From A Far Shore: A different World War II story
Updated: Oct 22, 2022
This article first appeared as the cover story in the September 2022 edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication
• Related Coverage — Exclusive Q&A with WWII veteran Diego Mozzanica
By Bruce Deckert — Editor-in-Chief • Today Magazine
Welcome to a different kind of World War II story — Today Magazine has reported WWII accounts of local U.S. veterans, but this is the first time we’re reporting a veteran’s story that begins on the other side of the war
THE UNITED STATES entered World War II in December 1941, joining the Allies to vanquish the twin global threats of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan — yet there was a third primary nation among the infamous Axis powers: Fascist Italy.
Diego Mozzanica’s World War II story begins in Italy and ends in an internment prison camp in Germany. After the war, he returned to Italy for a decade before coming to America and becoming a U.S. citizen.
Mozzanica was born in 1924 in Lecco, Italy, near Lake Como. In March 1942, at the age of 17, he enlisted in the Italian Navy — at the same time that thousands of American teenagers were enlisting in the U.S. military to likewise support their nation. Mozzanica explains that from a young age he and other Italian youth were indoctrinated to believe the Fascist Party provided the best answer for the Italian people.
After training in Venice as a Navy radio telegraphist, he eventually was stationed in Split, Yugoslavia in June 1943. Three short months later — on September 8, 1943 — Italy surrendered to the Allies, setting in motion Mozzanica’s journey to an internment prison camp in Nazi Germany.
Prisoner stories connected to World War II are as countless as the sand on the seashore and the stars in the sky:
• Elie Weisel and his harrowing memoir — “Night” — about surviving the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, although his parents perished before the camps were liberated.
• Corrie ten Boom and her poignant account — “The Hiding Place” — about saving hundreds of Jewish people and then surviving the Ravensbruck camp, yet her father and sister died in captivity.
• Untold multitudes — whose names aren’t as well-known — who either were annihilated among the 6 million Jews and millions of others, or who became Holocaust survivors testifying as firsthand witnesses about one of the darkest chapters in human history.
• POWs in the European and Pacific theaters of war.
• Plus American citizens in internment prison camps on U.S. soil where over 100,000 Japanese-Americans were forcibly detained in evident disregard of the U.S. Constitution.
The difference between the German internment camps and concentration camps was significant, of course.
Internment camps were intended to provide slave labor for the Nazi war machine, while concentration camps were designed to be death camps to carry out Adolf Hitler’s insidious and horrific “final solution” — the mass murder of all Jewish people.
When Italy surrendered in September 1943, some members of the Italian military were given a choice: join Nazi Germany and fight against the Allies for the rest of the war, or become prisoners. For Mozzanica and most of his Navy comrades, the decision was simple — they refused to align with the Nazis and effectively became prisoners of war in internment camps. Via the apparent threat of death, they were coerced into forced labor that supported the German war effort.
Other Italian troops who surrendered to their recent German partners met another fate. For example, according to History.com, the Nazis killed over 6600 Italian soldiers on the Greek island of Cephalonia just west of mainland Greece.
History and human nature are surely convoluted terrain — perhaps comparable to Mount Everest trail maps. Indeed, history contains complexities and inequities that mirror the complexity and incomprehensible inequity found in the human condition.
Three WWII examples:
• Japan’s shell-shocking attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, ushered the United States into World War II — and in August 1945, America’s shell-shocking atomic attacks on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki effectively ended the war, yet these dual A-bomb decisions are debated to this day.
• U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt is revered by many for his leadership before and during WWII, yet some criticize his inaction regarding the Holocaust — among these critics was Wiesel, as documented in a groundbreaking book published by Simsbury-based Mandel Vilar Press, “Elie Wiesel: An Extraordinary Life and Legacy.”
• Over 1 million black Americans served their country in the U.S. military during World War II — but after battling valiantly on foreign soil, many returned home to a Jim Crow South that legalized racial segregation and essentially denied the freedom they had fought to defend.
When WWII ended in Europe in May 1945, Mozzanica and his fellow prisoners were freed from their internment camp — but the first three days after their release were marked by chaos and uncertainty because the Allies hadn’t arrived yet, although the camp's prison gates were left open by the retreating Nazis.
For two days the men moved carefully by daylight, laying low in fields to avoid the thousands of fleeing Nazi soldiers, and then climbed trees at night to evade detection — as well as possible recapture and death.
Mozzanica and his just-freed comrades tied themselves in those trees with their belts for two nights so they wouldn’t fall down in case they fell asleep — for further details, see Today Magazine’s exclusive Q&A with Mozzanica.
On the third day, they encountered the advancing Allies and a U.S. convoy took them to a camp near Cologne, Germany, where thousands of freed POWs from different nations were given food and lodging. However, the repatriation process — that is, the return of these former POWs to their home countries — took months.
History and human nature are surely convoluted terrain — perhaps comparable to Mount Everest trail maps
V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day) occurred on May 8, 1945. But Mozzanica had to wait at the Allies camp until October 1945, when he was finally able to return to Italy.
V-J Day (Victory over Japan Day) is officially celebrated in the United States on September 2, the day in 1945 when Japan formally signed the surrender agreement, although the surrender was announced in the U.S. on August 14, 1945. So this September marks the 77th anniversary of V-J Day.
In January 1946, Mozzanica re-enlisted in the Italian Navy and served for another 10 years. In the summer of 1952, he traveled to the United States for 10 months of NATO-connected Naval radar training in Tennessee. While in the U.S., he visited his mother’s best friend and her family for two weeks at Christmastime in Hartford, CT — and on this sojourn Mozzanica met Gloria, the daughter of his mother’s friend. He returned to Italy in April 1953, while maintaining a long-distance relationship with Gloria.
After this, she also visited him in Italy — their friendship blossomed into courtship and culminated in their marriage in July 1955. Yes, they celebrated their 67th anniversary this year.
In January 1956, a 31-year-old Diego requested and was granted a discharge from the Italian Navy, and he and Gloria settled in Hartford, where she was born. He became a U.S. citizen in 1957 and later trained to become a licensed tradesman in multiple disciplines.
Diego and Gloria have two daughters — Lydia was born in 1957, Christine in 1960. In the spring of 1965, the Mozzanica family moved to Bloomfield, to a neighborhood just off a picturesque country road near Penwood State Park. Diego and Gloria live in the same home to this day, almost six decades later.
Lydia and her husband Peter Tedone have been Simsbury residents for 35 years. In 1997, a decade after they moved to town in ’87, Lydia Tedone joined the Simsbury board of education.
She was the board’s chair from 2011-15, and she has been a member of three further high-level education agencies: the National School Boards Association, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (serving as president in 2011) and the Capitol Region Education Council (serving as chair in 2007 and 2008).
Peter Tedone retired as chairman and CEO of Windsor-based Vantis Life Insurance Company in 2019.
He currently serves on the boards of multinational insurance and investment firms and several nonprofit organizations, including the Simsbury Volunteer Ambulance Association — and he served as a volunteer EMT for over 30 years.
Meanwhile, Christine and her husband Lars Carlsten live in Charlotte, N.C.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend. So says an ancient proverb.
What about the friend of my enemy who becomes the prisoner of my enemy— is he my friend, or does he remain my enemy?
What about the ally of my enemy who becomes the POW of my enemy and soon becomes the ally of my nation’s military — isn’t he my friend?
What about the prisoner of my enemy who becomes a citizen of my country —
he is surely my friend, right?
If you find these potentially convoluted questions confusing, welcome to the club,
and welcome to the life and WWII times of Diego Mozzanica — and every other soul who endured the human horror and experienced the human heroism of World War II. +
• Today editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert is an award-winning journalist
• More Coverage of Local WWII Veterans
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• Actually, a caveat — the June 2019 magazine is the only one of the above editions that didn't win an SPJ award — yet, with as much humility and honesty as possible, the publisher of Today Publishing believes that our story about the 75th anniversary of D-Day in June 2019 is also award-worthy ... and likewise believes this is true of many unsung and un-awarded stories
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SPJ = Society of Professional Journalists