S1c Tom Trovato

Tom Trovato USS Arizona

S1c Tom Trovato

Born July 29, 1921, Tom Trovato was still 16 when his father died in the summer of 1938. His mother, Rosina, was left to support three sons and a daughter on her pay from the laundry at the swank Del Monte Hotel.

Tom had finished three years at Monterey Union High School, in Monterey, California, but quit to enlist in the Navy on Dec. 20, 1939. His plan was to send money home to help the family.

He was a seaman first class on the U.S.S. Arizona when he was killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. His cousin Michael Criscuolo and a childhood friend, Jack Hazdovac, also died on the battleship.

The government officially notified Mrs. Trovato that her son was dead the week of Feb. 6, 1942. By then a younger son, Michael, had already joined the Navy.

She soon received a second government notice: As an enemy alien, she had to leave her home close to a restricted coastal area by Feb. 24.

Tom Trovato USS Arizona

Mrs. Trovato, born Rosina Criscuolo in Italy, came to the United States in 1920 at the behest of her brother Antonio. He had been in the United States 10 years and wanted to marry. He asked his mother to pick a woman, which she and Rosina did. Rosina, then 29, and Lucia Pappacoda, sailed to the United States on the Giuseppe Verdi.

Lucia soon married Antonio, and Rosina married Jean Trovato, a gardener who was also an Italian immigrant. Lucia gave birth to Michael Criscuolo and Rosina to Tom Trovato — the cousins who would die on the Arizona.

Mrs. Trovato had never become an American citizen, however, so when the attack on Pearl Harbor pulled America into World War II, she was declared an enemy alien. The government brought its harshest restrictions down on Japanese-Americans, resulting in the internment of nearly 120,000 — most of them born in the United States. The restrictions on Italians and Germans are less well known, but Mrs. Trovato was one of about 10,000 Italians ordered to move. About 600,000 more were subject to nightly curfews.

The order for Mrs. Trovato to relocate made news, albeit briefly, in newspapers around the country. Some editorialized that, while unfortunate in the case of a Gold Star mother who had lost a son, the government could not afford during time of war to make exceptions. Others, such as the San Bernardino Sun, warned that “If we are not careful, things are to happen in the evacuation of alien enemies that will bring shame to the nation.”

Mrs. Trovato and her youngest child, a daughter then 11, were forced to leave their home and the laundry job she had held for 20 years, and from which in 1939 she had earned good pay at the tail end of the Depression – $960. That was the equivalent of about $18,500 in 2022 dollars. The mother and daughter moved 19 miles inland to a run-down apartment in Salinas. After national columnist and radio show host Walter Winchell talked about Mrs. Trovato, they were permitted to return home. But the government never apologized to the woman who lost one son and a nephew to the war and whose other two sons also served their country.

She became a citizen on Dec. 11, 1942.

Sources: Special thanks to Michael Trovato Jr. Other sources include The Fresno (California) Bee; The Los Angeles Times; The San Bernardino County (California) Sun; the Santa Cruz (California) Sentinel; the Chicago Sun; the Monterey Peninsula Herald; U.S. Department of Justice report “A Review of the Restrictions on Persons of Italian Ancestry During World War II”; Smithsonian magazine; Census; California birth records; Navy muster rolls. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

Footnote: The ship that brought Lucia Pappacoda and Rosina Criscuolo to America was sold to Japan in 1928 and renamed the Yamato Maru. A U.S. submarine torpedoed and sank it in the Philippines in 1943.

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