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The Italian Campaign: One Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War

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The Italian Campaign: One Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War
  • by Albert DeFazio as told to Valerie DeFazio Vacula
    • Merriam Press World War 2 Memoir Series
      • 72 photos
      • 1 map
      • 138 6x9-inch pages
As school children, most Americans learned about Wold War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor, the D-Day invasion of Normandy, the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. But few people know much about the Italian Campaign during that war. Of all the western fronts in World War II, the Italian campaign cost the most lives.
     One of its survivors, Albert DeFazio, didn't like to talk about his experiences as an American soldier in World War II, but he was also concerned that so little was known about the suffering and death in Italy.
     It took Albert decades to be able to describe his experiences in World War II - memories that still haunt him. Now, after seventy years, Albert DeFazio has told his story of the war he cannot forget.
     This new, expanded edition, brings Albert's story to life with new material and images of Scenes from a Forgotten War.

  • Chapter 1: Growing Up Italian
  • Chapter 2: Basic Training
  • Chapter 3: Shipping Out
  • Chapter 4: Front Lines
  • Chapter 5: The Battle
  • Chapter 6: Back to My Division
  • Chapter 7: The Ruins of Old Pompeii
  • Chapter 8: Famiglia
  • Chapter 9: Invasion of Anzio
  • Chapter 10: Back to the States
  • Chapter 11: Home Again
  • Chapter 12: Honorable Mention: Charles E. Kelly
  • Chapter 13: General Mark Clark
  • Appendix 1: The Men of Company A
  • Appendix 2: 143rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (“Third Texas”) 1917
  • Appendix 3: Insignia of the 36th Infantry Division
  • The Author
  • Photographs from Author’s Collection
  • Scenes from a Forgotten War

Rose speaks with Albert DeFazio - Rose Unplugged on AM 1250 The Answer, August 24, 2017


Remembering The Italian Campaign—World War II’s Longest and Bloodiest Battles

By Daniel Casciato, 18 March 2016 by The Ciao Pittsburgh Team 

The Battles of Monte Cassino, or the Italian Campaign, marked one of the longest and bloodiest engagements of the Italian campaign during World War II. At the beginning of 1944, the Allies were struggling to capture the western anchor of the Gustav Line—formed by the Rapido-Gari, Liri, and Garigliano valleys and some of the surrounding peaks and ridges—and the Roman Catholic abbey of Monte Cassino which was occupied by the Germans.
     Between January 17 and May 18, 1944, Monte Cassino and the Gustav line were attacked four times by the Allies and ultimately, the German troops were driven from their positions. The four battles during the Italian campaign involved some of the hardest fighting in the war and cost the Allies over 114,000 casualties.
     The multi-faceted battles of the Italian Campaign played an important part in determining the eventual outcome of the war. But today, you never hear much about Monte Cassino and the Italian Campaign—it’s as if it has been forgotten.
     Valerie Vacula, author of “The Italian Campaign: One Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War,” hopes to change that. Her father, Albert DeFazio, was one of the heroes who fought in the Italian Campaign. She brings her father’s memoirs of his WWII battles to life in the book she co-wrote with him.
     “World War II wasn’t just about Normandy, fighting in the Pacific or the Battle of the Bulge,” says Vacula. “The Italian Campaign was every bit as important and every bit as bloody if not more.”
     Vacula began attending veterans’ breakfasts with her father after moving back to her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. At each breakfast, certain veterans are asked to stand and tell their stories.
     “Some are funny and cute but trust me, many are just heart wrenching,” recalls Vacula. “Some, as they tell their story, will start to get choked up—as do I—as they remember their horrific ordeals. I have learned more about history listening to these heroes than I ever had from a text book.”
     Knowing how amazing her own father’s story was, Vacula decided that she wanted her daughter and grandson to know and understand why they have the freedom they do today because of men and women like her father who served the United States proudly.
     “That’s why I decided to write the book telling of my father’s experience,” she adds.
     DeFazio, 91, was born and raised in Verona, PA. Today, he still lives in the Penn Hills home where Vacula grew up. After her mother passed away, Vacula moved back to Pittsburgh from the Florida Keys so she could be there to help her father when needed.
     “Of course, any time spent with my father is a good time for me. Although we are and always have been very close, I can honestly say I have more respect than ever for my dad and all veterans knowing what they went through,” says Vacula. “They deserve so much than what they get. This is another reason why I wanted to get his story out there.”
     In some ways, writing the book was a challenge for Vacula because it has been over 70 years since her father came home from the war. Asking him questions about his experiences at the age 89 was tough because he couldn’t remember everything—things like names and places and exact dates. Vacula conducted a lot of research about Monte Cassino and the Rapido river.
     “He remembered his battle at the Rapido where he was wounded because that took place a week after his 19th birthday,” says Vacula. “He could remember his lieutenant’s name because he was able to save his life—but his best friend, who was blown up beside him, he can not remember.”
     Researching mountain names and dates took the longest, about six months. Vacula notes that she would let her father tell her the stories, then she would write it down and he would then review it.
     “It had to be changed around a few times,” says Vacula. “The only thing he kept saying was I want nothing made up—only the truth is to be told—and I understood.”
     One interesting sidebar to DeFazio’s story—when his ship landed in Italy at the port of Naples, it was the same port that his own parents had left from to come to America.
     “My dad grew up speaking Italian and being in Italy to fight a war with a country who was not our ally at the time was tough, but saved his life a few times,” says Vacula. “By complete accident, he also came across a man in a canteen in a town called Avellino who he was speaking to in Italian and discovered they were first cousins. From there, he was able to get a two-day leave to meet aunts and uncles from both sides of the family.”
     While DeFazio didn’t like to discuss his experiences in World War II, he was also concerned that so little was known about the suffering and death in Italy. DeFazio and Vacula hopes that through this book, more people will begin to learn about the Italian Campaign and its hard-fought battles.

One of the most difficult reviews to write. Mr. DeFazio, like many others, was an impressive individual, and you see this inside this 57 pages of content. The almost 70 pages of photos is rather nice, but would have been better if this book was printed on quality paper. On better paper, the book would be an improvement on the quality of construction and help with the photos and then become a coffee table book.
     The story consists of short memories of Mr. DeFazio's experience, which is more than I can gather from my military family members. Sadly, the detail is lacking from this book, but it still provides an important account of the 143rd Regiment of the 36th ID. The style of writing is typical of some of the memoirs other men have written or posted on their personal website. Each chapter appears as a separate story without any type of transition and lacking in the detail that would elevate the story and DeFazio's experience to the reader.
     It does not give enough to push forward the experience of a soldier, especially Mr. DeFazio. Had there been a formal interview to gather the needed detail, this book could have been a home run. I do thank Valerie DeFazio Vacula for publishing this story. I wanted to give this a 5, but the book itself tells a different story.

Publisher's Comment: Like many veterans who want to tell their story, they don't have the capability to recall everything that happened, or even some of the things that happened, in the detail that many of us would like. Would you be able to recall every single thin g that happened over seeral years, or even a single year—especially during a traumatic event like war? And many veterans cannot bring themselves to tell, or even remember, some of what happened to them and others around them.
     As for the dings on quality, the books I publish are printed on demand and that method does not allow for printing parts of a book, such as the photos, on better paper. Printing the entire book on better paper would increase the price and then this reviewer and others wouldn't even buy the book, or if they did, complain about the high price. No matter what you do, there will always be people who need to complain about something; apparently they think that to be a good reviewer you have to find something negative.
     This book was not meant to be a "coffee table book"—a style of book whiuch I generally detest because too often they are exercises in graphic design excesses, often at the expense of substantive content. The photos, most of which I added, are only meant to provide a brief look at the war in Italy.
     The author and his daughter both commended me on how much better this edition was over their self-published edition, with which they were sorely disappointed, because the publisher of that edition actually came and interviewed Albert and despite that, still managed to produce an inferior product.

I was looking for a book about the Italian Campaign, trying to learn more about where my father was and what the war was like for him. I came across this book on Amazon and bought it for my Kindle app. I am so glad that Albert DeFazio shared his story. Though my father was in the Army Air Corps, not the Infantry, much of what Albert DeFazio wrote about reminded me of the bits and pieces of my father's stories from WWII. This book helped fill in some gaps and gave details that helped give me more understanding of my father's service. I'm so deeply appreciative that the author took the time to share his story. A great account of serving in Italy. Thanks so much for writing your story for others to read.
—Nina N. West

A great read! As a son of a World War II veteran of the Italian Campaign I had the sense of what it was like to be there. Many veterans do not talk about their experiences but Mr. DeFazio shared his with his daughter Valarie. The book includes many personal photos from Mr. Defazio's war years. Thank you, Mr. DeFazio and Valarie for writing this book. It gives a first hand account of what it was like to be in the Italian campaign. This story brought me a little closer to my late father. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in an up close and personal account of what it was like to be there.

A grippingly-written memoir of a 36th Division infantryman during World War II. I'd recommend this book to anyone, as it will help you to place yourself in the shoes of your fathers, grandfathers or great-grandfathers during the Italian campaign in WWII, and to truly appreciate their day-to-day living conditions and sacrifices in combat. The accompanying photos, period-era logistical maps and other ephemera places the reader right in the midst of Mr. DeFazio's experience. A truly wonderful read!

A well written personal account of the Italian Campaign. Mr. DeFazio's incredible experience reminds us of the dedication and personal sacrifice our military heroes have given to our country. We are so proud of you and all the brave soldiers who have served our country. Thank you, Mr. DeFazio, for your service and for sharing this amazing story with us.

Coming from the son of a combat veteran who fought with the same regiment, you will find this story to be extremely accurate in the experiences of these brave men!
—W. Lindauer

After a few pages, it's like you are there! You experience the war on a personal basis. Well written, couldn't put it down!
—Ray Dixon

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