Memorial Day in US and Italy

Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery
 
Dear Readers,
Memorial day, originally called Declaration Day, is a day of Remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. Memorial Day will be observed on May 27th this year, the last Monday in May, as per legislation passed by Congress in 1968 to ensure a three day weekend for federal workers. Prior to this effort, Memorial Day or Declaration Day was May 30 and was celebrated by memorial ceremonies, principally the decoration of graves, of military service men killed in wars, but now Memorial Day is a day of Remembrance for all of our dearly departed friends and family.
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Remembering old photos in uniform of family members and relatives who served in the military during World War I when the United States and Italy were Allies, I thought I’d review some World War I history. The United States and Italy were allies between 1914-1918, however, neither Italy nor the United States declared war in 1914. Italy declared war May 24, 1915 against Austria-Hungary and against Germany August 27, 1916. The USA and President Woodrow Wilson stayed neutral until he signed a declaration on April 6, 1917 taking the USA into the war.
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Here are some of the USA, Italy and world wide connections of World War I from 1914 to 1918: 1914, on June 28 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife were assassinated by a Serbian in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The Austrians made drastic demands on the Serbians to right this wrong, but the Serbs, backed by Russia, were in no mood to be bullied by the Austrians. On August 2nd, Germany invades Luxemburg, declares war on France and next invades Belgium. By August 4, Britain and Belgium have declared war on Germany. In Turkey the Ottomans close and fortify the Dardanelles, the narrow straight separating Europe from Asia and connecting Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmar (The Dardanelles were an important route for Russian grain to France and England and for arms and supplies to Russia). On August 6th Austria declares war on Russia and Serbia declares war on Germany.
 
A week later Britain and France declared war on Austria and an expeditionary force lands in France. By August 20th German troops have taken Brussels in Belgium and a few days later Japan declares war on Germany and attacks the fortified German port of Qingdao on Chinese territory. In Belgium, around Mons, the British are forced to retreat after bitter fighting with the Germans, but opening the war at sea, the British sank three German cruisers and two destroyers off the German held island of Helgoland Bright in the North Sea. All this in the first month of World War I in 1914, when Austria’s ultimatum to Serbia brought Russia in as Serbia’s ally, Germany as Austria’s ally, France as Russia’s ally and if Germany had not invaded Belgium, Britain might have stayed out of it.
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Weeks after war was declared by Britain and France against Germany, men from throughout the British Empire, Australia, Canada and New Zealand rushed to London to volunteer. Volunteers from neutral USA rushed to Paris, France to sign up for the duration. Before 1914 ended, the Germans had taken Rheims and German shells had left the beautiful cathedral of Rheims in shambles with nearly all of its stained glass windows blown out.
     In the Falkland Islands, the British Navy sank 4 German cruisers, the Russians invaded Armenia and Hungary, Turkey attacked Russian ports, Britain annexed Cyprus and declared Egypt a protectorate, Qingdao, the German fortified city in Chinese territory fell to the Japanese and in Istanbul the Sultan declared “Jihad” Holy War on the Allies. Does “Jihad” sound familiar in 2013? Although Italy had declared war against Austria-Hungary in May 1915 and soon after on Bulgaria, Italy did not declare war on Germany until August 27, 1916 and tanks, undervalued by traditional commanders, were used for the first time in battle by the Allies.
    
 
The war stretched on and in late October 1917 the Italian Army was shattered by a surprise German onslaught and was forced to retreat in disarray towards the Piave River, some fifteen miles from Venice.
 The Italian army, which had comfortably held off the Austrians through 1916, had captured the stronghold of Monte Santo only two months before and had seemed well entrenched in the mountains around Caporetto and Udine, had been shattered by a surprise German gas attack, followed by a furious creeping barrage from artillery, which made the Italians suddenly vulnerable. Losses were high with 10,000 Italians dead, 30,000 wounded and near 300,000 troupes captured. A year to the day, on October 30, 1918, the Austrian army completed its evacuation of the Italian territory after the Austrian army was defeated in a final battle of the conflict at Vittorio Veneto.
 
The Italians captured over 600,000 prisoners, over 6,000 guns and ended the war with an Italian victory. A week later, on November 11, 1918, World War I was over and the German army, reeling under Allied blows was in no position to haggle over the armistice terms which included Germany surrendering 5,000 heavy guns, 30,000 machine guns, 2,000 war planes, and all its U-boats, 150,000 wagons and 5,000 trucks. The German Navy was interned in British waters and the Allied blockade of Germany remained in force to ensure the Germans would keep the word. And in Britain the Boy Scouts cycled through the streets sounding the “All Clear” on their bugles...
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On November 11, 1918 the Armistice agreement was signed and fighting on all battlefields ceased at 11am. The guns of World War I fell silent. After four long years and an estimated ten million dead, the “war to end all wars” was finally over.
     In 1919 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day to remind Americans of the tragedy of war.
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 Random thought on life and death from the late Sam Levenson.
 Rome wasn’t built in a day. I guess it was a government contract.
 Life begins at forty, but so do arthritis and the habit of telling the same story three times to the same person.
 “ The fact that a man died doesn’t prove that he lived.”
 The only reason they give you a birth certificate is because without it you can’t get a death certificate.
 An ugly life is still better than a beautiful funeral...
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