Vittorio Zippi grew up the son of Italian immigrants in Crabtree, Pennsylvania, learning to speak English in first grade.  Six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was drafted into the Army—serving as a cook, musician, medic, and barber.

“Would you shoot the Italians?” asked the Army.  “Hell yes if they were shooting at me,” was his reply.  “But they’re my cousins, you know,” he added, proudly recognizing his ancestry.  The Army was suspicious.  They questioned his American loyalty.  It was a mistrust that still deeply disturbs him.

After spending twenty-seven months overseas during WWII–taking care of horrific D-Day casualties and dodging deadly V2 bombing raids in England–Vittorio was asked to re-register for the draft in preparation for the Korean War.  Married with two kids, he felt the full weight of another war experience bearing down on him.  “How lucky can I get the second time?” he wondered.

Time moves in one direction,” writes William Gibson, “memory in another.” And so, on the darkest edge of their twilight years, many WWII veterans want to reach into the past and share memories they once quietly put away after the war–the untold stories, still morally painful after all these years.

After sitting down with the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative, Vittorio began to talk more openly to his family about his WWII experiences.  His daughter Carole Zippi-Brennan writes, “My dad said one of his biggest regrets was that he never got the name and address of a 19 year old soldier who died in his arms. He said he wanted to write to his parents and let them know that their son died in the arms of a fellow soldier and not out in the field someplace. He cried when he told me that story.”

Vittorio Zippi grew up the son of Italian immigrants in Crabtree, Pennsylvania, learning to speak English in first grade. Six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was drafted into the Army—serving as a cook, musician, medic, and barber.

“Could you shoot the Italians?” he was asked. “Hell yes if they were shooting at me,” was his reply. “But they’re my cousins,” he added, proudly recognizing his ancestry. The Army was suspicious and then questioned his American loyalty. The mistrust still deeply disturbs him.

This interview is a production of the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative, in partnership with the Veterans Breakfast Club. It was recorded January 19, 2015 at the Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Interviewer: Todd DePastino.

In My Own Words

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Audio version of Vittorio Zippi’s interview.

On January 19, 2015, we invited Vittorio Zippi and four other local WWII veterans to share their stories with us at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our partnership with the Heinz History Center, an affiliate of the Smithsonian, officially came about in 2014, but since 2012 we have conducted several audio and video interviews capturing the experiences of Western Pennsylvanians as part of our involvement with StoryCorp’s National Day of Listening, the Heinz Center’s Italian Heritage Day, and of course, our own veterans’ oral history initiative.

Vittorio Alberto Angelo Martino Zippi died on Saturday, January 28.  Born in Crabtree, Pennsylvania on May 7, 1924, he was a son of Simplicio Zippi and Luisa Crocetti Zippi from Sant’ Omero, Italy.

At age 12 he began studying the trumpet, the love of which he carried throughout his life.  He played in the Greensburg High School band, was a member of the United Mineworkers Union Band Jameson #4 Mine in Crabtree, and was the original trumpet player in the Bobby Dale orchestra where he went under the name of Zip Martin.  He also accepted an invitation to perform in a concert with the Westmoreland Philharmonic Winds.  His music has been heard throughout the tri-state area and can also be heard on the CD The Dynasty.

Vittorio attended Greensburg High School before   entering the Army in 1943. He served in the 460th Anti-aircraft Battalion, the Allied Support Hospitals for the Normandy Invasion, and became a medic with the 160th General Hospital.  While with the 160th he worked with Dr. Dwight Harken, an innovator in heart surgery who introduced the concept of the ICU; and with Dr. Paul Zoll, inventor of the heart defibrillator.  He also attended art school, bakers’ school, and did barbering for his fellow soldiers.

His musical skills continued in the army.  In addition to being the company bugler, he was a member of the 160th band;  he and his fellow band members performed for such celebrities as Joe Louis, Lucille Ball and Madeline Carroll.   They also played a private performance for the Queen Mother.

While in the Army he earned several medals:  European & African Campaign, American Campaign, Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and Meritorious Unit Citation.

While stationed in England he met Helen Baillie who became his wife on August 7, 1945.  Their daughter, Carole, was born the following year.   Upon returning to the US, Vittorio used the GI Bill to attend barber school, a vocation he practiced for over six decades.   He and his wife subsequently had two more children:  Victor and Diane.

Because he wanted a stable life for his family he turned down two offers to travel, one with Louis Prima’s band and one with Cole Brothers Circus band.

In  January of 2015  he was interviewed by Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh regarding his military experience.  The interview was picked up by The Greatest Generation Foundation and, subsequent to that, by Stefano Ballini, an Italian film maker.  Mr. Ballini featured Vittorio in his movie Monte Sole, Landing Memories, which is shown in schools throughout Italy and was declared the best documentary of 2016 by the president of Italy.   The movie will be premiered in Pittsburgh in March of 2017 at which time Vittorio would have been a guest of honor.

In addition to his passion for music, Vittorio loved vegetable gardening and experimenting with non-native plants, having raised tobacco and cotton on occasion. He also had a passion for telling tall tales to his customers in his Jeannette barber shop, his biggest being the years-long ongoing saga of the Crabtree Underground Mall of which he claimed to be founder and CEO.  It was not a tale, though, that he was proudly Bill Mazeroski’s barber for almost half a century.   His strongest love and passion, however,  was for his family.  He was never happier than when his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren were gathered around him.

Vittorio was a former member of the Jeannette VFW, Jeannette American Legion, and the Greensburg branch of the American Federation of Musicians.  He served as Commander-in-Chief of the DAV Jeannette Chapter #26 where he remained a life member, and as the president of Jeannette Barbers’ Union.  He was also a Charter Member of the Jeannette Community Band.

In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by his wife of 60 years, Helen; his siblings Pierre, Josephine, Sam, Laurarine, and baby Carlo; and his son-in-law, Dr.  Maynard Brennan.

He is survived by his children Dr. Carole Brennan of Springdale, Victor Zippi and his wife Mary of Jeannette,  and Diane Zippi of Pittsburgh; his grandchildren Joel Brennan and his wife Kim of Brentwood, and Maria Petrulak and her husband Kevin of North Huntingdon;  his great-grandchildren Elliott and Maxwell Brennan, Myla and Owen Petrulak; his step great-grandchildren Zachary and Emily Petrulak;  his brother, Carlo, of Jeannette; his cousins Omero and AnnaMarie Zippi of Philadelphia;  several nieces and nephews; and innumerable  friends.

Friends will be received at Pantalone Funeral Home, Pittsburgh Street Greensburg on Tuesday and Wednesday from 4:00 – 8:00 PM.

Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated by Fr. Justin, OSB,  at 10:00 am at St. Bartholomew Church, Crabtree, PA with interment to follow at Calvary Hill Cemetery.   Gathering for prayers will be at 9:15 at Pantalone Funeral Home.

In lieu of flowers memorial contributions can be made to the nonprofit Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative, 3706 W. 8th Ave.,  Beaver Falls, PA 15010 or online at VeteranVoicesofPittsburgh.com

May flights of angels sing him to his rest.