7,000 Italian Americans served in the Civil War.
300,000 Italian Americans served in World War I.
1.5 million Italian Americans served in World War II.
4 Italian Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Korean War.
11 Italian Americans were awarded the same honor during the Vietnam War.
Though these numbers are staggering, they only tell part of these brave individuals stories.
Time and time again, Italian Americans have stepped up and put their lives on the line for their new country. Despite being looked upon with suspicion and hatred, their contributions to the war efforts are incredible.
During World War I Italian Americans were faced with two choices: enlist and fight for the United States or go to Italy and fight for them. Many of the men faced with this decision were born in America. They had never been to Italy and had only ever heard stories about the country from their parents and grandparents.
Michael Valente was one of these men. He fought in World War I and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service. Valente was quoted as saying, “[President Hoover] had decorated an American of Italian origin – and that through him honor can come to all Italians who emigrated here.”
Despite the overwhelming patriotism of men like Valente, Italian Americans were still distrusted. They were unable to find jobs in defense industries, they had travel restrictions and property restrictions placed upon them. They had to give up any firearms, cameras, and short wave radios. The government feared they would turn their backs on their newfound homeland and instead attempt to aid Italy’s war efforts.
Approximately 600,000 Italian Americans were placed in internment camps in United States while over 1 million others were fighting overseas, willing to die for the American cause.
Despite this mistreatment, Italian Americans continued to sacrifice their lives in the wars ahead. They believed the United States was worth fighting for every time.
This Memorial Day let us all take some time to remember those that were lost in the fight for freedom. May their memories live on in those that loved and cared for them.