NEW BRITAIN - It was a mark on Connecticutâ€™s â€śpsyche,â€ť according to Christine Pittsley.
The battle of Seichepreay during World War I - in which eight men from Bristol were killed - was one of the first American engagements during the war, and saw over 70 Connecticut soldiers killed, about 450 wounded and about 150 taken prisoner, Pittsley said.
â€śThere were many men from New Britain killed that morning. There were Italians killed, Polish killed, there were all sorts of really brave men killed that morning,â€ť said Pittsley, project director for the Remembering World War I Community Archiving Project. She said men from Bristol and New Haven were sent out to the trenches, without reinforcements, when the Germans began an attack on the town at 3 a.m.
Pittsley was the final speaker of a lineup to recently open the Cross-Culture Courage: Connecticutâ€™s Response to World War 1 exhibit at the Elihu Burritt Library at Central Connecticut State University.
Focusing on the Italian and Polish contributions and conflicts during the war, the exhibit features uniforms of the solders who enlisted in the United States, Italian and Polish armies, personal care items, written letters and more from various soldiers hailing from Connecticut who enlisted in the war.
â€śIf you wanted to fight for Poland and there was no Poland, what do you do?â€ť Mieczyslaw B. Biskupski, a CCSU history professor, said, explaining that prior to the war, Poland had not existed as an official nation for just over 100 years due to a conflict with Russia and Austria.
â€śWell, you somehow get to Poland and volunteer to do something,â€ť he continued, saying a Polish man from Meriden was probably one of the first to do this after forging papers in Brooklyn to travel back to Poland.
He added not many Poles were able to do this as they shared German and Austrian heritage, making them enemy aliens of the United States at the time and able to be arrested.
Prior to Biskupsi, Dr. Carl Antucci Jr., director of library services at Elihu Burritt Library and Kenneth DiMaggio, professor of humanities at Capital Community College, spoke on the Italian history.
â€śThere was a lot of conflict when America entered (the war) with which side do you sign up and fight for,â€ť said Dr. Carl Antucci, director of library services at Elihu Burritt Library, of Italian-Americans when America joined the war after Italy, who was desperate for servicemen with most of their men immigrating to the United States.
However, whichever side Italian-Americans chose, â€śIt helped the Italians at this time, to gain acceptance and Americanize in this country by showing they were patriotic by going back to fight,â€ť he added.
At the conclusion, Pittsley also said that Connecticut native Sgt. Stubby, who she called the most decorated war dog, will have a movie made about him airing in April 2018.
â€śI really didnâ€™t get a lot of information from him,â€ť said Polish New Britain resident Mary Tierney about her father who served in the war but died when she was 14, unable to share stories of his efforts to her. â€śItâ€™s nice to be able to find out more stuff.â€ť
â€śI didnâ€™t have anyone in my family serve, but itâ€™s nice to know of the collective culture in response to the war,â€ť said Cecilia Gigliotti, a CCSU graduate student of Italian decent. â€śAnd, a lot of my friends are Polish, as is the surrounding area, so itâ€™s nice to know their efforts too.â€ť
â€śWeâ€™ve heard about them but never actually seen some of them,â€ť said Peter Tragni, one of the lead exhibitors, on the rarity of uniforms on display.
The exhibit runs until Dec. 15.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @CPaullinNBH.