Ten years ago, former Heinz History Center curator Nicholas P. Ciotola embarked on an ambitious oral history project to document the Italian American experience during World War II. He planned to collect the stories of Italian American veterans living in Southwestern Pennsylvania for the inclusion in the History Center’s Detre Library & Archives, a publicly accessible museum archive of primary source material. Along with James M. Zanella, an oral historian specializing in Italian American history, and a team of transcribers, they gathered what is now known as the Italian American World War II Veterans Oral History Collection.
This diverse collection of more than 40 audio interviews features the stories of gentlemen who served during World War II in the United States Army, Navy, Air Corps, and Coast Guard in the European and Pacific theaters. Ciotola developed a specialized questionnaire to assure that veterans were thoughtfully interviewed about their lives and wartime experiences; along with documenting World War II recollections, the questions investigated how Italian American identify informed their service. Themes explored in the collection include: childhood in Italy and Western Pennsylvania, civilian life prior to entering the armed forces, the call to duty, military training and deployment, overseas experiences, daily life in the military, stories from the front lines and combat, release from service, homecoming, and life after the war.
Financed by a Culture and Heritage Grant from NIAF, the National Italian American Foundation of Washington, D.C., Ciotola’s seminal project endures as a valuable part of the History Center’s Italian American Collection and an incredible resource for scholars of World War II.
Robert P. Argentine
Robert P. Argentine of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was drafted into the United States Army in 1942 and trained in Anti-Aircraft and Artillery units before being sent to North Africa as a truck driver in 1943. He participated in the Invasion of Sicily and was wounded during the Battle of Monte Cassino. Argentine spent time in Anzio, Sardinia, Corsica, and Marseille as a member of the Third Army. He attained the rank of Acting Sergeant while in Versailles, France. Towards the end of the war, Mr. Argentine participated in the Battle of the Bulge and served as a Military Policeman in Brussels, Belgium.
Carmine Botti of Wilmerding, Pennsylvania served with the 9th Infantry Division of the United States Army in North Africa. In 1943 while on a mission in Tunisia, Africa, Botti was seriously wounded in the head, chest, and legs by an enemy hand grenade. Despite his wounds, he managed to crawl an impressive distance and warn his commanding officer of the enemy’s position. His self-sacrificing efforts and courage earned him the Distinguished Service Cross Award, one of the highest honors that a soldier can receive.
Joseph J. Bruno
Joseph J. Bruno of Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood was drafted into the United States Army in 1943 and reported to duty immediately after his high school graduation ceremony. He was a member of the 63rd Army Infantry Division and later joined the 82nd Airborne Division as a paratrooper. Bruno participated in the Invasion of Normandy on D-Day, landing in the town of Sainte-Mère-Église, and saw action in Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. He sustained two minor wounds and earned a Purple Heart.
Angelo Cestoni of Belluno, Italy was drafted into the United States Army in 1941 before he was an American citizen. His citizenship was expedited during basic training at Camp Wallace, Texas. He served as an army mail carrier and rose to the rank of First Gunner Corporal. He was later assigned to the 99th Infantry Division, 81st Motor Platoon. He fought bravely during the Invasion of Normandy on D-Day and participated at the Battle of the Bulge. Cestoni was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
Michael Cocchiola of Nutley, New Jersey was drafted into the United States Army shortly after being work at PPG in 1941. He served with the 258th Field Artillery Regiment, and later with the 186th and 795th Field Artillery Battalions. Cocchiola completed Officer’s Candidate School and joined the 713th Airborne Squadron in the United States Air Force, where he was promoted to First Lieutenant. He performed the duties of a bomber and navigator during his thirty-five missions across Europe.
Albert DeFazio, Sr.
Albert DeFazio was drafted in 1943 to serve in the United States Army. After training, he fought during Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. He later went on to battle in his ancestral homeland, Italy. He bravely fought at Anzio and during the bloody battle to capture Monte Cassino. During this time, he happened to meet his relatives near Avellino. There he met, his uncle, aunt, and countless other relatives. They saw him not as an American soldier, but as a fellow Italian. He earned the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Eugene G. Frediani
Eugene Frediani of Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington neighborhood was drafted into the United States Army in1941. He was dispatched to the South Pacific with the 70th A.A.A. Regiment and trained as a radio operator. Frediani was promoted to the rank of Buck Sergeant due to his exemplary conduct during the air attack at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. He also made military tours of Bougainville Island, Lae in Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, and the Philippines. He received six medals for his time served in the Army.
Francesco Genovese of Maierato, Italy was drafted into the United States Army in 1943. He served with the 4th Infantry Division, where he was responsible for transporting the tripod and machine gun for his unit. Genovese landed on the shores of Normandy ten days after D-Day and his division later participated in the Battle of St. Lo and the Battle of the Bulge. After being wounded in Belgium, Genovese spent three months in a hospital and was later honorably discharged.
Louis LaCivita of Wilmerding, Pennsylvania volunteered for the draft in 1943. He served with the 42nd Infantry Division in England and later was transferred to the 9th Infantry Division. LaCivita was a machine gunner and foot soldier throughout Europe, spending most of his time in Germany. While in France, he was wounded in the knee and was Honorably Discharged from the Army. LaCivita answered the call of duty years later during the Korean Conflict and was stationed in Africa.
Walter Vicinelly of Masontown, Pennsylvania was drafted into the United States Army in 1943 and served in the Army’s Medical Corps. He witness the Invasion of Normandy from his ship and landed on Utah Beach on D-Day plus two, where he treated the wounded. Vicinelly was present at the Battle of Saint Lo and the Battle of the Bulge. Towards the end of the war, he saw the horrors of the Holocaust at Dachau before advancing further East toward the Elbe River. His extraordinary bravery was recognized by being awarded the Silver Star.