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Never forget the ones who fought and died for freedom


July is a month when Americans celebrate freedom. What does that mean to the generations of Italian Americans here in the United States? For me, it meant learning both my grandfathers, born in Italy, fought in World War I. My father’s father, Paul Zippi, fought in the Italian Army while my mother’s father, Guido Acciavatti, fought in the American Army. According to the Sons of Italy, they have identified 26 Italian-American Medal of Honor recipients beginning with U.S. Army Corporal George Ferrari, who fought in the Indian Wars in 1869.

World War I (1914 – 1918)
With more than 4 million Italians immigrating to the United States between 1880 and 1924 and America entering the war in 1917, Congress authorized a draft allowing immigrants to enlist if they had filed papers declaring their intentions to become U.S. citizens. Elevating their status from “pick and shovel” immigrants, this incentive saw tens of thousands of Italians shipped off to the trenches of France, proud to go to war for their new country. My grandfather Guido was among them.

World War II (1939 – 1945)
Like many first-generation Italian-Americans, my uncles among them, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force in 1943. He stated that one way for Italians to show their loyalty to America was to fight in the war. Despite the fact that many Italian Americans were looked upon as second-class citizens during this time, between 750,000 and 1.5 million people of Italian descent served during WW II, and 14 of them received the Medal of Honor for their service.

My grandmother Mary’s brother Albert Del Conte, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, at 24 years old was killed in action on Feb. 25, 1945. He never came home and is buried overseas. My uncle, Al Albertini, also known as Al Alberts, served in the U.S. Navy as a radio dispatcher aboard the USS Charles F. Hughes. His poem, published in a Navy journal, is his account of the battle he survived but never spoke about.

Korean War (1950 – 1953)
Many Italian Americans served in the Korean War. My father, Anthony Paul Zippi, due to his expertise in electrical engineering, while boarding the plane to Korea, was called back to base for an electrical emergency and the base commander asked for him personally. In a sense, my father’s electrical expertise saved his life. Approximately 37,000 Americans lost their lives in the Korean War, with 92,000 wounded and some still missing to this day.

Vietnam (1955 – 1975)
American was at war in Vietnam from the time I was born until after I graduated high school. My cousin Vincent DiGiulio Jr. served in that war, like his father before him fighting in WW II. Approximately 2.7 million U.S. Servicemen saw active duty in Vietnam. In recent years while representing the Delaware County Veterans Memorial in Newtown Square, Pa., I had the privilege of meeting Italian-American Air Force Officer Ralph Galati, who endured 14 months as a POW. Most of the soldiers returned home after the war to a less-than-welcoming social climate.

When you see a soldier or meet a veteran, thank them for their service, seek out the War Memorial in your town, and bring your children or grandchildren. These brave men and women risk their lives going overseas to war so that we can have the freedoms we have on American soil.

In his autobiography “Al’s Song,” my uncle Al Alberts describes his combat experience aboard the Navy Destroyer USS Charles F. Hughes in World War II:

The poem is written to flow as
“Twas the night before Christmas”

We encountered the enemy
Three e-boats in force
They were ready and waiting
We held true to our course.

Our guns trained starboard
Through the enveloping black
And the stillness was shattered,
The command was “Attack !”

Our opening salvo
followed a line so true
Of the three that started
now there were two

The battle continued
that perilous night
it was kill or be killed
and God was our might.

The firing was merciless,
Round after round
Til we wounded another
And ran her aground

Deserted by her crew
In the face of our guns
Of the three that started
Now there was one.

The last of the schulls
Of the Fuerher’s Third Reich,
Bewildered and battered
Found themselves in a plight!

With nothing before them
But death or defeat
They scuttled their ship
Started using their feet

The battle was over,
The battle was won
Of the three that started
Now there were none.

Barbara Ann Zippi

Associate Publisher

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