Amazing Connection Found Between Acquaintances

My Going Local Story – by Ruth Portela

“Good morning Mike!” I’ve said every Thursday morning for the past year, as I greet the volunteer at the desk next to mine. He’s a friendly presence who has helped me become acclimated to the busy world of volunteering as an interpreter at Ellis Island. We’ve chit chatted about the weather, our weekends, our family gatherings, but the conversation might not have gone any further if I hadn’t been immersed in our Going Local project at St. Peter’s. And I might not have discovered the amazing connection we share.

Recently, the tourist traffic was slow, we found ourselves with some free time, and I began to ask him about his family background. “What is your connection to Ellis Island?” “What led you to volunteer here?” “Please tell me about your family, I am interested!” He told me that his parents were born in Italy. His father fought for his country during World War II and he was captured in North Africa in 1943 by the U.S. Army. After Italy surrendered, his father was offered the chance to join the Italian Service Unit, which he accepted. He was sent to several P.O.W. camps in the U.S., including Pine Camp in New York, Fort Eustis in Virginia, and Logan Field in Maryland. Wait a minute…slow down. My father was also a WWII veteran who held various jobs, one of which was serving as a translator for Italian prisoner of war. When I got home that afternoon I dug out my father’s scrapbook of WWII mementos, which I have inherited (see samples below). I eagerly paged through the information regarding his medals, ration books, correspondence, and brochures to find the relevant page. And there it was. A pamphlet from the camp where he served as a translator. Pine Camp. The same camp where Mike’s father was sent. I got chills, and couldn’t wait to share the information with Mike the following week. He was amazed as well, and we began an exchange of information regarding our fathers and our family history. I feel a special bond with this man who was a stranger, and is now a friend.

I have a footnote to my Pine Camp story. I recently met my nephew and his girlfriend for a tour of their new neighborhood in Brooklyn, and I started “going local” on her. One of my first questions was about her childhood and where she grew up. She spent most of her childhood in upstate New York near Fort Drum. Due to my recent research I knew that Fort Drum used to have another name. Yes, you guessed it, Fort Drum used to be called…Pine Camp.

 


 

My father, John Bristow, during WWII.

Pine Camp booklet cover

Italian Language Guide given to my father.

List of Italian prisoner my father was in charge of

Map of Pine Camp, NY

Mike Seidita and Ruth Portela discovered that their fathers were at the same POW camp during WWII.

Mike’s father Ugo Seidita during WWII.

 

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