Italian American Digest Winter Digest 2018 - Page 14

WINTER 2018 PAGE 14 Italian American Digest All’s Fair in Love and War By Elisa M. Speranza POWs at Jackson Barracks. The “ITALY” patches on their arms indicated that they were providing labor through Italian Service Units (ISUs). S hortly after I moved from Boston to New Orleans in 2002, I had the good fortune to meet renowned local chef Joe Faroldi and his wife, Kitsy Adams. We were chatting about our Italian heritage, and Chef Joe told me a fascinating story that has stayed in the back of my mind ever since. His mom, Felicia D’Anna, was the daughter of a local Sicilian-American family in the French Quarter, and his dad, Giuseppe Faroldi, was an Ital- ian soldier, brought to Jackson Bar- racks in 1943 as a prisoner-of-war. Recently, I’ve been writing a novel inspired by their magical story. In the course of my research for the book, I’ve been on a treasure hunt, with the help of American Italian Research Library curator Sal Serio, to piece together the broader story of these unusual wartime romances here in New Orleans and around the country. Here’s what I know so far, from my reading and interviews: In May of 1943, Allied forces defeated the Italian army in North Africa. More than 51,000 Italian prisoners-of-war (and about 380,000 Germans) were brought to the U.S. and held on military bases across the country. About 900 of them were brought to Jackson Barracks, just outside New Orleans. At the time, as many Digest read- ers are aware, the French Quarter was known as “Little Palermo,” a thriving district of immigrants from Sicily and their descendants. The presence of the POWs created an interesting situa- tion for the French Quarter Sicilian- Americans. On one hand, these POWs were paesans—countrymen. Some were even blood relatives. Many had been conscripted or joined Mussolini’s army with little enthusiasm, often to escape grinding poverty. The New Orleans Sicilian-Americans were compassionate people, drawn to the plight of the captives On the other hand, Italian-Amer- icans were fiercely loyal to their adopted country and were already uncomfortable about Italy’s role as an enemy combatant. They saw the Jap- anese-Americans—and even some of their own—being herded into intern- ment camps. In spite of high-profile Italians in American life (including New Orleans Mayor Robert Maestri), some were worried that fraterniz- ing with the POWs might call their patriotism into question. In spite of the conflicting views, groups of local Sicilian-Americans organized trips to the barracks to visit with the POWs. Many local Catho- lics were inspired by Jesus’ words in the Gospels: “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. I was in prison and you visited me.” The visitors were a great comfort to the POWs, so far from home. They spoke their language and brought them familiar food. In September 1943, Italy surren- dered and switched sides in the war, leaving the POWs in limbo—they were not really a threat, but the Gene- va Convention prevented them from being set free until the war was over. Most signed loyalty oaths and provid- ed much-needed labor through Italian Service Units (ISUs). They dressed in the same uniforms as the U.S. sol- diers, but with a green oval patch on their sleeves that said “ITALY.” They were allowed more freedom, includ- ing the freedom to leave the barracks to socialize. At the time, the city was full of women, children, and older people. Most of the young men were off at war, so the daughters of local Sicilian-American families wel- comed the young Italian soldiers as new dance partners and friends. Some prominent New Orleanians, however, (including boat factory owner Andrew Higgins) were outspoken critics of the liberties the POWs had been given.