Authored by Giovanna Fiorino-Iannace
The American Expeditionary Forces in France were deployed to help the French during World War I in 1918. The severity of the situation during this period is difficult to imagine when viewing some of the personal photographs taken by Alex Pisciotta during his time with the American Expeditionary Forces from 1917 to 1919. In an article published in January 1919, Gregory Mason, the Staff Correspondent of the Outlook with the American Expeditionary Force, wrote about “How America Finished” and commented on the experience of the military men during World War I. He noted the following:
You go to the front, and for days you see only destruction, disease,
decay. Nothing growing, nothing blooming, nothing constructive.
It is not so much the flying death that is terrible; it is the rotting
dead. Trees rotting, houses rotting, crops rotting, machines rotting,
horses rotting, men rotting. That is war. . . . I saw some of our boys
who had been over the top three times in twenty-four hours. The
skin of their faces was pulled tight over the bone. Their eyes were
the eyes of wild animals hunted to the point of utter weariness.
Only the gashes which were their mouth showed the will to go on.
. . . When they get home, America can give nothing adequate to
reward these boys for what they have done for her. . . . The
everlasting gratitude of their countrymen is the most that these boys
can have and the least that they deserve . . . Do not be deceived by
their modesty, Americans; never forget what they have done for you.1
The photographs depicted on Pisciotta’s album page are taken at various military camps between 1917 and 1918 and are identified left to right on the top row as “Patterson Brothers,” and “Corporal A. Pisciotta, 1917.” There is also an untitled picture of Pisciotta on the right that portrays him posing with a flag extended above his head with his left arm. On the bottom row the images are labeled as “F. Hopkin,” “Pvt. Sheenan,” and “Allen.” The images show fellow officers as well as friends and acquaintances of Pisciotta.
The officers are wearing the typical olive-colored uniform known as the Doughboy uniform that included the “campaign hat” as headgear, cotton or wool clothing consisting of the “Olive Drag” shirt and trousers, puttees or “leggings,” hobnailed trench shoes, and the service coat or “blouse.”2 The photograph located on the bottom left corner of the page is the only one that does not relate to military training, which instead shows two women in a canoe. Perhaps this photograph was taken during a brief sojourn or rest and recuperation period.
According to an inventory of the Alex Piscotta Papers, processed in December 1986 by Richard Del Giudice, Piscotta was born in Sicily and emigrated to Brooklyn, New York in 1901 with his mother and two sisters.3 He was attending the last term of high school when America entered World War I in April 1917 and enlisted six days later, serving in France with the American Expeditionary Force until 1919.
His story is probably similar to that of many young men who were impassioned by the war effort and enlisted in the armed forces shortly after the United States involvement with the war was announced. During his time in training, Pisciotta documented his experience via letters written home to his family members as well as numerous black and white photographs that most likely were captured using a portable version of Kodak’s Brownie camera.
In 1900 the famous Brownie Cameras was introduced and for the first time photography became a hobby that was affordable for everyone.4 By 1902 the Kodak Developing Machine simplified the processing of roll film, making it possible to develop film on site without a darkroom; and by 1917 Kodak also had developed aerial cameras and trained aerial photographers for the U.S.
Alex Pisciotta served in the Army in World War I and World War II, as well as in the Air Force during the Korean War, and later became a lawyer and former district director of the New York Bureau of Weights and Measures.5 In addition, he initiated the incorporation of the village of Lake Grove, Long Island in Suffolk County and was elected its first Mayor in 1968, a post he held until he retired in 1981. A veteran of many wars, Pisciotta served his country well. His archives form part of the Center for Migration Studies larger collection of documentation on World War I.
1 Gregory Mason, “How America Finished.” Outlook (Jan 15, 1919): 100. Accessed March 23, 2014 from http://0-search.proquest.com.library.metmuseum.org/docview/137002924?accountid=12414.
2 “The Doughboy’s Uniform and Equipment” in Soldiers’ Mail: Letters Home from a Yankee Doughboy 1916-1919, Accessed March 23, 2014 from http://worldwar1letters.wordpress.com/sams-references-explained/the-doughboys-uniform-and-equipment/.
3Richard Del Giudice, “Inventory of Alex Pisciotta Papers, Collection Number 038,” The Center for Migration Studies, New York (December 1986).
4“History of Kodak.” Accessed March 12, 2014 from http://www.kodak.com/ek/US/en/Our_Company/History_of_Kodak/Milestones_-_chronology/1878-1929.htm. All subsequent information about the Brownie camera is taken from this source.
5“Alex Pisciotta Is Dead; Directed a City Agency.” The New York Times (January 26, 1985) Accessed March 19, 2014 from http://www.nytimes.com/1985/01/26/nyregion/alex-pisciotta-is-dead-directed-a-city-agency.html. Details regarding Alex Pisciotta’s career are taken from this article.
Alex Pisciotta was my grandfather. Just wanted to let you know his given/legal name was Alex, not Alexander.
Also, I would be interested to know where you found the pictures. There are a group of papers/pictures that my father donated to an organization in Staten Island. I believe it may have been associated w/ a religious org./ church. Someone back in the 1970’s interviewed my grandfather about being an Italian immigrant and I believe that’s how some of his information was donated to the org. I mentioned (perhaps this is where you found your info.) I also wanted to let you know there is some informaiton about his vast military as well as civic and legal career in the archives at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York.
Such an innovate and wonderful projext for education the generations to come who have missed out on knowing and being raise and shaped by the greatest generation.
Dear Ms. Pisciotta,
Thanks so much for contacting us! Yes indeed, you are right, the photos came from the Center for Migration Studies (associated with the Scalabrini Fathers), which used to be located in Staten Island but is now headquartered at East 60th Street in Manhattan. They are very generous in allowing us to use materials from their collections for our blog, and this is where students accessed the materials pertaining to your grandfather Alex. Dr. Mary Brown is the archivist there, and you should feel free to contact her if you would like to view the materials, I’m sure she would be delighted. Also thank you for letting us know that there are materials at the Stony Brook Archives as well, as this would be a wonderful source of additional information. A final thought- would you be at all interested in providing an oral history of your grandfather as you remember him that we could post to the blog? Just an idea, please let us know if you are interested!