Media


IAVM honors founder at standout event — August 2017

Vietnam hero gives rousing talk — January 2017

From Galewood to Afghanistan — December 2015

Medal of Honor shines at grand reopening – December 2014

D-Day event a huge success! – June 2014

Honoring our heroes – January 2011

WTTW to air WWII film – September 2009

Living history – October 2008

Hall of valor – May 2006

Heroes welcome – February 2006



Fra Noi — August 2017

IAVM honors founder at standout event

The Italian American Veterans Museum pulled out all the stops for its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award gala, staging an event that was worthy of its honoree. More than 400 well-wishers converged upon the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont on June 8 to pay tribute to museum founder Anthony J. Fornelli.

The sounds of Jerry Vale, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra filled the air as guests partook of a sumptuous buffet featuring carving stations and a premium open bar. Distributed throughout the room were copies of a gorgeous, deeply personal book packed with more than 200 pages of congratulations, reminisces and praise for our man of the hour.

At 8 p.m., all eyes turned to the stage as legendary entertainer Tom Dreesen warmed up the crowd. Then came a flawlessly executed multimedia presentation during which Tom and eight fellow speakers shared accomplishments and insight from every phase of Tony’s distinguished career.

As photos from childhood to the present flashed across the screen, St. Ignatius Vice President John Chandler spoke about Tony’s generosity toward his alma mater, past Justinian President Leonard Amari revealed Tony’s impact on the legal profession, retired State Senator James DeLeo talked about Tony’s career as a public servant, financial services executive John Iberl accounted for Tony’s success as a business leader, past UNICO National President Mike Veselka highlighted Tony’s gifts as a community leader, Onesti Entertainment CEO Ron Onesti spotlighted Tony’s talents as a showman, Fra Noi Editor Paul Basile delved into Tony’s profound impact on the Italian-American community, and daughter Toni Kilgallon shared heartfelt stories about Tony as a family man and friend. In accepting the award, Tony urged the audience to carry on the work that he had started.

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White was an honored guest at the event, and current UNICO National president Dominic Nicastro presented Tony with a special award from his organization.



Fra Noi — January 2017

VetVietnam hero gives rousing talk

An enthusiastic crowd was held spellbound by Medal of Honor recipient Allen James Lynch during a special presentation hosted by the Italian American Veterans Museum.

More than 100 attendees, many of them veterans, flocked to the Community Center at Casa Italia on Nov. 14 to share an evening with a true American hero.
As an Army sergeant during the Vietnam War, Lynch earned the nation’s highest military decoration while saving the lives of three wounded comrades on the field of battle.

The evening was passionately moderated by IAVM Memorabilia Curator Steve Corbo. After calling World War I Veteran Carl Liture to the stage to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, Corbo sang thIe praises of museum founder Anthony Fornelli, introduced a host of dignitaries and stirringly introduced the featured speaker before inviting him to the stage.

During his formal presentation, Lynch urged the nation to come together after a bitterly divisive national election, noting that he has always respected the post of the presidency, whoever has occupied the office.

In a broad-ranging question-and-answer session, Lynch modestly recounted his heroics, spoke poignantly about survivor’s remorse, and offered solace and inspiration to a young veteran who was having difficulty adjusting to civilian life.

“We’re so proud that Mr. Lynch accepted our invitation to speak at the Casa,” Fornelli says. “It was a privilege to be able to showcase him in that way.”



Fra Noi — December 2015

VetFrom Galewood to Afghanistan

On Monday, Nov. 9, U.S. Air Force veteran William “Billy” Castellano gave a riveting power point presentation of his time in the Middle East to a capacity crowd at the museum.

Billy told his story of how a boy from Galewood knew he wanted to follow in his family’s tradition of service to the United States military, joining the Air Force as a young man.

As a member of the U.S. Air Force Security Forces, he was tasked with safeguarding nuclear weapons, codes and components.

Deployed to the Middle East multiple times, he spent a year in Afghanistan as an international police mentor for the U.S. Department of State, serving in combat while embedded with the U.S. Army in the volatile Ghazni province.

As an adviser to the Afghan National Police, he helped establish and oversee effective policing in rural areas of the country where no functional police presence previously existed.

After serving his time, he returned home to continue securing safety as a police officer.

As a police officer, he became a law enforcement instructor and trainer in multiple disciplines including firearms, Active Shooter Response, defensive tactics and use-of-force to name a few.

In 2005, he deployed to New Orleans immediately following hurricane Katrina to support rescue and recovery operations. He is also a graduate of the Department of Homeland Security and ILEAS SWAT course.

After many years on the force, he contracted to work as an international police mentor for the U.S. Department of State.

Billy’s presentation offered insight into the “human side” of combat and made us all proud of his contributions to world peace as so many before him have done, and so many after him continue to do.



Fra Noi — December 2014

Photo1Medal of Honor shines at Grand Reopening

The Italian American Veterans Museum took a quantum leap forward on Sept. 28, celebrating its grand reopening with the dedication of a new exhibit celebrating Italian-American Medal of Honor recipients.

State Senator Don Harmon and Melrose Park Mayor Ben Mazzulla were among the dignitaries who took part in the noon dedication ceremony, which was attended by nearly 200 well-wishers, including more than four dozen veterans.

The United States Navy Band from the Great Lakes Naval Station and the Marine Color Guard from the 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment from Foster Avenue in Chicago graced the event with their presence.

Joe and Ann Marie Quercia of Freddy’s Pizza, Anthony Calderone of Illinois Alarm, the Italian American Police Association, the Italian American War Veterans, Dominic Sergi of Rex Electric, Vito Palella of Season Comfort, and Dominic Verlotta and William Bianchi of Speed-O-Lite Printing were presented with certificates in recognition of generosity above and beyond the call of duty.

The centerpiece of the new exhibit is an actual Medal of Honor, bestowed upon the museum for display purposes by the United States Army. “I can’t tell you how humbled we are to be able to showcase a Medal of Honor,” says Steve Corbo, the museum’s first vice president and memorabilia curator. “To my knowledge, there is only one other Medal of Honor on display in the Chicago area.”

Included in the Medal of Honor exhibit are profiles of all 26 Italian-American recipients. “These are the bravest of the brave,” says museum founder Anthony Fornelli. “Their service above and beyond the call of duty is truly astounding, and we’re proud to showcase that.”

They include heroes from all branches of the service, such as Marine Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone, Navy Chaplain Vincent R. Capodanno and Army Captain Humbert R. Versace.

And their heroism spans the decades, from Colonel Louis P. De Cesnola (Civil War), Private Michael Valente (World War I) and Private First Class Gino J. Merli (World War II), to Captain Reginald B. Desiderio (Korea), Sergeant First Class Louis R. Rocco (Vietnam) and Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta (Afghanistan).



Fra Noi — June 2014

D-Day3-web2D-Day event a huge success!

The Italian American Veterans Museum marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day with a stirring commemoration on June 6.

Nearly two-dozen veterans attended the event, including three who participated in the D-Day invasion. The commemoration drew a capacity crowd and attracted the attention of CBS News.

CBS reporter Mike Parker and cameraman Chris McKnight arrived two hours before the presentation to film the museum and interview veterans. Their coverage appeared on the 10 p.m. news.

Click here to view the coverage.

D-Day2-webAll the veterans in attendance were acknowledged by name at the start of the commemoration, after which they led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.

After offering insights into the war in Europe leading up to and including D-Day, museum Memorabilia Curator Steve Corbo invited the three D-Day veterans to the front.

A standing ovation greeted Seaman First Class Joseph Carioti, who shuttled troops and equipment to Omaha Beach on the day of the attack; Private First Class Louis Venditti, who parachuted behind enemy lines in the wee hours before the invasion; and Private First Class Bob Wilcox, who landed on Omaha Beach later that afternoon.

The commemoration concluded with a screening of an episode of the award-winning BBC documentary “World at War.”

“The veterans were just beaming as the applause of the audience washed over them,” Corbo said. “It was a truly gratifying moment for me personally, all three of the veterans and everyone in the audience. I was so proud to be a part of it.”



Fra Noi — January 2011

Jim Distasio accepts a Midwest Emmy for the documentary "5000 Miles From Home" as fellow honoree Paul Basile (right) looks on with pride.

Jim Distasio accepts a Midwest Emmy for the documentary “5000 Miles From Home” as fellow honoree Paul Basile (right) looks on with pride.

Honoring our heroes

“5,000 Miles From Home” earned the title “the little documentary that could” along with a host of accolades in 2010.

Funded entirely by a $22,000 grant from the UNICO Foundation, the hour-long film about World War II’s impact on the Chicago-area Italian-American community garnered two Midwest Emmys this fall on the strength of five nominations. The victories capped a banner year that included six national Telly awards and a viewers’ choice nod from the local PBS station, which aired the documentary twice in two years.

“I couldn’t be prouder,” says Executive Producer Anthony Fornelli. “‘These honors are a testament to the courage of a generation of heroes and the talent of a dedicated band of filmmakers.”

“5,000 Miles From Home” tells the riveting tale of tens of thousands of Italian kids from the rough-and-tumble streets of Chicago who became American men in the crucible of war. In-depth interviews with two dozen veterans are interwoven with film footage and archival photos as the film tracks the arc of their lives from working-class roots to wartime travails to the very different lives they lead when they come back home.

The documentary also serves as a testament to the vision and perseverance of Fornelli, a past president of UNICO; founder of the Italian American Veterans Museum in Stone Park, Ill.; and publisher of the Chicago-area Italian-American newspaper, Fra Noi.

The documentary was conceived in 2007 by Fornelli as a fundraiser and awareness builder for the museum, as well as a tribute to his uncle James Orlando “Lon” Fornelli. “Uncle Lon” was an Army sergeant stationed at Guadalcanal during the war, and earned a Silver Star after single-handedly dispatching 13 Japanese snipers in a valiant effort to get his platoon out of a battle zone and back to safety.

“Lon didn’t talk much about what he did during the war,” Fornelli says. “He was very typical of that generation — men who did their duty and returned home to their lives without thought of acclaim. The goal of ‘5,000 Miles From Home’ was to spotlight these heroes and offer them the opportunity to share their unique experiences with future generations.”

Fornelli and Fra Noi editor Paul Basile, who served as the film’s producer and co-writer, enlisted the help of co-directors Jim Distasio and Mark McCutcheon of Forward March Media to bring the veterans’ stories to life. After amassing more than 50 hours of interviews and historical footage, the filmmakers began the arduous task of assembling all of the pieces into a feature-length movie.

“We were blessed with a treasure trove of information — everything from the vets’ oral histories to the personal mementos and photographs they shared — that gave the film a distinct perspective not typically seen in your run-of-the-mill war documentary,” Distasio says. “It’s a one-of-a-kind story about these humble Italian-American guys from the old neighborhood who contributed to a defining moment in American history.”

To give the film a distinctly Chicago voice to match its local subject matter, the filmmakers approached legendary newsman Bob Sirott to serve as the film’s narrator. Sirott, who previously hosted the news program “Chicago Tonight” on WTTW, graciously donated his time in an effort to keep the film on budget.

“‘5,000 Miles From Home’ is a touching portrait of Chicago’s Italian-American community and its contributions to America’s victory in World War II,” Sirott says. “This is a stirring and worthy tribute, not only to this proud ‘Greatest Generation,’ but also to the uniqueness of the American way of life.”

Distasio and Basile earned an Emmy for writing the documentary, and Joe Flood received another for sound.  Earlier in the year, the film took home Telly awards for documentary, cultural programming, writing, music, sound and editing.

To order a DVD, visit www.5000milesfromhome.com.



Fra Noi — September 2009

"5,000 Miles From Home" will enjoy an areawide audience on Oct. 25 when Channel 11 airs the stirring portrait of Italian-American bravery during World War II.

“5,000 Miles From Home” will enjoy an areawide audience on Oct. 25 when Channel 11 airs the stirring portrait of Italian-American bravery during World War II.

WTTW to air WWII film

Spread the word, program your TiVos and microwave some popcorn. “5,000 Miles From Home,” the first feature-length documentary from the Italian American Veterans Museum and Library, will make its television debut on WTTW (Channel 11) at 6 p.m. on Oct. 25.

The film, funded by a generous grant from the UNICO Foundation and narrated by Emmy Award-winning broadcaster Bob Sirott, tells the story of a generation of Italian kids from the rough-and-tumble streets of Chicago who proudly answered the call to serve their country during World War II. Through in-depth interviews with more than 20 veterans, historical film footage and rare archival photographs, “5,000 Miles From Home” examines the lives of these brave men — from their humble beginnings in working-class Chicago to their experiences at the front to the very different lives they would lead when they returned home.

After a successful public screening at Casa Italia for the veterans and their families in October 2008, the WTTW premiere represents the perfect opportunity to share this unique story with a broader audience, says Anthony J. Fornelli, the film’s executive producer and founder of the Italian American Veterans Museum and Library.

“From the very beginning of this project, we wanted to share the experiences of our community’s World War II veterans not just with our ethnic community but with the world,” Fornelli says. “WTTW’s stellar track record of highlighting the city’s diverse cultures made this a perfect partnership, and we’re immensely proud to be a part of their programming.”

The documentary was conceived in 2007 by Fornelli as a fundraising and awareness builder for the museum, as well as a tribute to his uncle James Orlando “Lon” Fornelli. “Uncle Lon” was an Army sergeant stationed at Guadalcanal during the war, and earned a Silver Star after single-handedly dispatching 13 Japanese snipers in a valiant effort to get his platoon out of a battle zone and back to safety.

“Lon didn’t talk much about what he did during the war,” Fornelli says. “He was very typical of that generation — men who did their duty and returned home to their lives without thought of acclaim. The goal of ‘5,000 Miles From Home’ was to spotlight these heroes and offer them the opportunity to share their unique experiences with future generations.”

Fornelli and Fra Noi editor Paul Basile, who served as the film’s producer and co-writer, enlisted the help of co-directors Jim Distasio and Mark McCutcheon of Forward March Media to bring the veterans’ stories to life. After amassing more than 50 hours of interviews and historical footage, the filmmakers began the arduous task of assembling all of the pieces into a feature-length movie.

“We were blessed with a treasure trove of information — everything from the vets’ oral histories to the personal mementos and photographs they shared — that gave the film a distinct perspective not typically seen in your run-of-the-mill war documentary,” Distasio says. “It’s a one-of-a-kind story about these humble Italian-American guys from the old neighborhood who contributed to a defining moment in American history.”

To give the film a distinctly Chicago voice to match its local subject matter, the filmmakers approached legendary newsman Bob Sirott to serve as the film’s narrator. Sirott, who previously hosted the news program “Chicago Tonight” on WTTW, graciously donated his time in an effort to keep the film on budget.

“‘5,000 Miles From Home’ is a touching portrait of Chicago’s Italian-American community and its contributions to America’s victory in World War II,” Sirott says. “This is a stirring and worthy tribute, not only to this proud ‘Greatest Generation,’ but also to the uniqueness of the American way of life.”

After the Oct. 25 broadcast, the filmmakers encourage members of the Italian-American community to show their support for future airings of the film by leaving a comment at WTTW ‘s website at www.wttw.com, calling the station at 773-583-5000 or writing the programming staff at WTTW11, 5400 N. St. Louis Ave., Chicago, Ill., 60625

“Our hope is that the film has a long shelf-life,” Distasio says. “We are excited at the prospect of bringing the story of our hometown heroes to the widest audience possible.”

DVDs of the film are currently available for sale at www.5000milesfromhome.com. For details, call 708-338-0690.



 Fra Noi — October 2008

The new documentary "5,000 Miles From Home" brings the World War II era -- and beyond -- vividly to life by focusing on the men who lived through it.

The new documentary “5,000 Miles From Home” brings the World War II era — and beyond — vividly to life by focusing on the men who lived through it.

Living history

by Paul Basile

The Italian American Veterans Museum and Library has made a quantum leap forward with the imminent release of “5,000 Miles From Home.”

Premiering to rave reviews on Oct. 4, the documentary film — which explores the impact of World War II on Chicago’s Italian community — will soon be available on DVD.

Not bad for an entity that, a few years ago, was little more than a dream nurtured by its founder, Anthony Fornelli.

“I’m extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished in such a short period of time,” Fornelli says, “and I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve achieved with the creation of this documentary.”

The nephew of a Silver Star recipient during World War II, Fornelli has long envisioned a shrine to Italian-American bravery.

In 2006, that dream became a reality with the opening of the Italian American Veterans Museum and Library on the third floor of the Office Center at Casa Italia in Stone Park.

The museum gathers, catalogs, restores, archives and displays military artifacts and wartime memorabilia, and the library contains books and films about military conflicts throughout American history, and the role that Italian Americans have played in those conflicts.

“The IAVML explores our unique contributions to the security of the United States, and shares those contributions with the public at large,” Fornelli explains.

The museum has grown by leaps and bounds over the last three years thanks to the dedication of Fornelli and his committee — Tena Amico, Larry Battisti, Camille Charnota, Steve Corbo, Carmine Corcione, Mary DeSanto, Joe DiFranco, Joe Fornelli, Eugene Giudice, Vic Giustino, Linda Grisolia, Carmen and Babe Gurrieri, Ralph and Angeline Imbrogno, Chuck (co-chairman) and Cecelia Mascari, Marguerite Petitte, Toni Petric, Marge Porcelli (co-chairman), Vic Quilici, Gino and RoseMarie Renda, JoAnn Serpico, and Dominic Verlotta — and the talent and hard work of volunteers like Fra Noi Production Director Mary Racila.

Once the museum was up and running, one of the first orders of business was the recording of oral histories of World War II veterans, and the creation of a documentary celebrating their accomplishments.

“With one in 10 service men and women sharing an Italian ancestry, World War II can justly be called the Italian-American war,” Fornelli says. “With so few World War II veterans left, we felt that it was crucial to gather and tell their story now.”

Fra Noi played a pivotal role in the creation of “5,000 Miles From Home.” Many of the veterans interviewed for the documentary were initially the subjects of Linda Grisolia’s War Stories profiles. And one of the driving forces behind the project was Jim Distasio, who interned at Fra Noi throughout his college career.

When it came time to fund the project, Fornelli turned to his old friends at UNICO National, for which he served as president during the 1970s. The organization generously donated $22,800 to the cause.

From the start, Distasio and his fellow producer/director, Mark McCutcheon, made the decision to waive all compensation from the grant, choosing to devote every penny to the project itself.

That investment has paid off handsomely in a documentary that is both rich in history and deeply personal.

Forming the backbone of the film are more than two dozen oral histories with the following World War II veterans and family members: Mario Avignone, Henry andRudolph Basile, Larry Battisti, Frank Clarizio and Jerry Clarizio, Vito D’Alessandro, Marie Davino, John Del Medico, Louis Dodaro, Joseph Esposito, Vince Farin, John Ferraro, Anthony Fornelli, Alfred Gallo, Nello Gamberdino, Raymond Gennetti, George Leoni, Lawrence Maffia, Angelo Malizzio, Albert Onesti, Bruno Perino, Dominick Russo and Sam Sparacio.

The interviewees gave generously of their time as well as their personal collections of wartime photos and other memorabilia.

Deftly weaving together excerpts from the interviews with still photos and historical footage, Distasio and McCutcheon tell a riveting tale of how a generation of Italian boys from Chicago became American men in the crucible of World War II.

More than just a wartime chronicle, “5,000 Miles From Home” tracks the lives of the interviewees from birth to the present.

“We asked every veteran the same set of questions, and even though the particulars of their lives differed, their experiences were remarkably similar,” Distasio says. “It was like two dozen individuals speaking for the consciousness of a generation.”

To a man, the interviewees were the sons of immigrants who spoke Italian at home, learned English at school and hung out with friends of all ethnic backgrounds. When the war broke out “they went off to save the world, then came back to transform the world they grew up in,” as the documentary so aptly notes in its opening minutes.

In the course of an hour, the documentary manages to pack in enough laughter and tears, drama and inspiration, to fill several lifetimes.

“This was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve every worked on,” Distasio says. “The guys we interviewed were so humble and heroic, it’s no wonder they’re called ‘the Best Generation.'”

The response from the community to the Oct. 4 premiere at Casa Italia has been overwhelming.

“The film is a fascinating look at how World War II changed the lives of the young men of our community,” says Fra Noi genealogy columnist Daniel Niemiec. “I gained a new appreciation of the patriotic men who risked everything for their country.”

“It depicted real heroes, the guys next door who didn’t ask for recognition, fame or fortune. They unselfishly performed the duties and responsibilities that enabled us to enjoy the freedoms that we have today,” says Italian American Executives of Transportation President Vito D’Ambrosio. “It’s great to listen to them tell their stories. I’m in awe of the sacrifices they made and I’m proud to share their heritage.”

“This enlightening documentary brings tears of pride to everyone who sees it,” says Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans President Jo Ann Serpico. “It should be mandatory viewing for all Italian Americans, especially our youth.”

“It was truly moving, and the professionalism and talent that went into its preparation is obvious,” says war buff, Justinian past president and Fra Noi columnist Leonard Amari. “A real treasure that’s a must for every video library.”

And the documentary will soon be part of a much larger package. The DVD, which will be available for shipping by mid-December, contains profiles of the veterans that appeared in Fra Noi, extended outtakes from the video interviews and a peek inside the Italian American Veterans Museum and Library.

To order a DVD, visit www.5000milesfromhome.com.



Fra Noi — May 2006

Members of the Italian American Veterans Museum and Library Committee show off some of the artifacts that will be on display at the grand opening.

Members of the Italian American Veterans Museum and Library Committee show off some of the artifacts that will be on display at the grand opening.

Hall of valor

by Paul Basile

What role did Italians play in the birth of our nation?

How many Italian-Americans have received the country’s highest award for military valor?

What role did Giuseppe Garibaldi play during the Civil War?

Who was the only soldier in history to earn the nation’s two top military honors?

How many Italian-Americans served during World War II?

What role did Italian-Americans play on the home front during WW II?

How many of the top spots on the Joint Chiefs of Staff are held by Italian-Americans?

The answers to these and other questions will be revealed at the Italian-American Veterans Museum and Library.

Located at 3800 Division St. in Stone Park, on the third floor of the Office Center at Casa Italia, the museum will be open to the public for the first time over the Memorial Day weekend.

A grand opening from noon to 5 p.m. on May 28 will feature refreshments, patriotic music, a ribbon-cutting ceremony with color guard at 2 p.m. and a host of exhibits honoring the contributions of Italian-Americans to the defense of our nation from the Revolutionary War to the present.

“I am very excited about the grand opening and I’m very proud of the work the committee has done to make it possible,” says Anthony Fornelli, chairman of the committee and the driving force behind the creation of the museum.

The Italian-American Veterans Museum and Library is a permanent, high-quality, aesthetic, scholarly and educational collection that explores our unique contributions to the security of the United States and shares those contributions with the public at large.

The museum was created to promote a better understanding of Italian-American heritage and character; pay tribute to the Italian-American men and women who have served on the front line and on  the home front, in war and at peace; and encourage future generations of Italian-Americans to commemorate the bravery of their ancestors.

The museum gathers, catalogs, restores and archives military artifacts and wartime memorabilia. In addition to permanent and changing displays, the museum will contain interactive and other electronic exhibits, a database of videotaped oral histories, and a library.

Future projects include a traveling exhibit, public programs, a documentary and other educational initiatives. Admission to the grand opening is free. For more information, call 708-338-0690.



Fra Noi — February 2006

Chairman Anthony Fornelli (center) and co-chairs Marge Porcelli and Chuck Mascari (left and right) welcome Silver Star recipient John Del Medico to Casa Italia, which will serve as the site of the fledgling Italian American Veterans Museum.

Chairman Anthony Fornelli (center) and co-chairs Marge Porcelli and Chuck Mascari (left and right) welcome Silver Star recipient John Del Medico to Casa Italia, which will serve as the site of the fledgling Italian American Veterans Museum.

Heroes welcome

by Paul Basile

Italian Americans have long played a pivotal role in the defense of our nation.

We have served with honor in every military campaign from the Revolutionary War to the present.

More than a million served during World War II alone, accounting for nearly one out of ten enlisted men and comprising the largest ethnic group to serve in that great conflict.

Today, three of our own head up the Joint Chiefs of Staff: General Peter Pace (chairman), Admiral Edumund P. Giambastiani Jr. (vice chairman) and Lieutenant General Raymond T. Odierno (assistant to the chairman).

Along the way, we have earned countless Congressional Medals of Honor; Purple Hearts; Distinguished Service Crosses; Silver and Bronze Stars; Army, Navy and Air Force Medals and other commendations. Chief among these heroes was John Basilone, one of only four recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor to be celebrated recently by the U.S. Postal Service.

Despite performance above and beyond the call of duty for more than two centuries, there has never been a permanent tribute to these brave men and women on Italian heritage.

Until now, that is.

Thanks to the vision and perseverance of Far Noi Publisher Anthony J. Fornelli, the nation’s first Italian American Veterans Museum has been established at Casa Italia in Stone Park. Joining Fornelli as co-chairs of the recently formed Italian American Veterans Museum Committee are Marge Porcelli (past president, Italian American War Veterans Ladies Auxiliary 1) and Chuck Mascari (past commander, Italian American War Veterans Post 4).

Not a veteran himself, Fornelli was moved to action by what he saw in the daily newspapers and what he heard on the evening news.

“You open up the obituary section and you see countless American flags, many of them next to Italian surnames, and you hear that 2,000 veterans from World War II are passing away every day,” Fornelli says. “I felt that we had to do something now, before these stories are lost forever.”

The museum will be located at 3800 Division St. in Stone Park, on the third floor of the Office Center at Casa Italia. Fornelli had his sights set on the space from the moment he walked into it.

“It’s more than 2,000 square feet, which is large enough to accomplish what we need to accomplish. And it has the incredible additional benefit of containing 10 enormous, wood-and-glass display cases,” he explains. “They came from the Museum of Natural History, and heaven knows how the Scalabrini Fathers got them up there, but they are perfect for the purpose.”

A firm believer in Daniel Burnham’s advice to make no small plans, Fornelli envisions a complete and fitting tribute to our men- and women-at-arms.

“We want to spotlight the medal recipients, of course, but we also want to celebrate the unsung heroes: the men and women who might not have made it into the history books or onto the front page of the newspaper,” Porcelli says. “We want to preserve their stories so that their great-great-grandchildren will know what they did during the war.”

According to Mascari, the stories of those veterans who have passed way can also be preserved by videotaping still shots and the recollections of friends, relatives and comrades-at-arms. A modest donation will be requested for each oral history, with proceeds covering the costs of production and profits helping to fund the museum.

“We want to make this affordable for everyone and at the same time raise funds for the creation and upkeep of the museum,” Mascari says. “We will be assessing costs in the next couple of months and announcing our findings in upcoming issues of Fra Noi.”

Fornelli, Porcelli and Mascari will be joined on the committee by an all-star case that includes Larry Battisti (Italian American War Veterans Post 1 member), Italo Bove (current state commander and past Post 1 commander), Joe DiFranco (Post 2 commander), Vince Giampa (past national, state and Post 5 commander) Angeline Imbrogno (past Italian American War Veterans national, state and Auxiliary 2 president), Ralph Imbrogno (past state and Post 1 commander), Cecilia Mascari (state auxiliary president), Tony Mengarelli (past Post 2 commander), Theresa Petrone (Chicago Board of Elections commissioner, Chicago Memorial Day Commemorative Committee chairperson and Illinois Veterans History Project co-chair), Gino Renda (past state and Post 5 commander), Rose Marie Renda (past state auxiliary president), Angela Rinaldi (past national and state auxiliary president) and Jo Ann Serpico (Joint Civic Committee of Italian-Americans president and auxiliary 2 member). Joining them are local historians Dominic Candeloro and Vic Giustino, and Linda Grisolia, author of Fra Noi’s monthly War Stories feature.

Work has already begun on the museum, which will require carpeting, a fresh coat of paint and new electricity to pass muster. The goal, according to Fornelli, is to have the space battle ready by Memorial Day. Meanwhile, committee members are fanning out across the Chicago area to gather military memorabilia. Those items include uniforms, helmets, hats, boots and dog tags; backpacks, canteens and other military gear; medals, citations, decorations and other honors; v-mail and other letters to and from home; draft notices and other military documents; magazines, newspapers clippings and books; recruitment, war bonds and other posters; captured flags and other enemy items; model airplanes, ships and tanks; and flags, ration books, photos, etc.

Fornelli is donating $25,000 in seed money to launch the museum, but additional funds will be needed to make this dream a reality. To donate memorabilia or funds, call co-chairs Marge Porcelli at 708-456-5622 or Chuck Mascari at 630-980-3459.