An Italian Internee’s Letter Home During World War 2

Address panel of an Italian Internee's letter home during captivity in a US internment camp during World War 2

Italian Internees held in US internment camps were permitted to write only two short letters and one postcard per week. The length of the letter was determined by the space allotted to the internee on one side of a standardized piece of stationary supplied to internees by the US Government Printing Office as “Form Number 4”. This stationary was one-sized-fits-all, meaning it was the only kind offered to internees, and the brief instructions on the reverse side were printed in English, German, Italian and Japanese.

The stationary was a light blue pre-folded paper sheet 6” wide by 14.75” long, including the folding tab at the top. Light, widely-spaced lines were printed for use by the writer, the reverse of which became the outside when folded for mailing. The tab made the document easy to open for inspection and censorship by authorities, and then reseal.

In some cases, a fitted envelope was available to hide the “INTERNEE OF WAR” printed boldly on the outer surface of the letter. This was intended to give the receiver of the letter a small amount of privacy. However, since the outside of the envelope then became festooned with colorful stamps like “Inspected” and/or “Censored” during its journey to the addressee, the idea of privacy became negligible. Those who did not receive envelopes for mailing had to mail them as-is, with the Internee of War label in full view. That small amount of privacy offered by the envelope was negated by the free postage, as the upper right section of the address panel said “Free – Prisoner of War Mail” where the stamp would have been.

We present this letter from our collection. It is accompanied by its original envelope. It was written by Carmelo Ilacqua to his wife at their home in San Francisco. Carmelo immigrated to the United States in 1924, and had resided in San Francisco since 1928. He was an employee of the Italian embassy in San Francisco until it was shuttered in June of 1941. He was arrested on December 17, 1941 at his home. No charges were ever specified, and he was not permitted to seek counsel or representation. He was shuffled through four internment camps over a period of 21 months.

Carmelo Ilacqua was eventually released in September of 1943 after a hearing determined his innocence. The US Government realized that he was not only not a threat to the United States, but that he was actually a very patriotic American who then went to work for the US Army teaching Italian to American soldiers at Stanford University. He worked side by side at Stanford with fellow internee Angelo Baccocina. As stated by the authors of Enemies Within, these formerly “dangerous” men were now helping the US Army plan for the occupation of Italy1.

Carmelo’s history of internment is well researched and included in the previously mentioned historical piece Enemies Within (University of Toronto Press, ISBN 978-0-8020-8235-0). He is also identified as Arrestee #990 on page 29 of Section 3(2) in Appendix C.2 of the “Report to the Congress of the United States – A Review of the Restrictions on Persons of Italian Ancestry During World War 2”2. That report is covered extensively in our research article titled The World War 2 Internment of Italian-Americans. He is cross-referenced as Internee #192 on page 20 of Section 3(3) in Appendix D. Despite his internment history being well documented, the contents of his letter (written in excellent English) will remain unshared as a matter of privacy.

Outside of an Italian Internee's letter home during captivity in a US internment camp during World War 2
Expanded outside view of an Italian Internee’s letter home during his captivity in a US internment camp during World War 2.

1 Iacovetta, Perin & Principe, Enemies Within, pages 283-286, University of Toronto Press, ISBN 978-0-8020-8235-0.

2 USDOJ Report titled “Report to the Congress of the United States – A Review of the Restrictions on Persons of Italian Ancestry during World War II”. Available on the web at http://www.tunacanyon.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/A-Review-of-the-Restrictions-on-Persons-of-Italian-Ancestry-During-World-War-II-2.pdf. Accessed on April 23, 2021. Also available in print from the US General Accounting Office Bookstore.

Author: Robert Lanni