Sunday, May 24, 2015

Photo: Unknown Italian Army Unit Circa Early 1940s

by G. Jack Urso

Unknown Italian Army Unit Circa Early 1940s. Click on picture for larger image.
In the upper right-hand corner of the photo above, standing alone and circled in red, is my grandfather Sebastiano Mario Sartorio who served in the Italian Army during the Spanish Civil War and in North Africa, where he was captured by the allies in late 1942  or early 1943 and sat out the rest of the war in a P.O.W. camp.

This photo was found between the joists in a basement crawl space of a house my grandfather built in Whitehall, NY, where he moved his family, including my mother Maria Sartorio whose wartime experiences in Sicily are recounted in the audio documentary News from the Front: Memories of a World War II Refugee. Following the internment of my mother’s ashes on May 23, 2015, we visited the current owner of the home who very much to our surprise presented us with the photo you see above.

I wonder, how much my mother could have told us about this picture had she known it existed? The moment underscored for me, as a student of history, how tenuous are the ties that bind us to the past and how quickly information is lost  often within the span of a generation or two.

This Memorial Day, do more than celebrate. Dig up those old photos, call an old family member and ask, “Do you remember . . . ?” 

UPDATE 28 May 2015: The editors at Military History have identified my grandfather’s unit as the 133rd Armored Division Littorio, which was wiped out following the Second Battle of El Alamein in November 1942. This means my grandfather served right up to the very end. Many thanks to managing editor David Lauterborn! My letter to Lauterborn was later published in the March 2020 issue of Military History.


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