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West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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Angelo Mazzarella
1890-1918

"Yesterday I visited the battlefield of last year. The place was scarcely recognisable. Instead of a wilderness of ground torn up by shell, the ground was a garden of wild flowers and tall grasses. Most remarkable of all was the appearance of many thousands of white butterflies which fluttered around. It was as if the souls of the dead soldiers had come to haunt the spot where so many fell. It was eerie to see them. And the silence! It was so still that I could almost hear the beat of the butterflies’ wings."

Unnamed British officer in 1919

Writing of World War I cemeteries large and small in Belgium, Steven Erlanger of the New York Times contrasts Tyne Cot—the largest British Commonwealth cemetery in the world (12,000 World War I soldiers)—with tiny Flanders Field American Cemetery (368 graves). Erlanger notes that crosses in the latter bear the names of first- and second-generation Americans, “their names redolent of the Europe their parents left to make a better life….” (Source: “The War to End All Wars? Hardly. But It Did Change Them Forever,” accessed 15 July 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/27/world/europe/world-war-i-brought-fundamental-changes-to-the-world.html?_r=0.) Erlanger’s example from Italy was “Angelo Mazzarella, a private from West Virginia.” Angelo Mazzarella had achieved—as in the Andy Warhol expression—his fifteen minutes of fame.
Mazzarella grave

Grave marker for Pvt. Angelo Mazzarella, Flanders Field, Memorial Day 2014. Courtesy Patrick Lernout

How do we tell the story of a man whose death receives greater notice nearly one hundred years later than his life ever did? Army Private Angelo Mazzarella was born on May 16, 1890, in Accumoli, Provincia di Rieti, Lazio, Italy, to Pietro Mazzarella and his wife. According to the 1930 Federal Census, his brother Paul (Paolo) emigrated to the U.S. in 1903, and we might assume that Angelo did at that time also, although his father and mother most certainly remained in Italy. So, in search of a better life, Paul and Angelo came to the U.S. and became West Virginia coal miners at a very young age. With the U.S. involvement in World War I, they had the opportunity to achieve citizenship by virtue of enlisting in the armed services. Angelo and Paul registered for the draft on the same day (June 5, 1917) but from different locations. Paul’s U.S. World War I Draft Registration Card states that he resided at Austin, Preston County, West Virginia and was employed at Austin Coal and Coke Company. Angelo’s registration indicates he was residing at Yatesboro, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, working for C C and C Company. These initials might pertain to several coal companies headquartered in western Pennsylvania at the time, but the one most closely associated with Yatesboro is the Cowanshannock Coal and Coke Company. [It may be worth noting that the 1910 Federal Census shows a 19-year-old Andrew Mazzarella (b. Italy) living as a boarder in the household of John Roman in Cowanshannock, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. Could this be the Angelo Mazzarella under discussion? If so, exactly what years might he have been living and working in West Virginia? Is it possible he moved freely back and forth from Pennsylvania to West Virginia, depending on the economic outlook of the mines? He was single and it appears he lived in boardinghouses.]

Angelo’s service record at the West Virginia Adjutant General’s office indicates he was also from Austin in Preston County but was inducted at Kittaning, Pennsylvania, on April 20, 1918, a fact that tends to corroborate his registration in Pennsylvania. According to military historian Roland Hall, his date of induction is noteworthy because Angelo was not among the “original soldiers” of the 91st Division who were drafted the year before (in 1917), sent to Camp Lewis, Washington [state], and who stood-up the newly formed 91st Division in the newly built Army training camp. In all likelihood, he was instead a “replacement” soldier and may not have been assigned to the Division until after his arrival in Europe.

Inspection of the World War I draft registration cards leaves little doubt that these are the correct persons; not only do the birth dates (May 22, 1888, for Paul; May 16, 1890, for Angelo) coincide with other information available for the brothers, but their signatures look remarkably like they were written by the same hand, indicating they had had similar schooling. According to his registration, Angelo was 27 years old at the time and had declared his intent to become a citizen. He was tall with brown eyes and black hair. Paul’s registration card informs that he was short and stout, also with brown eyes and black hair. These facts are worth noting because for so many World War I soldiers, we have no pictures available. Paul, unlike Angelo, did not state that he had declared for citizenship, reporting that he was an “alien” from the “Kingdom Itilia” [sic] with a dependent father and mother. (Paul’s service record does state he was inducted in West Virginia—at Kingwood—at a somewhat later date than was Angelo: July 25, 1918.)

Angelo's draft card
Paul's draft card

Draft registration cards for Angelo Mazzarella and Paul Mazzarella. National Archives and Records Administration

Pvt. Angelo Mazzarella was killed on October 31, 1918. Patrick Lernout, who has researched extensively the lives of the 368 soldiers buried in Flanders Field, writes:

Angelo Mazarella [sic] was an Italian immigrant. He was born in Rome on 16 May 1890. His two year older brother Paul (Paolo) also resided in the USA. Both lived in Austin, WV [Preston County] where they worked as coal miners for the Austin Coal & Coke Company.

At 09:00 on October 31st, Co I was ordered to go over the top. They were immediately spotted by the Germans who were hiding the Spitaalsbossen. Within thirty minutes Frank Osborn, William Garner, James Miller and Angelo were killed. Angelo was killed by a direct hit. The witness statement indicates: “He was blown to bits.” His remains were first buried in the village of Ooigem near a field hospital. This is probably the reason why the official date of death was incorrectly logged as being 1 November. In this case the date of death on his marker is also incorrect.

At the time of his death Angelo was still an Italian citizen. (Source: E-mail attachment to Pat McClure, 21 May 2014.)

With the approach of the 100-year anniversary of World War I, in the spring of 2014 several Belgian citizens adopted the graves of the three West Virginia patriots in Flanders Field American Cemetery. One of these adopters is Tamara Ardenoy, who continues to research the life of Private Mazzarella. In an e-mail to Ms. Ardenoy, U.S. Army Second Lieutenant Kevin D. Braafladt provides additional detail regarding the life—or more specifically, the death—of Angelo Mazzarella. A 1919 American Red Cross compilation of first-hand accounts of the war provides a comprehensive account of how Mazzarella was killed:

American Red Cross
National Headquarters
Washington, D.C.

Seattle, May 3, 1919.

A REPORT ON THE DEATHS OF:

Corporal Frank Osborn, 2,262,169,
(Emergency address: Preston Osborn, Deary, Idaho; father)

Private Walter Crecelius, 1,995,006,
(Emergency address not known)

Private William L. Garner, 3,435,858,
(Emergency address: James A. Garner, 103 Elm St., Seward, Neb.; father)

Private Angelo Mazzarella, 2,965,534,
(Emergency address: Pietro Mazzarella, Aquilo, pr. Accumoli, Italy; father)

Private James G. Miller, 2,480,945,
(Emergency address not known)

all of Company I, 362nd Infantry, 91st Division.

Under instructions from the Home Communication Bureau of the American Red Cross, the writer who was American Red Cross Searcher with the 91st Division in France and Belgium, herewith transmits the detail that he has on the deaths of the foregoing men.

The 91st division, including company I of the 362nd Infantry, was transferred from the Argonne of Belgium about October 18. The entraining point was Revigny in the department of the Meuse in eastern France, about 35 miles south of the area in the Argonne where the 91st made its drives between September 26 and October 12.

In the Argonne, company I had about a dozen men killed or fatally wounded, and a proportionate number wounded.

In Belgium, the company spent from October 19 to October 30 in the general neighborhood of Isegehm, about 20 miles east of Ypres.

On October 30, the division moved to the Belgium front with instructions to go over the top on the morning of October 31, on a line about three and one-half miles long, extending from the city of Waereghem [sic] south by southeast.

The attack on October 31 met with very severe resistance. The Germans opposed machine guns, rifle snipers, light field pieces, and heavy artillery in great numbers. Company I went over the top from a point just west of the town of Steenbrugge. It did not enter the action at 5:30 as the front line companies did, but started forward in support at 9 a.m. Fifty yards from its starting point was a place known to the company as “Hell’s Half Acre.” Some distance to the northeast was a wooded hill known on the maps as the Spitaals Boschen [sic], from which German field pieces located on the ridge had direct range on “Hell’s Half Acre.”

German cannon

German 7.7 cm cannon at Warneton. Photo courtesy Tamara Ardenoy

Company I attempted to cross this place in a thin line by making rushes from shell hole to shell hole, but its advance was observed by the Germans, who opened what was apparently a direct fire with 77s.

Within a half hour Corporal Osborn, Privates Mazzarella, Crecelius, Miller, and Garner, were killed instantly, most of them being quite badly mangled.

Private Miller was struck in the left side. Private Mazzerella sustained what was practically a direct hit. The body of Private Garner was examined by Corporal Samuelson, who said he was killed instantly.

An eye witness of the injuring of Corporal Osborn was Private Frew W. Lamphere of Jordan, Mont., who says he lived about 30 minutes. Captain Everett May, however, told the writer the Corporal Osborn was killed instantly.

An eyewitness of the deaths of Privates Miller and Mazzarella was Sergeant Bjorne Christiansene, of Glendive, Mont.

“Hell’s Half Acre” was a much larger piece of ground than a half acre, of course. Otherwise the company would have got out of it.

Private Mazzarella was buried [initially] at Oyghem [sic], Belgium, east end of town, south of main highway, grave 4.

The co-ordinates of Private Garner’s grave are Courtrai N.E., map 29, 98.1 – 58.8, two graves.

The co-ordinates of Private Crecelius’s grave are Courtrai N.E., map 29, 98.1 – 58.8, 2 graves.

Corporal Osborn: Courtrai N.E., map 29, 98.3 – 58.8, 2 graves.

Private Miller: near town of Worteghem, Belgium.

If there is any further information you think the writer may have, he can be reached by a letter to the address below. The Red Cross extends its sincere sympathy in your sad loss.

Very sincerely yours,

Colin V. Dyment
Lt. A.R.C., 91st Division

Address: Care American Red Cross,
207 White Building,
Seattle, Washington

CVD-EF-D

(Source: Colin V. Dyment [1919], Reports on the Deaths of Men of the 91st Division. American Red Cross, Bureau of Communication.)

And what do we make of the subsequent life of brother Paul Mazzarella in order to further trace the possibility of Mazzarella descendants in the U.S.? The following evidence is circumstantial, yet it appears that if Paul did indeed serve in Europe, he returned to the States, but not to West Virginia. His service record notes he was honorably discharged on January 19, 1919. The 1930 Federal Census lists a “Paul Mezzarella” [which Ancestry.com associates with the family under consideration] as a lodger in the household of Frank and Caroline Depalma in Holmdel, Monmouth, New Jersey, and his age—42—coincides with that of Angelo’s brother Paul. Interestingly, information about Paul in this Census indicates he emigrated from Italy in 1903—a very young age—and Angelo was even younger. Paul’s 1942 Draft Registration (wherein older U.S. males were required to register for possible service) shows that he lives in Union, New Jersey, where he works for the Diamond Expansion Bolt Company. The registration card also states the person the person who would always know his address is “Josephine Mazzarella.” Could she be Paul’s wife? A search for Josephine Mazzarella in Union, New Jersey, shows such a person married to Robert Mazzarella (b. 1889). Might she be the wife of a cousin? The U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014, records that Paul Mazzarella, born 22 May 1888, died in December 1967. The Index reports that Paul—most assuredly the brother of Angelo—registered for Social Security in New York prior to 1951. So, again, it appears that he spent the latter part of his life on the East Coast.

As we prepare this biography, we fervently hope that others may read it and present additional information regarding the lives of Angelo Mazzarella, truly a West Virginia hero, and his family. Many people have contributed so far: Tamara Ardenoy, adopter of his grave; Patrick Lernout Flanders Field researcher (see: Patrick Lernout and Christopher Sims, De Soldaten van de Amerikaanse Militaire Begraafplaats Flanders Field, 2011, http://www.flandersfieldbook.be); 2LT Kevin D. Braafladt, Division Historian, 91st TRN DIV (OPS); and MSG Roland Hall, Find A Grave contributor and former Division Historian, 91st TRN DIV (OPS).

Although Private Mazzarella was initially interred at Oyghem, he was later buried at Plot C, Row 4, Grave 21 in Flanders Field, where poppies blow and his Belgian adopter faithfully watches over his final resting place.
Mazzarella grave

Tamara Ardenoy at the grave of Angelo Mazzarella in Flanders Field.Photo used with permission

Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure.
November 2014

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Angelo Mazzarella

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