heroes: The Corridi Brothers

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 Russ Coriddi in honor of his father William and his two uncles.

Brothers William, Ferdinand and Pat Corridi served in the U.S. Army during WWII. The photo below only includes William and Ferdinand who had both fought in France and Germany during the war.

From left: William and Ferdinand Corrdi

When the photo was taken, the war in Europe had just ended and the brothers had to walk several miles to a halfway point somewhere in Germany where they were able to reunite and spend some time together. William and Ferdinand were only 20 and 22 years old at the time.

“I’m proud of them and thank all veterans for their service,” said William’s son, Russ Coriddi.

The Coriddi family came to the United States in 1923 from Norma, Italy, and settled in Rochester, N.Y. Ferdinand was born in Italy as was an older sister, Leona. William was the first in of eight siblings born in the United States, with Pat being born there two years later.

“Our American family still enjoys a strong connection with our relatives in Norma, Italy, the Coriddi family and Celano family,” said Russ. “We are so proud of our Italian heritage.”

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 Heroes: The Pedalino Family

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 NIAF Member Joe Pedalino about dad Salvatore and his uncles.

The photo in the top left is a photo of Salvatore Pedalino from Belleville, N.J., who enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor. He was stationed in the Pacific and fought  in the largest battle of the Pacific arena known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines.

The group photo on the right in the collage shows five of Salvatore’s brothers who also fought  in the war. Carmen, also known as Coke, was in the army; Frank, known as Teeny, was in the Air Force; and Vincent (not pictured), known as Blackie, was in the Merchant Marines. All of them served their country admirably. A younger brother Mike, also known as Iggy, fought in the Korean War.

The bottom left photo is one of Carmen taken at the end of the war. He found an old tub and improvised and decided to take an unexpected but well deserved bath. The photo was taken and published the in Stars and Stripes. His mother eventually saw this picture in the newspaper and was ecstatic to learn that her son was alive and well. The photo was even selected as one of the top 100 photos by Time Life and can be found in Time Life WWII Anniversary edition.

“The top left photograph of Salvatore in the Navy is special,” shared Joe. “He is the grandpa of Salvatore Pedalino, a recent NIAF Congressional Fellow who interned for Rep. Pascrell of NJ in the fall of 2019!”

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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Christmas in Trentino Alto Adige: The best Christmas Markets in Italy and Zelten Christmas Cake!

For the holiday season this year, NIAF is highlighting a few traditions from each of Italy’s 20 regionsthat perhaps is carried on in your Italian American family or is a new tradition you’d like to start.

Considered the crossroad between the Mediterranean and Central Europe, Trentino Alto Adige is one of Italy’s northern-most regions and is breath-taking, full of culture and snow-covered landscapes.

Night aerial view of Madonna di Campiglio city, Italy on Christmas night. Credit: Shutterstock

Christmas Markets

Bolzano’s Christmas Market

Besides this year due to the pandemic, Bolzano, the largest city in the region hosts a magical Christmas market. Roughly 80 exhibitors set up their booths to offer typical decorations made of glass, wood and ceramic, many linked to the most authentic artisan traditions of Trentino Alto Adige. If you have a chance to go, there are plenty of vendors offering specialty foods from the region, like zelten (featured later in the post).

Beyond Bolzano, Christmas markets in Trentino Alto Adige are so well known that five towns’ markets are called the “five stars route” with Bolzano included. Bressanone, Brunico, Merano and Vipiteno are considered the other four charming towns that are part of the route.

Main piazza in the city of Trento

Interestingly enough, Trento is not included, but also has a beautiful market which attracts more than 500,000 visitors every year. Italians and Europeans alike go to these famous markets in the region to purchase gifts as well as buy artisanal food and wines for the holidays.

Zelten: Italian Christmas Cake from Trentino Alto Adige

Boasting a long history, this Christmas sweet bread is a traditional product common across Trentino Alto Adige made with flour, eggs, dried and candied fruit. The name of the sweet bread has a German origin which traces to the German adverb “selten” which means “sometimes.” This is a winter cake enjoyed during the Christmas season, which is why the recipe calls for dried fruit. Naturally, recipes differ in valleys across the region mainly due to the historical availability of certain ingredients.

Try La Cucina Italiana’s Zelten recipe at home!

Stay tuned for more Natale in Italia posts! If you want NIAF to share a tradition, email us a description at media@niaf.org.

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Italian American WWII Hero: John F. Tipa

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 NIAF Member Ron Tipa in honor of his father.

John F. Tipa was the son of Sicilian immigrants. His parents, Giuseppe and Vincenza Tipa, emigrated from Piazza San Lorenza, Palermo, Italy to New York City where they settled in Little Italy, The Bronx, in 1910.

Tipa was ordered to active duty with his unit, 212th Coast Artillery New York Army National Guard headquartered in Manhattan, N.Y.

During his five years on active duty he was sent to Washington, D.C, Fort Stewart, Ga., and Seattle, Wash., before being sent to the Pacific where his unit participated in the Battle of Saipan.

He attained the rank of first sergeant before returning home.

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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