Sacrifice on a Grand Scale

With the United States’ entry into the Second World War, the US was faced with fighting on two fronts – the Pacific War waged primarily against the Imperial Japanese, and against the Germans and Fascist Italians in the European-African-Asiatic Theater.  Young American men of Italian descent signed up in droves to serve the United States, with many Italian families having all available able-bodied men serving in uniform.

In total, the United States of America’s active-duty armed forces numbered approximately 16 million men, and also included tens of thousands of WAVES (Women’s Branch of the US Naval Reserve) and the WACs (the Women’s Air Corps). Every one of these individuals sacrificed something to defend the free world.

Highlights of Italian-American Service in World War 2

The sum total of the service contributions made by Italian-Americans in World War 2 is staggering. Their contributions have been the subject of countless books, essays, research papers, magazine articles, and movies for the last 75 years. There is truly no way to encompass that amount of information within the focus of this report. Instead, we offer these important points, which support the dedication to America that defines the actions of the Italian-American community:

    • Almost 10% of this total fighting force, approximately 1.5 million service-members, consisted of American men of Italian descent[1]. The casualty rate in World War 2 totaled 405,399 dead, 670,846 wounded and 30,314 missing. Assuming all other variables are held equal, the Italian-American community accounted for 10% of that total, which would be 40,540 men lost, 67,084 wounded, and over 3,000 men who are MIA, and presumed dead[2].
    • 14 Italian-American men were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor[3].
    • Italian-American actors and athletes would volunteer and serve in World War 2. Some were already famous and left lucrative careers to serve the United States. The list of names is a who’s who of Hollywood A-listers plus 3 sports legends. Servicemen included:
      • Actors such as Ernest Borgnine, Joe Campanella, Nicholas Colasanto, Jackie Cooper, Steve Conte, Richard Crenna, Henry Fonda, Dean Martin, Ralph Manza, Victor Mature, and Robert Stack all served on active duty.
      • Athletes included Yoggi Berra, Joe DiMaggio and Jake LaMotta (LaMotta joined but was later disqualified because of hearing issues). Yoggi Berra was involved directly in the initial landing on D-Day.
    • Italian-American soldiers played a vital role in physically recapturing Italy from the Axis, as did thousands of Italian-American civilians. The latter assisted the OSS in planning the invasion of Sicily, and both groups offered their personal networks and connections to the Allies for planning and communication. Some US soldiers used their expertise with the Sicilian dialect, and other regional dialects, to communicate with local citizens. New York City Mayor Fiorello H La Guardia made weekly radio broadcasts to Italy called “Mayor LaGuardia Calling Rome”, urging Italians to revolt against fascism[4].
    • This sacrifice was made despite a significant proportion of Italians being viewed as enemy aliens.

Italian-Americans not caught up directly in either wartime restrictions or military service were heavily involved in the Allied war effort. This included shipping & transportation of materials, civil service, heavy labor, and management of the vital waterfront areas. Many others ran family restaurants, businesses and farms. Americans of Italian descent were also heavily relied upon in the manufacturing sector for national defense.

Report Sections:


[1] Marton, Eric. “Italian Americans: The History and Culture of a People.” Page 148. (ABC-CLIO, 2016, ISBN-13: 978-1610699945). Accessed on September 28, 2020.

[2] Data extracted from the second edition of The Oxford Companion to American Military History. (Oxford University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-19-507198-0), 849. John W. Chambers, II, ed. in chief,

[3] Found on the web at  Accessed on September 28, 2020.

[4] Italian Americana, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Winter 2007), pp. 5-22 (18 pages) found at  Accessed on September 28, 2020.