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World War II veteran recalls patriotism in his time
By Chris Julin
Minnesota Public Radio
October 15, 2001
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Patriotism is running high in the United States, and Frank Valentini says that's good. He hasn't seen such national spirit since the 1940s, in the days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Valentini is from the Iron Range town of Chisholm, and he's one of eight Valentini brothers who served in the military during World War II.

Frank Valentini, 82, and seven of his nine brothers all served in World War II, and all came back alive. They are thought to be the largest number of persons in service from a single Minnesota family during the war. They were featured in this 1946 story in the Chisolm Tribune-Press.
Meet all eight Valentini brothers.
THE VALENTINI BROTHERS FANNED OUT ACROSS THE GLOBE - from Okinawa to Normandy. At the war's end, all eight came home. In 1946, a headline in the Chisholm Tribune-Press read, "Valentinis Set Record." The newspaper article says no other family in Minnesota sent as many sons to the war. Photographs of the brothers stretch across the page of the newspaper - grainy black and white shots of strikingly handsome young men in uniform.

After the war, some of the brothers came home to Chisholm, and some went to Michigan. Today, only two of them are still alive - Frello, and Frank. They both live in Chisholm.

Frank Valentini lives across the street from Chisholm High School. He taught social studies there for 29 years. He's the shortest of the brothers, at about five feet six, with thinning salt-and-pepper hair, and glasses. He looks like a social studies teacher, and he looks years younger than his age of 82. Standing in his dining room, Frank Valentini fishes the wallet from his pocket, and pulls out a little photo collage the size of a credit card. It's a miniature version of the pictures in the newspaper.

"My brother gave each of us one, so I have it in my wallet," he says. "We're pictured in chronological order: Dindi, Frank, Frello, Bello, Queenie, Louie, V, and Gusty."

Frank and his brother Bello tried to enlist the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Bello got into the Army Air Force, but the Navy rejected Frank because his eyes were bad. Months later, the Army drafted Frank, and he reported to Fort Snelling for his physical.

"A corporal was giving me the eye test," he remembers, "and I said if I open both eyes I can see perfectly, so he passed me on. Now, that may sound gung-ho, but I said, 'I'm not going to be left behind. I want to be part of this.'"

Frank Valentini had heroic visions. He says, now, the visions weren't realistic.

"People get the impression that everyone was in combat, or everyone had hand-to-hand, or everyone was like Normandy," he says. "I had visions of infantry. I'd seen pictures of World War I, over the top and all that. When I took the aptitude test I ended up in a Signal Corps camp."

Frank Valentini, 82, was awarded the Bronze Star. Years before the attack on Pearl Harbor, in the late 1930s, Valentini believed he would serve in World War II. He says working in the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s prepared him for military life. And he says his boyhood in Chisholm gave him great respect for military veterans.
Listen to his comments. (MPR Photo/Chris Julin)
In the Signal Corps, Frank Valentini trained as a radio operator. He served to the end of the war in China, guiding American planes to Japanese targets. His camp was strafed and bombed, and he was awarded a medal - the Bronze Star.

He had a star back home, too. During the war, families across the United States hung stars in their windows - one for each son in the military service. In Chisholm, the windows at the Valentini house had eight stars.

"My father said he was running out of windows," Frank says with a laugh. "He didn't have enough windows for the stars honoring his sons."

Frank's wife, Patricia, has been listening to the conversation. She, too, grew up in Chisholm, and she and Frank have been married for 54 years. At the mention of stars in the Valentinis' windows, Patricia's face lights up, and she leans forward in her chair to say that she remembers Frank's father. He was an Italian immigrant who dug iron ore in an underground mine in Chisholm.

"Oh, he was proud," she says of Frank's father. "He had those stars in the window. As kids would go to school, he'd say, 'See, thatsa my boys, and they're all gone. One star for each one. I got eight of them.'"

There were 10 Valentini brothers and one sister. One son was too old to serve in World War II. Another was a chemist in a steel plant and was considered an "essential worker." The rest of the sons went to war. Six of them left behind wives and children. The oldest to serve was August, who was 37 when he reported to boot camp.

During the war, Frank Valentini's sister, Mary, did her best to keep tabs on her brothers through the mail, so their father would know how they were doing. Frank says his father worried about his sons, like any father would, but he seldom let it show.

"I was told second-hand this story," Frank says, shaking his head and chuckling. "He got half in the bag one time - you know he's Italian and he drinks wine with his meals - and he got half in the bag one time and he went to volunteer, but he was about 70 years old. 'You took all my sons,' he says, 'why not take me?'"

Frank Valentini's mother didn't see her sons go to war. She died in 1940, a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Frank's eyes mist a little when he talks about her. He says she was overprotective, and didn't want her sons to enlist in the military. Frank says if she'd been alive, she would have suffered, watching eight of her boys leave for the war.

When Frank Valentini served in China during World War II, he carried these military identification papers. See larger image.
Patricia Valentini cuts Frank a grim look. "If your mother had been alive," she says, "that would have killed her."

Eight Valentini brothers served in World War II, and eight returned. But many families were not so lucky. Frank Valentini sits at the dining room table and sifts through some vintage newspapers. He opens to a two-page spread of black-and-white portraits of men in uniform - the 55 young men from the town of Chisholm who died in World War II.

"This guy here was one of my closest friends," Frank says, tapping his finger on one of the pictures. "Fred Franceschetti. He was a navigator on a B-29. Missing and never came back."

Frank has stories about many of the men in the pictures. He says he lost a lot of friends in the war. "Lots of them," he repeats, and looks down at the photos. "I lost Dario. I lost Fritzy. Elroy Frank. I lost Tom Radotich. Louie Laurich. This is Joe Kne, and Louie Kne. Two brothers, killed in the war, from Chisholm. Lots of friends. Lots of them."

Frank Valentini spent 27 months in combat, and more than three years in the service, and he never got a leave to visit home. He says World War II made him a life-long pessimist. But he remains proud of his willingness - his eagerness - to serve in the war. He says it was the spirit of the times.

"Oh, patriotism was rampant," he says. "It was big. The similarity is with what's going on today. Supposedly. I hope it doesn't die out, all this patriotism."

Frank and Patricia Valentini have one son. He was drafted at the end of the Vietnam War, and ended up serving in Germany. They also have one grandson.

Patricia Valentini ducks out of the room and brings back a newspaper clipping of her own. This one's about her grandson playing for his college tennis team. She holds the article at arm's length and looks at it for a long, quiet moment.

"I hope they don't touch him," she says.