Weeks before his 95th birthday, a proud World War II veteran finally received the validation he coveted for years. Isidore “Teddy” Bertone was officially sworn in as a citizen of the United States, eight decades after moving stateside from Italy and serving in the U.S. Navy.
The signing of the papers, undertaken in his daughter’s backyard in the presence of family on Aug. 25, was enough to move the veteran to tears. “Thank you all and God bless you […] God bless America,” he gushed, reports the Staten Island Advance.
East Shore’s Republican assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis officiated the socially distant ceremony in Richmond, New York, in response to a heartfelt letter that Bertone composed to plead his case. “It was amazing,” Malliotakis reflected. “He’s an American hero […] He was a citizen, but he just never got the documents.”
In his letter, the 94-year-old explained that he was a U.S. citizen by virtue of his father’s naturalization. Despite several unsuccessful attempts, Bertone had never obtained the paperwork to prove he belonged in the country he served at war almost eight long decades ago and has lived in ever since.
Bertone’s father, a former Army soldier named Carmelo, came to the United States in 1914 and enlisted during World War I. He became a naturalized United States citizen before returning to Sicily, Italy, where Bertone was born to Carmelo and his wife in 1925.
As a teenager, Bertone journeyed to the United States with his mother to escape being enlisted into Benito Mussolini’s regime. In 1943, from their home in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a then-18-year-old Bertone volunteered to join the U.S. Navy in the midst of World War II.
According to the New York Post, the young Navy crew member served for 30 months aboard the USS Zircon, a vessel responsible for rescuing American troops during the D-Day invasion of Normandy. He was honorably discharged in the spring of 1946.
Bertone explained that he had been inspired to cement his citizenship status by his daughter, Nicole Palesano, who, with her husband and their three children, had traveled to Italy to investigate their family history. Malliotakis, after reading the 94-year-old’s account of his life and service to the United States, liaised with federal immigration. They verified Bertone’s autobiography.
After the short, moving ceremony on Aug. 25, Bertone raised his right hand and made his solemn pledge of allegiance to the Constitution and to the United States. “This was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed,” Malliotakis shared with the Staten Island Advance.
Bertone’s daughter, the inspiration behind the special day, agreed, adding that the ceremony was “very emotional” for their family. “We’re all choked up,” she said. “He’s wanted and waited for this day for a long time.”
“He’s always reminding us to never take our American citizenship, our freedom, for granted,” Palesano continued, “and to never forget the soldiers who died to keep our country free. It’s his legacy. That, we’ll never forget.”
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