View Full Version : 2 lawmakers seek citizenship for WWI vet who took own life in '37

06-26-03, 06:06 AM
2 lawmakers seek citizenship for WWI vet who took own life in '37


June 25, 2003

LOS ANGELES A World War I soldier who killed himself 66 years ago when he found out he wasn't an American citizen should be granted posthumous citizenship, according to two lawmakers who are trying to change that through legislation.

Republican Dana Rohrabacher of Orange County and Democrat Jane Harman of the Los Angeles area introduced a bill to grant posthumous citizenship to John Castellano, an Italian who was so distraught in 1937 when he realized he was not an American that he wrote a suicide letter and drank a bottle of shoe dye.

Rohrabacher and Harman introduced the bill on June 11. If it is passed by Congress, then signed by President Bush, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge would have to sign the final order.

Joyce Hall of San Pedro, Castellano's niece, has campaigned for 21/2 years for her uncle's citizenship.

"I'm ecstatic," Hall said. "It was something that should have been done when he was in the military. Seeing what they have done with the present-day unfortunate young men, I feel he is warranted for the same thing."

A native of Sorrento, Italy, Castellano arrived in New York in 1907 and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1911. He spent World War I serving in Cuba. According to his suicide letter, he believed that seven years of service in the Army would earn him citizenship.

But when he read a memo while still serving in Honolulu in 1937, the member of Company A, 21st Infantry, learned he was not an American. He had been in the Army for 26 years.

"I have been working day and night for the American Army and have not paid any attention to other activities in the States," he wrote in his letter, found after he died July 7, 1937.

"For that reason I thought that if a man had served in the Army for seven years he was automatically a citizen of the U.S., but as I can see now it is different. . . . I am at this time very much upset."

Hall was born after her uncle died.

"I want a piece of paper, that's all I ask, so I can put it on his grave," Hall said.

The chances of the bill passing are slim because so-called "private relief" bills that benefit individuals can get lost amid thousands of other bills pending in Congress. A previous Harman-authored bill on the Castellano citizenship died when the 2002 session came to a close.

The latest bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and would have to be enacted by December 2004.

Rohrabacher, who took over representation of the San Pedro neighborhood where Hall lives, said in April that he would help Hall pursue her claim because what happened to her uncle "sounds like a sad injustice."

"(Rohrabacher) said he looked into the issue and found that the man served in the military with distinction and thus he should be granted citizenship," Rohrabacher aide Aaron Lewis said.

Congressional action is needed because Castellano does not meet all the requirements of the Posthumous Citizenship Restoration Act of 2001. The law signed by President Bush in November allows for the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Service to process posthumous citizenship claims on behalf of noncitizens who died as a result of their military service.

But Hall has missed the cutoff by 64 years. The law requires application within two years of death.

Copyright 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.