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West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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Fortunato Valenzise
1895-1918

"No compromise on the main purpose; no peace till victory; no pact with unrepentant wrong-that is the Declaration of July 4th, 1918."

Winston Churchill

Fortunato Valenzise was born in June 1895 in the Calabria region that makes up the "toe" of the "boot" of southern Italy. At the turn of the century the peasants there who were primarily engaged in agriculture had little hope of improving their lot. As transportation became more affordable, the lure of opportunities in America led to massive immigration in the late 1800s and in the decades which followed. By 1910, Italian immigrants in the U.S. numbered over two million.

In the 1910 Federal Census for Tucker County, West Virginia, some members of the Valenzise family were already listed as employees in the West Virginia Pulp and Paper mill at Davis. In November 1911, Vincenzo Valenzise, Fortunato's uncle, emigrated from Italy to New York and settled in Jamesville in Onondaga County, New York. On February 22, 1912, Fortunato and his father, Michele, departed from Naples aboard the passenger ship Duca D'Aosta.

World War I, the "War to End All Wars," began in 1914 when a Serbian nationalist assassinated the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne. On April 6, 1917, following the sinking of American merchant ships by German submarines and an attempt by Germany to engage in a military alliance with Mexico, President Woodrow Wilson reluctantly committed the United States to join the Allied countries in the war against Germany. When the call for volunteers failed to produce the needed one million troops to support the war effort, the Selective Service instituted a draft with the first registration on June 5, 1917, for all men between the ages of 21 and 31.

Fortunato Valenzise registered for the draft at Davis, West Virginia. At the time of his registration, he stated to the registrar that he was an "alien" and employed as a laborer in the Union Tanning Company at Davis. He was single with a mother solely dependent on him for support. It can be inferred that his mother remained in Italy as the male members of the family emigrated to the U.S. seeking employment. Fortunato was described as slender and of medium build with gray eyes and brown hair. His registration also notes that the exact date of his birth was unknown to him. Note that the registrar had difficulty in transcribing his name as dictated but Fortunato was able to sign the document.



draft registration card

World War I draft registration card for Fortunato Valenzise. National Archives and Records Administration


When called to serve in the U.S. National Guard, Private Fortunato Valenzise was assigned to Company G, 147th Infantry Regiment of the 37th Infantry Division. On June 22, 1918, he departed from Newport News, Virginia, aboard the USS Pocahontas. The USS Pocahontas, originally called the SS Princess Irene, was built in Germany. It was detained in New York at the outbreak of WWI and was converted to a troop transport. 

The USS Pocahontas arrived in France on July 5. After a brief period of training, the 37th Division entered the Argonne at Avocourt on September 16 as part of the 5th Army Corps. Commencing on September 26, 1918, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive lasted until the Armistice on November 11, a total of 47 days. Known as the bloodiest operation of World War I, it involved 1.2 million American soldiers. 26,277 Americans lost their lives in what was to become the deadliest engagement by the Allied Expeditionary Force during the war.

Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery

Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery is the final resting place to more than 14,000 Americans that gave their lives in World War I. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

On September 28, 1918, Pvt. Fortunato Valenzise was killed during the early days of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He is buried in Plot E, Row 14, Grave 23 in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, Departement de la Meuse, Lorraine, France.

For his service in the Allied Expeditionary Forces and his supreme sacrifice in the Argonne, Pvt. Fortunato Valenzise was entitled to receive posthumously the Purple Heart and the World War I Victory Medal.
The Purple Heart

The Purple Heart

World War I Victory Medal

World War I Victory Medal

Article prepared by Leon Armentrout
May 2019

Honor...

Fortunato Valenzise

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.


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