Alexander Pisciotta and World War I

Authored by Ellen Elsen

Center for Migration Studies

Page 1 of a letter from Alexander Pisciotta to his father, dated August 12, 1918.

 

Center for Migration Studies

Black and white photograph of fort, by Alexander Pisciotta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This letter is part of the Alex Pisciotta Papers, 1918-1981 at the Center for Migration Studies in New York. Alex Pisciotta served in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, and worked as a lawyer and local politician, incorporating the town of Lake Grove, Long Island and serving as its first mayor.

This letter from Alex Pisciotta to his father, dated August 12, 1918, was written during Pisciotta’s stay in France with the American Expeditionary Force. Alex Pisciotta enlisted on April 12, 1917, six days after Congress declared war on Germany and two months’ shy of his high-school graduation. [1]  President Wilson assigned General John J. Pershing the task of training and transporting thousands of inexperienced young men to fight in Europe. Initially, the troops were blended with French and English troops, but later given their own mission in August 1918. [2]  Part of this mission, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, involved over one million American soldiers and was instrumental to the surrender of the Central Powers.

In his letter, Pisciotta wrote, “I am still in this village billeted, drill every day and getting ready for the front, where we expect and hope to get a chance to go soon. I may go to a special school sometime in the very near future.” At the time, billeting was the practice of soldiers lodging with civilians during wartime. During World War I, billeting was undertaken for “advantages of economy and increased mobility.” [3]  The billets were in strategic locations and were supplemented by temporary barracks. The “special school” to which Pisciotta refers is likely one of the special training schools in France Pershing set up to prepare new recruits before heading to the front. [4]

On the first page, Pisciotta discusses visiting some of the local sights, including a 12th century “chateau.” Among the Alex Pisciotta Papers is a photograph of an old castle or fortress that appears to be of that era (also displayed on the blog post). The photograph, taken in August 1918, may be the chateau Pisciotta discusses here.

The letter was written on stationery from the YMCA, as were all the letters from his time in France in the collection. He refers to the YMCA as well, when he writes that he can get cigarettes and other supplies there cheaply. When the U.S. entered World War I, the Y set up a massive program to boost morale and provide welfare services both home and abroad. [5]

On the last page, the signature of the censor who approved his letter appears. Letters from soldiers overseas were censored for two reasons. First of all, they were reviewed to make sure no sensitive information was revealed, like a soldier’s location. Secondly, they were scanned to assess the level of morale among the troops. [6]  In his letters home, Pisciotta seems to avoid discussing his specific location in France, probably because he knew this information was sensitive and would likely be censored.

Bibliography

Anonymous. “Armed services YMCA: Serving the military for more than a century.” The Officer, 81, no. 3 (2005): 58-59, http://search.proquest.com/docview/214104626

Center of Military History. 1991. United States Army in the World War1917-1919: Reports of the commander-in-chief, staff sections and services, Vol 12. Washington D.C. : U.S. Government Printing Office. http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/023/23-18/CMH_Pub_23-18.pdf

Dictionary of American history. Vol 1. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CCX3401800157&v=2.1&u=nysl_me_stjn&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=c32b6ca14f571064d4ee5af6c99fbde0 (accessed March 19, 2014).

New York Sun. 1942. New World War Finds Pisciotta Again Joining Colors Promptly. January 19. http://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2018/New%20York%20NY%20Sun/New%20York%20NY%20Sun%201942/New%20York%20NY%20Sun%201942%20-%200569.pdf

Pbs.org. “Censorship!” (Interview with Myron Fox). American Experience: 25 Years. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/warletters-censorship/

“The American Expeditionary Forces.” The Stars and Stripes: A Closer Look at The Stars and Stripes. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/sgphtml/sashtml/aef.html

Winter, T. Young Men’s Christian Association. In Dictionary of American History, ed. S. I. Kutler, 584-585. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.doid=GALE%7CCX3401804644&v=2.1&u=nysl!me_stjn&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=695f90029144d06abecf95859d8581c0 (accessed March 19, 2014).

World War I Reference Library . Vol 2. Detroit: UXL. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.doid=GALE%7CCX3411700048&v=2.1&u=nyslme_stjn&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=d930650ae2745d2b5c682ae4eb05a686 (accessed March 19, 2014).

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[1]  New York Sun, “New World War Finds Pisciotta Again Joining Colors Promptly,” January 19, 1942, http://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2018/New%20York%20NY%20Sun/New%20York%20NY%20Sun%201942/New%20York%20NY%20Sun%201942%20-%200569.pdf

[2] Dictionary of American History, 3rd ed., s.v. “American Expeditionary Forces.” 

[3] Center of Military History. United States Army in the World War 1917-­1919: Reports of the Commander-­in-­Chief, Staff Sections and Services, vol. 12 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991), 57.

[4] “The American Expeditionary Forces.” The Stars and Stripes: A Closer Look  at The Stars and Stripes. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/sgphtml/sashtml/aef.html

[5] Anonymous, “Armed Services YMCA: Serving the Military for More than a Century.” The Officer 81 (2005): 58. http://search.proquest.com/docview/214104626?accountid=14068

[6] PBS.org. “Censorship!: (Interview with Myron Fox, former vice president of the Military Postal History Society). American Experience: 25 Years, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/general-article/warletters-censorship/

 

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