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Italian American War Heroes

Sgt. John Basilone (Photo from Wikipedia)

The relationship between Italy and war is complicated. To understand it one not only needs to understand current events, but history in general. In past decades Italian immigrants to the United States faced different situations than they would today and had to deal with integrating into a society that had different motivations and values. In cases like World War II, many Italian-Americans had to face fighting against their own roots. Italians  are quite specific about what, exactly, is worth dying for. From the times of the Romans to World War I many important battles have been fought--and won--on the soil that is Italy today.

It has often been said that the winner of any war gets to write the history books and because Italy lost the last great war it fought, it is no surprise that their reputation has been marred in some way. While in a short article it is impossible to delve into every facet of World War II, suffice it to say that many Italians faced the war with a different mentality than the Allied forces. While the Allies fought for freedom many Italians could not even conceive the idea of freedom.

Giunta: Courage, Valor & Medal Of Honor

In more recent times, from the Vietnam War to those in Iraq and Afghanistan, both Italians and Italians Americans proved to be brave and men of true honor. Italy is usually of great support to N.A.T.O. missions and often called upon to work in important regions, such as Lebanon and hot areas in Afghanistan, and often after the U.S and UK is the largest presence in soldiers and monetary investments.

So while the Italians may have a sterling reputation as lovers they are also fighters, although they tend to avoid it when possible. As a matter of fact, in the Italian constitution war is clearly rejected in any form, except for defence.  In the case of Italian-Americans things are dictated by different eras and different groups of immigration, but virtually in every major war fought by the Americans there was an Italian that made history and headlines. The living proof of that is the list of Italian-Americans who have received the Medal of Honor, many of them actually born in Italy and fighting for the United States. The list is very long, from Luigi Palma di Cesnola and Thomas W. Hyde during the Civil War, all the way to the most recent, Salvatore Giunta, born in 1985 and serving in Afghanistan. Sgt. Giunta is the first living soul to be awarded the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War. While the humble Giunta rejected the idea that he alone was heroic, his actions in battle--including saving members of his squad during an ambush--can be seen as nothing less. Another Italian American, Jared C. Monti, also recently received the honor, although posthumously after tragically dying in battle.


If we go back to World War II for a moment, there are many Italian-Americans who deserve our respect and gratitude, although we'd like to point out one: Sgt. John Basilone, a figure who featured in the Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks production The Pacific. Sgt. Basilone died in action during the famous battle of Iwo Jima, subject matter that has also been the center of two Clint Eastwood films. While Basilone was killed at the beginning of the battle, his actions allowed a further American penetration of the Japanese defence and the eventual conquering of the island in one of the most symbolic takeovers in American military history. Subsequently many locations in America were named after Sgt. Basilone including a U.S. Navy Destroyer. Basilone now rests in peace in the cemetery in Arlington, VA., next to other heroes and great presidents.

John Basilone Memorial Parade

The Italian-American soldiers mentioned above are just a few of many who have proved their valor in battle and their commitment to the United States, a country that owes a lot to Italy (and vice versa) and which proudly carries the name of an Italian, making the everlasting bond between the two countries even stronger and perpetual.

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