CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES

World War II

Theresa Italiano

World War II Oral History Interview
US Navy, Navy Nurse Corps
Date: July 18, 2003
Interviewer: Bob Pontecorvo
Summarizer: Macartan McCabe
Veterans History Project

Summary

Theresa Capozzi Italiano was born in 1915 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, then moved to West Orange, New Jersey. Prior to World War II, she was a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital in Orange, NJ. The war in Europe was rarely talked about in her home. Italiano was inspired to enter the service when she watched the movie “White Parade” which was about nurses caring for injured Marines. Her parents were supportive of her decision to enlist and weren’t worried, given her experience.

Recruiting Poster. Painting Oil on Canvas by John Falter c. 1942.

Italiano decided to enlist in the US Navy as a nurse, and did her basic training, which involved a lot of marching around, at Brooklyn Navy Yard. She recalled that her platoon did not have to sing while marching, which she thought was different from the other trainee units at the base. Italiano knew her goals when she entered the Navy and was not annoyed by the training. She was commissioned as an ensign and spent an entire year at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which included training time as well as initial assignment. 

Italiano was subsequently sent to Long Beach, California, where she worked eighteen-hour shifts caring for American former POWs of the Japanese, some of them survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March, who were suffering from wounds, malnutrition and “combat fatigue” (PTSD). Due to the length of her work day, she could not write letters to her parents about her experiences.

In 1945, Italiano was assigned, along with other doctors and nurses, to the 103rd Fleet Hospital in Guam. After American forces had recaptured Guam from the Japanese in 1944, the Fleet Hospital had replaced the original hospital on the island, which had been destroyed in the fighting.  Her transport ship received a destroyer escort; and, it took two weeks to reach Guam, due to the threat of mines and submarines.

Italiano recalled that Guam was very hot and underdeveloped. The roads were not paved; and, when the ambulances had to drive on them, wounded and ill soldiers would suffer bruises from bumping around in the back of the vehicles. She remembered having to wear boots often due to the muddy roads. Japanese holdouts were scattered around the island in caves; at night, they engaged in occasional firefights with American troops. Italiano often heard shots exchanged in the distance while on duty. She was still working eighteen-hour shifts, yet was given occasional break time, which she spent on the beach. Most of the wounded soldiers who came to the hospital Italiano worked at were casualties from the invasions of Tinian and Saipan. She recalled that they did not stay long, because penicillin halted infections; and, they were then forwarded to another hospital further to the rear.

Italiano’s job was unaffected when Germany and later Japan surrendered. Unlike the soldiers on the front, she still had to do her duties as a nurse, since the injuries these soldiers sustained outlasted the war. Before Italiano left Guam, she was offered the opportunity to train local natives in nursing skills, yet she turned the offer down due to her anxiousness to return home.

On her return to the United States, Italiano was discharged, but remained in the Naval Reserves. Her father passed away, and she also had to care for her mother. At the outbreak of the Korean War, Italiano was called back to active duty, but prevailed on her Senator and Congressman to get her a deferment due to her mother’s needs.

Italiano continued to work at St. Mary’s Hospital, where she met her husband James D. Italiano, who was a sibling of a patient. She officially left the Naval Reserves after the birth of her son, and later became President of the Spirit of Liberty Unit, which met once a month. Her uniform was also on display at Rutgers University. Theresa Italiano earned the WWII Victory Medal and the Distinguished Service Medal for her service. 

Theresa Italiano passed away on November 1, 2005.

Researchers

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