Sunday, January 22, 2012

Finding My Father

For the past couple of weeks I have been editing letters that my father wrote from June – August, 1945 while stationed in Italy. As a good historian I have been trying to put these letters into some kind of context. He mentioned movies, operas, and USO shows that he attended along with some of his friends. I was able to put some context to the entertainment activities. I was amazed that while a soldier stationed near Naples he bought a season ticket to the San Carlos Opera House. He mentioned that he saw the opera, Faust. He compared the actor in the role of Méphistophélès to when he saw the opera in St. Louis with Enzio Pinza. The only time he could have seen Enzio Pinza was on April 24, 1939. He thought Pinza did a better job.

This led me to investigate some of the names of people whom he mentioned to his sisters. Some of them were only mentioned by first names as if his sisters knew. One person, Naomi, my cousin Chaim was able to tell me her lat name and the city where she lives. I called her and made contact today. Her grandmother and my grandfather were sibling, making us 2nd cousins. She said she has a grandson who lives in Chicago. I called him. Her brother, Arthur also talked with me today.

I still need to put some context to the story of soldiers after the war ended in Germany. Some soldiers were needed to occupy and de-Nazify Germany. The US Army took control of Rome on 4 June 1944. The war with Italy was over. For the soldiers in Italy the war was over almost a year when my father wrote these letters. He was anxious to get home as he had been away almost 5 years.

I still have unanswered questions that would help put the letters in context. In my research I have not found any books that talk about the logistical challenge of returning all the soldiers to their homes. I do not want to spend the time digging through newspapers and original documents to tell that story. I just want to read someone else’s research. The story of the soldier’s relationship with his home and family has not been well told, but I am not the person to tell that story. I only want to understand a little about my father in the years before I was born.

Picture was taken in May 1945.


Choice said...

Daniel, my former father-in-law Oscar Proni was an Italian soldier (also drafted) who was from northern Italy, but was stationed in the south, near Naples. On 8 Sept 1943 the armistice was announced, and fortunately Papa had a set of civilian clothes with him: he put those on, ditched his uniform, and hopped a train back to Monfalcone. He told me the train was very crowded, standing room only, for 28 hours. He did his best to be inconspicuous, because the Germans were conscripting men and sending them to labour camps, or worse. Once he arrived home, he spent the next 18 months in the attic, studying engineering, with only family & his young girlfriend to keep him company. To go outside, even in the yard, would have risked capture.
I was married to his oldest son for 15 years and Papa remains to this day one of my biggest heroes. --Amy (Proni) Ranger

Daniel D. Stuhlman said...

Thanks Amy,

I am working on editing and commenting on all of my father's letters. I am still looking for sources that would put his experiences into a larger context.

Choice said...

The Stars and Stripes archives only goes back to 1948 at this point, but you might find something there:

See also:
Military Affairs; Jul1945, Vol. 9 Issue 3, p270-274, 5p
Abstract: "The article discusses the campaign in Italy during World War II of the U.S. Fifth Army and the British Eight Army, together led by U.S. General Mark W. Clark. Topics discussed include the difficult terrain, including rivers and valleys easily defended by occupying German forces, and the repeated diversion of Allied troops to other theaters."

In fact, it looks like the Military Affairs journal might have a lot of good information for you. Hope this helps. Cheers, Amy