Vincent Caggiano: WWII Intelligence Officer and Youngstown Prominente

Questo articolo descrive l'incredibile vita di Vincent Caggiano, un italo-americano emigrato negli Stati Uniti nel 1928. Quando era bambino i suoi genitori si trasferirono negli Stati Uniti e lui rimase con sua sorella in Italia, ma quando Benito Mussolini prese il controllo dell'Italia, i genitori ebbero l'opportunità di portare il figlio in America. Vincent frequentò il liceo a Youngstown e poi andò all’università. Studiò lingue straniere anche se conosceva già l'italiano e il latino. Con una buona conoscenza del francese, dello spagnolo e del tedesco, ebbe un lavoro con la chiesa aiutando i nuovi immigrati ad ottenere la cittadinanza americana. Durante la seconda guerra mondiale si arruolò. Dopo la guerra, continuò a lavorare per il governo. Caggiano ebbe una vita ricca di successi e di bontà. Nonostante sia morto nel 1972, è ancora una persona ben nota a Youngstown.

Eighteen-year-old Vincent Caggiano had scarcely disembarked in the U. S. when he began putting together the foundation for a brilliant career as an educator in Youngstown and beyond. Caggiano’s many achievements would earn his inclusion in the ranks of the city’s intellectual prominenti. As proof, the man’s ample biographical sketch appears in Joseph L. Sacchini’s “The Italians of Youngstown and Mahoning Valley, Ohio”. Moreover, Caggiano would later return to Europe in WWII as a multi-lingual U. S. intelligence officer to help the Allies secure victory.

Vincenzo (Vincent) was born November 1910 in Casalbore, in the province of Avellino. His father, Silverio, had earlier emigrated to Youngstown to join brother Donato and a brother-in-law. Immigration often complicates family ties. Silverio had arrived in the U.S., while his wife, Teresa, was three months pregnant in Italy. She soon emigrated to join her newly naturalized husband in 1925. But 15-year-old Vincent remained with family in Italy. 

This arrangement left young Vincent behind to finish his education in the care of his sister, Josephine. At the time, Benito Mussolini was in power, and his National Fascist Party began to corrupt the education system. Worrying that Vincent would soon be absorbed into the dictator’s party at school, she urged his parents in America to send for him. In 1928, after a transatlantic voyage aboard the S. S. Conte Biancamano, Vincent finally joined his mother and father in Youngstown. At the time, the youth spoke Italian and he knew Latin, which he had learned in secondary school in Benevento. 

Despite having completed secondary education in Italy, the young immigrant had to repeat high school in Youngstown. Vincent attended East High where he learned Spanish and graduated in 1932. Three years later, he received a Bachelor’s of Arts from Youngstown College in June of 1935, which included a major in Spanish and minors in French, Latin and History. 

Literary and drama pursuits led him to gain membership in Youngstown’s Cosmopolitan Club and in the Club Letterario. In addition to his B.A. from Youngstown College and an M.A. from the University of Pittsburgh in Humanities, Vincent received a grant from Ohio State University for Spanish Studies that resulted in a trip to Mexico. He loved and excelled in mastering foreign languages. He was becoming a polyglot.

In addition to these pursuits, the young Caggiano was an avid sports fan and athlete. According to teammate Carmine Fortunato, his friend was a very accomplished baseball pitcher who specialized in the knuckle ball. The two played at a neighborhood baseball field on Youngstown’s East Side overlooking the mills off the bottom of South Garland Avenue.

At this point, Vincent knew English, Italian, Latin, Spanish, French and some German. Using his foreign language skills He helped immigrants with their citizenship studies sponsored by Our Lady Of Mount Carmel Church. Stewardship to his community was one of his outstanding traits. 

 The family moved to 11 S. Pearl St, where Vincent pursued an interest in politics. In 1939 and 1941, he ran for Second Ward councilman as a reform-minded Republican, at a time when most of the district was solidly Democratic due to Roosevelt’s popularity. But the winds of war blew him way from politics and intellectual pursuits toward vital military service for his country. 

It all began in March of 1943, when Vincent was drafted away from the classroom and into the army. He was sent to Camp Robinson, AR, where his educational and linguistic talents were tapped for the war effort. Next he was assigned to Camp Ritchie, a secret training facility, where he gained expertise in military intelligence and photographic interpretation of aerial reconnaissance. He became one of the “Ritchie Boys” assigned to the U.S. Army Air Corps as an intelligence NCO. This was a special group of soldiers, men and women, proficient in the languages and cultures of the European theater of war.

Many who passed through Camp Ritchie were immigrants like Caggiano. They were returning to the lands they fled in order to fight Fascism. As such, they risked being a special target of enemy forces. For this reason Vincent carried a low level private 1st class identification to hide his actual rank. David Frey, a WWII researcher, called the Ritchie Boys “the greatest of the greatest generation.” After the war, many went on to careers with the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA, politics, education, and science.

As a Richie Boy, Vincent spent pre-D-Day months in England, where, on one lucky day his unit met the future Queen Elizabeth. Military records reveal that he participated in Day Three of the Normandy Invasion. It also shows he was part of the Northern France Campaign which included the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. Nearly 60 percent of the credible intelligence gathered in Europe came from the Ritchie Boys interrogation of prisoners and their ability to read war intelligence. It wasn’t until 2020 that the work of the Ritchie Boys was finally declassified.

After discharge from the army, Vincent accepted employment with the United States Strategic Bombing Survey. He traveled to sites bombed by the Allies in order to assess and photograph damage on the ground. According to his son Silverio, when his father finally mustered out, he purchased his Jeep and brought it home with him. He had had the trusty Jeep through almost the entire war and was attached to it.

Vincent returned to the Youngstown area, continuing as an educator, taking classes, and nurturing ambitions as an anti-corruption politician. In 1953, he ran again as a Republican for Second Ward councilman. His education and military record made him popular among the Italians, but he lost by a narrow margin. 

Caggiano then focused instead on deepening his education and professional excellence, as well as becoming a business owner with Margaret Mary O’Brien whom he married in November of 1950. Together they ran Hamilton Jewelers on W. Boardman Street in downtown Youngstown and, in 1965, Caggiano Beauty Salon on Himrod Ave.

He often returned to Casalbore for extended visits with his sister and he brought along his son, Silverio. In his home town he was constantly in demand by the locals, who always addressed him as Professore or Professore Caggiano. His work for the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey elevated him as a person of importance. Even the local Italian communists wanted to talk with him. Vincent would mediate disputes in the town when requested to, and his opinions were sought by rich and poor alike. 

According to Silverio, Vincent Caggiano “was a constant professional and always dressed like one. He made sure I acted like him, dressed like him, and that I understood the value of stewardship. Though he died when I was 11, he managed to plant things in my head in that short time that made sense as I got older and guided me. He used multiple educational methods in teaching me and others, always seizing the teachable moment.”

Vincent was a member of various Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and secretary treasurer of the Moose Lodge on Himrod Avenue. He also was a member of a host of educational organizations. On more than one occasion he helped groups organize cooperative business ventures. He taught at various high schools, with his last assignment at Springfield Local. He died on December 27, 1972, and was known as a doer of good deeds in the community, a veteran, and a man of remarkable intelligence and training.