It was something he rarely talked about, and friends felt reluctant tointroduce the subject in conversation. Now, more than a half-century later, Gino Marchetti, not offended or in any way irate, describes how it was whenthe government made his mother move outside the town of Antioch, Calif.,restricting her movements during World War II because she was Italian-Americanand lacking citizenship papers.
The Marchetti family had to leave its home and find another place to live-- separated from the geographical boundaries of its then-tiny community inNorthern California. Orders from federal authorities, they were told.
Son Gino, who became the most accomplished defensive end in NFL history,earning more Pro Bowl selections (11) than any other Baltimore Colt, remembersduring World War II that some Italian-Americans living in California were madeto leave from their residences because of a fear they would involve themselvesin acts of sabotage. A wrong assumption; a decision by the government thatItalians who had not completed the naturalization process were considered"enemy" aliens.
It remained that two of the Marchetti boys, Gino and his older brother,Lino, joined the army with the hope they could contribute to winning the war.Gino was in the late stages of the Battle of the Bulge, serving with thecelebrated "Fighting 69th Division," 273rd Infantry, Regiment I.
The issue has been brought to the fore after all this time by two New Yorkcongressmen, Rep. Rick A. Lazio, a Long Island Republican, and Rep. EliotEngel, a Democrat from the Bronx. They are co-sponsoring a bill that asks theJustice Department to outline for the public the restrictions imposed uponsome of those of Italian origin.
At 73 and retired in West Chester, Pa., the onetime partner in theenormously successful Ameche-Gino Foods, Inc., carries no animosity over whathis family was made to endure. It was a momentous inconvenience, a personalindignity, but the Marchettis didn't protest.
"I've read stories that I played with a grudge over what happened to mymother during World War II, and that's what motivated me to have so muchintensity," Gino said. "Anyone who knows me realizes I never carried a grudge.Our family loved America, and my older brother and I were ready to die in thewar, like a lot of other Italian-Americans, if necessary. We accepted whathappened because we believed in obeying orders."
Those of Japanese-American ancestry were incarcerated in remote work camps.The government feared Japanese and also Italians might be tempted to engage inacts of espionage. But Maria Marchetti, who spoke only a trace of English, hadto move out of Antioch, where the family had settled and her husband owned abusiness.
"The population of Antioch was then about 3,000, and an old paper mill wasall it had," Gino recalled. "It wasn't like we had steel mills or defenseplants. My father and mother loved America, everything about it, and if wewere told to do something like that, my father said there must be a goodreason. So we did it without a word of complaint.
"You have no idea how much those immigrants, the old-timers, worshiped theU.S.A. and the chance to be in this country. We tried to boost my mom'sspirits all the time, but for six months she must have cried every day. Shewas barred from even coming into town. We kept our house in Antioch vacant andlived in kind of a two- or three-room apartment outside of town, which we weretold we had to do, all because my mother wasn't a formalized citizen."
Why Italian-Americans had to suffer the dehumanizing action was somewhatsimilar to what President Franklin D. Roosevelt's advisers felt had to be donewith Japanese-Americans -- moved away from coastal locations, where they wereconsidered threats to observing troop or ship movements and passing theinformation on as spies to hamper the U.S. war effort.
The Japanese-Americans were granted, under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988,a payment of $20,000 if they were interned, relocated or evacuated, but nosuch provision has been made for Italian-Americans, which seems grosslyunfair.
Italian-Americans were extremely loyal to the U.S. cause, fighting withgallantry and much pride during World War II. They were hit with heavycasualty counts, but fought on in every theater of operations. Marchetti wasin heavy combat, witnessed Gen. George Patton in operation and said:
"As the war wound down in Europe, we must have been taking 5,000 prisonersa week. The Germans were down to rock bottom, kind of like that Dallas Texansteam I played on in 1952 before coming to Baltimore. Most of the Germans werounded up were real young, nothing more than kids in many instances, and oldmen. They didn't want to be taken by the Russians. Our outfit was at the ElbeRiver when the war in Europe was over. We were slated to get some time off andthen ship to the Pacific for more fighting."
But the atom bomb brought surrender from the Japanese, and Marchettireturned to Antioch, and ultimately a momentous career in pro football.
What does Gino think about the efforts to bring the Italian cause to theattention of America, even at this late date? "I see it as all water under thebridge. I just know how much my mother and father loved this country. Americagave all of us so much we could never express our thanks."
A grateful Gino regretted what happened to his mother, but hasn't made it acause celebre. He was fighting on the battlefields of Europe to defenddemocracy while Mama Marchetti was restricted in what she could do and whereshe could go in her adopted country of America. Bitter irony.
The town of Antioch is so impressed with Gino's achievements that itcreated a park and named it in his honor. Marchetti, through it all, justtried to make his mother proud.
Pub Date: 2/13/00Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun