Sunday, October 26, 2008

Italians in Discovery Park

Magnolia Bluffs from Discovery Park Lighthouse
We took a short bike ride over to Discovery Park today and enjoyed some great fall weather here in Seattle. Discovery Park is the largest park in Seattle at 535 acres. It was formerly known as Fort Lawton and was a United States Army fort. One strange thing that we learned was that during World War II Fort Lawton held a couple hundred Italian Prisoners of War. The POWs were able to become Italian Service Units (ISUs) within the army once Italy left the war in September 1943. This was the case for the Italian POWs at Fort Lawton.

One Italian solider, Guglielmo Olivotto was lynched during a night of rioting between Italian POWs and American soldiers. The resulting (rushed and botched) trial was the largest and longest U.S. Army court-martial of World War II.

Guigielmo Olivotto arrived at the Fort on May 21, 1944 in a group of Italian POWs that were captured in Tunisia, North Africa. At Fort Lawton, there was an Italian section (housing) and a section for black American soldiers. On August 14th 1944 a bloody riot took place between the two groups. It was the eve of the black soldiers shipping out and tensions were high. On August 15th the body of Olivotto was discovered at the base of Magnolia bluffs. He died of strangulation; he was hung from wires.

Within the last 10 years, the case was brought to light again with the book On American Soil: How Justice Became A Casualty of World War II by Seattle journalist Jack Hamann. His research revealed that the prosecution was flawed which led to the case being reopened and it ruled that the prosecutor had committed “egregious error” and the trial was “fundamentally unfair”. All convictions were overturned and retroactive honorable discharges were issued to the convicted black soldiers. But, the question remains in my mind, who killed Olivotto? When does his story come to a conclusion?

Here’s a nice audio summary from Weekend America and some more background.

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