Love in Greenpoint in Wartime: How an Italian Prisoner-of-War Won a Brooklyn Girl’s Heart
About a year ago, I wrote a story for Greenpointers about a Brooklyn Italian-American girl who fell in love with a captured Italian soldier during World War II while he was incarcerated at a prisoner of war camp at Dupont and Franklin Streets. I did not have many of the details to this unique love story and thought that I would never learn the complete story of the romance. Amazingly, however, that woman, ninety-one-year old Carmela DiLieto, is still alive in Los Angeles, California and she told me by telephone the story of her romance with, and marriage to, Giuseppe DiLieto from Torre Del Greco near Mount Vesuvius, not far from Naples. Sadly, this love story with a romantic start did not finish with a happy ending.
DiLieto was drafted into the Italian army and sent to North Africa where he and the other soldiers were so hungry that they were reduced to eating cats. DiLieto was captured by the Americans and wound up with thousands of other Italian prisoners of war in the camp in Greenpoint. Some residents have told me that they remembered the Italians were housed on barges in the East River and that a barbed-wire perimeter was set up.
There were several local Italians during World War II and many of the prisoners had family in Brooklyn. The Italians were given a lot of freedom, even being allowed to visit family members, on the condition they were chaperoned by an American soldier. One evening Carmela went to dinner at the home of her friend Josephine Madonna who was related to Giuseppe. The nineteen-year-old Carmela Esposito was attracted to the Italian prisoner of war and a romance began. She spoke Italian so communication was not a problem. Carmela recounted to me how she and many other Brooklyn Italian girls came to dances that were held at the camp and a romance soon blossomed. The couple met at the dances at the camp and even went on dates, always chaperoned by a soldier. Carmela even recalled a date with a photo taken at Coney Island.
The war ended and DiLieto was shipped back to Italy, where life was a struggle for survival in post-war Naples. Carmela did not hear from him and assumed that they would never see each other again. DiLieto, though, was determined to return to America and marry an American girl. He stowed away on a ship bound for New York and nearly starved before he jumped ship and swam to Brooklyn. He showed up at Carmela’s door and the romance resumed.
On December 14, 1947 the couple married and Giuseppe returned to Italy in order to return legally to the United States. They had two children, but sadly, the fairy tale story of the marriage turned into a nightmare. Carmela gave birth to two children, but discovered that her husband was unfaithful and a drinker with little desire to work. He even confessed that he had only married her to stay in America and did not love his wife. Carmela, a Catholic, told me that she stayed with her husband only for the sake of her devout Catholic mother, and that she divorced him as soon as her mother had died.
Carmela today lives with her daughter and grandchild in Los Angeles and has a clear memory of Brooklyn during wartime. I am happy she shared her sad, but fascinating story with me.