Good Americans: Italian and Jewish Immigrants during the First World War

By Christopher M. Sterba | Go to book overview

2
“Get in Out of the Draft”
Raising Volunteers and the Italian Response in New Haven

James Ceriani's life represented one of New Haven's best-known Italian immigrant success stories. At the age of fourteen, he left his family in northern Italy to come to America. He settled in the Elm City and worked for several years as a waiter before raising enough money to purchase his own restaurant and cabaret. A talented businessman, Ceriani was one of the few Italian entrepreneurs to leave the confines of the colonia. His place, the Cafe´ Mellone, was only a block from the city green, and his regular advertisements in the daily papers showed a keen sense of the American market. Promoting his businessman's lunch in the spring of 1917, Ceriani noted an added attraction to the cafe´'s live music and good food: “The Spring Shopping brings down many of the fair sex these bright March days,” his ads hinted, “and we notice our dining room filled with the ladies during the noon hours.” 1

Ceriani was also a two-year veteran of the Connecticut National Guard. When Woodrow Wilson called up the country's National Guard units for immediate service in late March 1917, the owner of the Cafe´ Mellone dropped everything and reported for active duty. Then thirty-nine years old, Sergeant Ceriani spent the next several months drilling with his unit at nearby training camps. He was also assigned to recruit new men for the company. Driving his car through the Elm City's Italian neighborhoods, he used his advertising savvy to persuade dozens of young men to “join the colors.” By early June his “untiring efforts” had provided many of the fifty men that were needed to bring the unit up to the full combat strength of seventy-four soldiers. Virtually all of these men were of Italian descent. 2

The “Italian machine gun company,” as it came to be known throughout the city, had been in existence since 1915. City Sheriff Frank Palmieri, an immigrant who had built a prosperous real estate and insurance business in New Haven, was the main mover behind the outfit's creation. He rounded up fifty local Italian men to petition the state to become one of Connecti

-34-

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Good Americans: Italian and Jewish Immigrants during the First World War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents *
  • Good Americans *
  • Introduction - The Melting Pot Goes to War 3
  • 1 - The Heyday of the New Immigrant Enclave 9
  • I - Your Country Needs You 31
  • 2 - Raising Volunteers and the Italian Response in New Haven 34
  • 3 - The Draft and New York Jewry 53
  • II - Training the New Immigrant Soldier 83
  • 4 - Being Italian in the Yankee Division 86
  • 5 - Being Jewish in the National Army 105
  • III - The Home Front 131
  • 6 - More Than Ever, We Feel Proud to Be Italians 133
  • 7 - New York Jewry Must Do Its Duty 153
  • 8 - Survival and Victory on the Western Front 175
  • Epilogue - A New Voice in Politics 202
  • Notes 213
  • Selected Bibliography 251
  • Index 265
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