Orlando Barber was born in Italy but considered himself an American. He loved his adoptive country. As a boy, he memorized the Constitution and kept a copy under his pillow.
Yet when Benito Mussolini's Italy joined Adolf Hitler's Germany in declaring war on the United States on Dec. 11, 1941, Barber - like thousands of other Italian-born Americans - found himself bearing the ironic label of "enemy alien."He also found himself out of work, having been laid off by Kennecott because of the classification. His eyes well up with tears when he recalls those doubts about his loyalty.
"I was American," he says with pride.
He officially became an American citizen in 1942 and was drafted into the Army a week later. Two years later, he was with the Seventh Army's 45th Infantry Division as it began the invasion of Italy, participating in some of the fiercest battles in the European theater, including the assault at Anzio.
Spearheaded by the VI Corps, the invasion at Anzio began on Jan. 22, 1944, and dragged on for four long months before the Allied forces broke through German defenses and achieved their objective: Rome.
But before Anzio came the invasion of Sicily and the landing at Salerno. Barber followed the troops in all of those operations, serving as an interpreter for American intelligence.
In between battles, he managed to revisit his birthplace in the mountains of Calabria, where one of his relatives turned the tables again and accused him of being "the enemy."
Most of the paesani, or fellow Italians, however, were happy to see him, treating him and the Allied forces in general as liberators rather than invaders. Barber saw it that way, too, saying, "I didn't think of it as fighting against the Italians. It was for them, not against them."
Born in the small town of Pedivigliano on Dec. 13, 1920, Barber at age 6 became a member of what he calls "Mussolini's fascist boy scouts." His family emigrated to the United States in 1933 and moved to Magna, where he has lived ever since.
After he was drafted into the Army, he was trained in psychological warfare techniques.
"Some of the intelligence officers asked me how I felt about fighting against cousins and uncles in Italy. I told them that I was an American citizen and I would do whatever the U.S. government wanted."
His role in the invasion of Italy began in North Africa. From there, he went on to Palermo in Sicily and then to Salerno on the mainland. In those operations as at Anzio, his job was to interview Italians and encourage their cooperation with the Allied forces.
"I remember going ashore (at Anzio) from an invasion barge and thinking, `I can't swim.' It wasn't too deep, so I made it. The Germans were up on top of the mountain shooting down at us. A lot of GIs were being hit and killed. It was really a massacre."
It seemed to be raining constantly, and everything was muddy, he said. "As soon as we dug foxholes, they filled up with water. I did a lot of praying."
The Anzio operation was controversial from the start and has been debated ever since. The primary objective was to force the withdrawal of the German armies that stood in the way of the Allied advance from Salerno.
According to military historians, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower viewed the amphibious landing at Anzio as a way to avoid the daunting terrain and German forces farther south. But faced with a lack of adequate forces and the potential isolation of the beachhead, he canceled the assault. Winston Churchill, however, insisted on it as a means of reaching Rome and it proceeded along with a major attack in the south and at Cassino.
The first units of VI Corps encountered little opposition at Anzio, but then Hitler immediately ordered reinforcements to converge there, and the battle began.
"I was sent to Anzio to tell the Italian people to cooperate with the Americans. They were glad to do it because it seemed like they all had relatives in America. An uncle here, a cousin there; everbody seemed to have a relative in America," Barber said.
Among other duties, he dropped propoganda from a C-47 over Naples advising people to clear the roads of carts and donkeys. At Salerno, he remembers the countryside was covered with .50-caliber machine-gun shells. "They were deep, all over the ground, so that you had to kick your way through them."
When he returned to Pedivigliano during a 24-hour leave, some of his relatives offered to hide him in the forested mountains of La Sila until the war was over. "I said no, I have my home and my family in America."
He returned to Magna after the war and was rehired by Kennecott. Over the years, he has logged 12,000 hours of volunteer work at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Salt Lake City. "I see a lot of the old guys there," he said.