Brendan Riley’s Solano Chronicles: Italian POWs Were ‘Prisoners in Paradise’ in Benicia

Aug 22, 2019 514

BY: Brendan Riley

There’s no end to interesting stories, ranging from predictable to unusual, about the extensive U.S. military activity in Solano County over many years. This is an unusual one — about Italian prisoners of war, most of them captured in North Africa or Sicily during World War II, who were sent to a prison camp at the old Benicia Arsenal, switched loyalties and won widespread acceptance here while the war was still raging abroad.

For about 250 captured Italian soldiers, life in Benicia improved significantly after they signed statements of allegiance following the September 1943 armistice that made Italy an ally rather than an enemy of the United States. They joined about 40,000 Italian POWs in camps throughout the United States who did the same and became eligible for minimal-custody Italian Service Units (ISUs) that contributed millions of hours of work in support of this country’s war effort.

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