WT2c Michael James Giovenazzo,

Unknown Sailor

WT2c Michael James Giovenazzo

On Dec. 22, 1941 the family of Michael James Giovenazzo received word from the Navy that he was missing in action after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Then, on Christmas Eve, the Navy said there had been a mistake. Michael was alive.

His mother, Concetta, described it 50 years later as “that beautiful Christmas,” full of joy at the news that Michael and his brother Joe, also a Navy man, had survived the Dec. 7 attack.

Joe, assigned to the U.S.S. Vestal, was on shore leave that Sunday morning with his wife and baby. Michael had been with them the evening before, but returned to his battleship, the Arizona, so he could be on duty early the next day. The family heard directly from Joe that he was alive, but in the chaos of war, the Navy’s official notification to the family about Michael mixed them up. The Navy straightened it all out in a letter from Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox in February 1942. Michael, a watertender and petty officer second class, was dead.

Michael Giovenazzo, one of 12 children, was born Jan. 4, 1921 to Giacinto “George” Giovenazzo, a machinist’s helper, and Concetta Pollicino Giovenazzo, a housewife. His parents were Italian immigrants. The 1940 Census said the father earned $1,747 in 1939 — a large sum by the standards of the day — and nominally equivalent to $31,000 in 2018.

Michael attended United Township High School in East Moline, Illinois next to the Mississippi River and the Iowa border, and was honored by the American Legion in nearby Silvis, Illinois for outstanding scholarship. He quit school to join the Navy on Aug. 2, 1938.

Within days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a younger brother, Sam, 17, quit school to join the Navy to  avenge his brother’s death. He was initially assigned to work at a commissary but eventually managed to get assigned to the U.S.S. Shamrock, an escort carrier that was at the battles of Luzon, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

Both Sam and brother Joe survived the war. On the 50th anniversary of the attack, the family’s surviving siblings tape-recorded their memories of Dec. 7, 1941, and of Michael.

Said Sam: “Instead of getting teary-eyed, I still want to fight” when he saw or heard news or movies about the attack.

He recalled a kamikaze pilot who waved at him as he crashed into a ship ahead of Sam’s. More than a dozen Americans died. Sam said the pilot’s death gave him satisfaction, but that he “often wondered who his parents were.”

Sister Janette Kelley, who was 10 when Michael died, described him as a superhero to her. “I hope and pray this is the end of wars,” she said.

There is a cenotaph for Mr. Giovenazzo at Rock Island National Cemetery in the Quad Cities.


Sources: Barb Ickes of the Quad-City Times wrote a detailed and emotional story about the Giovenazzo family for the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Much of the information in this profile comes from her report. Other sources include the Moline (Illinois) Daily Dispatch; Census; grave markers at Rock Island (Illinois) National Cemetery; Navy muster rolls. The photo is from the Quad-City Times via newspapers.com. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

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