Faces in the Book: A Bridge Between the U.S. and Italy

This panoramic group photograph shows the men of Company M of the 332nd Infantry at Camp Sherman, February 26, 1918. Via Ohio Memory.

To commemorate the Armistice Day Centennial as well as a battle that took place 100 years ago this month, the Museo della Battaglia Vittorio Veneto (Museum of the Battle of Vittorio Veneto) in Italy has created a website called Faces in the Book (facesinthebook.it) which honors the men of the American 332nd Infantry Regiment who fought in the fall 1918 battle. Researchers Giorgio Marinello and Franco Giuseppe Gobbato created Faces in the Book in conjunction with a permanent installation at the Memoriale dei Cavalieri in Vittorio Veneto, highlighting America’s intervention in Italy during World War I.

Sandusky, Ohio, resident Ralph Roesch wrote this letter to his family after the Armistice, as he could now finally share his experience in the 332nd Infantry. Courtesy of Sandusky Library via Ohio Memory.

Assembled and trained at Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, Ohio, the 332nd Infantry was part of the 83rd Division, also known as the “Ohio Division,” as most of its men were from Ohio. The 332nd was training in France in May 1918 when General Pershing selected the unit to be sent to the Italian Front at the request of the Italian government. In late July 1918, a total of 4,000 soldiers and 125 officers, including the 331st Infantry Regiment medical unit, arrived in Villafrance di Verona, Italy, under the command of Colonel William Wallace.

The 332nd was called to Italy for propaganda purposes with two responsibilities—to bolster Italian morale and to trick Austrian forces into thinking there was a large American presence in Italy. The men regularly organized staged marches on the Italian lines along the Piave River, without engaging in combat, changing their location and uniforms daily to convince Austrian aero-observers that large numbers of American units were deployed there. Italian government officials even requested that the American unit selected have as few Italian-Americans as possible, so that Austria would not entertain the possibility that these were Italian troops disguised as Americans. The 332nd also participated in public events like military medal decoration ceremonies, enabling them to interact with Italian civilians.

Finally in October 1918, the 332nd Infantry was summoned to advance to the front lines and cross the Piave. The unit’s men were assigned to the Italian 31st Division, and marched as part of the British XIV Corps across the Italian line in pursuit of fleeing Austrian troops crossing the Tagliamento River. Allied troops continued to push forward and seized the Austrian position on November 4th. Later that day, Italian and Austro-Hungarian officials signed an armistice agreement, ending conflict on the Italian Front, and bringing an end to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Otto F. Jaster, an Ohioan who served in Italy with the 332nd and who appears in the Faces in the Book service roster. Jaster enlisted in March 1918 and was a member Company C until his discharge on May 2, 1919. Upon his return home, he worked as a farmer until his death on December 5, 1923. Via Ohio Memory.

Faces in the Book features content from two books owned by a private collector; History of Company K which contains photographs of each member of the company, and a book which lists the names of the men of the unit who served in the war. Each soldier’s photograph from History of Company K is available here, and the names and addresses of members of the unit are available here in a full-text searchable PDF document.

Creators Gobbato and Giorgio hope for Faces in the Book to “[establish] a bond between Vittorio Veneto and all those living in the USA, who will now have an additional tool to keep alive the memory of their ancestors, with the awareness that, after more than a century, their contribution in the Great War is still very much alive in the historical memory of our country and is continuously reflected in the relations between our two nations, based on peace and solidarity.” Faces in the Book highlights one of the many important ways in which Ohioans contributed to World War I, and celebrates the memories of loved ones from across our state and nation.

The Museo della Battaglia Vittorio Veneto currently has an open call for documents, photographs or other materials relating to the 332nd Infantry and its service. For more information about Faces in the Book, or to speak to project staff about sharing your private collections, please send inquiries to info@facesinthebook.it.

 


Thanks to Kristen Newby, project coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

 

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