Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More on Guglielmo Olivotto

Stories are never simple, especially those stories that deal with large, real-life conflicts. The story of the riot at Fort Lawton in 1944 and the death of Italian POW Guglielmo Olivotto in that incident, exemplify this principle of complexity. Since I do not have the book written years afterwards about this incident, I can't comment definitively on it. But an article in the Village Voice with another take on it needs to be considered. In that article, from April 22, 2008, Tony Ortega writes about Anthony DeCesare's response to the pardon of the African Americans convicted of the crime, two of whom were convicted of killing Olivotto. DeCesare, who served in the American military until he was wounded in North Africa and then ended up in the military hospital at Fort Lawton, saw the results of the riot--a riot he says (and Hamann confirms) was initiated by African Americans soldiers drinking the night before being shipped out to the Pacific, and one which ended up with dozens of Italian POWs landing in the hospital beside him, suffering from wounds inflicted by their attackers who were armed with clubs and knives. And the most important thing he heard the night of the riot was the admonition by a medical officer to the POWs: "You patients, you haven't seen anything. Any of you talk, you're going to get court-martialed." Which is to say that even on the night of the riot, the Army was beginning to cover up the truth.
The other thing that comes from the article is that the prosecutor for the Army, the one who mishandled the case and suppressed evidence, was none other than Leon Jaworski, the man who went on to become the prosecutor at Nuremberg and at Watergate. How strange that a distinguished career could be launched by a case that, according to Hamann, was so badly mishandled. Or perhaps it's not so strange.
What does stick in the craw, however, is that those who launched a riot should be exculpated, and indeed, posthumously honored, while the victims of that riot, including the man who was lynched, were simply buried beneath the story as incidental elements in a disturbing distortion of justice. I will have more to say about this nearly forgotten incident when I've had a chance to read Jack Hamann's book. For those interested in the recollection of one of the few men still alive who was there, check out the Village Voice: http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-04-22/news/raw-deal/.

1 comment:

  1. It's good to see all these aspects of this important story (that remains pretty much under the radar) synthesized here!thanks!