What can you give for the love of your country? Your service? Maybe a brother? Your husband? Perhaps a son or a daughter? How hard would it be to let them go, knowing it might be the last you’ll ever see them? Yet, for the Santoro family during World War II, it was not just one or two sons that were sent to fight for the country, but eight of them.
The Military Family
After Pearl Harbor was bombed and marked the entrance of the United States to the chaos of World War II, about 1.5 million Italian Americans served in the armed forces to fight alongside their fellow compatriots, making up some 10% of the American soldiers’ population at that time. Eight among the millions came from one family, the highest number of siblings that would ever serve in the war all at the same time: The Santoro brothers. As a side note, the military was careful about sending 1st generation Americans of German, Italian and Japanese descent to theaters where they could be executed as traitors from their mother countries if captured. Japanese Americans for example served in Italy.
In their small Massachusetts town of Medford, they were known as “The Fighting Santoros.” Seven of these eight brothers served overseas at once. They were Jim, Joe, Leo, Paul, John, Tom, Harry, and Charlie.
The brothers came from a huge family made of ten brothers and seven sisters, the children of a couple named Eugen and Concetta Santoro. The children grew up on Wheeler Street in South Medford, most of whom were born just after the 1900s. What’s even more impressive is that everyone made it back.
Among the eight siblings, only Giacomo “James” Santoro served stateside as a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary from 1944 to 1945, where he was tasked to guard the supply tanks in East Boston. Despite the risks and against the odds, all eight made it back alive almost unscathed. Paul was once hit by a grenade while helping a fellow soldier back to safety, but he made it out alive, too. For his action, Paul was then awarded the Purple Heart.
Last Surviving Brother
On July 24, 2007, the Santoro brothers were honored by the City of Medford, where they grew, by naming and dedicating the corner of Wheeler Avenue and Bow Street “Santoro Brothers.” Unfortunately, it was also the same year John died from an illness at the age of 86.
Then on Veterans Day 2011, another ceremony was held for the Medford brothers. This time, it was led by the former mayor of Medford, Michael J. McGlynn. During the ceremony, four of the street corners were named after four of the brothers. Meanwhile, the corner of Main and Wheeler streets was called “Santoro Brothers corner.”
Paul died in 2014 in the E.N. Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital. According to his obituary, he served as a member of the “Merrill Marauders” that were deployed and stationed in the hills and jungle of Burma and worked as a truck driver with Rapid Transit for 30 years before retiring in 1982.
The last surviving brother was US Naval Coxswain Rosario Charlie Santoro, who could still recall the branches that every one of his late brothers served. In 2017, Honor Flight New England gave him a day-long tribute in Washington through an honor flight to thank the Santoros as well as other veterans for their service and sacrifices for the country.
Rosario “Charlie” Santoro was one of the brothers who served overseas. Some of his duties included hauling troops and supplies to different islands in the Philippines and helping evacuate the Australian PoWs from Japan in August 1945, when the war ended. In an interview, he said,
I keep thinking of them. Keeps me awake at night sometimes, I can’t sleep that good. I think of things. Wonder if I did the right thing. I don’t know, it’s very hard.
Medford has one of the highest numbers of residents in the state who served in World War II from a single community, more than 10,500. That was about 17% of the Medford population in 1940. A memorial on Winthrop Street near the entrance of Medford High School was made with the names of all residents who served in the war.