PIETRO AS A SOLDIER
Then the unthinkable happened, something serious, sad and painful, like a lightning bolt in a clear sky, which had changed the life of the entire world: on December 7th 1941, the Japanese attacked the naval base of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
On December 8th, the Congress of the United States declared war on Japan. Immediately after that, Italy declared war on the USA. If the Pearl Harbor attack was like a lightning bolt in a clear sky, Italy’s declaration of war was like the rumble of the thunder which invariably follows the lightning. Immediately, everything changed for the Italians in America. Used to many forms of discrimination, now another one was added.
The Italian Community was suspected by President Roosevelt’s Administration to have a questionable loyalty to the USA. On February 19th 1942, the President signed an Executive Order for the Italians to leave their houses: together with the Japanese and the Germans, they were brought to concentration camps. About 10,000 Italians went to concentration camps. Hundreds of others had to leave the houses where they had lived for years, they were forced to hold a pass and their movements and their work were limited. Their fishing boats were taken away to be used in the war. Even the great scientist Enrico Fermi and other leaders of the community were limited in their movements.
Paradoxically, other Italian young men were called to be part of the American army. And this was true even for Pietro, who, in August 1942, was called to join the American army.
With the distressing certainty that he would have either ended up in a concentration camp or that he would have been sent back to Italy, Pietro went. Paradoxically, he was admitted to military service and one year after that, he and many others received American citizenship. Pietro, and many other Italians who were called to military service, were harshly tested. The Italians would call them traitors; the Americans suspected them of less than total loyalty and looked at them with a jaundiced eye. Pietro was tormented between loyalty to his far off homeland and his duty to the land that had welcomed him. The torment became more acute as he thought about fighting in Italy against the Italians. This thought nagged at him. He would ask himself: What if I find myself fighting face to face with people from my town? But there were no choices; now they were American soldiers and they would have to fight for America against Italy. It was their duty.
On June 17th 1943, Pietro and other soldiers boarded a ship to go to Casablanca, where they arrived on the 25th of the same month. With him, other Italian soldiers were assigned to be interpreters in concentration camps for Italian prisoners. Pietro smiles and says: What could we interpret? It is not like we understood (capiscevam) “l’ammerican” so well. But the orders of your superior officers had to be obeyed. So he and the others interpreted words they did not really understand.
DELIA SOCCI SKIDMORE