Date of Award

Spring 5-2017

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)





Committee Chair

Andrew A. Wiest

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Susannah J. Ural

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Allison J. Abra

Committee Member 3 Department



Despite constituting the largest ethnic group in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, the experiences of Italian-Americans have received scant attention by historians. In particular, the stories of the U.S. citizens of Italian descent or Italian-born but naturalized Americans who served in Italy, have received almost none. These soldiers, sailors, airmen, and coastguardmen who could often speak Italian, had grown up in Italian-American families and neighborhoods, and still had relatives in Italy, were asked to go fight in their country of origin. During the Allied advance, these men found themselves in close contact with a destitute Italian population that they saw as their own.
Relying on oral histories and the personal papers of Italian-Americans dispatched to the Italian theater, this thesis will analyze their experiences and motivations for service. Their stories reveal controversial experiences and a flux of mixed emotions, distant from the simple image of curious coincidences presented in the sources for the general public. Despite their origins, Italian-Americans did not reveal divided loyalties and went to fight without hesitation in their country of origin, unlike other ethnic groups. Although combat experience in itself proved similar to that of all the other American servicemen, a reemergence of their cultural roots and national bonds during occupation duty and in contact with the local population. This set their overall war experience apart from those of other ethnic minorities within the U.S. Armed Forces, in a way that stands out in the study of World War II.