Italian Navy veteran’s dream comes true in Philly
Paolo Recchia volunteered at the age of 28 to enlist in the Italian Navy to see “tutto il mondo” (the world). This was 1935 and the first year was spent learning to be an electrician in the naval school. Upon finishing, he joined the Navy cruiser Raimondo Montecuccoli, and traveled to many countries during the China/Japan conflicts, seeing North Africa, Indochina, China, Japan and Australia while protecting Italian interests. In China, he was based in exotic Shanghai and then sailed around Japan and Australia stopping in many ports. Paolo was mesmerized by China’s Great Wall. In 1939, h e returned to the Mediterranean Sea and protected Italy during World War II; He was decorated with the “War Metal Cross,” “Metal of Military Valor” and the title of “Order of the Crown of Italy.”
Near the end of his Navy career, he fell in love with a Neapolitan beauty, Anna Sonnino, while based there. They married, moved to Milan and raised two children, Anna Maria and Lino Massimo. He built a flourishing electrical business, working on many high-rise apartment buildings, eventually bringing in his young son.
Always the adventurer, he moved his family to the United States and Philadelphia in 1979 when he was 65. He saw a need for bringing together retired Navy immigrants and in 1983 formed an Italian Navy Veterans Association known as Giovanni Caboto after the explorer of seas. Members came from all over the Delaware Valley and while he was founder, they honored him as “president.” They organized many social events and fundraisers, and proudly welcomed the Italian military ships when visiting Philadelphia.
The Italian government recognized his important work in 1986 with the title of “cavaliere” (knight) and later in 1999 the elevated title of “ufficiale” (officer).
Because his love and passion for the Navy and the oceans were so strong, he envisioned dedicating a monument to the fallen sailors lost at sea, a common memorial found in cities and towns all over Italy. He wrote to the Italian Admiral Giasone Piccioni, Commander-in-Chief of the Italian Navy, explaining his desire and requesting an anchor for the monument, Admiral Piccioni answered immediately and made sure in 1986 that the tall ship Amerigo Vespucci transported a seven-foot, one-ton stell ship’s anchor to Baltimore.
Paolo passed away in 2011, and Massimo Recchia and Angelo Tartaglini have valiantly warehoused the anchor in Philadelphia. While searching for a suitable memorial location, it was realized that the Chapel of Four Chaplains would be a perfect site to honor all those who have been lost at sea. Whether it was the 672 lost on the Dorchester, the 450 Korean students lost in 2014 from the Seoul ferry disaster or the recent loss of the U.S. freighter El Faro with a crew of 36 during Hurricane Joaquin, this dream of a memorial honoring all of those lost at sea has been realized at the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia, where the anchor is placed on a marble pedestal with an appropriate bronze plaque, and surrounded by memorial paving bricks.
The organizers of this effort are seeking public support to further enhance the site by sponsoring a brick to memorialize some event in the sponsor’s life or in their family tree that is related to the sea. This may be an idea that has been started by the Italian Navy Veterans Organization, but it really relates to all of us, our dependence on the sea, and those whose lives ended but in the ocean depths.