By: Basil M. Russo, ISDA President
World War II, the war to end all wars — more than any other event in U.S. history — exhibited the love, loyalty and patriotism Italian Americans held in their hearts for our nation. Italian Americans rushed to enlist to defend the U.S., and more than 1.5 million Italian Americans served in the armed forces during World War II, amounting to some 10% of American soldiers in total.
Italian Americans served our country with great distinction and 14 of them were awarded the Medal of Honor. The actions of three Italian American servicemen are among the most heroic stories of WWII.
Sgt. John Basilone, who Gen. MacArthur called “a one-man army” was the only American marine to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross, our country’s two highest awards for military bravery. During the battle of Henderson Field in Guadalcanal, Basilone, with only his machine gun, pistol and machete, held off a Japanese regiment of 3,000 soldiers for nearly two days until reinforcements arrived.
Later, Basilone was present for the first day of the Battle of Iwo Jima. The Japanese, who were in a fortified blockhouse, fired on U.S. Marines as they landed on the island. Basilone’s unit was pinned down, so he headed out alone, making his way around the side of the Japanese position until he was directly on top of the blockhouse, which he single-handedly destroyed with grenades and demolitions. Then, he fought his way through open ground to safely guide a Marine tank through an enemy mine field, all while under fire. During this effort he was killed by Japanese mortar shrapnel, according to USO.org.
Col. Henry Mucci, a West Point graduate — with 121 U.S. Army Rangers under his command — rescued 500 American prisoners during the infamous Bataan Death March. They were being held captive by 8,000 Japanese soldiers.
Maj. Don Gentile, who shot down 30 Nazi fighter planes, earned the distinction of being the most deadly fighter pilot in American military history.
At home, Rose Bonavita, who worked as an aircraft riveter, became the model upon which “Rosie the Riveter” was conceived to symbolize the millions of American women factory workers who supported the war effort.
God bless them, and all the brave troops and service members who defended and contributed to our country. #ItalianHeritageMonth